Fresh take on auto chess craze

Game Name: Hearthstone: Battlegrounds
Platform: Microsoft Windows, macOS, iOS, Android
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment

By Ozzie Mejia // (TNS)

It’s been over five years since Blizzard first release Hearthstone, its take on the digital card game genre. The core game has undergone a lot of changes since then. But there have been few, if any, additions in terms of actual game modes. That’s about to change with the introduction of Hearthstone: Battlegrounds, Blizzard’s take on the auto chess phenomenon.

The first thing that’s worth noting is that Battlegrounds does appear to operate under many of the rules of traditional auto chess. There’s a Recruit period where players can purchase, upgrade, or fire minions from across all of Wild. Purchasing a minion costs three Gold, refreshing the minion list costs one Gold and there’s a rising cost to continue upgrading the minion pool. As the pool get upgraded, higher-cost minions, more powerful minions, and even some minions that appear to be designed exclusively for Battlegrounds will be made available. If there’s one critique to be had here, it’s that the Recruit phase is 90 seconds and it feels way too long. While strategy is important, here’s hoping that Blizzard skips that timer down to zero as soon as everybody’s already made their selections.

It’s the Combat phase where things start to get a little bit different. Yes, minions will automatically attack, going from left to right. However, the main rules of Hearthstone still apply. That means Taunt minions must be attacked first, Deathrattles can have a huge effect on the board, Divine Shield minions can wreak all sorts of havoc, and all sorts of other craziness can unfold. The Combat phase continues until only one side’s minions remain standing, at which point the remaining minions lend their power to their Hero for a one-way attack.

After watching the Combat phases unfold, it’s easy to get a sense of how the Recruit phase works, especially when applying the rules of normal Hearthstone. You’ll want to create lineups of various tribes, like Murlocs, Mechs, and Beasts. The Recruit phase is where you can take advantage of Battlecries or keywords like Magnetic. And in a unique Battlegrounds mechanic, if you recruit three of the exact same minion, they’ll combine to create a Golden minion with increased stats.

While regular Hearthstone has nine heroes, Battlegrounds will utilize 24, many of which are pulled from the world of the game’s Solo Adventures. They all have their own Hero Powers, which cost one Gold, that can be used to help turn the tide in the Combat phase. Or if you have full confidence in your minion selection prowess, you can opt for someone with a Passive Hero Power, like Patchwork, who packs 20 extra health. Heroes are selected Arena-style, with players picking between a select few at the start of each game. Eight players all match together and everyone will face a different play in each round until only one remains standing.

While it follows many of the usual Hearthstone rules, Battlegrounds is different enough that it wildly stands out from the run-of-the-mill one-on-one play. I’m not sure if it can reach the popular heights of something like Teamfight Tactics, but if nothing else, this will serve as a fun distraction for a little while.