Hearthstone: Battlegrounds is the Auto Chess innovation we deserve, but not necessarily what we need13 Nov 2019 0
Hearthstone: Battlegrounds is an interesting blend of designs that offers the innovation Auto-Battlers desperately needs, but in a format that we could probably have done without. Essentially an additional mode within the main Hearthstone client, Battlegrounds combines the basic design goals of Auto Chess with the specifics of Hearthstone as a card game. Key concepts are carried over which creates an experience that epitomises the best and worst elements of mainline Hearthstone.
You’ve all seen those videos, right? Those Hearthstone clips of ridiculous, never-ending combos or minions that have been buffed beyond all reason - all that exists within Battlegrounds as well and is the inevitable end-state of a typical match. Effects that summon more minions on top of the ones you’ve already summoned are common, as is stat boosting, and as you approach your ‘End Game’ you’ll want to be doubling-down on one or both of these.
Plus, the way Hearthstone naturally ‘is’ in terms of UI and presentation, it really does hit home the idea that you’re just watching a game play itself. With other Auto Chess games there’s a bit more visual feedback to mitigate this, but main Hearthstone can be a confusing experience to watch at times; Battlegrounds is no different.
That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have promise, however...
Battlegrounds vs. Auto Chess vs. Underlords
Where as Underlords and Auto Chess itself are essentially the same game, Battlegrounds makes a number of key innovations that really change-up how an Auto Chess experience typically plays, mostly for the better:
- Fixed Costs - Firstly, every minion regardless of ‘tier’ (read: rarity) costs three gold to buy. You get exactly one gold back from selling any summoned minions back to the pool.
- Gold maxes out at 10 - there’s no weird ‘interest’ maths or big-money economy here. 10 Gold is the maximum you can earn. Like Hearthstone’s mana points, you replenish each and every turn and the maximum ticks up by one per round until you hit the max.
- Levelling Up - it's not quite 'levelling up' in Battlegrounds, but you can increase your tavern tier to get access to better minions by spending gold. The cost to upgrade to the next tier decreases by one per round. It's sort of the same mechanic as before, but reversed so that it holds a different place within the general economic strategy.
This essentially creates a game that’s slower to start (because you can only really buy one minion a turn for the first few turns), and that generally offers a more affordable/predictable cost-curve for planning your strategies. It also penalises mistakes a little bit, but once you get to grips with things it’s unlikely you’ll be buying things you don’t really want or need. Plus, with guaranteed income, you might as well spend it if you can.
Quality of Life
- Only one ‘super’ tier - collecting three of a kind is still a thing in order to get a better version of a minion, but it only needs to be done once. Combining to create the super minions is an automatic process that removes the minion(s) from your line-up. Once you replay the 'better' version, however, you also get to choose an additional minion drawn from a random selection of three cards from the tier above your current tavern tier.
- Freezing the Market - If you see something you like but can’t afford it with what you have left, you can ‘Freeze’ the market row so that it doesn’t refresh as the start of the next round, letting you buy it the moment your gold pool replenishes.
- Hero Abilities - At the start of each match, you pick one from a random draw of two heroes. Every hero has an ability that signifies what kind of strategy they favour. There’s one hero who can buff ‘Demons’, for example, another that leans into the Murloc synergies. Others are more synergy agnostic but still provide important utility. Others are just naff.
- Identifying minions - there’s more to a minion than there is in other Auto Chess games. Obviously it will take time to learn what they are as you go, but Battlegrounds doesn't give you easy-to-parse information on the tavern row, all you get is the image. It means you can waste a lot of your econ turn just reading the cards to find out what type the are and what their keywords are, not to mention any unique abilities. This is one of the few drawbacks worth commenting about, and something I hope they fix sooner rather than later.
I really like the ability to freeze the market, it really help smooth over the roughness of what is inherently an RNG system, and there's a possibility upcoming heroes may even synergise with this concept in terms of buffing stuff pre-purchase. The hero abilities I could take or leave - it's just another thing to interact with and factor into the match economy. The Super-minion thing isn't interesting in and of itself, but the bonus reward you get for making a three is very interesting and a great way to access better cards without spending to access the better tier.
This is where I think Battlegrounds is at its most interesting. Since there’s no trademarked Chess board and no physical pieces that move around, combat instead follows the typical Hearthstone format. The ‘Auto’ is still prevalent here - Minions attack on their own, but there are some set rules:
- Minions attack one at a time, from left to right in an IGOUGO format.
- They attack a random target on the opponent’s board, unless there are taunt minions.
- Once the last minion in sequence has attacked, it starts again with whoever’s left.
- Lots of card abilities modify or enhance the above.
- One side wins if they are the last person to have minions left on the board. If neither side ends up having minions on the board, it’s a draw. This is more common because of how Hearthstone resolves combat.
It essentially makes the order in which you lay out your minions important - more important than it is in a typical Auto-Chess game. In Underlords or Teamfight Tactics, there is a slight tactical dimension to where you place pieces on the board, but it’s often quite situational. In Battlegrounds, the tactical decisions as to your minion order can make or break your strategy. With keywords such as Deathrattle etc… carrying over from the main format, you’ll want certain minions to go first (so that they die first) to then trigger other combos down the line. The random target means that there’s never a guarantee you’ll pull things off perfectly, but then that’s why ‘Taunt’ is still a very important keyword if you can include it in your build.
Damage is determined by the tier of the minions you have left on the board + your Tavern level. The combined number is how much damage you do to the opposing hero if you win. Once you run out of health you’re out of the game. It means the damage you receive is a little less predictable in a lot of ways, as it’s perfectly plausible for 1-star minions to be all that’s left.
Overall I like Battlegrounds enough to stick with it for now, even if I have to log-in to the main Hearthstone client to play it. It’s definitely preferable to playing actual Hearthstone for the moment, and on the surface it offers the best of both worlds. It’s a shame that the current card pool means things get quite ridiculous quite quickly, but matches are a lot shorter than the average Auto Chess game, so you don’t have to put with the craziness for long.
Hearthstone: Battlegrounds is now in open beta for everyone, all you need to do is to download the Hearthstone client and create an account.