„Onitama will be seeing a general release this year at Essen. This is my first impression of a great little game.“
- Lorna Dune
First off, I am a fan of abstracts, particularly abstracts that can be played in under 15 minutes. Onitama is definitely an abstract, but like Let's Catch the Lion!, I think it's short enough and simple enough to have a broader appeal.
The game is won by either capturing your opponent's Onmyo (think king) or by moving your Onmyo to your opponent's home square. Each player has 4 pawns to assist in this.
The game has variable setup. Basically movement of your pieces are determined by 5 cards that are randomly chosen (out of 15) at the beginning of the game. Each card is named after an animal with an associated movement. Some cards have specific movement to the piece, Onmyo vs pawn. Each player is dealt two face up in front of them and the fifth is set to the side also face up. On a turn a player executes one of their two cards and then takes the set aside card into his hand. The played card is then set aside to be taken during the next player's turn. Since the 5 cards are randomly determined at the beginning of each game, each games plays quite differently, so no favorite or set opening move. Really adds some nice variety.
The game is a little brain burning as you try and figure out the best moves. Since your possible moves are limited it doesn't take too long per turn.
I like the variable set up. The game is easy to learn and can be played fairly quickly. The limits set by the cards can be extremely challenging. In one of our games lateral and diagonal movement was extremely limited so the game took a bit longer but it was fun trying to solve the problem.
The production quality is nice, the cards are of good stock and the board and wooden pieces mesh well. If you are a fan of games like shogi or chess but want something shorter this could fit your needs or if you are like me and like a good puzzle, Onitama makes a great filler. I am anxiously looking forward to playing it again as soon as possible.