Matt Carlson: Review of Button Men Beat People Up

Button men has players rolling to capture their opponent’s dice in a sort of alternate reality competitive Yahtzee. Players choose a Button Man that dictates their dice and any special powers and then alternate rolling dice to capture their opponents’ dice. Points are scored for captured dice and half points for one’s own dice that are kept through the end of the game. High score wins and another round is played in a best of three competition. Button Men is a fast playing, fun little game that is extremely portable.

Button Men
Designer: James Ernest
Publisher: Cheapass Games
Players: 2+
Ages: 12+
Time: 10 minutes
(review copy provided by publisher)

Button Men appeared on the scene years ago (technically last century) as a game sold as a pack of two pin buttons. Each button represented a character. Players would use dice (as specified on the button) to play a head to head game of dice rolling and capturing. Winning awards for its simplicity and entertainment value, it gained a strong niche following of players who would wear their buttons at conventions in an attempt to find other players for a quick pick-up game. This new edition was created to bring the game back into the spotlight and provide players a way to enjoy the game without having to buy dozens of buttons. This new edition comes with a set of 30 dice (enough for any combination of characters) and 48 characters represented by playing cards for a price that is much less than it would cost to buy them as physical buttons.

Each character in the set is represented by five dice of various sides. (The set incudes 4-sided, 6-sided, 8-sided, 12-sided, and 20-sided dice.) Players take the set of dice indicated on their card and roll all of them at the same time. The player with the lowest number showing on their dice goes first. The object is to use your dice to capture your opponent’s dice. This is done primarily with a power attack. A die can perform a Power Attack by claiming any opposing die that has a face with a lower number than the attacking die. After the attack, the attacking die is rerolled and the opponent gets a turn. Dice can also perform Skill Attacks. If two or more of a player’s dice add up exactly to the number shown on an opponent’s die, it is captured. Again, all of the dice used in the attack are rerolled. Play alternates between players, with players unable to make an attack forced to pass. Once both players have no more legal moves, points are scored. Players get the full value of any captured dice (12 points for a captured 12-sided die, etc…) and half value for any dice they own that remained uncaptured (4 points for an uncaptured 8-sided die, etc…) The player with the highest total wins. Typically, games are played best two out of three.

All 48 characters start the game with five total dice, but only four are typically fixed. The fifth die is a Swing die and its size (4-side, 12-sided, etc…) is chosen before the match is played. A player can switch their swing die after they lose a round. This is one of the few bits of true strategy in the game. Do you go for a big die, hoping to take your opponents and maybe keep it until the end of the game, or go for small dice to go first and hope to capture your opponent’s big dice before they roll too high to capture? Mathematicians could even go the extra mile and calculate out the size die needed to make it more difficult for an opponent to keep enough sides to win. (Technically, the character with more sides will need to keep a number of sides equal to 2/3 of the difference.)

In the backstory (what there is of it) Button Men occurs in a town of four districts. Of the 48 characters, there are 12 in each district. One district plays as normal, while the other three districts have some dice that obey different rules. These dice are indicated by their different color on the card and are kept separate during the game by representing them with dice of a different color (typically one of the black dice.) One set of characters have Poison dice. These dice are worth negative points. Capturing a Poison die grants negative points equal to half the die size, while keeping them penalizes you the full size of the die. (So capturing an 8 sided die nets you negative 4 points.) Another set of characters have Shadow dice. Shadow dice capture other dice showing an equal or larger number. They cannot make Power attacks, but can be used in Skill attacks. Also, a Shadow die can only capture numbers up to its maximum value. So an eight sided die with a 3 showing could capture dice showing anything from a 3 to an 8. It couldn’t capture a 10 sided die showing 9 or 10, as that is greater than the 8 sider can achieve. The last special type of die is the Rush die. Rush dice may do Power or Skill attacks, but also have the Rush ability. A Rush die may capture TWO of the opponent’s dice if they add up to the exact value of the Rush die. Thus, a Rush die showing 7 could capture two dice showing a 4 and a 3. However, Rush dice have a weakness. They can be captured as part of a Rush attack by any other dice. So a Rush die showing a three and any other die showing a 7 could be captured by an opponent die showing exactly 10.

It should be noted that you can “try before you buy” the game by downloading the free print and play version at This contains a selection of characters from the old game along with complete rules and some examples of play.

Button Men is a quick, fun little game to play as a “filler” between other games or while waiting for more players to show up. It is a dice game, so luck plays a big factor. Some turns provide a bit of strategy, but most decisions are straightforward. I would say at least half of my turns have only one real option. The most exciting parts of the game lie on the occasional chance to press one’s luck – go for the easy gain or try for a long shot hoping for a good reroll. Perhaps the most strategic decision (along with picking a character) is picking out the appropriate swing die. I’m a sucker for going first, so I tend to go with a 4 sider, but that isn’t always the optimal move. The six types of dice (d4,d6,d8,d10,d12,d20) and three types of special attacks provide a wide range of possible characters, but aside from the special attacks, most of the duels feel very similar.

In addition to the basic 2 player rules, rules are provided for a “campaign” over several battles (with several characters) and/or games with multiple players. Players can start with a stable of characters, draft them, capture opponent’s cards on a win, etc… I’m less interested in these options as I feel it takes a fun, fast-playing game and stretches it out past its welcome.

This all may seem to mean I dislike the game. Far from it, I enjoy it, but only in moderation and not as a source of deep gaming strategy. A quick game now and again is welcome and the new form factor (a small box containing all the dice you need plus 48 different characters to try) make it a great travel-ready game.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Dale Y: I have always loved Button Men – in fact, I wrote a review on the original version last year in anticipation of this new set…

I do really like the addition of the new Rush die rule. I think it add a little more dynamism to the game, and gives you a bit more to think about when figuring out your attacks.

My son and I had already been playing our own campaign version of the game – it was like Button Men x War. We would each draft 7 characters, shuffle our decks and then play duels with the top fighter on each deck. The winner of the duel would collect both cards and place them on the bottom of their stack… Continue until one player had all 14 cards. We left our stacks on the kitchen table, and we would play 1 or 2 duels each night before or after meals. For us, this was a fun way to play the game.

This current boxed version is nice as it provides you enough dice to play with all the characters, yet the overall footprint is small. I have always preferred the cards to the buttons, so that aspect also appeals to me.

The new art is great. And, I’m a bit amazed at how much work was put into the backstory of the characters – found on the back of each card. Someone definitely let their imagination run wild to do that…

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it!   Dale Y
I like it.   Matt Carlson
Not for me…

About Matt J Carlson

Dad, Gamer, Science Teacher, Youth Pastor... oh and I have green hair. To see me "in action" check out Dr. Carlson's Science Theater up on Youtube...
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