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  • Writer's picturecraig duncton

Does Onitama do Chess better than Chess?

Updated: Jun 15, 2021

"Carved into the crags of the mist-shrouded mountains of ancient Japan lies the Shrine of Onitama.

It is a place of enlightenment and skill, a site dedicated to the spirits that guide the Schools of Martial Arts across the land. Masters of these schools hazard the journey to Onitama with their most promising disciples to meet within its hallowed walls and to prove their superiority in battle against the others. These contests are more than simple combat — for in this place, the Animal spirits that guide the Schools whisper their guidance to the Masters, and bolster the students with otherworldly strength and dexterity."

2 players

15-20 minutes

Designer Shimpei Sato

Onitama is an abstract strategy game for 2 players. In Onitama, you are one of two schools of martial arts guided by the spirit animals within the shrine of Onitama. You must use great skill and tactics to defeat your opponent by one of two ways: THE WAY OF THE STONE or THE WAY OF THE STREAM.

Whats in the box?

The box itself is beautiful - a classic Japanese design with flowing brush strokes as two martial artists do battle under the imposing sight of the shrine of Onitama nestled in the mountain tops.

Inside the box, the wonder and discovery continues; you find a rollable play mat, almost as if you are opening a scroll - this has the same stunning artwork.

You get 8 student pawns (4 red, 4 blue) and 2 master pawns that look as if they have been carved from stone (they are plastic but they look great!) and finally 16 movement cards - each with a different animal spirit - and a philosophical quote on the bottom of the card, which is a lovely little touch.

The Game

Onitama has few rules. Each player is given 2 cards and another card is placed next to the play mat. You must then move a piece indicated by one of your animal cards then that card is moved on. The next player does the same and the 5 moves in play circulate between players until you have won by either the way of the stone (taking your opponents master) or the way of the stream (getting your master to your opponents temple arch space).

The gameplay itself is so simple however the constant switching of cards means you have to be thinking one or two steps ahead every time.

In Conclusion

Does Onitama do chess better than chess?

Personally... Yes.

Hear me out - with chess you are confined to a certain set of rules and each piece whether that be a pawn, rook, bishop, King, Queen or horse has a certain set of moves and once you have your own style of playing you are less likely to switch up your movements. This is why I believe Onitama excels. You are always thinking on the fly and having to constantly change strategy.

With chess, you can be a master knowing exactly how to end a game in three turns. However, no game of Onitama is the same, meaning you will have a unique experience every time and no matter how many times you have played you are always on a level playing field with your opponent. This is why Onitama is THE go to abstract strategy game.

If you like what you hear why not visit the wonderful out of town games and grab yourself a copy.

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