Thanks @MinuteWalt! Looking at the larger context of Autobattlers really helps me clarify my thoughts on them more. I also learned from that these Autobattlers owe a lot of mechanical inspiration from the Pokemon Defense Warcraft 3 mod.
I like a good strategy game where you don’t necessarily control the units during battle. Conquest of Elysium 4 is my current favorite one. I might upload a video of me playing COE 4 soonish.
But these newer Auttobattlers are distinct from those games via a specific mechanical soup of "Small Randomized Buy" , “Limited Space”, “Interest”, “Set Collection: Evolution”, and "Set Collection: Bonuses"
The goal of these newer Autobattlers is to build a team powerful heroes over a series of rounds. Win enough of your battles and you win the game. I’m going to analyze each of the mechanics isolation and also analyze the specific composition of these mechanics to explain my dissatisfaction with the newer Autobattler format.
"Small Randomized Buy" . Every round you buy heroes from a small randomized pool of heroes. You can spend resources to re-roll the pool.
The best example of other games using this mechanics are Ascension deck builder style buys and tight drafting games like 7 Wonders. This mechanic at least two main advantages when used in physical board games. 1. Reduces the setup time of the game compared to separate piles of cards (Dominion style buys). I really value the “Pacing” property in board games. Any mechanic that speeds up play or set-up I feel is super valuable in board games. Autobattlers are digital games so they do not benefit from the property as much as their physical counter-parts. 2. Allows the designer to have potentially a large number of potential options for the player, while not overloading them with information at any one time. This property increases the accessibility of the game while also keep the potential complexity of the game high. Autobattlers definitely benefit from this where they are perceived as being much more accessible than the games they are hosted in (DOTA and LOL).
"Limited Space" - In Autobattlers you are constrained by not only the cost to buy the heroes but also both your army and reserve have space for a limited amount of heroes.
The most similar feel of this mechanic to me is in tight drafting games like “7 Wonders”. The mechanic both forces players to commit to a strategy (can’t buy ALL the things) and manages complexity. If a game does not have good use of Limited Space then the game can feel bloated and a the cards unimpactful (Terraforming Mars). Both of these properties are used to good effect in isolation in Autobattlers.
"Interest" A significant portion of your resources come from the interest mechanic wheres players earn interest on unspent resources.
This mechanic is also used in various Tower Defence games such as Element TD. This mechanic shifts the question of “Can I win the current battle?” to “Can I win the current battle with minimal resources?”. It also allow for high level strategy where players can trade power in the early game for power in the late game. Again, in isolation the interest mechanic works for Autobattlers wheres its more interesting to try fights between hero teams with the proper amount of strength versus maximum strength.
"Set Collection: Evolution" - Your heroes in auto chess can evolve into more powerful versions if you collect multiple copies of them.
This might be similar to the “free card” mechanic in 7 Wonders. This mechanic rewards players for committing to a specific hero. Evolved heroes are significantly more powerful than their unevolved counterparts. Level 3 units in particular can be battle defining. Again, in isolation this a a fine mechanic for Autobattlers to have.
"Set Collection: Bonus" - Your hero team gains bonuses for collecting specific types of heroes.
This mechanic rewards players for committing to a specific types of heroes. These bonuses are large and again potentially battle defining. Again, in isolation this a a fine mechanic for Autobattlers to have.
I dislike the composition of all of these mechanics with the specific constants used by the Autobattlers. Basically, “Set Collection: Bonus”, “Set Bonus: Evolution” and “Limited Space” all work in tandem to make players desire very specific heroes, but "Small Randomized Buy" severely limits whats the players can purchase. The cost to buy heroes that don’t immediately synergize with your setup is expensive in both space and resources due to “Limited Space” and “Interest” mechanics. This makes your strategy feel very brittle and inflexible and at the mercy of RNG. Also the “Interest” mechanic feels unsatisfying in the late game because the early cleverness will not always translate to late game rewards as you want very specific heroes and even with rerolls you feel at the mercy of the "Small Randomized Buy".