Today’s review is going to be a game that isn’t the style I usually play. Abstract strategy. I tend to be more of an Amerithrash gamer, who also likes a steady dose of Euros. I don’t have the mind or the desire for most abstract strategy games, but this one caught my eye.
Designer: Shimpei Sato
Player Count: 2
Play Time: 10 minutes
Onitama is the 2nd game in the Dice Tower Essentials line of games published by Arcane Wonders. In this game, you have 4 basic pieces and 1 master. The game is played on a 5×5 grid with the 5 pieces lined up on your side of the board, with the master in the center. The game comes with 15 cards that all depict different movement patterns allowed, and you start the game by dealing 2 to each player and 1 face up to the side of the board. These use a grid to tell you which directions, and how far, you can move. The five that you deal are the only movement patterns that will be allowed in the game. On your turn, you move any of your pieces according to one of your movement cards, then you place the movement card you used to the side of the board and take the one that was there previously. Then your opponent does the same. You continue doing this back and forth, swapping the 5 cards between the 2 of you, until one person wins by capturing the other master or moving his master to the opposing master’s start space.
Things I like
- The production level. This game is one where you can pretty easily say it is over produced, but in a good way. There are many small games that run you anywhere from $20 to $40, and most times I feel jipped with the amount of stuff you get. This isn’t the case here. You get a nice neoprene board, good quality cards, and the pieces themselves are really good quality.
- Varying movement cards. Because you only use 5 movement cards each game, the strategy changes every time. When I learned this game, the man who taught me stated “you can play a best out of 3 series and never use the same card twice.” I like that. The cards can be asymmetrical or very patterned and it feels different with each play.
- Rotating movement cards. This aspect makes the game a real brain burner. Every time you make a move, you not only have to think about what your opponent can do next, which you can easily see because the cards are left face up, but whatever move you make, you will be giving your opponent after their next turn. It forces you to be forward thinking in a refreshing and different way.
Things I don’t like
- This game can be punishing. If you make one small mistake and your opponent captures one of your pieces and you can’t get one of his, it feels like you’re at a big disadvantage. This shouldn’t weigh too much on you though, because I’m not good at these games. Maybe this isn’t a factor if you don’t stink. Another nice thing though is that a game takes about 15 minutes so if you’re terrible like me, you can reset soon after.
- Some of the movement cards. This is probably a nit-picking point, but some of the movement cards are boring. I like some of them, that allow you to jump 2 spaces forward or make diagonal movements, but the ones that allow you to move 1 space laterally or 1 space forward just aren’t as “fun.”
Things I don’t know how to feel about
- The Box. This is both a major annoyance for me and something that is really cool. It frustrates me. I mentioned that the production quality is awesome. That holds true for the box. The art is fantastic, the finish is great, and the box is held together with a magnetic strip that holds well. But now for the other shoe. I’m a uniformity kind of guy. I like my boxes to be similar in shape and size. The shape of this box drives me crazy. It is roughly a 3.5×3.5 square that stands 10 inches tall. It doesn’t fit anywhere. I don’t own this game, but if I did, I wouldn’t know which shelf to place it on.
Ugly Box Shape…
Onitama is a fun game and if you like abstract strategy I think you’d be remiss to leave it out of your collection. At the very least, you have to give it a try. It’s a beautiful looking game that is fun to play and super quick. Both of which are good things when you’re talking about a guy who tends to stay away from abstract strategy. I may even bite the bullet and pick up a copy someday, even though that dang box will throw off my shelf feng shui.
GLG Rating 7.5/10