One Sentence Synopsis: Pummel your opponent by becoming the Combo King!
Button Bashers Turbo (currently on Kickstarter) is a light hand-management card game for 2-6 players that is themed as a button-mashing, joystick-jamming arcade fighting game of yore. The game is very easy to set up and take down since players all draw from a centralized deck during each round, and although there were a couple of clarity issues I found in the prototype rules it was by-and-large very easy to pick up and play. In the main 2-player dueling variant, players determine their 2 starting characters apiece from the 12 available, each of which sports unique abilities and button combinations that give the various characters different strategic angles. All characters begin the game with 20 health which can be tracked at the top of individual character cards. Players draw a starting hand of two cards from the main deck(composed of directional and button cards) after it is shuffled, and receive a “Block” card for each of their fighters. Each player also receives a handy reference card that details the game’s turn progression on one side, and the generic moves available to all fighters on the other. The “Stage” deck is then shuffled and the top card turned over to start the game.
The game is played over a series of rounds(one time through the main deck), with each round composed of a number of turns played back-and-forth. If at any point both of a player’s fighters are reduced to 0 health their opponent will win by KO, though the game may also end by timer if there are no more stage cards left to turn over after the draw deck has been depleted numerous times.
At the start of a turn, the active player draws a cards equal to the number displayed on the top card of the pile, and then chooses 3 and discards the rest. The maximum hand size is 8. If the number shown is a 7, the special power on the current “Stage” card is also activated and resolved. For example, the opposing player may need to discard a card, or they may need to take a damage for each directional card drawn.
Next, the player has three options to choose from: first, they may block which allows them to discard cards and draw back an equal number plus one. Blocking also lets the player reduce any incoming damage until their next turn to half, rounded down to a minimum of 1. Second, the player may swap the positions of their fighters. If they do so the character becoming active gets to make 1 attack, and the character tagging out is immediately healed by 3. Making smart use of tagging can therefore easily make the difference in close matches.
The final action a player can take is to attack, which is really what the game is all about. In order to attack the player must have the right combination of directional and button cards in their hand to use one of the unique abilities on their active fighter’s sheet. If they do, the player plays their cards onto the table and announces which move they’re using, and then they resolve that move’s special ability. Once done, the attack deals damage to the opponent equal to the number displayed on the button cards played, plus any additional damage specified by the move itself.
Of course, Button Bashers Turbo wouldn’t be a true rendition of old-school fighting games if it didn’t include the ability to chain together some sweet, sweet combos of devastation. Players may continue to attack as long as they have cards in their hand, and for each additional move initiated the attack will deal its normal damage, plus one damage per previous attack. In a particularly dazzling combo during the last game I played, if I do say so myself, I was able to string together multiple moves using heavy button cards to deal a bone-crunching 12 damage in one turn to win the game. KI-YA!
Players also have the option during their turn of playing cards to use one of the game’s common abilities. The “Jab” ability costs one button card and deals one damage to the opposing player, but does not count in the player’s combo string. There’s also a hyper-combo ability that disrupts an enemy’s block so they take full damage again, and also deals 10 damage. The hyper-combo is costly though, taking 4 specific button cards to pull off.
Button Bashers Turbo plays quick and light with little downtime, and does a nice job of capturing the feel of playing an old arcade fighting game; although the game uses cards I couldn’t help but picture slamming the joystick every-which-way and slapping buttons to beat my opponent into submission as I played. This is particularly enhanced by the combo system which adds a nice layer of strategy to the game while making the player feel like they’re pulling off well-timed chains of moves. Anyone who has played in an arcade will appreciate that sensation of being close to death and then pulling off a stunning combo of trips, uppercuts, and special moves that ends in your opponent crumpling to the floor under the big “K.O” after bouncing violently off the level’s boundary edge. Good times.
The variety of characters included in the game provides a good deal of replayability, and serves to enhance that traditional fighting-game-feel. Each fighter has moves with unique abilities that heavily change the strategy for playing each character, and as a result I can foresee people finding 1-2 favorites and learning their potential move combinations and synergies inside-and-out. Each character designates their overall difficulty to play which should help newcomers ease into the game, but there are some truly rad skill combos waiting to be discovered for the discerning fighter on some of the more involved characters. The various stages players progress through during their versus matches also add some further flavor to the mix, simulating the special environmental effects levels in digital games of the genre often have. Which one comes up and whether their effects are activated are totally random, but I wouldn’t say they feel out of place or unbalanced.
Button Bashers Turbo also comes with a number of game variants, including a 4-player tag team mode, a free-for-all mode, and potentially a cooperative boss mode should the stretch goal for it get hit. Although I think the game probably plays best with just 2 players and the added player variants aren’t personally ones I’d use, it’s nice to have the option for groups who are looking to table it with more. I’m very curious to see what their plans are for the coop mode, as my regular game group is quite enamored with the genre.
Although some potential players may balk at the art, I actually like the choice of going with pixelated styling. It gives a great retro vibe to the game which fits perfectly with the theme and gameplay. There are a few character cards I find a little gaudy and have some text legibility issues on the back of the card, and the graphic design itself is nothing I’d write home about, but otherwise I think the styling is fairly well done, vibrant, and perfectly adequate. The one issue I did have, at least with the review copy I received, is that there are no clips included to track health on the fighters at the top of their cards. I’m not sure if the full game will include sliders or not, but I didn’t find the inclusion of the hash-marks at the top an effective way to track health without them.
COG Takeaway: Overall I very much enjoyed my time with Button Bashers Turbo, and even my wife said she enjoyed it a lot more than she thought she was going to. It has good hand management elements that are enhanced by the uniqueness of all of the characters included, and it plays in about half an hour so it hits a great filler time-point. Although I’d personally always prefer to play it with 2 players, it does have the option to play with 4 or even 6 people if your group needs more room. The game is light and moves along quickly just like you’d expect from a brawler card game, and the theme/art is extremely well done; the game definitely succeeds in giving off an old-school arcade vibe. Most of all, however, the game is simply fun to play. Pummeling opponents with outrageous combos is entertaining, and for those of us who have played fighting games at the arcade it has a great nostalgic value. In fact, you might just be tempted to frantically mash your button cards and fumble your invisible joystick as you complete the beat-down, just so the other players know what’s what. Visit their Kickstarter here.