The Stone or the Stream--A Single-Take Review of Onitama

Today Jeremiah reviews Onitama, Arcane Wonders' two-player game of martial arts tactics. Onitama was released during Origins Game Fair in 2016 and features quick play, simple mechanics, and deep strategy. So does Onitama win the tournament and get the girl? Or does it sweep the leg? Let's find out!

The Components

Each player has 4 pawns and one master in his or her color (red or blue). You'll also get 16 cards that feature a style/technique of martial arts: Crane, Tiger, Monkey, etc. Finally, you get a play mat that rolls nicely and fits into the monolithic box--it's all an aesthetically pleasing experience.


The Gameplay

Playing Onitama is simple: Set your pawns on your side of the board with the master in the middle. Deal five cards out (two to each player and one to the middle next to the board). On your turn, using the diagram on one of the two cards, move one of your pawns (or master) and then switch the card you used with the one in the middle. You win by either capturing your opponent's master (The Way of the Stone), or by moving your master to sit in the other master's seat (The Way of the Stream). Boom--that's the game!

The card diagrams are clear, and people usually pick the game up quickly.

The Verdict


Let me start with the box. Onitama claims on the cover to be an "Elegant and Simple Game of Martial Arts Tactics." And they nailed it even with the box design. The box is a tall square tower with a magnetic latch. When you lie it down and open it, the insert is perfectly designed to fit the whole game--it's just sitting there, enticing you to take it out and play it. 

The components and artwork are flat-out gorgeous. High-quality miniatures, a lush, mouse-pad-material playing mat for the board, and stylized art for each card/martial art type make this gaming experience top notch--it drips with theme!

just look at that simple and perfect insert! 

just look at that simple and perfect insert! 

The gameplay is really just as simple as I described above. Everyone's cards are out in the open, so you're able to see what moves are available to your opponent, and try to plan accordingly. The re-playability is kept super high, too, since each play only uses five of the 16 cards in the set. I imagine further packs of cards/promos are in the future for the game as well. 

I always try to look for something that could be improved on in a game, and I'm struggling to do that here. Arcane Wonders really made a strong, simple, yet immersive title with this one!

Jeremiah's Final Verdict--What's not to love about Onitama?! A two-player game that's super fast to learn, highly thematic (for an abstract), and a great challenge for gamers of every level! I can't put a bigger stamp of approval on this one!