Arena Allstars doesn’t waste any time on formalities. No sooner have you installed it than you’re on the battlefield, watching a variety of detailed, slickly animated fantasy monsters scrapping it out.
The game is an auto-battler, an example of the burgeoning auto chess genre. Its battles take place on grid-based battlefields, with a team of heroes going up against another team in a series of brief rounds, and your combat input is limited to seeing how they fare.
It’s a slick, streamlined gaming experience, a far cry from the complex strategy games of yore, and perfect for mobile.
Here’s how it all works. From the menu, you hop into a match by tapping the Play button, which promptly dumps you into the battlefield.
To send a hero into battle you need to buy it first, using your reserve of gold displayed on the bottom-right. A timer counts down, and you’ve got to get your heroes onto the battlefield before it reaches zero, by simply dragging and dropping them onto any grid square you like.
Money money money
After each round you gain a bit of gold, and you spend this on more heroes. The more money you have, the better the heroes you can buy. Obviously, the more heroes you have in the fight, and the better they are, the greater your chance of victory, and the more gold you’ll earn.
The number of heroes you have in the battle is constrained not only by how many you have, but by your team size. The only way to increase your team size is to buy XP.
The first couple of rounds in a match are fairly simple, since your options are very limited. But once the gold starts to flow the complexity increases.
Along the bottom of the battlefield you’ll see your Synergies. These are effects that you can take advantage of by getting a certain number of a certain class or race of hero into the fight. For example, if you activate the Homunculi Synergy with two eligible heroes you’ll get +20 regen. If you field three Dragonkin at once every Dragonkin will start with 100 mana.
You can also get effects by picking up equipment randomly in battle.
If you buy more than one of a particular hero, meanwhile, you can combine them to level them up.
Naturally these considerations mean you’re often looking for specific heroes or classes. The game serves up a random assortment to buy, but you can refresh the selection by laying down a couple of gold coins.
As well as your heroes on the battlefield you can have six more on the bench, giving your team some depth and allowing you to swap heroes in and out between rounds. You can also sell heroes that you don’t need.
But because the interval between each round is on a strict timer, you need to do all of your team management – spending gold, making team selections, buying and selling heroes – in a shrinking window of time, giving the game a frantic feel.
In the main solo free for all, you’ll play matches against eight other players online. There’s a team co-op mode, too, which is harder to organize, and a practice mode.
The gameplay in Arena Allstars is fast, intuitive, and addictive. You’ll bellow with frustration one minutes as you fail to marshal your heroes in time to avoid a rout, but cheer with triumph the next. Naturally it’s tough to beat seven human opponents, but when you pull it off the satisfaction is immense, and your losses never feel unfair.
While some of the presentation is fairly basic, Arena Allstars gets it right where it matters, in the character models and designs. There’s a strain of imaginative humor running through the game, too, evident in heroes like Regular Guy, a pot-bellied nerd, and Otto, a careworn teddy bear with the stage name “The Unhinged Abomination”.
Arena Allstars isn’t the most elaborate production you’ll find on mobile, and it feels a bit underdeveloped in places, but if you’ve yet to sample the joys of auto chess on mobile, this is a good place to start.