By: Michael Polizzi
Do you have at least one friend? If so Onitama is a perfect game for you. Onitama is a casual, Japanese-themed, chess-like board game published by Arcane Wonders. In Onitama, you are playing as a team comprised of one master pawn and four student pawns. The board is a five-by-five grid with each players’ pawns on in the row nearest them. Each player is dealt two cards and an additional card is placed face up beside the board. All other cards can be put aside. Each card will show the possible movements for a piece. For example, one card allows a piece to move one space forward or one space to either side.
The aim of the game is to either capture the opponent’s master pawn or get your master across the board to the opponent’s master’s starting space. On a player’s turn, they choose one of the cards in front of them and move any one of their pawns according to the card’s directions. Then they switch the card they just used with the card that is in the middle, ending their turn. The game continues like this until one of the victory conditions has been met.
Planning ahead is an important part of this game; however, it is not nearly as important as in other games. Plans can change quickly if an opponent simply chooses not to use the card that is expected, suddenly dashing expectations and forcing a change in plan.
This is a very simple game, but is still tactical and strategic. The constant card change provides an interesting game mechanic that keeps players thinking. As only five of the sixteen included cards are used each game, the replay value is tremendous.
In terms of two-player games, Onitama ranks very highly. It can be a very quick game, sometimes ending in just a few minutes, but, if both players are skilled, the game can last 15-20 minutes. This allows for it to be played a few times in one sitting or quickly, if there is not a large amount of time to play in. I would recommend this game to anyone, even those who don’t normally enjoy board games. It is easy to learn and not a huge investment in either money or time.