Button Men: Complete Rule
Below is the annotated text of the Button Men rulebook. Following the basic
rules, you will find all the extra rules you might come across in licensed
expansions, including Trip
Dice, Focus Dice,
Poison Dice, Twin Dice,
Chance Dice, Speed Dice,
Auxiliary Dice, Queer Dice,
Fire Dice, Option Dice,
Null Dice, Berserk Dice, and the
enigmatic Turbo Swing. There
is also a quick reference table for the ranges of various
Swing Dice. However, we disavow any knowledge of the rules for the Winslow,
and are sorry we even mentioned it here.
The list of Multiplayer variants and tournament formats
has moved to its own page.
Button Men: Basic Rules, Clarifications,
and Example of Play
Note: If you are going to use these rules to learn the game, be advised that
they are more verbose than you really need. If you'd like a simpler version
of the rules, refer to any basic Button Men set.
Playing Time: 10 minutes and up.
Equipment: One Button Men fighter for each player,
and several polyhedral dice.
Summary of Play: Players fight several rounds
of combat, rolling dice and capturing each other's dice. The first player
to win three rounds wins the game.
The Dice: Each fighter uses several dice of different
sizes, as specified by the numbers on that button. As a general rule, small
dice mean speed, and large dice mean
strength. An "X" is a variable die, or "Swing
Die." You may use any die between 4 and 20 sides for this Swing Die, and
you can change that die between rounds. If a fighter has more than one "X,"
each of those Swing Dice must be the same.
Note: In tournament play, each player chooses
his swing die in secret at the beginning of the match, and thereafter only
the loser of each round may change his swing die.
[Clarification: A "die" is assumed to be any random
number generator which produces all the integers between 1 and its rank,
inclusive, in an even distribution. Dice sizes are not restricted to the
platonic solids, so for example an "X" could be -any- integral size between
4 and 20 sides. A 1-sided die is exactly that: a die with one side, which
is worth one point, and always rolls a 1.]
To Begin: Take all of your fighter's dice and
roll them. Arrange the dice in a row so they can be easily read. Whoever
rolled the single lowest number will go first. If the lowest dice are tied,
compare the next lowest dice, and so on until a leader is determined.
[Clarification: If all the dice are matched, the
round is a draw. If one player has more dice than the other, and all the
dice which can be tied for low are tied, then the player who has more dice
On Each Turn: You must make either a Power Attack
or Skill Attack if you can. These attacks are defined below:
[Clarification: A Skill Attack can technically be composed
of a single die. This is not a necessary clarification under the basic rules,
since this type of Attack could also be construed as a Power Attack. However,
some die types are not allowed to make Power Attacks, and in this case it becomes
- Power Attack: Use one
of your dice to capture one of your opponent's
dice. The number showing on your die must be greater than or equal to the
number showing on the die you capture. Take the captured die out of play,
then re-roll the capturing die.
- Skill Attack: Use several
of your dice to capture one of your opponent's
dice. In this attack, your dice must add up exactly to the value showing on
the die you capture. Remove the captured die from play, and re-roll
all the capturing dice.
Passing: You may not pass unless you cannot make
any legal attack.
Scoring: When both players pass, the round is
over. Calculate your score as follows: For each die you
captured, you score its
size in points. For example, a captured 8-sided
die is worth 8 points. For each die of your own
which you kept, you score half its size.
So, keeping your own 8-sided die is worth only 4 points. The highest score
wins the round, and the first player to win three rounds wins the game.
[Clarification: A die with an odd number of sides
is still worth exactly half its size when retained. For example, if you keep
your own 9-sided die, it's worth 4.5 points.]
Ties: If any round is a draw, re-play it.
Example of Play: Shown below are the starting
rolls for two Button Men players. The size of each die is not important to
the example, but the rolls are:
Bill: 2 4 5 13 18
Sarah: 2 2 6 9 13
Sarah goes first because she rolled the lowest single number, not counting
the first pair of 2's, which cancel out. She can't take Bill's 18, because
she can't add to it exactly, and she can't overpower it with a single die.
She could take Bill's 13 with her 13, or by adding 9, 2, and 2.
She decides to take Bill's 13. She removes the captured 13 from play, and
re-rolls her 9, 2, and 2. Now it's Bill's turn.
[Clarification: Bill does not re-roll any dice
to begin his turn. Unless they make attacks or are re-rolled by some special
effect, dice remain as they were rolled.]
Button Men: Swing
Swing Dice are allowed to be any integral size between their upper and lower
limit, including both ends, and including nonstandard die sizes like 17 or
9. Though they are rarely played that way except in tournaments, the ideal
Swing Die for a particular situation will often be one of the odd sizes.
The following table shows the upper and lower limits for all the Swing Dice
currently in use. For example, X is at the intersection of 4 and 20, meaning
that an X can vary between 4 and 20 sides.
As with the restriction on X stated above, if a character has any two Swing
Dice of the same letter, they must always be the same size. To denote a second
die of the same range which can fluctuate independently, one would use X',
X''', etc. (X Prime, X Double-Prime, etc.)
Special thanks to Ryan McGuire
for this compact method of tabulating the Swing Dice.
Button Men: Turbo
In July 1999, Cheapass Games ran an ad in the Origins on-site program book
featuring Zeppo, a clown with a big gun and a Turbo Swing. It was a popular
button, and here are the rules for playing it. (Zeppo is 4 10 12 X!) Turbo
Swing Dice were also used in the Freaks expansion.
Turbo Swing Dice: A Turbo swing is represented
by "X!". The "X" means that this die is a Swing Die, and can be any size
between 4 and 20 sides. The "!" means it's a Turbo.
After your starting roll, you may change the size of a Turbo swing every
time you roll it. Decide on a size first, then roll the new die as usual.
Note: In a tournament, you're not normally allowed
to change your swing die if you won the previous round. If you're using a
Turbo in this situation, you must start the round with the same size die
as you started with last time.
Button Men: Mood Swing
The Mood Swing is a variant of the Turbo, except that whenever it is rolled
it changes randomly to a new size.
Mood Swing Dice: A Mood Swing is represented by
When you use a Mood Swing as part of an Attack, you must change its size
randomly according to the following charts:
X?: Roll a d6. 1: d4; 2: d6; 3: d8; 4: d10; 5: d12; 6: d20.
V?: Roll a d4. 1: d6; 2: d8; 3: d10; 4: d12.
Note: In a tournament, you're not normally allowed
to change your swing die if you won the previous round. If you're using a
Mood in this situation, you must start the round with the same size die as
you started with last time.
Button Men: Trip Dice
Trip Dice were used in the 6-Character set of Lunch Money Button Men, licensed
to Atlas Games. These characters are still available from Atlas Games,
Trip Dice. Trip dice are represented by a number
with a strike-through. They can make a special attack, called a "Trip," and
they do not count for determining who goes first. In all other respects,
they behave like normal dice.
Trip Attack: Choose any one opposing die as the
Target. Roll both the Trip Die and the Target, then compare the numbers they
show. If the Trip Die now shows an equal or greater number than the Target,
the Target is captured. Otherwise, the attack merely has the effect of re-rolling
The Trip Attack counts as your one attack for the turn, and can be used instead
of either basic attack.
[ Clarification: A Trip Attack is illegal if it has no
chance of capturing. This is possible in the case of a Trip-1 attacking a Twin
Die. Making this attack legal would lead to an interminable game state. This doesn't
bother most people, but you should see the computer programmers deal with it.
Button Men: Shadow
Shadow Dice: Shadow dice were introduced in the
Vampyres expansion from Cheapass Games. In that expansion they were denoted
by a line over the number; in subsequent expansions they are denoted by a
small "S" on the frame. Shadow dice are normal in all respects, except that
they cannot make Power Attacks. Instead, they make inverted Power Attacks,
called "Shadow Attacks."
Shadow Attack: Use one
of your shadow dice to capture one of your opponent's
dice. The number showing on the die you capture must be
greater than or equal to the number showing on
your die, but within its range. For example, a
shadow 10-sided die showing a 2 can capture a die showing any number from
2 to 10. Take the captured die out of play, then re-roll the capturing die.
An X designated as a Shadow die is a Shadow Swing die. It is a Shadow die,
and can be any size between 4 and 20 sides.
Button Men: Focus Dice
Focus Dice were introduced in a limited-edition promotional
expansion from Legend of the Five Rings. In this set, Focus Dice were represented
as inverted, i.e., white numbers on a black field rather than the other dice,
which were black numbers on a white field. This syntax is unique to the Legend
of the Five Rings Button Men, and the color of fields and numbers has no meaning
outside of that context. Focus Dice were revised in the Samurai expansion from
Cheapass Games, in September 2001, and are now represented by a downward-pointing
arrow on the frame.
Focus Dice: If a player has Focus Dice, he can change
his starting roll as follows:
If you do not have the initiative, i.e., you are not going first, you may reduce
the values showing on any number of your Focus Dice. You may change as many dice
as you wish, but you may only do this if it results in your gaining the initiative.
If your opponent has Focus Dice, he may now do the same, and each player may respond
by turning down one or more Focus Dice until no further moves are legal, or until
one player allows the other to take the first turn.
Important restriction: If you go first, you may not
use any Focus Dice you have reduced as part of your first attack. (The second
player has no such restriction.)
The Legend of the Five Rings expansion also contained the
following multiplayer rules:
Players sit in a circle. The player with the lowest roll goes first. Players with
Focus Dice have the chance to use them, starting with the player who is closest
to going first, and working up. When a player is attacked, that player takes the
next turn. If a player passes, the turn moves to the left. The game continues
until every player passes.
Button Men: Stinger Dice
Stinger Dice were created for the Button Men: Diceland
expansion, and are denoted by a blue die frame with the Diceland arrowhead icon.
They are like normal dice in all respects except the following:
Stinger Dice do not count for going first. This means you ignore the numbers
on all your Stinger Dice when you are determining who goes first. Golo never
goes first against anyone from this set.
When participating in a Skill Attack, Stinger Dice can be used as any number
between 1 and the value they show. Thus, a normal die showing 4 and a Stinger
Die showing 6 can make a Skill Attack on any die showing 5 through 10. Two Stinger
Dice showing 10 can Skill Attack any die between 2 and 20.
Button Men: Poison
Poison Dice were created for the Button Men: BROM expansion,
and are denoted by a "P" on the die frame. They are normal in all respects, except
that they are worth negative points. If you keep a Poison Die of your own, subtract
its full value from your score. If you capture a Poison Die from someone else,
subtract half its value from your score.
Poison Dice can be combined with Shadow Dice. For Example, Bluff (from Button
Men: BROM) has two Poison Shadow dice, which have all the scoring properties of
Poison Dice, and make Attacks like Shadow Dice.
Button Men: Fire Dice
Fire Dice were designed for the Polycon Button Men,
Poly and Adam Spam. Fire Dice are denoted by a small "F" on the die frame. Fire
dice are normal in all respects, except as follows: Fire Dice cannot make Power
Attacks. Instead, they can assist other Dice in making Skill and Power Attacks.
Before making a Skill or Power Attack, you may increase the value showing
on any of the attacking dice, and decrease the values showing on one or more
of your Fire Dice by the same amount. For example, if you wish to increase
the value of an attacking die by 5 points, you can take 5 points away from
one or more of your Fire Dice. Turn the Fire Dice to show the adjusted values,
and then make the attack as normal.
Dice can never be increased or decreased outside their normal range, i.e.,
a 10-side die can never show a number lower than 1 or higher than 10. Also,
Fire Dice cannot assist other dice in making attacks other than normal Skill
and Power Attacks.
Button Men: Twin Dice
Twin Dice first appeared in several characters
from Studio Foglio, including a few What's New, Buck Godot, and Girl Genius
Button Men. Twin Dice appear as two numbers in an oblong frame, and are played
as two dice that add together. For example, a twin 8 is represented as (8,8)
and treated as a single die. The two 8's are rolled as one, captured as one,
and scored as one die worth 16 points.
Button Men: Chance Dice
Chance Dice were introduced in John McMahon's "Yoyodyne"
expansion set. They are marked by a "(c)" symbol on their frame. You can re-roll
your Chance Dice before the game as follows: If you do not currently have the
initiative (i.e., you are not going first) you may re-roll one of your Chance
Dice. If this results in your gaining the initiative, your opponent may re-roll
one of his Chance Dice. Though unlikely, this can continue with each player re-rolling
Chance Dice, even re-rolling the same dice, until one person fails to gain the
initiative or lets his opponent go first.
Re-rolling Chance Dice is not just a way to gain the initiative. It can also
be useful in protecting your larger dice, or otherwise improving your starting
roll. Unlike Focus Dice, Chance Dice can be immediately re-used in an attack
even if you do gain the initiative with them.
Button Men: Speed
Speed Dice were introduced in the Brawl expansion
to Button Men. They are marked with a lightning bolt on the frame, and are
normal in all respects. They also have a third attack, called a Speed Attack,
which is the equivalent of an inverted Skill Attack. In a Speed Attack, one
Speed Die can capture any number of dice which
add up exactly to its value.
Button Men: Auxiliary Dice
Auxiliary Dice are from the Pendragon ButtonLords
set of Button Men, published by Green Knight publishing. Auxiliary Dice appear
on the left side of the button, and have a "+" on the frame. These dice represent
special abilities or assistants of the ButtonLord, and are optional.
Before each game, both players decide whether or not to play with their Auxiliary
Dice. Usually, either both players use them, or both players don't.
If you fight against a player who has no Auxiliary, and you wish to use your
own, chivalry dictates that you offer your opponent the option to use an
Auxiliary equivalent to your own. "Equivalent" means a die of the same size
and type. In the case of an Auxiliary variable die, such as a Swing Die,
each player's die can vary independently.
Button Men: Queer Dice
Queer Dice were introduced in the Freaks expansion.
They are denoted by a letter "Q" on the frame. They behave like normal dice
when they show an even number, and like Shadow Dice when they show an odd
Button Men: Option
Option Dice were introduced in the Sluggy Freelance
and Button Men: Fantasy sets. The are represented as two numbers within a
single circular frame, resembling a fraction. They function like Swing Dice,
and can be changed at any time a Swing Die could be changed. However, Option
Dice are restricted to only two values. For example, a 4/10 Option Die can
be only a 4 or a 10.
Button Men: Null Dice
Null Dice are unique to the Tess promo button from
Origins 2000. When Null Dice participate in an Attack (either Power or Skill)
they remove their target from the game, rather than adding them to Tess's captured
dice. Null Dice themselves are worth zero points.
[ Clarification: Dice which are "removed from the
game" come back at the beginning of the next round. ]
Button Men: Berserk Dice
Berserk Dice were introduced in the Button Men:
Bruno expansion, and designed by Hunter Johnson. Berserk Dice are marked
with a latter "B." Berserk Dice cannot be used in Skill Attacks, but may
make Power Attacks normally. They also have a second attack, called a Berserk
Attack, which is the equivalent of a Speed Attack. In this attack, one die
can capture any number of dice which add up exactly to its value. However,
unlike in a Speed Attack, after making a Berserk Attack the Berserk Die is
replaced by a normal die half its size(rounding fractions up) before it is
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