Review: Onitama

Review: Onitama

Review: Onitama

I remember learning how to play chess before hitting middle school. It wasn’t hard to learn but it’s definitely a beast to master. The game Onitama brings that feel of a chess board and makes it far more accessible and in my opinion, more fun.

Onitama is a two player game that puts you in control of a master and four monk pawns. The game is played on a 5 x 5 grid that is layed out on a beautiful neoprene mat. You can win by taking out the other players’ master or by taking the other players’ Temple Arch where their master pawn started the game.

Strategy is the Name of the Game

Each player has two cards at their disposal each turn. The cards show you how your chosen pawn is allowed to move. One card may allow the piece to move left, right and up while another card allows the piece to move two spaces to either side and diagonally. Players have to use one card on their turn to move any pawn they choose.

Onitama Board Layout

Once a card is used, it’s placed to the left of the play area and the card sitting to the right gets cycled in to take it’s place. During a game, there will only be a total of 5 cards that can be used during the duration of the match. This limits how the player can move and really makes you think about the best possible play.

I really love this feature of the game because it puts you in a position to look ahead to the other players cards. What card will they play? What card is coming next? In any given game I was planning up to 4 possible moves. It was crushing to have a perfect plan fall apart when the other player moved in a different direction.

Having players movements limited by the 5 cards on the table really makes you plan your attack and consider what choices your opponent will make. When playing Onitama with our kids, we didn’t have to teach them how every pawn moved differently or educate them on strategies to capture the other player. The movements on the cards make sense and the learning curve for this game is very low.

Impressive Quality

It’s hard to do a review for Onitama without mentioning the impressive quality of the components. The box has some beautiful Asian inspired artwork and the theme is carried through every piece inside the box. The pawns all have a place in the box and the neoprene play mat rolls up to fit perfectly.

Onitama Box

You can tell that the designers really took time to make this not only a fun game, but something that is impressive every time it comes down from the game shelf. Onitama is a game that I can easily introduce a newer gamer to, knowing they will probably fall in love with it as much as we have. However, I’m not sure this would click with that friend who is skeptical of strategy games. This is definitely a game that requires the player to think through every decision.

Lately we’ve been trying to find some great two player games. Onitama is absolutely one of the best we’ve found and a game that will stay on the table for years to come. The play time for each game is about 15 minutes and it’s hard not to say “Just one more game” when you get defeated by your opponent.

You can pick up Onitama online through or stop by your local gaming shop to grab a copy.


  • A very family friendly strategy game
  • Lots of replay-ability with 16 different movement cards
  • An overall beautiful game!


  • Play can stall when two players over analyze every card

Ryan Gutowski

I'm a huge fan of strategy games and pretty much anything that involves "city building". My love of board games goes back to my childhood and passion for building relationships with others.

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