We may earn a commission when you buy through links in our articles. Learn more.

Gloomhaven Buttons and Bugs review - a tasty morsel

Gloomhaven: Buttons & Bugs is a solid solo experience, but the tiny tabletop game loses something by shedding the series' legacy features.

Gloomhaven: Buttons and Bugs

Our Verdict

Gloomhaven: Buttons & Bugs is an approachable, affordable solo game that gets inventive with its small size. A lack of strong writing and legacy content leaves it feeling less shiny than other Cephalofair games, but the core experience is smooth, strong, and replayable.

Reasons to buy
  • Beautiful and creative design
  • (Mostly) approachable for newbies
  • Bite-sized and budget-friendly
  • Core gameplay is entertaining and replayable
Reasons to avoid
  • A few impractical design choices
  • Short games have their own learning curve
  • Weak narrative writing
  • Lack of legacy content leaves it feeling lesser than other Cephalofair games

Gloomhaven: Buttons and Bugs is always going to live in the shadow of its older siblings in the Gloomhaven series. I mean this quite literally, as the box is a fraction of the size. All jokes aside, the tiny single-player adaptation doesn’t quite live up to the excellence of its predecessors. It’s a great adaptation of Gloomhaven’s core gameplay, but a little too much of the design has been stripped to save space.

Before I get into the minutiae of my Gloomhaven: Buttons and Bugs review, I want to thank the publisher for providing a review copy. Early backers will be receiving their copies soon, and everyone else can currently pre-order a copy on the Cephalofair website.

My thoughts are based on a complete playthrough with one of the classes – something I can rarely say about a Cephalofair game. One of these days, I’ll finish Frosthaven.

YouTube Thumbnail

What is Gloomhaven: Buttons and Bugs?

Buttons & Bugs turns the original, big-box Gloomhaven into a travel-sized solo board game. It’s still a card-based dungeon crawler, but the dungeons have been shrunk to single rooms, and only one character goes adventuring. With only one of the Gloomhaven classes in play and a limited hand of double-sided cards, games take around 30 minutes to complete.

For veteran ‘haven players, Buttons & Bugs will feel as familiar as an old pair of shoes (which are suspiciously smaller than you remember). You’ll still play the top action and bottom action of two cards each turn, and you still lose a card each time you rest to restore your discarded actions. The basics of movement and combat are identical, and combat conditions like poison and bleed have stayed in.

The shrinking process has left a mark though. Gloomhaven’s iconic modifier deck has been replaced with a die and board, inspired by the game that first inspired Buttons & Bugs, Gloomholdin’. Minor rules like line of sight have been dropped to reduce the complexity of dungeons, and mechanics like traps were removed to reduce the number of components. Plus, there’s not a bit of legacy board game content in sight – no secrets to unlock, no trips back to the city after a dungeon.

Plus, each of the six classes got a makeover. Summons and statuses were replaced with symbols on cards, and everyone is limited to a four-card hand (you can read more about these changes in our other Buttons & Bugs feature, where we test its capabilities as a travel board game).

All this leads to a pint-sized product with minimal chaff. The box features one die, six fingernail-sized miniatures, five HP dials, six boards, and a handful of cubes, cards, and tokens. That’s all you need for 20 scenarios, with roughly ten hours of play time.

Gloomhaven Buttons and Bugs minis

Who is Gloomhaven: Buttons and Bugs for?

This is the shortest, simplest version of Gloomhaven there is. With a retail price of $20, it’s also one of the most budget-friendly. Jaws of the Lion was Cephalofair’s previous gateway game for the series, but Buttons & Bugs makes a strong contender for that role. It has a few hiccups, though.

Truth is, the zippy length of each game is a curse as well as a blessing. Buttons & Bugs never gets too challenging, but it also doesn’t give you much time in each dungeon. Every scenario is a puzzle box that, thanks to your limited turns, must be unlocked with extreme efficiency. Newer players may suffer from this lack of breathing space.

Regardless of experience level, anyone who likes the sound of a short, simple Gloomhaven that they can take on the road will get their money’s worth here. I break into a nervous sweat whenever I take out a minuscule miniature or roll the die on public transport, but Buttons & Bugs remains perfectly playable on the go.

Gloomhaven: Buttons and Bugs gameplay photo

Is Gloomhaven: Buttons and Bugs good or bad?

Visually, Buttons & Bugs is a delight. It’s a very literal interpretation of ‘Honey, I Shrunk The Gloomhaven’, and it brings me childish glee to compare its size and weight with my Frosthaven box. The tiny miniatures, each standing on their own unique button, are a wonderful addition that breaks up the monotony of too many plain cubes and tokens.

The color choices could have been more vibrant – it can be difficult to tell the dark green and dark blue HP dials apart during a game. Some may also find the text on the dungeon cards a little too small to read easily. But these are minor flaws in the overall finish.

The core gameplay of Gloomhaven has been translated well, with creative solutions deployed to deal with the size issue. The die and board don’t feel quite the same as a damage modifier deck, but they’re an easy and elegant replacement.

Games run smoothly, with a pleasant level of challenge. Level design is varied and interesting, and trying a new class opens plenty of doors to replayability. When I finish a game of Buttons & Bugs, I’m satisfied. But that’s all.

Conversely, when I finish a game of Gloomhaven or Frosthaven, I’m elated. Something is definitely missing from the mini version.

The legacy elements play a huge role in the original game, and it’s about more than just the tactile joy of opening mystery boxes. Every element outside of a dungeon – gaining XP for level ups, going shopping, meeting people on the road, and developing a settlement – all enhance the core experience.

Gloomhaven Buttons and Bugs and Frosthaven

If I fail a dungeon, I still have some reward, something that stops my second try feeling like pure repetition. There’s always progress, always something new to experience or some overarching goal to strive for. This isn’t the case with Buttons & Bugs – if you lose a scenario, you’ll just have to try again.

Perhaps the game’s biggest problem is the narrative that ties each dungeon together. Granted, story is secondary for many ‘haven fans. And there isn’t much space on each card for an essay. But almost every encounter can be summarized as “you move into a new room, and there are monsters here”. It feels repetitive at best, and unnecessary at worst.

At times, Buttons & Bug may fumble, and I may miss the sprawling complexity of bigger Gloomhaven games. But the overall experience is a wonderful, bite-sized morsel. I may still be hungry after eating a canape, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t delicious.