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Dota Auto Chess beginners guide

It’s almost nothing like chess or Dota

Valve/Drodostudio via Polygon
Ryan Gilliam (he/him) has worked at Polygon for nearly seven years. He primarily spends his time writing guides for massively popular games like Diablo 4 & Destiny 2.

Dota Auto Chess is a game that has very little to do with chess or Dota 2 — despite being a mod of the latter. It’s confusing and complicated. To help you figure out your first few matches, we’re going to break down each of Auto Chess’ many systems.

Auto Chess basics

Auto Chess is a round-based digital board game against AI and other players. The goal is to be the last player standing, but it’s more about making decisions than intense, mechanical play like you’d find in a MOBA.

In Auto Chess, you buy chess pieces for gold, place them on the field using your Courier (the character you directly control), and watch as they battle against other units. You don’t control the units, and neither does your opponent. During the game, you’ll upgrade your units or buy units to replace them.

The chess pieces move themselves and fight until one side’s units have all been destroyed. If your army wins, you’ll get some extra gold. If the enemy army on your board wins, you’ll take damage from the remaining enemy units.

Your first three rounds are against AI enemies. They have a chance to drop items, which you can use to enhance your units. At round four, you’ll start battling the armies of other players. Starting at round 10, you’ll get to battle AI units again every five rounds. These fights are always the same, so they’re easy to prepare for. And they give you another chance to earn items.

Home and away teams

Dota Auto Chess scoreboard Drodostudio/Valve via Polygon

Like traditional sports, there are home and away teams in Auto Chess. Your team always plays at home, but a copy of your team travels to an enemy board each round. Your team plays the copy of an enemy player’s team, and enemy players play a copy of your team.

If your away team loses on another board, nothing happens. But if your away team wins, they’ll deal damage to the enemy player they defeated. Players start with 100 health. When that number reaches zero, you lose.

Getting gold

Generating gold is important in Auto Chess. It lets you remain flexible as the game goes on. More gold means more opportunities.

You can earn gold at the end of each round, but the amount depends on several factors:

  • Winning a round
  • Finishing a round
  • Going on a winning streak
  • Going on a losing streak
  • Hoarding gold to generate interest

It takes time to learn when you can save and when you should spend, but it’s a key skill in Auto Chess.

Buying units

Drodostudio/Valve via Polygon

When you load into a match of Auto Chess, the game will give you a choice. Five chess pieces sit in front of you.

In your store at the start of each round, you get five random pieces to choose from. They can be all the same or all different chess pieces. Different pieces have different costs and rarities associated with them. For example, Clockwerk is a Common chess piece, and only costs one gold. Doom is an Epic chess piece and costs four gold.

When you buy a chess piece, it’ll go to your bench. Your bench has eight slots that can hold eight chess pieces that aren’t on the field.

In the store, you have a few different options.


Normally, you’ll get a new selection of units each round, but you can lock your current offering of chess pieces. Locking your units keeps your current selection available after the round ends. This is useful if you want to get that third Bounty Hunter you rolled, but you can’t afford it yet.


You can also reroll. This costs two gold, but it gives you a new selection of pieces to choose from. As long as you have the gold, you can keep rerolling to fish for the specific chess piece you’re looking for.

Controlling units

Once you’ve purchased your first unit, you’ll need to place it. Select your Courier, and use the place command on the chess piece (hotkeyed to Q by default). A small icon of the unit’s face will appear on your cursor. Drag it to the grid on the chess board and drop it. Your piece will leap onto the field where you told it to go.

You can only have so many chess pieces on the field at a time. If you need to pull a piece off the board, use the withdraw command (hotkeyed to W by default) to send them to your bench. You can also sell units back for cost by hitting the sell button (hotkeyed to E by default).

Placing your units on the field is its own art form. Units move around the field differently. Assassins jump into the back line, ranged units attack from afar, and melee units hop toward enemies. Put your beefy units like Treant Protector and Omniknight on the frontline. Units like Razor, Shadow Fiend, and Sniper should go in a line behind them.

Leveling up your Courier

Winning or losing rounds grants you XP, and XP levels up your Courier.

Leveling up increases the number of pieces you can put on the board at one time. When the first match starts, you’ll only be able to put out one piece at a time. By round two, you’ll have enough XP to level up your Courier and place three pieces at a time.

You also get access to rarer units at higher Courier levels.

For the early levels, you can rely on the XP you earn each round to level you up. Eventually, you’ll need so much XP to level that it could take 10 or more rounds to let it accumulate. You can and should purchase XP for gold to level up faster. Five gold will buy experience for your Courier.

Don’t buy XP until you can afford the entire level. You won’t get any benefits for having your XP partway between levels seven and eight, for example. However, that gold will earn interest if you keep it in the bank.

Unit levels and rarities

Dota Auto Chess roster Drodostudio/Valve via Polygon

In Auto Chess, there are Common, Uncommon, Rare, Epic, and Legendary chess pieces.

It’s safe to assume that a level one Epic chess piece will be better than a level one Uncommon piece. There are some pieces that break that rule, but that changes each time developer Drodostudio patches Auto Chess. Each level of rarity adds one gold to the cost, capping at five gold for Legendary pieces.

Only Common units can show up in round one (which is good, since you only start with one gold). Rare units can arrive when you reach level two, and you’ll see them more frequently as you increase your level. A Legendary unit could show up at level eight, but you’re more likely to find one once you’re level nine or 10.

Upgrading units

When you get a unit in Auto Chess, your immediate goal is to upgrade it as early as possible. This will increase its health, damage, and ability potency.

To upgrade a unit, you need three level one units. Putting three level one chess pieces on the field at once will merge them into a single level two unit. You can also toggle on the Bench Combine option in the upper righthand corner to combine off of the field. To get a level three, you need to repeat the same process with three level two units.

Level three units are extremely powerful. Depending on how early you are in the game, a single level three unit could take out an entire team.

Upgrading a unit takes commitment and gold. No matter how good your army composition is, it will still get destroyed in the mid and late-game if all the units are level one. Sometimes that means you need to roll with the pieces Auto Chess gives you. You may go into a match wanting to build an army featuring units you like — Timbersaw and Tinker, for example. But you should reconsider that plan if Auto Chess is handing you Chaos Knights and Dragon Knights instead.

No matter how badly you want to use Timbersaw every game, Auto Chess decides the kind of army you build. Use what you get, not what you want. This is why gold is so powerful. With rerolls, it gives you a chance to make your own luck. Even if you want to build your army around Timbersaw and Tinker, you should reconsider if the game offers you three Chaos Knights in a single round.

Staying fluid is key to Auto Chess, but you should never look back. If you’re constantly thinking about the pieces you didn’t pick up, you’ll never be able to win. Stay focused, and be ready to shift your strategies when the game calls for it.

With all this, you’re ready to jump in and play Auto Chess.