Onitama – Review

Type: Abstract

Time to play: < 0.5 hr (Teaching: 5 minutes)

Best played with: 2 players

Onitama is a short chess like game – so this will be quite a short review and I will post up a few strategy tips from my plays so far soon!

The game is distinct in two key ways – how to win and how to move. Firstly there are two ways to win – domination and capture the flag (yes there are more thematic names for these but this is how I remember it). Domination is the simple play to take the king, or master as this game designates the large piece that starts in the middle of your board set up. The piece can be taken by any opponent piece – more on that to come in the movement. Capturing the flag is not obvious from any picture, but once the master/king reaches the starting place of the opponents master/king then they win the game.

These two methods of winning drive the game to clever positional play across a 5×5 grid. Movement is controlled by the cards that accompany this game and this is where variety is brought to each game. Of the 16 cards that come with the game you will only use 5 in each game – that’s 4,368 different combinations in the base game! Each player has two cards and the fifth card is the one you will exchange for the action card you use in your turn. In other words, you will have two possible actions to choose from and once you choose an action you lose that card and gain the neutral card. The card you lost is the new neutral and the very same card your opponent will pick up after their turn.

So you are effectively trading cards on delay with your opponent based on your own movement, all the time trying to trick them into exposing their master or giving you a path to their base. Unlike chess or chequers there is limited attrition here even for new players because there are only 5 pieces on a side. An opening loss of a piece is not game ending but it quickly sharpens the mind.

Such a simple and neat game needs little to be said about it. However, this is well worth looking into because this game is very quick to learn, very quick to play and incredibly engaging. Turns move quickly – you can only do so many things which reduces analysis paralysis. The downside to this game – well the biggest one is the box which is probably 3 times the size it needs to be. The redeeming feature of the large box is that it has been designed to hold a playmat made of the same material as your standard mouse pad – i.e. quite damage resistant and good for setting up in an airport / bar or on the go!

Last notes:

  • If you play two player games at all then this is definitely worth looking into – simply a great game with huge replayability
  • If you can’t stand chess then perhaps give this a pass
  • If you win at this game then you have played well but there is still much to try from various combinations of cards!

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