Review: Onitama



Onitama is an abstract strategy game for 2 players, ages 8 and up,  designed by Shimpei Sato, and published by Arcane Wonders. Games are intended to last between 10 and 30 minutes.


Setup for Onitama is as easy as it gets. Each player chooses a set of pawns (blue or red) and sets them up along the back line of the grid with the temple of the corresponding color. The 16 move cards ar shuffled together, two are dealt to each player face up, and a fifth is dealt face up between the players. The icon in the bottom right corner of the fifth card determines who plays first depending on which color it is. The rest of the move cards are returned to the box and not used during the game.


This is how the board looks at the start of the game. Each player has their two move cards (the fifth card is not pictured) and their pawns are lined up on each player’s respective back row. Both master pawns are loctaed on their corresponding temples.


The goal of Onitama is to defeat your opponent. The rules couldn’t be more simple. The first player selects one of their two move cards. Once they have selected a card, that player then designates one of their pawns (it can be their master pawn or one of their student pawns) and that pawn will move to one of the spaces shown on the chosen card. After the first player has made their move, they replace the fifth card with the card that they used this turn. The second player then makes their move and replaces their used card with the new fifth card and so on and so forth. Play continues in this manner until one of the players is victorious.

The other few rules of playing the game: If a player moves onto one of their opponent’s pawns (student or master) it is considered to be captured and is removed from the board. On a player’s turn, they must make a move if it is legal to do so, even if they do not wish to move. No players pawns can make a move that would place them outside the boundaries of the board.

A player can win in one of two ways: the Way of the Stone or the Way of the Stream. If a player wins by the Way of the Stone, they have captured their opponents master pawn. If a player wins by the Way of the Stream, they have moved their master pawn onto their opponent’s temple.

Artwork and Quality Game Components

Sorry that the title of this section keeps changing, but I think I’ve finally found the right wording for it. It’s only taken me a year or more.

There isn’t much artwork in Onitama, but what little there is is good. It’s stylized and, obviously, has a Japanese theme, but I like it a lot.

The game components are good quality. The pawns are just regular old plastic, but they have a good weight to them and a nice texture. The game board is made from neoprene (something that I’ve become quite fond of, neoprene game boards) and is easily rolled up and stored. The move cards have good coloring and feel durable.

The game box threw me for a bitb of a loop as it isn’t your typical game box. It’s a long, rectangular prism that sort of unfurls (for lack of a better word), latches magnetically, and keeps all of the components neatly packed away inside. I like it though, as there is no wasted space and the divider inside the box is perfect for what it does.

Verdict: Yea

This is a game that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to players of abstract games or fans of other strategy games like chess or go. For two players and with short game times (I can’t honestly see a game lasting more than 15 minutes myself) it is a lot of fun. It has a relatively low price tag and has an expansion coming out this May that will add more move cards to the game. If you’ve been looking for a quick, two player game, Onitama might be what you’ve been looking for.

An additional thought here: If you were looking to make this game even more portable than it already is (the box wouldn’t really be necessary for travel), you could make a smaller game board yourself and find some small pawns (maybe even pieces from a travel chess set) and just stick those in with the move cards. This game has a lot of potential to be a small travel game and would be a great way to kill time.


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