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Game Spotlight: Onitama

by Kale Brenzi

An abstract spin on the simple formula of Chess, Onitama rewards players with the greatest forward-planning and information analysis skills. Can you take advantage of the resources you have at hand to outsmart your opponents?

Onitama Game Box

Onitama is best described as an abstract version of the classic game of Chess. The game takes place on a 5x5 grid board, and each player has five total pieces; four students and one master. Each player takes it in turns to move a piece of their choice from one tile to another, and can capture enemy pieces by landing on the same tile as them. If you choose to play the default game type, the game ends once a player has their master captured, but this is where the similarities between Onitama and Chess end. I will get into alternative game types later on, but for now, lets focus on what makes this game so unique...

Onitama features movement cards, cards that are themed around both mythical and ordinary animals and creatures from Japanese culture. These cards each have their own unique movement profiles that dictate where pieces can move to. The black square shown on the card indicates where a piece starts, whilst the coloured squares show where that piece can move in relation to its position. Pieces cannot be moved off the board, nor can they finish on the same tile as friendly pieces, but they can move past or over any pieces should the card allow them to. The easiest way to explain these cards is to simply show you!

Onitama Movement Cards

On the bottom-right corner of these cards are stamps that can come in one of the two teams colours, along with a delightful quote about the creature that card represents. So, how are these cards used in the game?

After each piece has been set up along each of the play sides, with the master in the “temple” tile (the one in the center of each playside), players will be given two of the many movement cards at random, and display them face-up on their side of the table. These cards represent the only types of movement that their pieces can make on their turn. In addition, a fifth and final card is drawn randomly and revealed. Whichever colour stamp is present on this card determines which player starts first, and is then placed on the right-side of the board relative to that player.

Onitama Gameplay

The game then starts with the first player choosing a piece to move, and they choose which of the two movement cards in front of them to determine where that piece can be moved to. However, once a movement card is used on a player’s turn, it is then placed on the left side of the board in relation to the player that used it, and the movement card on the right side then replaces the missing card on that player’s side. Turns then begin to alternate, and any card a player uses to move their pieces eventually rotate around to the opposite player.

This unique style of piece movement creates a dynamic and unique game every time Onitama is played. The way you move your pieces is dictated by the moves your opponent can take in their next turn, and by what movement cards you are willing to surrender to your opponent in a few turns.

Alternative game modes allow you to win by getting your master piece onto the opponent’s “temple” tile, which gives players another way to win the game, but also another resource to defend!

Onitama Game Mat
The thing that takes Onitama from being a great game to a work of art is the quality and design of the box, the game pieces, and the playmat. The design is very painterly, and elegantly incorporates Japanese culture into its aesthetics. Even to look at, Onitama is simply delightful.

If you are a fan of strategic games, this game is a must have. The game is simple enough for people of ages 8+ to enjoy, yet features deep and thought-provoking gameplay for those looking for something more!

Grab your own copy and the expansions which include addition movement cards at our store, or online at the following links:

Onitama - https://elandrialgames.com.au/products/onitama

Onitama: Sensei's Path - https://elandrialgames.com.au/products/onitamasenseispath

Onitama: Way of the Wind - https://elandrialgames.com.au/products/onitamawayofthewind



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