Game Rules

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. 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.

Multiplayer variants and tournament formats are coming soon.

Players: 2

Playing Time: 10 minutes and up.

Components: One Button Men fighter for each player, and several polyhedral dice.

Gameplay: Players fight several rounds of combat, rolling dice and capturing each other’s dice. The first player to win three rounds wins the game.

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 goes first.

On Each Turn: You must make either a Power Attack or Skill Attack if you can. These attacks are defined below:

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.

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 important.

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.

Swing Die Table
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.)

Swing -1- -2- -4- -6- -8-
-12- T W V
-16- R
-20- Y X S
-30- Z U

Special thanks to Ryan McGuire for this compact method of tabulating the Swing Dice.


Turbo Swing Dice
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.

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.


Mood Swing
The Mood Swing is a variant of the Turbo, except that whenever it is rolled it changes randomly to a new size.

A Mood Swing is represented by a “?”. 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.


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’ preferred online retailer, Warehouse 23.

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 both dice.

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.


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.


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.

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.


Stinger Dice
Stinger Dice were created for the 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.


Poison Dice
Poison Dice were created for the 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 BROM) has two Poison Shadow dice, which have all the scoring properties of Poison Dice, and make Attacks like Shadow Dice.


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.


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.

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.


Speed Dice
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.

Auxiliary Dice
Auxiliary Dice are from the Pendragon Button Lords 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 Button Lord, 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.


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 number.

Option Dice
Option Dice were introduced in the Sluggy Freelance and 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.

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.


Berserk Dice
Berserk Dice were introduced in the 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 rerolled.