Monday, April 27, 2015

Quick Review - Button Bashers Turbo - Kickstarter Preview

Button Bashers Turbo
Designer: Nate Moore
Publisher: Multi-Bit Games
Quick Review - Button Bashers Turbo - Kickstarter Preview


Hitting Kickstarter at the end of April is the latest game from Multi-Bit Games.  Back in June of last year (2014) Multi-Bit Games had a small, but successful campaign for their game Button Bashers.  Now they're back with Button Bashers Turbo, a very similar game with some modified mechanics that add more choices for players throughout the game.  They were nice enough to send me a copy of the prototype cards and a draft set of the rules.

UPDATE: The Kickstarter campaign for Button Bashers Turbo went live on April 29th and runs through May 28th.  The base game is $19, including shipping to the US.  You can visit the campaign here:

Button Bashers Turbo is designed primarily for two players but it can also be played by 4 players in a free-for-all melee or tag-team matchup.  I played the two player version.  Each player chooses two fighting characters that resemble 90's style arcade characters.  These characters each have a set of unique special abilities that come into play as they perform combo attacks on their opponents.  Attacks are performed by playing a series of cards that represent buttons and joystick movements on an old school arcade machine.  OK, let's back up a bit...

The Gameplay:

After players choose their characters they set a slider on the cards to give each character full health (20 HP).  Then they choose one of the two characters to be the active fighter.  Next, the Stage deck is shuffled and one card drawn to set the scene of the combat for the first round.  Players also take a single Block card.  Finally the Button and Direction cards are shuffled (called the Bash deck) and placed face down (with the Bash side up) and each player draws two.  Now players are ready to start.
Slamu the Slammin' Salmon and Catbeard the Scoundrel
are ready to battle Fred the Zombie Gunman and OpanGi
the Seasoned Warrior.

On each player's turn they complete three phases.  The first phase is called the Bash phase and players draw as many cards as indicated on the top card from the Bash deck.  The player can choose three of the cards drawn and discard one.  If the Bash number was a 7 then the effects of the Stage card for the current round also take effect.

The second phase is the meat of the game.  The Action phase is where the player chooses an action to take.  He can either Block, Swap, or Burst.  Block and Swap are relatively simple, but Burst is where the fighting actually takes place.

If a player chooses to Block he places his Block card in front of him.  He can then shuffle any number of cards from his hand into the Bash deck (not into the discard pile) and then draw that many cards plus one from the Bash deck.  His turn then ends, however any damage done to him on his opponent's next turn is reduced by half.

If a player chooses to Swap he switches his active character with his benched character.  The new fighter can then make one attack (following the rules in the Burst section, except the character can only perform one attack instead of a combination of many attacks).  Also, the newly benched character can recover 3 HP.
The graphics bring a sense of 8-bit arcade game nostalgia!
The Burst action is how players deal damage to each other.  Burst allows the player's active character to perform multiple attacks, with each one increasing in intensity.  To attack the player looks at the available attacks for his active character.  Attacks consist of a combination of direction and button cards.  Each character has its own unique set of valid combinations.  For example, playing an Up card and a Button may be a valid attack combination for one character, but not for another.

The amount of damage done in an attack depends on the button used.  Buttons can be light, medium, heavy, special, kick, or turbo.  Light, medium, heavy, and special buttons do 1, 2, 3, and 4 points of damage respectively, turbo lets the player draw another card, and kick lets the player change their opponent's active character so they can continue attacking the other opponent character (although the combo count is reset to 0 when the new character comes in).  All players also have access to two common attacks - a jab is a single button that always does 1 point of damage (regardless of the type of button used) and a hyper combo uses all four of the damage dealing buttons (for 10 points of damage) and cancels out an opponent's block action (for subsequent attacks as well).

So I've mentioned a few times multiple attack combos.  During the Action phase, if the player chose the Burst action they can perform as many attacks as they like.  Each attack inflicts one additional damage point.  This is in addition to the damage from the button(s) used.  The first attack does 0 additional damage, but the second attack does 1 additional damage, and a third attack would do 2 additional damage.  So the more attacks you are able to string together in a turn the more damage you'll do.
Buttons, joysticks, and 8-bits, oh my!
As soon as a character reaches 0 HP they are out of the game.  The player then only has one character to continue fighting with and can't use the Swap action.  Additionally when an opponent plays the Kick button it has no effect on a player with only one remaining character.  The player with the last character standing wins.

Going Deeper:

Those are the core rules of the game, and they're pretty straight forward.  Where the game gets challenging is in the other effects each character's various attacks have.  This is, at the same time, the most interesting and most problematic aspect of the game.  It's here that any elegance to the mechanics is lost.  In addition to the damage that an attack does through the buttons used in it and any combo bonus, each attack has another effect that may or may not come into play.  This is a great idea, but I found the effects to be unnecessarily complicated and a huge detriment to the momentum of the game.

Each character has 6 special attacks in 4 levels (1 blue, 2 green, 2 yellow, and 1 red in increasing complexity).  But even the simplest attacks have somewhat complex effects.  For example, if you use OpanGi's blue level Jaw Breaker attack (up and a button) you have to look at the top card of the Bash deck.  If it's Bash value is 3 then your opponent discards one card and the top card of the Bash deck is also discarded.  OK, that's not that challenging and it results in something simple happening (your opponent discarding a card) some of the time.  But OpanGi's green level Spam Ball attack (right and a button) has the exact same effect if the top card of the deck is a Bash 5.

Now let's look at Mrs. Soft Serve's blue level attack, Ice Barrier (a combination of any two left and right direction cards): Reduce the total damage you take next turn by 2 for each time you've used this attack.  OK, it's still a simple effect (negating less damage when you are attacked next), but it's starting to get more complicated since you now have to remember on your opponent's next turn how many times you used the Ice Barrier attack.  But how about some of her other attacks?  Delicius Downpour, a green level attack (up and a button) says: Until the end of your turn, increase the [clock icon] by 1 for the sake of your attacks only.  If you used Ice Barrier this turn, increase by 2 instead (Max round is 5)  I'm assuming that the final instructions will explain what the clock icon means.  I'm assuming from the last text in parentheses that it represents the round number, but I'm not sure.  If it does mean the round, then that means the yellow level Let It Go attack (down, left, button) could actually be harmful in round 1 and of very little help in round 2, unless you are able to play Delicious Downpour and Ice Barrier first.  Let It Go's effect is: Draw cards equal to the [clock icon]. Than [sic] discard 2 cards.

How about Boz-o the Wize?  He's a level 4 difficulty character.  His blue level attack, Surprise! (up and a button) has this effect: Put one button in play face down.  This is a SURPRISE.  When your opponent attacks, discard any SURPRISE that matches the button from that attack.  Deal that button's damage.  Otherwise, add SURPRISE back to your hand before you bash.  Woah.  It took me three times reading that to figure out exactly what I was supposed to do, and I'm still not completely sure I understand.  Apparently I'm supposed to take an additional button card from my hand (or is it the button used in the attack?) and place it face down in front of me without my opponent seeing it.  If my opponent uses that button in an attack against me it basically backfires and hits my opponent instead, most likely leaving the opponent's adjusted attack (without the button that I chose) ineffective.  OK, I guess that's kind of cool, but that's the simplest effect?  Boz-o's yellow level Flower Squirt Surprise (right, up, button) tells you to check the bottom card of your deck.  If it is a directional card, add it to your hand.  If it is a button, put it face down in play.  This card remains in play with an effect.  When you use Surprise! it becomes a SURPRISE.  First of all, I'm assuming you check the bottom card of main Bash deck since each player doesn't have their own deck.  Second, what does it mean that the card remains in play with an effect?  And what happens if I don't play a Surprise! attack this turn?
6 attacks each with various effects for 12 different
characters means it'll take a long time to get comfortable
playing any character combinations. 

Individually these effects are interesting.  Combined, and having six different effects on each player makes the attack phase, which should be a quick, action packed phase, drag as players try to read, understand, and use various attacks with a multitude of strange effects.  I can see where if you played this game a lot, and funny understood each character's attack effects, this would move quicker and you'd be able to plan a bit.  But there are so many effects that make you and/or your opponent discard cards, draw new cards, swap cards, etc. that planning for the future is difficult at best.  It's definitely a reactionary game, which I suppose a fighting game should be, but I think it would work much better with simpler, more generic attack effects, especially for the lower level attacks.  Simple effects like drawing extra cards, opponent discarding (or drawing/keeping fewer cards on their next Bash), increasing damage, etc. would be quick to choose and process.  The more complicated effects should be saved for the yellow and red level attacks.

Another issue with the effects is how many of them have exceptions, conditions, or different behavior based on other events.  And a lot of those exceptions and conditions don't just apply to the current turn, the trigger on future turns, or rely on things that happened in previous turns.  It all leads to confusion and a bit of analysis paralysis, especially for newer players that aren't intimately familiar with each character.

Final Thoughts:

I really wanted to like Button Bashers.  I was never a huge fan of arcade fighting games, but I spent my fair share of time in the arcade or in front of a console battling friends, and this seemed like a cool trip down memory lane without having to fire up the old NES.  The core idea behind the game isn't too bad and has potential, but the sheer variety of moves that each character has available make this a game that's not going to be easily accessible by the majority of people.  This game is not a casual game to teach to new players.  It's unnecessarily complicated and feels more like work than a fast, fun, action packed experience.  In fact, both my son (who loves video games and was super excited to play this game) and my wife got frustrated with the game and quit well before round 1 was finished.   And honestly, I was relieved and ready to move onto something else, too.

Where I see Button Bashers Turbo finding a niche is with players who both enjoy the nostalgia of arcade fighting games and want to take the time to play this repeatedly with the same character.  Like an arcade game, once you start to learn your character and his special moves and abilities (and your opponents' moves and abilities) you'll be able to strategize and react quickly.  But until you've overcome that huge hurdle of becoming intimately familiar with each character you'll be stuck reading and re-reading and trying to figure out each move and what it's effects and ramifications are and how it combos with other moves... in an ongoing mess of analysis paralysis, and this isn't the type of deeply strategic game that lends itself to that type of deep thinking.  Or maybe you'll just give up trying to plan a strategy and you'll just play whatever cards you get in random moves and take whatever consequences pop up.  The trouble with the "mash the buttons and hope you get a few hits in" approach though is that there aren't enough generic, common moves that you know will work for every player.  Every fighting game I ever played had a set of core moves that every player could do, like a kick, punch, leg sweep, block, jump kick, etc.  Even if I didn't know all the character's special moves I at least knew I'd get a few hits in and maybe luck out on guessing a combination.  That doesn't really happen in Button Bashers Turbo though since every attack is part of a combo and has special effects that need to be resolved.
The box looks like a cool retro arcade game.

Button Bashers Turbo has an interesting idea, but really needs to be streamlined to make it accessible and appealing to a wider audience.  Those willing to put the time and effort into really knowing and understanding the abilities of each character will probably find an entertaining game here, but for the masses it'll be an exercise in frustration and not a game that will be fun or easy to introduce to new players.  Unless arcade style fighting games are really your thing, I can't recommend backing Button Bashers Turbo.

UPDATE: The Kickstarter campaign for Button Bashers Turbo went live on April 29th and runs through May 28th.  The base game is $19, including shipping to the US.  You can visit the campaign here:

Preliminary Rating: 4/10
This review is of a prototype game.  Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

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