This Dota Underlords guide will give you a rundown of the basics of this fantastic new game by Valve. Dota Underlords was released somewhat suddenly and is still very much in beta, so anything that I say here is subject to change.
However, the core gameplay ideas and concepts shouldn’t change too much since this game is based heavily on the wildly popular Dota Auto chess custom game-mode. If you’re familiar with that version, then much of this guide will be repeating what you already know but there are some unique innovations on the genre here.
Learn the game against bots
When you open the game up you are greeted with a fairly barebones home screen. I’m sure they’ll be adding more features and refining it over time, though.
Let’s start with a solo game against bots opponents, which I recommend you do too because you can pause the game and progress at your own pace. This allows you to get a feel for the game without the time pressure of matches against real players.
Starting a game and preparation
After the loading screen has finished, you’ll see the names of all of your opponents. Games of Dota Underlords are divided into rounds that last about a minute or so. Every round has two phases, a preparation phase and a combat phase.
The preparation phase lasts about 25 seconds, and the combat phase can last up to one minute, but it is often shorter. Since I am in a solo bot game, I’ve disabled the timer, but usually there is a red bar with a number counting the number of seconds that I have left in the preparation phase.
We start the game in the prep phase, and your shop will pop open with five options of units to purchase, The number in the upper right-hand corner of each unit indicates the cost in terms of gold, while your current gold is shown down in the bottom right, where we currently have one gold. Luckily every unit costs one gold right now, but units can range in cost from 1-5 gold; the more expensive units naturally being a bit more powerful than the cheaper units.
At the beginning of the game, we only have access to the one cost units, but our gold and options will grow over time. Each of these units has an ability whose icon is in the top right by their name, and they have alliances which are the icons at the bottom, these will become very important later as we discuss the strategy of the game, but for right now let’s just work on the mechanics.
To buy a unit you click on the unit, and it’ll disappear from the shop and appear down on your bench. You can close the shop either by pressing the spacebar or by clicking the X button in the bottom right next to our gold. This button then turns back into a shop icon, and we can reopen the shop in the same way to go back.
Overview of the board
There’s quite a lot going on at first glance when you see the main screen. In the middle, you’ll see an 8×8 grid, just like a chessboard, which is where our units will be placed and where battles commence. You can only set your units on the bottom four rows since our opponent’s units will be occupying the top four rows.
To place a unit, simply click and drag from your bench onto your chessboard into any open spot. You will notice the highlights around the unit, which is the unit’s attack range. This unit will naturally attack one square away because he’s a melee unit, so just put him towards the front.
You start off with a unit limit of 1, but over time the threshold will increase up to a maximum of 10 units. If we have bought excess units that cannot fit onto our board they have to stay on the bench for the round. The bench can hold up to 8 units.
Once we’ve placed our unit on the board, we are ready to go to the combat phase. Usually, this happens automatically after 25 seconds, but in the solo mode, I have to advance it by clicking the play button manually.
In the first combat round the game pits our units against two ai-controlled creeps which are trivial for any unit to defeat. Combat in this game is completely automated with no input from the player. You can choose which units to place and where to place them on the board but once the battle starts you get to sit back and watch the fights
On the right is a button that will show a DPS meter. While not too useful at the beginning of a game, later on it’s imperative that you swap out under performing units, or place them elsewhere so that they can dish out more damage before they die. A good example of this is you don’t want your Drow Ranger front-lining, and your Timbersaw backlining.
The next phase is called the looting phase. This is where we get a choice of items to pick from. This looting phase occurs every round that we face creeps but it does not occur after rounds against opponents.
There are two types of items in the game, some get equipped by the unit, and some are board-wide passive effects. To choose an item you simply click on it.
After that looting phase, we go back to the preparation phase for round two, and our shop has refreshed with new units for the second turn of the game. We have earned more gold too, which we can spend on units, leveling up, or rerolling the unit list.
To help us decide on what units we want to buy, let’s look at the alliances that I mentioned earlier. The icons at the bottom of the portrait dictate the alliances the unit is in, and you can get more information about each one these alliances by hovering your mouse over them. The synergies or bonuses that you can unlock for having multiple different units with the same Alliance on the board at once can make or break your team fighting capabilities.
For example, if you have two warriors, you will gain +10 armor, whereas if you get up to six later in the game, then all of your warriors will have plus 15 armor, which makes them very resilient to opposing attacks
Abilities, stats & items
You can see the abilities and stats a unit has by clicking on it. Some abilities are passive effects, i.e. they are permanently on and don’t require mana to cast, whereas others will need mana to use.
For example, Bloodseekers passive grants him more attack speed the lower his health is, as well as giving him HP on a successful kill. Units that have passive effects are best equipped with items like morbid mask, which silences the unit.
It’s also worth noting that units will receive mana from receiving damage, not just from attacking. This makes equipping items that give additional mana when damage received on your front-line units more beneficial. Abilities also have their own cooldowns too, they won’t necessarily be used every time the unit has 100% mana. It’s important to look at cooldown times and attack speed when choosing how to distribute your items.
You can increase the stats of a unit by levelling it up. To level up a unit, you must purchase additional duplicates of the same unit.
To level up the units you need:
3 x 1 star = 2 star
3 x 2 star = 3 star
An early level 3 star unit can wreak havoc against your opponents.
To equip a unit with an item, click the item tab on the right, and drag the item to your desired unit. Each unit may only equip one item at a time.
Once the units are on the board, you will be able to see icons pop up on the right that is representative of the alliances that we have active or that we’re working towards.
Some alliances require only one unit, like Demons, whereas others will need at least 3 to get the first passive level. It’s beneficial to stack units of the same alliances together, to get the most out of your units.
When choosing which units to purchase, you should constantly be considering if it fits your active alliances or not.
Winning or losing a round
If you win on your own board you get one bonus gold for the next round and you’ll see that in the income breakdown. If you lose, however, you take damage based on how many units were left of the opposing team. As you can imagine, early losses will not reduce your life too much, but later on in the game, you can receive incredibly large amounts of health if you get stomped by a couple of players in a row.
If you do lose your first few rounds, don’t fret. A lot of unit builds and compositions may be more favorable later on in the game. I’ve personally gone from being almost eliminated, to winning, just because my endgame build out sustained my opponents more aggressive early build.
Scouting other players
The list on the left will rearrange so that you can easily tell who is doing well and who is struggling. You can also click on each players icon to take a look at their board. This allows you to see their units, their placement, and any battles they may be currently engaged in. This information lets you try and counter specific builds, if possible. See your opponents rushing to place a Demon on the boards? Try and buy a Demon Hunter, if possible.
Those on winning streaks will have their emblem glow specific colors too.
Gold and shop overview
Gold is the only resource in the game rather and there are only a couple of different ways to earn it. The first is to sell off units that you may not need, or don’t want anymore. You can simply click it and drag it to the left to the trash icon and I’ll show you how much gold you’ll get.
Generally, you will want to sell off units that do not fit your strategy, as perhaps their alliances don’t match up with your other units or you may have never found other copies to upgrade it. Since you have a limited number of spots on board and on your bench eventually you’ll need to sell off units just to buy more.
The other way to gain gold is the natural amount you’ll earn every turn. After the initial creep rounds you’ll gain a baseline of 5 gold per round plus one additional gold if you have won the round, plus interest on any unspent gold that you have as you’ll get one point of interest for every 10 gold you have unspent, up to a maximum of 50 gold for five points of interest. This means that by mid game you should try to save up to 50 gold to make sure that you’re generating the most possible gold every turn. You’ll also earn gold from winning streaks and losing streaks of up to three extra gold per round. Obviously winning each round is ideal since you do not take damage and gain the one bonus gold but if you’re on a losing streak the game has a nice little catch-up mechanic to hopefully get you back into it.
The worst case scenario is to alternate wins and losses such that you don’t get any win or lost streaks and thus earn less gold.
You may be thinking about what else can you spend your gold on other than obviously buying units in the shop. You can also spend gold at any time by pressing the reroll button, which rerolls your shop and refreshes it. It’s advised that in the early game, you don’t press it.
Next to the reroll button is the experience wheel that will gradually tick up over time. Every round you’ll gain one experience point and when you hit the next threshold you will level up the number of units you can place on the board. The amount if units you can place is determined by your level.
If you spot a specific unit, or units, that you wish to buy but don’t have the gold required, you can lock the shop by pressing the padlock button. This will stop your shop from refreshing, allowing you to purchase the units next round when you have more gold.
Summing up: Dota Underlords guide
Hopefully this Dota Underlords guide was useful to those who have never played an Auto Chess game before. Dota Underlords is a fantastic game, even if it is still in its infancy. Please note that this guide was written during the closed Beta period, so it’s likely that certain aspects, including the UI, may change over time. However, I’m more than confident that the main mechanics will not change. If you spot something that isn’t correct, please drop me a comment below, and I’ll look into changing it ASAP.
Best of luck to all of you in your Auto Chess adventures.