Hearthstone: Battlegrounds Tactics – the thinking man’s Auto Chess Game
14 Nov 2019
So, after Blizzard finally opened up the Hearthstone Battlegrounds beta to everyone, I’ve managed to take it for a spin to see what it’s like. In short – interesting. It’s definitely a refreshing take on Auto Chess as a format, although it seems to combine both the best and worst elements of Hearthstone in order to create the experience.
Let’s dig into some specifics – while the basic Auto Battler formula is there, because they’ve essentially ported-in mechanics from the Hearthstone Card Game to create it there’s a number of key differences that make this an entirely different breed of Auto Chess.
How to Play Hearthstone: Battlegrounds
Hearthstone Battlegrounds is available on both PC and Mobile, iOS and Android. I’ve been playing it on my Google Pixel 3XL. It’s part of the main Hearthstone card game client, so as long as you can download and play that, you’re fine. Simply go to ‘Modes’ in the main menu and it is listed next to the ‘Arena’ mode.
When you start up a match, you’re offered the choice between two randomly drawn heroes out of a total of 24. Each hero has a special power (similar to how the main game works) that you can spend gold on to activate. Not all abilities are considered equal, but you won’t know that until you start playing the game and trying each one out. We might do our own heroes guide at some point, but not now.
Like other Auto Chess games, Battlegrounds is a series of rounds that have a buying phase and a combat phase. The buying phase again is similar but with some very key differences:
- Every minion, regardless of tier, costs 3 gold to buy.
- You can get 1 gold back by selling a minion from your board (not your hand) to the tavern.
- You can spend gold to ‘level-up’ the tavern so that you get access to higher tier units.
- It costs 1 cold to refresh the trade row to get a new draw of minions.
- For free, you can ‘freeze’ the row in place so that it doesn’t reset at the start of the next round.
- You start the game with 3 gold, and your gold maximum increases by one gold a turn until it caps out at 10 gold.
- At the start of every round your gold pool will fill up to the current maximum.
- As long as you’re under 10 gold, you can increase your gold pool beyond your starting limit via selling minions back to the tavern.
It can be a bit fiddly to manage you minions and your board sometimes, but essentially you drag a minion you want from the row to your hero, and it goes into your ‘hand’. As far as we know there is no hand-limit. Once in your hand you can then deploy it from the board.
BEWARE – at the time of writing, once a minion is on the board, it can’t be taken back like in other Auto Chess games. We imagine this is to control keywords like Battlecry, which only trigger once upon a minion’s initial summoning.
Collecting triples of a minion is still a thing in Battlegrounds, but it’s more limited. You only need to do it once to get a ‘Gold’ version of a minion, which has better base stats (and keeps any stat buffs) and potentially a better ability, depending on the card. Combining three is automatic and the minion is returned to your hand in its gold state for you to play again.
When you play a gold minion, you get given a bonus card that lets you choose one card from a randomly drawn set of three from the Tavern tier above the one you’re currently at, so you essentially get two minions for the price of one.
Once the timer runs out, the Tavern will close and you’ll move onto the Combat phase. You’ll be assigned a randomly selected opponent from the other 7 players (their avatar will be highlighted in red on the side column).
There are no ‘econ’ or ‘mob’ rounds in Battlegrounds (and no items either), the only respite you get is that if there is an odd number of players still in the game you may face an AI-controlled spectre of an eliminated player, just so you have someone to fight.
Each player’s board of minions square up to each other, and combat begins using the following rules:
- Start of Combat phase abilities will trigger first.
- Then, starting with the first minion on the left, each player’s board takes turns attacking the opposing player one minion at a time.
- The target of a minion’s attack is randomly selected, unless there are ‘Taunt’ minions on the board, in which case those get attacked first.
- Attacking works like it does in Hearthstone, the attacking and defending minion apply their attack and defence stats to each other simultaneously.
- If it’s a minion’s turn to attack, but it’s attacked by an opponent’s minion mid-sequence, it survives long enough to do it’s own attack before anything else happens to it (we think).
- Once you’ve gone through your board, the sequence starts again with whoever’s left.
- This continues until one player is the only person left with minions on the board (or no players, in which case it’s a draw.
- Damage is dealt to the losing player’s health pool. Damage equals the star rating of all surviving minions + your tavern rating.
Keywords and card abilities obviously modify the above. For example if a minion’s deathrattle ability summons a new minion in their place, that minion will then become the next in line to attack, and not the minion that was originally supposed to be next. Once a winner has been determined and damage dealt, on to the next round. Barring one exception, Heroes start with 40 health.
Hearthstone Battlegrounds Tactics
There’s a lot to unpack as to what makes Battlegrounds different from other Auto Chess games, and almost all of it stems from the fact that they’ve based it on the Hearthstone CCG. The fact that it looks like a Hearthstone match means there’s no animated pieces jumping around (which makes it less interesting to watch, IMO) but it also means the tactical decision making in Battlegrounds is richer.
The order in which you place your minions is super important, as triggering the right keywords in the right sequence can make or break a strategy. If you’re relying on summoning minions through card abilities, you need to make sure there’s space on your board for them to go. Minions also get a bit more disposable, as you can summon a minion for its battlecry effect, and then instantly sell it so you can fire off your hero ability, or buy someone else if you’re one gold short.
There’s still some recognisable elements, such as building around minions of the same type. There are less ‘tribes’ in Battlegrounds, and there are no benefits for having a certain number of each tribe. They instead synergise with card abilities much like the main card game.
At the time of writing, the principal tribes in the game are:
Murlocs tend to be stronger in the early game, whereas Mechs are stronger in the late game. Demons are interesting but require the right hero, or the right build to really work (And can damage you for using them). Beasts are a bit middle of the road, but can buff each other and have a lot of triggering and summoning effects.
Along with Tribes and card abilities, Keywords make up the third important tactical dimension in this game. These are lifted straight from Hearthstone and behave largely as they do in the main game. Important keywords you may recognise are:
- Divine Shield
Taunt/Divine Shield are the most valuable of these – Taunt allows you to control your opponents actions to some degree, while Divine Shield buys your minions that extra lease of life so that they can remain useful. Managing Deathrattle and Battlecry abilities is a natural part of Battlegrounds’ flow, so while they are prolific they’re not exactly ‘essential’ per se.
At the time of writing, we would say the most prevalent universal strategy is stat boosting – there is a lot of potential for boosting your minion’s stats in a Battlegrounds match (which is a mechanic that doesn’t really apply to other Auto Chess games, making it unique here), to the point where you’ll see some crazy numbers in the late game.
You HAVE to be building with this in mind. A lot of the stat buffs in Battlegrounds are permanent and persist from round-to-round, which means they can stack buffs as they come up. This is essential for keeping momentum. Summoning additional minions is probably the second most important strategy, as it will help ensure you’re the last Hero standing. A general rule of thumb is that any stat boost that occurs curing the Combat phase is only temporary for that fight, but any stat-boosting that takes place in the Tavern phase will be permanent.
Being able to do deal damage outside of a minion’s attack, and attacking multiple minions with a single attack are also excellent means of crowd control as well.
The Auto Chess Wars Intensify
I like Hearthstone Battlegrounds. I think it’s got a lot going for it that make it superior to other Auto Chess games, but I think it’s also being held back by the fact that it uses the card game as a base. Hearthstone has developed a bit of a reputation for facilitating ridiculous combos and strategies, and all of that nonsense seems to already be part of Battlegrounds from day one.
I’m personally not a fan of how prevalent stat buffing is – it pretty much is the only strategy that matters and it can be hard to keep track of what your opponents are capable of. In other Auto Chess games the escalation was mainly in the form of key pieces and then how many two and three-star minions you could assemble. In Battlegrounds, there’s more math involved and so it’s harder to predict how strong your opponents will be.
I much prefer the tactical dimension of arranging your board though, and the economy is much simpler as well – no crazy ‘interest’ maths, and a more affordable and predictable cost-curve for everyone. Being able to freeze the trade row as well is a wonderful touch.
Have you tried out Hearthstone Battlegrounds yet? What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments!