Manufacturer: Arcane Wonders Games
Carved into the crags of the mist-shrouded mountains of ancient Japan lies the ancient shrine of Onitama. Masters of the Arts journey there with their most promising disciples to prove their superiority in battle. Part of the Dice Tower Essential line, Onitama
is an elegant, abstract strategy game which captures the flavor of martial arts. In this game of elegance and simplicity, two players compete in 10-15 minute matches. With endless re-playability, players can be engaged for hours! Will you hazard the journey and meet within Onitama's hallowed walls to prove your superiority?Contents:
2 Master Pawns
8 Student Pawns
16 Move Cards
1 Rollup Playmat
Game Length: 15 minutes
Quick, Beautiful Abstract Game for Everyone
Onitama is a light, 2-player abstract game. The object is simple: move your pawns to take out your opponent's sensei OR move your sensei onto your opponent's temple/dojo. The movements of the various pawns are dictated by cards indicating where pawns can move. Each game uses 5 out of 16 movement cards, with each player always having two cards, and one card being placed between the players. Each turn, a player much choose one of their two cards to play. They move whichever pawn they desire, then swap the card they just played with the card sitting between the two players. Play continues like this until one player completes one of the two win conditions.
This game is perfect for what it brings to the table. It is a quick (no more than 20 minutes), fun abstract game that is a perfect replacement for chess. Onitama still has the same kinds of complexities and movements as chess, but with only 2 choices to make every turn! Within those 2 choices are depth and variants, but still, it is only two choices. And, you can clearly see what moves your opponent has, and know exactly which move you will be giving them 3 turns later, and be able to plan for the next move that you will receive. All the moves being laid out in the open is exactly what someone who struggles with games like chess needs. Sure, you can plan ahead a few moves. But, you can just as easily plan out 1-2 moves in advance, and still win! Also, the two-win condition is cool.
The game has great replay-ability. You can play over and over, using different combinations of movement cards that make each game feel completely different. Also, for an abstract game, this game is beautiful. The Japanese dojo theme fits like a dream. The artwork is stunning. The level of detail on each card, in the pawns, and on the board is fantastic. The fold-over box that closes magnetically is a great feature. The mouse-pad style board is a feature that I hope other games in the future will have. This game is small enough to take on the go, and quick enough to be played during a short wait. Finally, this game gives you a lot of bang for your buck: $20 for a game with super nice components, great artwork, and a ton of replay-ability is a steal. This is a game suitable for any collection!
Beautifully Simple or Simply Beautiful? - A Board So Never Bored Review of Onitama
Onitama came to my attention through Tom Vasel’s video review. I didn’t have any other two player game that shared the chess-like move mechanic (aside from chess/knightmare chess). Interesting enough though, the day before I was set to play Onitama I also came upon a copy of The Duke for $5 and noted that the two looked startlingly similar. So I obviously had to buy it because…c’mon $5. How could I not? I read the rules for each and played them the next day.
Brief Game Synopsis
Onitama is an abstract game in which a Dojo Master leads a team of four pupils as they outwit, and out maneuver, a rival Dojo Master and set of pupils. Victory is achieved when either a Dojo Master is defeated (by an opponent’s piece landing on him) or a Dojo Master ends their movement in a rivals Dojo.
Toys With Rules
The game is extremely streamlined and although the theme is not exactly the strongest, the rulebook does a wonderful job of setting up that theme with its layout and flavor text. The rulebook itself is a quick read with great examples inter spliced with bits of flavor text taken from various pearls of wisdom. It does a good job of making you feel as if you really are a master with a school of students entrusted to your wise tutelage.
Movement in Onitama is controlled though cards depicting the name of an animal and corresponding movement options. Like the game itself, it is a simple an elegant system as you choose from one of the two cards in front of you, make your movement following the depicted pattern with any of your pawns, and slide that card in between the players, taking the card that was there into your hand so that you always have two available movements. This design pushes the theme forward as it gives a yin/yang feeling as you are essentially sharing movement cards with your rival. This adds a nice layer of complexity as you not only have to take your own movements in consideration, but you also have to be mindful as to what cards they have and then what card you will be giving them.
Boards ‘N Bits
This game is stunning. The wonderful rollout mouse-pad like mat is a great trend we are seeing more and more in games. This mat has nice art and it feels durable and different from what you may be used to. It truly is, for me at least, a wonderful space saving alternative to a thick board.
The pawns themselves are simple but big enough to give have satisfying heft when in your hand. The overall almost basic design elements of this game make it stand out in a way, giving off an almost serene vibe that swiftly entrances its audience and attracts attention from any passersby.
The box itself shares in this same almost basic simplicity. The magnet clasp is a great idea and the way the box rolls open to show off the pieces is pretty nifty.
I like Onitama quite a bit. I have Sheriff of Nottingham and now Onitama, so I cannot wait to see what is next in the Dice Tower Essential line. It truly is a lot of great game packed into a small box for cheap price tag. In a game full of awesome it is the movement cards, I think, that truly make the game come to life. The movement for the animal depicted on the card truly match up and you find yourself wanting to play multiple games in a row just to get to experience all the different movement cards; the dragon and crab movements are among my favorites.
This game draws obvious comparison to The Duke but I don’t really think that is fair. Yes, they each have deterministic movement style but Onitama’s is based on a shared set of cards whereas The Duke’s movement is based off the individual tiles. The theme is stronger with Onitama, it’s cheaper, and less complex and easier to explain. That being said, I think I may prefer The Duke a bit more as it has custom tiles, expansions, and just more variant adaptability built in.
A quick anecdote: I was trying to sell my friend on this game and without thinking about it, called it Asian Chess. He loved it and now demands to play it frequently, but only under that moniker (which I assure him that he cannot say that as it is a tad on the racist side…not to mention incorrect as Asian Chess would be something like Go. It gets really embarrassing when we are in public and he goes, “Oh, I thought of a new set of movement cards for Asian Chess” and I have to do the embarrassed crouch down, fast walk away shuffle.
My biggest complaint is that it is not Star Wars themed. This seems like a needed variant here. The Sensei could be the Jedi/Sith and the pupils their padawan/acolytes. There could even be like a big set of Force powers that each player is randomly dealt 2 and one half has the light ability and the other half the dark. Only the main Jedi/Sith can use them and when activated they give their opponent a new power to choose from. You would use the power instead of moving. Or maybe I am just desperate for a Jedi Duel game that doesn’t involve dice…
My six year old son is normally the person who weighs in on this guest spot, but I could never quite get him to play this one. Instead, I asked my friend:
Asian Chess is extremely addictive and beautifully done. To call it the perfect two player filler would be to do it an injustice as it is deep enough to demand frequent replay. I am quite in-love with this little game and look forward to advertising it to friends and buying it as gifts for family members.
+ Quick and Easy
- Needs more movement Cards
- Can’t get my son to play
Purchase, Play, or Pass
Onitama is an easy purchase. For $20 you get an amazing game with depth and longevity well worth the price.