Hive is a great little holiday game, sitting out having a drink, compact, easy to teach, fun but with enough depth for a seasoned gamer.
Enter onitama. In my eyes a similar beast and a possible pick for holiday game 2017. I picked it up at the games expo in Birmingham and finally got to play it having seen it all over the interwebs last year. Haven’t seen much mention of it this year but we’re a feckless lot we gamers.
The game is very simple. A lot of the tiny rule book is fluff or adverts. You have four pawns (or prawns if you prefer) and a bigger pawn called the master who move around on a 5×5 grid like chess pieces. The board is suitably japanesey as are the pieces. Much dishonor if you lose.
When the game starts all five of your dudes are lined up on your side of the grid, the master in the central home space called the temple the others two left and two right of him. Now you need to either knock out the opponents master or get your master into your opponents temple square.
So it’s a sort of checkers. Well yes and no but mostly no. In truth it’s all no. Movement is a little different and it’s what makes the game tick.
At the start five movement cards are drawn (suitably names after martial arts lore) two for each player and one at the side as the next in line move. The rest go back in the box. Players take a turn by picking one of the movement cards in front of them and using it to move one of their dudes onto one of the permissible spots based on the picked card. You then take the next in line card and pass the card you used to the other player as their next in line cards.
The game is quick and deadly. It’s all over very fast If you don’t watch what your opponents reach. Since movement cards swap between players thinking ahead is key. At least 3 moves.
Do not play this game with anyone who over analyses games or it will be a long haul. The game is pretty quick but it takes chess like concentration while you play. It’s all about making mistakes preferably your enemies. Seeing movement cards pass by and speculating when they’ll come back or setting up movement combos to wipe out enemy pieces is key.
Going directly for your enemy master is perilous. You need to reduce his reach by knocking out his students first. There’s subtly and sacrifice here
For newbies the movement can be a little confusing but it settles pretty quickly. After a number of games I can see a little bit of depth here but it’s going to take quite a few plays to really get into it. It is easy to learn but I dare say difficult to master. Replay is excellent. A pick of five movement cards from a possible twenty per game will see a lot of variety and I started to recognize certain cards as really useful after a time.
Production is magnificent. The box the game comes in has a magnetic lid, a roll up rubber play mat and lovely little pieces and cards all sitting pretty in recessed holders. It’s reminiscent to the original Tsuro in a number of ways.
The game reminds me of Hive in a way but it’s a lot bulkier and having played a lot of Hive I can’t compare it honestly. To me it doesn’t feel quite as good, so far I prefer the former. The more I think on it the more depth I see in it
It’s going to take a while to figure this one out. I’ll write another review of it in a few months time. For now it’s an intriguing and hopefully deep 2 player strategy game that is inexpensive and worth a look.