Hearthstone needed more diversions like Battlegrounds, the promising new eight player Auto Battler mode

So far, it’s pretty fun

Stop me if you’ve done this before: you’re playing your favorite card (or otherwise rank-based game), hit up your standard few matches for rewards, keep your ranking stable, then log off. It’s a problem for both the publisher and the player, as the former wants to keep you logged in as long as possible, and the latter often just wants more stuff to do in a game they love to play.

Blizzard has been experimenting with these concepts in the past few years with mechanics like Diablo III‘s expanded adventure mode, Overwatch‘s arcade and now, an eight player wacky Auto Battler-inspired Hearthstone gametype. So far, it’s pretty promising.

Here’s the rub. You can read up on the Auto Battler phenomenon if you want, or just listen up for a few seconds.

Battlegrounds is a new mode available in Hearthstone now in closed beta form, with an open beta rolling out on November 12. It pits eight players against one another with unique heroes/commanders (listed above), and tasks them with throwing minions onto the board to try and best their opponent. Everything plays out automatically, you basically just need to pick the right minions for the job (through a storefront interface and a limited currency system) and survive the ongoing onslaught. If you win a round, your commander (hero) will slap your opponent, then a buying phase and a new round begins. The whole “eight player” thing isn’t synchronous: instead you’ll be fighting 1v1, classic Hearthstone style, then rotating each round until someone emerges as the victor. 

You can see the appeal from a mile away. Not only is it similar to the battle royale idea that’s extremely prevalent in today; there’s a certain simplicity to the “auto” bit of the moniker that should appeal to pretty much everyone. That includes Hearthstone fans who may have lapsed due to meta shifts or current standard competitive pricing. Everyone is on the same plane here, for the most part, especially after a short tutorial explains everything for you.

There is strategy involved of course, despite the automation. Minions attack from left to right, so you can plot out how a combat is going to go. Battlegrounds uses classic cards and keywords (like taunt, which forces enemies to attack it first), so you can set up machinations like having a deathrattle (ability triggers upon death) taunt minion attack first, die, then grant a bonus to another minion in turn. Or, run point with a powerful minion that deals direct damage after other friendly minions die safely protected on the right side, then deploy a bunch of weak minions on the left that will be willingly sacrificed to feed that power. Traits (demon, beast, murloc, mech) also factor in to add another layer on top of everything.

Like other Auto Battlers, you can also combine three minions into a super (triple) minion, rewarding consistency, as well as “freeze” or re-roll the store to keep minions for next round or get new ones respectively. It’s fun, but best of all, fast: in the moment at least. Having played a bunch of Battlegrounds matches in beta, they generally run around 20 minutes to win (less if you lose at any point). That’s a decent time commitment for a typical card game, but short in the grand scheme of things.

I’ve played countless live service games and have seen countless more modes come and go (RIP League of Legends‘ Dominion). There’s no guarantee that Blizzard will keep this mode long term, and most CCG/DCG (collectible card games/digital card games) publishers are very averse to additional modes, especially when they encroach upon the almighty money-making standard funnel. Battlegrounds could very well be tossed out of the window next year, but I hope that the team sticks with it and continues to improve upon it as a new cornerstone of the Hearthstone package.

Chris Carter
EIC, Reviews Director - Chris has been enjoying Destructoid avidly since 2008. He finally decided to take the next step in January of 2009 blogging on the site. Now, he's staff!