Onitama Game Review

The Dice Tower Essentials line is a series of games handpicked by Tom Vassal as games that should – according to him – be in every gamers collection. The first release from the Essentials line – “Sheriff of Nottingham” – was a massive hit for Arcane Wonders. “Onitama” is the latest game in the line and is set to become a comparable hit, if not bigger. Yet there is little else that is similar to its predecessor.

Onitama Dice Tower Essentials tabletop board game review Onitama Gameapalooza AustraliaOnitama is a beautiful looking thing.

“Sheriff of Nottingham” is a bluffing set collection game for 3-5 players that takes about 60 minutes. “Onitama” on the other hand, is a two-player, perfect information abstract strategy game that plays in about 10- 15 minutes. The Essentials line is clearly not limited in scope or design, and is genuinely interested in providing players a broader experience of game types, themes, and mechanics. “Onitama” has been referred to as a scaled down version of chess and the set up lends itself to this comparison. The master piece is set between his pawns and if taken, like a king in chess, the game is lost. However, in addition to taking the master piece, should you manage to get your master piece to your opponents pagoda (starting tile) you will also claim victory.

Onitama tabletop game reviewOnitama is a small box, but a big game.

Component Quality
The game comes packed in a hard cardboard rectangular tube surrounded in beautiful art reminiscent of the Japanese panel art. The box contains a rubber mat that acts as the board with 18 movement cards and 10 player pieces. The pieces are solid plastic and feel good to move. The whole set up is aesthetically pleasing. The mat is covered in beautiful artwork and the great craftsmanship of the pieces really aid in feeling immersed in the game play. The cards are large and require no instruction to understand. This game is well designed and made to impress. It is a treat through and through.

2 Players
10-15 mins play time
Age 10+
Set up time 1-2 minutes.

Set Up and Game Play
The best part of “Onitama” is how easy it is to set up, learn, and to play. The game takes all of a minute to set up. Unroll the mat and place your pieces on the board. Shuffle and randomly draw 5 cards and you are done. Each player receives two cards that they set face up in front of them, the fifth card is placed in a space between two players. The cards provide moves. You move a piece according to one of the two cards you have, then send that card to the centre and replace it with the floating card. At all times the available moves are visible to the players and as you play you are aware that you are also providing that movement card to your opponent.

Onitama components game review by Gameapalooza AustraliaOnitama ‘board’ is actually a roll-out mat. Nice design.

The open information of movement cards means that you are always thinking ahead. You know the moves available to your opponent and to yourself. The challenge is to move in such a way as to force your opponent into a position where they can be taken. This requires strategic use of your pawns in one-on-one trade-offs and tactical positioning.

The game starts with moderate pace, but as the pieces descend on each other the pace slows down and the in-depth thinking begins. The question you are constantly asking is, “How do I outsmart my opponent when they know all of my moves?” This is the real genius of the game. With all information known, it requires artful play to force your opponent into an uncomfortable choice or press them until they make a mistake.

Finishing the game was a peculiar experience for me. After the game I felt like I had really developed a depth of knowledge about the cards and how to use them. I considered how I might play those card better next time. Then it slowly sank in that I had used only 5 of the 18 cards in the box and many more combinations and setups are possible. With that thought my perceived mastery dissipated. With each successive game I eagerly awaited the next. “Onitama” provides a strong game with depth of thinking, in a time frame that leaves you wanting to reset the game and start again.

Onitama cards cobra, dragon, horse. Onitama game review AustraliaThe simply designed, yet beautiful cards of Onitama

“Onitama” is a lot of game in a small box. The game provides a strongly tactical encounter that forces you to think ahead and weigh up all the options you have with all the potential moves your opponent can make. The game has a fast opening that slows to a much more careful and decisive pace. “Onitama” is a beautifully designed game that provides depth and complexity making it a wonderfully cognizant game. I suspect it will outperform its predecessor and cement itself on many top ten lists.

[author] [authorimage timthumb=’off’]/content/images/2016/02/gameapalooza-micro-review-icon-sm.gif[/authorimage] [authorinfo]Micro Review – Onitama is a whole lot of game in a small box. It’s beautifully made, but also beautifully designed. It has simplicity to play and deep complexity to keep you returning. A nice addition to the Dice Tower Essentials line of games. [/authorinfo] [/author]

Gameapalooza Sponsor Gameology for Aussie gamers at Gameology.com.au

You can purchase “Onitama” from our sponsor, Aussie game store Gameology.


Disclosure: Gameology furnished us with a copy of the game for review. This does not affect the review in any way, other than we were able to bring it to our readers.