Skip the grind: 3 fun mobile games that (almost) play themselves

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Look, ma, no hands!
Look, ma, no hands!
Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

I just leveled up while I was driving to pick my kid up from school. I set up a digital battle using my iPhone while sitting in my driveway, hit “Go,” and then just put my iPhone down on my dashboard while I drove to get him.

I’ve been calling these types of games “auto-battlers” for their central feature: letting you skip tedious, grinding gameplay that tends to be a feature of traditional role-playing games. I don’t have time to micromanage my iPhone; chances are neither do most people, which explains the rise of casual gaming over the past five years or so.

Here are three fun mobile games that let you experience more depth than a typical Flappy Bird clone, but still don’t require too much input to enjoy.

Pop goes the dungeon

Soda Dungeon is my favorite of the three, with a simple (yet wacky) conceit: you’ve been entrusted with a tavern outside an evil dungeon. As the barkeep, you must make sure there’s enough of the right kind of soda available to attract ever-more capable adventurers to then hire in groups of five to take on the dungeon’s baddies.

The whole thing is done up by developer Armor Games in a lovely retro 32-bit style with quirky party members like the ruffian with a green mohawk hairdo, as well as bizarre enemies that you might expect to have seen on a Sega Saturn or Super Nintendo Entertainment System back in the day. You’ll earn gold every time you hit a dungeon, and the better your party, the farther into the dungeon you’ll go. Every 100 levels or so, you’ll get the chance to reset things and earn Relics, which give you all sorts of boosts to your defense and attack ratings.

Cherry soda will get you sorcerers who will fight with magic.
Cherry soda will get you sorcerers who will fight with magic.
Photo: Armor Games

My favorite thing about this game is the ability to hire five adventurers and then let them fight it out without any input on my part. Seriously, I can put the iPhone down and just let them do their thing. I do this all the time, which is probably why I have 12 hours of game play and around 500 levels behind me. Without the auto-battle feature, I would never take the time to tap each bad guy, choose an attack, and then confirm it. It just takes too long. The only time I need to spend in the game is purchasing better sodas and tavern equipment to make sure a steady stream of better heroes arrive to help me go farther into the dungeons. It’s this meta-game that’s so satisfying, especially when I get to another 100 levels and get to tap on the portal and enter a new dimension, essentially starting over with a new tavern but extra bonuses on my good guys. You can grab Soda Dungeon for free on the App Store right now.

Like a boss

Summon and upgrade a plethora of heroes to take on the forces of evil.
Summon and upgrade a plethora of heroes to take on the forces of evil.
Photo: Big Fish Games

Big Fish Games has its own auto-battler to experience, too, with its own special charms. Called Dungeon Boss, it’s a much more modern-looking affair, and you’ll team up three upgradeable heroes at a time to run across locations and fight various fantasy-breed monsters before encountering, well, a boss for each dungeon level. You’ll earn experience potions and gold each run, which you can use to upgrade your characters’ armor, special skills, and weaponry along the way.  You’ll get new heroes via a portal system that will let you purchase better and better characters with gems that you can buy through an in-app purchase.

The auto-battle here requires a little more set-up, so it’s something I tend to play when I’m sitting down, maybe reading a book or watching a boring TV show. Once you set up your three heroes and launch them at a dungeon, things work pretty well (except they won’t automatically use their more powerful skills when on auto), until someone dies, and then the action pauses. This is ostensibly to get your input before you’re completely defeated, which makes sense, but it does slow things down if you’re just looking to skip tedious tapping turn-based combat altogether.

Still, Dungeon Boss feeds that gaming itch I seem to have that involves leveling up heroes into total badasses, while summoning ever more powerful good guys to face an endless onslaught of baddies. It’s available for free on the App Store and Google Play.

Whip out that sword

Whirling like a dervish without even touching the screen.
Whirling like a dervish without even touching the screen.
Photo: 4:33 Creative Labs

Blade: Sword of Elysion looks like something straight out of a Final Fantasy game, complete with little imp-like girls with tails and super high voices, baroquely armored elven knights, and improbably costumed sorceresses who wield immense arcane powers.

It’s a fairly complex game, full of gear to upgrade, skills and special powers to manage, and a questing and inventory system that echoes more console-style MMOs with its complexity and depth.

Once you’ve created your own avatar from the three available at game start, you’ll run through dungeon after dungeon and hack and slash your way through demonic and skeletal enemies with a flourish of action and style. Once you’ve worked through a specific dungeon, you’ll unlock the auto-battle system, which will animate your avatar without any need for manual input. Considering that you’ll need to grind through a few levels more than once to make sure you’re powerful enough to beat the big bad boss in the final level of each environmental stage, this is a great way to do it. If you’ve got enough gems, you can even just immediately auto-clear a level you’ve passed, no battling necessary, auto- or not.

It’s not all auto-battling zen, though, as you’ll be able to fight other players and test out your own upgrades and experience levels against other folks doing the same thing. There are daily and weekly quest dungeons which give you additional experience and currency, making Blade feel like a game with a lot to do.

Blade: Sword of Elysion is a gorgeous game (it looks like something you’d see on a PC) with what seems like a fairly active community. If you want a taste of a Korean-influenced RPG and you like the idea of skipping the grind to get right to the meaty battles and upgrades, give it a try: it’s in the App Store right now for a no-cost download.