Thursday , July 18 2024

Board Game Review: ‘Onitama’ from Arcane Wonders

Onitama from Arcane Wonders brilliantly combines logical path movement with rotating pattern options, creating something altogether new that feels ancient. The theme of Onitama is obvious from the beginning, with its game mat rolled like a scroll and rich Japanese-style art. Even the rules have word boxes containing mystic quotes, adding vibrant flavor to a game that at its core is deeply analytical.

Moves Like the Wind, Ever Changing

Onitama begins much like a chessboard, with each player setting up a master pawn and four student pawns on their side of the board opposite their opponent. Players deal out five cards from the deck of 16 Move cards, setting down five that will be used for the game. Two cards go to each player, and the fifth determines who goes first by an emblem in the corner. On a turn, the player chooses between his Move cards that map out a series of possible moves. Just as a player in chess needs to plan for a pawn moving forward or attacking diagonally or for a knight to hop over other pieces, players of Onitama must see what action is most effective.

The object of Onitama is to win either by capturing the opponent’s master pawn or placing their own master pawn on the temple arch square at the center of the opponent’s side of the board. Players must keep these two choices in mind not only for themselves but also for their opponent, knowing when to strike and when to retreat to defend.

In perhaps the cleverest mechanic in Onitama, as a player uses a Move card, it is rotated to become an option for their opponent in the next round. Players can thus anticipate what moves they may have to plan ahead, and each round is fresh with some positions that may be fortunate and others that may seem unfortunately limiting. This mechanic also boosts replayability as each game is different, with tens of thousands of combinations to the 16 Move cards in play.

Ancient Aesthetic

In addition to its captivating play, Onitama is one of the most beautiful games around. The aesthetic matches the gameplay perfectly. Every Move card offers a clever pairing with an animal that would seem to match the move, such as a monkey striking out diagonally or a crab attacking either near to its front or far to its sides. Even in the packaging, the long box minimizes wasted space while keeping each component easily accessible, just as a master must do with any art.

Onitama is a board game for two players aged 10 and up. Games are usually very quick, lasting only 15 minutes as the winner takes advantage of one of the two ways to victory. With extremely thoughtful players, games may last longer as they consider and reconsider each option for the optimal move. Whether fast or slow, players will need to think many steps ahead and know their opponents to defeat them, which are principles of martial arts both in combat and on the board.

About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.

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