Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Friday 22 June 2018

The Game Shelf Reviews:- War of the Buttons

Game: War of the Buttons

Publisher: ADC Blackfire Entertainment

Designer: Andreas Steding

Year: 2018

The War of the Buttons is based on a classic French novel from 1912 of the same name. The book describes the "war" between two rival gangs from neighbouring villages in the French countryside. The goal of the war was to get the most buttons from the opposing gang by cutting buttons off their clothes.

The game is a dice worker placement game where your goal is to obtain buttons and spend them to help manipulate your position within the different "wars" occurring in the forests or within the village. Ultimately you are trying to gain wood to build your club house first to win the game. This is the first game we've tried from Blackfire, who are both board game publishers, as well as distributors and producers of awesome board game accessories like the Royal Twister dice tower. Let's take a look at War of the Buttons.


Your objective in The War of the Buttons is either to collect the 6 sticks needed to complete your clubhouse, or to collect 6 stars. In order to do that you will use dice worker placement to activate different areas of the board to earn buttons and other rewards.

There are 3 main areas to the game board; the school, the village and the forests and fields where you fight for buttons. The village acts as a dumping ground for dice, any die placed here gets you 1 button. The school allows you to directly buy sticks or stars, with the cost in buttons increasing the closer you are to victory. It also gives you the ability to get your dice out of detention (gaining an extra worker) or to tattle on your opponents to get their dice put into detention (losing a worker)! Of course no-one wants to play with a tattle-tale so if you use this action space you are no-longer able to take part in the fights!

The fights are where you will gain the most of your buttons, you are cutting them off the other kid's clothes after all! Placing a die here gives you a reward in buttons, but any player can then beat your gang by placing a higher numbered die. Doubles can be used to oust any numbered single dice and triples oust doubles. This may seem like a lot of effort, but at the end of the round the player who has won in each fight will gain a bonus tile. These offer large rewards, often sticks or stars, and are highly sought after.

There are many actions you can take in The War of the Buttons. You can spend your buttons to change your die faces, or to recruit boys from neighbouring towns. These dice can be used like any other but have a few restrictions, you can't send boys from the next town over to school for you! You can also buy ability cards, these give you either instant or ongoing abilities as well as a regular income at the start of every round. On top of this at any time you can discard a card to free one of your dice from detention!
The game setup for two players.
Amy’s Final Thoughts

The War of the Buttons is an interesting take on a dice worker placement game. The two placements that reward/punish based on who has the most of the die face used to activate that space add a lot of tactics to the game. Use them early and your opponents will spend buttons to change their dice to different numbers, hold on too long and your opponents will dictate the terms. This actually is the War of the Buttons at it's strongest, a game where you can see everything your opponent could do, and must decide your priorities, and sometimes even deliberately delay to try and let them make the first mistake.

However it isn't without it's flaws, the game is extremely swingy, should you have a bad first round (before you have the resources to manipulate your roll) then you may find your opponent has access to far more dice than you, giving them a continual advantage as the game goes on. Clever use of the hired kids and big brothers (which act as wildcards) can help you get back on track, but for a two player game this is certainly an issue. The game can also be perilously short, should the right bonuses appear then you could finish your hut by the end of round 3. The same can't be said of stars (the other victory condition and tie break), which are far rarer than sticks, to the point that it requires a lot of luck to even have the chance to win with them!

Production quality is pretty high, the laser cut buttons as currency are a great touch and the board is mostly well designed and clear. Though we did have a few issues of forgetting that you can't fight after tattling, this is printed on the board, but could use being a little more obvious. While I haven't read the novel that the game is based on, the theme of young boys fighting each other is well integrated in gameplay, the only thing that feels abstracted is the purchase of bonus cards, but that one small blip can be forgiven.

Placing dice in the school allows you to purchase wood for your clubhouse, gain the first player marker, tattle on the other boys, buys stars, get dice out of detention, buy big brothers and try to secure one of the bonus tiles.
The War of the Buttons is quite a simple dice worker placement, but the strategies needed to stay ahead are not so simple. While dice luck is a strong factor in the game, once you learn how to prioritise your actions all but the worst rolls are just as viable. It's certainly a game that has grown on me over time. While it's never going to be up there as one of my favourites, it's certainly worth a try if you can get your hands on it.

Fi’s Final Thoughts

I love a game that surprises me. The War of the Buttons has had very little buzz and I've never heard of the source material, but a well-done booth at the UK Games Expo, as well as a great demo and well produced component quality, brought it to my attention.

The game is quite a simple dice worker placement with a few key elements that make it stand out for me. The first is how easy it is to manipulate your dice value - you just spend as many buttons as you like to increase or decrease the value. This is really important to me to ensure that luck isn't an overriding factor in the game. The second is how competitive it feels. Unlike many worker placement or dice worker placement games, the spots are very limited, but in addition the forest and field spots are a constant tug of war that really has your mind calculating the possibilities towards the end of each round. The third is the two very thematic mechanisms of bringing in boys from out of town and tattling on your classmates - these are the most easy to forget, but remembering the thematic ties is super important to your timing and strategy.

With two players, the game is really fast - with only 3 or 4 turns in the whole game and lasting about 30 minutes. I feel like we get a lot of game in that short time. With more players it would definitely last a lot longer because the opportunities to gain sticks or stars are quite limited each turn and might spread more evenly among the players at higher player counts. This is probably one of the game's flaws with two players. It is possible that one player might get 3 sticks and get some dice out of detention in the first round and at that point victory is basically sealed. This phenomenon will very a lot based on the variable bonus tiles drawn, but it's something to be aware of in the 2-player game.

Overall, I love how The War of the Buttons looks and I love the interesting mechanisms and thematic ties that are woven into the game. For a short game there can be some really interesting strategy and planning at key decision points. It's a very good example of a light dice worker placement game and I hope it's one we can use to introduce to newer players in the future.

You Might Like...
  • War of the Buttons does a great job of integrating theme into some of the actions, especially snitching on the other kids and bringing in help from another village.
  • It's one of the more simple dice worker placement games we've played but it still has opportunities for interesting planning and tension, especially between two players.
  • The production quality is great, with a really charming art style on the board and nicely detailed buttons and cards.
You Might Not Like...
  • The star strategy feels weak as an alternative to collecting wood for your hut, especially in a two player game, where there are just fewer opportunities to obtain stars.
  • It's possible to get a runaway leader if someone does very well and frees a lot of dice in the first round.
  • I worry that the big title on the game box in French text will put people off buying this on the game store shelf (the game is multilingual English, French and German).
The Verdict
6.5/10 The War of the Buttons is a good, lightweight dice worker placement game with some strong thematic ties. It is only let down by some issues with the two player mode, but it's still a game we want to bring back to the table.

The War of the Buttons was a review copy kindly provided to us by Blackfire Games.

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