Game Review - Button Men by James Ernest


Button Men, James Ernest, Cheapass Games, 1999.

Button Men is a simple, inexpensive and original dice game. In fact the game is so simple, most players are going to play and say "Is that it?" However, after playing the game many, many times, I feel the main idea of the game is so simple and original that I would compare the game to a beautiful 1/4 carat diamond. Some would berate it for not being a 2 carat diamond, while others would appreciate it for such brilliance in such a small package.

The central notion of Button Men is dice rolling. Each player has 5 or 6 dice that they use to capture the opponent's dice. Basically, there are two capture options:

The captured die is taken out of the game, and the attacking die or dice are rerolled. The attack is alternated until one player has lost all their dice. These are the rules in a nutshell.

Courtesy of Cheapass Games
Of course the game is embellished beyond simply rolling dice. Each Button, of which you receive two for your $5, lists the Button Men's name and his or her attacking dice. All dice are between 4 and 20 sides. One or more of the dice are listed with an "X" and called the X dice which you select at battle time in an attempt to defeat your opponent. This is one of the the strategies in the game: do you select a 20 sided die in an attempt to clobber your opponent, or do you select a 4 sided die to help build some speed attacks.

The other element of strategy is selecting which of your opponent's dice to clobber. Consider an enemy showing a low number on a 20 sided die and a high number on a 10 sided die. Do you capture the 20 sided die, knowing that it can be rerolled later to create big damage? Do you capture the 10 sided die, knowing that the 20 sider can do little damage this turn?

I enjoy the game because it is quick and compact. Two people can meet and play 10 games in half an hour. It is also the sort of game that can be carried in a dice bag or stowed away in the corner of a game box. My biggest delay in playing this game was in finding a set of matching dice for each fighter. I raided my old role-playing dice box, but couldn't get a variety in sides and a homogenaity in color.

Certainly there are many dice rolls in this game. In some battles this may lead to lucky or unlucky wins or losses. However, the number of dice rolls in a game should even out the luck factor in the long run.

Although I would tire of two hours of this game, I credit this game with having a brilliant and highly original combat system. Now that we've all seen the rules, I suspect you may see this dice combat system show up in other games. It's reminds me of the binary dice set that was "invented" in the last year - a great idea and surprising it wasn't used earlier. You may ask "why should I buy the game now that I know the system?" I rationalize that I am rewarding the designer for his ideas. I encourage you to do the same.

Button Men is a simple, fast and furious dice game for 2 players. Highly recommended.


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