Thursday, October 22, 2009

Button Men for the iPhone: Thrust Interactive and Cheap Ass Games Release a Winner


I have long been a fan of the deceptively simple Cheap Ass game Button Men. In the game, each player possesses a button, the kind with a pin that fits nicely on those lanyards one tends to acquire at gaming conventions, which bears a nice looking illustration and a series of five numbers listed from lowest value to highest. Those numbers represent dice the player uses in an abstracted, and dice based, version of War. The goal is to "capture" your opponent's dice, which are each worth a point value equal to the number of sides that die possesses, by one of two methods (in the basic game at least). You can capture your opponent's dice through "power" attacks or "skill" attacks. The Button Men website does a wonderful job of describing the rules in detail.



It's great fun that seems mindless at first, until you finally encounter the player who plays the game "rationally." Then you come to understand that there is more to this little diversion than mere random chance. Strategy matters. Button Men is iconic of the inexpensive, but challenging/fun/and deep, games that James Ernest has made a career designing. The table top version of the game is a true classic that I cannot recommend highly enough.

So when the Button Men iPhone app became available yesterday, I found out thanks to John Kovalic, I leapt at the chance to purchase it. I didn't really know what the game would offer, but my hopes were high. I have come to trust Cheap Ass games over the years, their "Totally Renamed Spy Game" is one of the best card games ever made, but I have no experience with Thrust Interactive (

I had some minimum expectations. I hoped that the game would be graphically appealing, contain a decent variety of "buttons," and offer a decent randomization mechanism for two-player play. Essentially, I hoped -- at minimum -- that it was a game I could play with a friend by passing my iPhone between us.

What was offered was that and more. The game features buttons from two of the button men sets -- Soldiers and Vampires -- with new artwork that is appealing and with a color palette suited to the iPhone's digital display. Not all the artwork is better than the old images, the new picture of Shore is one of the weaker images, but the Starchylde and Dunkirk images are excellent re-inventions of already excellent images.



The game allows for 1 or 2 player games. In the 1 player game, I have been impressed with the AI so far -- though it has made a couple of baffling choices from time to time -- and have found it to be quite a time consuming distraction as I test different strategies. The 2 player version can be played in one of two ways. You can share your phone with your opponent, the 2 player play I expected, or interact with your opponent through bluetooth. I haven't had a chance to play a bluetooth opponent, but you can bet I'll be hunting down someone at the next gaming convention I attend.

The inclusion of two full sets of button men -- a $40 value if you buy the physical buttons -- for a $2.99 price makes this a bargain. The game play of the iPhone is quite addictive. Thrust's Button Men captures the simplicity and complexity of the tabletop version and adds some nice animations and sound effect to make a must buy application for any gamer's iPhone.

Now when are the Brom, Dork Tower, and Diceland expansions coming out?

Speaking of Diceland...when do I get that app?
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