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Subject: Onitama - or How to Become the Dragon Warrior - down to the basics review rss

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Tiago Perretto
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Thinking about my next move.
So, if my only options are these, then I shall...

About Onitama:

1) What is it?
Is an abstract, two players game. It has perfect information with a randomized set up, which means a tad of luck in the distribution of the starting cards, but after this point, no luck.

It occupies a small table space, has great components and has an amazing gameplay. But we sure take much more than the 10-15 minutes of playing time to finish the game.

It seems like a timeless classic, while truly being a new game.

2) How do you play?
As per the description: each player has two open cards that each display a possible move for any of his pieces. There is a fifth card that cannot be used by either player. On a player's turn, he chooses one of his cards, moves one of his pieces according to the chosen card, then replaces the card he used with the fifth card. The other player then chooses one of his cards, moves accordingly, and exchanges that card with this fifth card — which is, of course, the card the first player just used.

Moving onto one of the opponent's pawns removes that pawn from the game. Taking the opponent's main pawn, or moving your main pawn into your opponent's main pawn's starting space, wins you the game.

3) Which are the decisions made during play?
- Which card to use - considering several things: your remaining card, your opponent cards, and not only where and who to move, but also that the card used will be given to the opponent;
- Which piece to move;
- Where to move.

4) What are the good things in the game?
- Great production value;
- Beautiful gameplay;
- Complete control by the players once the set up is done;
- While we never finished a game in 10-15 minutes, is still a quick game;
- High replay value (as only 5 of the 16 cards are used in each game);
- Easy to teach and to play;
- Language independent;
- Competitive, but not heavily confrontational or vicious.

5) Which are the bad news?
- Only for 2 players;
- Strategy is present, but it also has a strong tatical nature;
- While it has a theme (and the movement cards have nice text and the patterns have some thematic relevance), it is truly an abstract game.

6) How do you feel while playing?
It starts from looking at it, as Onitama is a beautiful game - the mat, the pieces, and cards - everything done with a mix of simplicity and care. Then comes the smooth gameplay, making you feel like this game is one that has been around for a millenia, and you are just now learning about it - dammit, orient, to keep your amazing secrets so well! One might talk about how it represents well the use of the weapons of the enemy against himself - probably Sun Tzu played it. The sort of game that you buy to leave it set up on the shelf.

After grinding your mind against that of your opponent in a nice environment (as the play isn't truly mean or particularly combative), you go find some informations, and realize, baffled, that game still has the dew of newness (2014). Simply brilliant - it seems like a design that was waiting in everyone's mind, but as Columbus egg, was necessary for one to be the first to give form to the idea, and now that someone (Shimpei Sato) did it, it appears to be so simple and easy to be done.

I'm not particularly fond of competitive 2 players game, yet Onitama impressed me very much. Clean, smooth, easy, smart - perennial.


Image credit: LoreChase

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