Onitama – A Dave Review

So, what’s Onitama then?

Well it’s kinda like chess but instead of Knights, Castles, Bishops and stuff you’ve got Monks.  Oh and the pieces don’t have special moves. It’s all done by having cards.

Ok… So how do the cards work?

So there are only 5 cards in a game and each card has a special move on it, once you play the card you give it away and collect another card which nobody has.  So you have to y’know think.

Ok… Sounds like it could get complicated.

That’s pretty much how Onitama was explained to me, it’s not really an explanation that does the game justice though.

Is it like chess?  Well if having a grid (5×5) as the board and having pieces that move round the board make it like chess then yes. But it’s not really like chess other than it being very tactical.  Let’s rewind a little.

As the first of hopefully many reviews on End The Turn I wanted to choose something that I’ve been playing a lot of late.

Onitama by Arcane Wonders – http://www.arcanewonders.com/onitama

2 Player “abstract” competitive board game.
Publisher states Ages 14+ but I’d go with 10+, could potentially go 8+ but that would depend on the child.
Publisher states 10-15 mins but it can take longer, sometimes 20-25 mins depending on how much brain power you’re using.

Onitama

The description of “it’s like chess” kind of works in that like chess you move pieces around the board and like chess you win if you capture / eliminate your opponent’s King / Master Monk*.  However, that description works for a variety of games.

*This isn’t the only way of winning in Onitama but more on that below.

Before I move onto the explanation of the game I had to highlight the fantastic production quality of this game. Not only does the box look like the sort of thing I’d find a bottle of whisky in, it also neatly stores the game including a wonderful playmat.  Yes that board isn’t actually made out of cardboard, it’s a playmat.  Everything has it’s place and it all looks excellent quality.

Onitama Box

See!

The gameplay comes from using the cards and applying their move combinations to your pieces on the board.

Onitama Cards

A total of 5 cards are used in any 1 game, with 16 cards in total giving a good level of randomness to which cards are used each time you play.

On the cards you’ll see a black square and a number of coloured squares.  The black square represents any one of your pieces with the coloured squares representing the locations on the board you can move that piece to in relative terms.  So the Horse card lets you move a piece either 1 space forward, 1 space left or 1 space backward.

Once you’ve taken your move you exchange your card for the one in the middle and you opponent takes their turn by choosing a card from those in front of them, carrying out that move on one of their pieces and swapping that card with the one in the middle.  The majority of the cards have a range of 1 square from where your piece starts whilst others, like the Dragon above, involve more wild moves.

To win you either eliminate your opponents Master Monk by “taking” the square that they are on or you move your Master Monk into the temple of your opponent.  The temples are represented by drawings on the starting squares for each Master Monk.  Majority of the games played will be decided by the “taking” method but don’t forget about the other method of winning.

2 player games are normally things I avoid because I prefer to shoot for 3-5 player games in general primarily due to the desire to include more people in a game where possible.  That said I’m really pleased I bought Onitama and I can see it getting to my table a lot.

Why?  It has incredibly simple and elegant mechanics so very low barrier of entry but the game is very different each time you play it which is all down to the variety of the cards.

Even where a card is very similar to another one the differences between them in game can be huge and that really makes me think that the game will remain fresh for a long time to come.  It also suggests that there may be expand-ability with it too, although I’m not sure how much more they could do without changing the game too much.

The game also has fantastic “intro appeal”. It’s teachable in about 2 minutes and can be played by almost anyone. Something I’ve demonstrated recently at work!

If you want to read other reviews or learn more about the game in general then check out the Board Game Geek entry – https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/160477/onitama

Conclusion – Onitama is full of great gameplay and looks great too (I’m a sucker for nice art). It works both as a filler and as a game I could have several plays of over an hour or more. I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone.

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Dave

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