It almost seems like all games need to have an in-depth theme to attract an audience. We have miniatures games with fantasy characters’ backstories explaining their thirst for glory or gold. Other games explain a mutant apocalypse or some other sci-fi setting.
Onitama is quite the opposite. It’s beautiful in its simplicity. The game looks great with the watercolor graphics. The gameplay is simple to teach and learn. The objectives to win are easy to understand. Still, a depth lies beneath the surface, and enough replayability exists that it can be played multiple times without it being stale.
Onitama takes place on a five by five grid. Each player has five pieces. The Master piece starts in the middle on the Gate square with two Disciple pawns on both sides. The object of the game is to either capture the opposing Master piece, or to move your Master into the opposing player’s Gate.
Five cards with moves are given. Each player takes two and one is set to the side. The first player plays one of the two moves on the card and passes it to the left and takes the remaining move card. The next player does the same. While some moves are beneficial, you need to take into consideration the possibility of your opponent using that move against you as well.
The game doesn’t take long, but you constantly want to replay over with different moves, seeing how they change the game. Your brain has to think a bit differently with how the moves change. However, you don’t need to reteach the game, since all that changes is the movement.
Designed by: Shimpei Sato
Published by: Arcane Wonders
Age Rating: 14+
Time: 10-15 Minutes
Mechanics: Grid movement
An abstract game with little theme is a tough sell. However, the unique gameplay of Onitama makes this a great game, and the multiple moves gives it a lot of replayability. If you want something short with interesting choices that can be played a single time or all evening, take a look at Onitama.