With those details in hand, the game mode looks surprisingly promising. Chasing the popular auto battler trend started by Dota 2’s Auto Chess mod (which notably absolutely captivated many if not all notable Hearthstone streamers like Trump for months) and capitalized on by Teamfight Tactics. Battlegrounds is the latest auto battler, and continues the trend of each iteration of this game type being wildly different in many ways from the rest.
Much like Hearthstone‘s approach to card games, Battlegrounds represents a somewhat more streamlined, aesthetically coherent, and simplified form of the new genre of game. Unlike the original mod or its imitators, you cannot view your other opponents’ boards during the setup phase (though you can see how many of each type of minion they have by hovering over their name on the scoreboard). This leaves you free to focus on your own choices.
This gives the game a more relaxed pace already, a sharp contrast to the frantic and frequently overwhelming speed with which other auto battler games have played out.
Uniquely as well, at the start of the game, you choose a Hero to represent you (shown to you from a random pool), and each has a unique Hero Power and affinity for a certain minion type. Millificent Manastorm has an affinity for mechs and gives them passive stat bonuses, while Jaraxxus can spend gold to provide all of his demons increase stats. This makes each game play out a bit differently and encourages you to try new strategies rather than shotgunning for a single strategy that usually becomes the optimal course in a game (like Warriors were for a while in the original Auto Chess mod).
Much of the core gameplay remains the same beyond that. You gather gold as you win matches, and can use that gold to buy new minions or upgrade Bartender Bob’s Tavern (the equivalent of levels, which increases the minion tier you may purchase). Also, you can activate your Hero Power (for example, Jaraxxus’ costs 3, while George the Fallen can give a minion Divine Shield for 4 gold). Winning a showdown with an enemy team provides you with attack power, which you use to slam your opponent’s face until they eventually die.
Buying three of the same minion upgrades it to a Golden version, doubling its stats. It also doubles its effects, making minions like Micro Machine (which gain +1 attack at the end of each turn) gain +2 instead.
The way this is expressed is the final unique factor: buffs matter. Any buffs applied in the setup phase are permanent; that +2 attack on the Micro Machine sticks around forever, steadily growing stronger as each round passes (though no more durable). Keep in mind that buffs accrued during combat are reset at the end.
While remaining a separate game, on the whole, Battleground does interact somewhat with Hearthstone‘s base experience. Having a certain number of packs from the newest expansion unlocks bonuses, including new emotes and additional Hero choices during the initial setup phase, encouraging you to play both game modes to a certain extent.
I have high hopes for Battlegrounds. It looks fun and should hopefully drive a bit of stream traffic back to Hearthstone streamers who’ve been experimenting with new content, and is hopefully a harbinger of more new things to come, what with it being filed under an intriguing new catch-all button for “Modes”, which also includes Arena. Will we see even more new game modes in the future? Perhaps the great white whale of the community: Tournament mode?