Teaching Time: 5 mins
Playing Time: 15 mins
Setup Time: 2 mins
Value For Money: High
Although Onitama is already rated as a Dice Tower essential, so my recommending it could be considered piling on, I still want to take a moment to give it recognition. I'm not hugely swayed by the look of various games, and miniatures in gaming hold little or no attraction to me but Onitama is an exception to that rule as a truly pleasing object in and of itself. Which isn't to say that it isn't beautiful in a traditional sense because it absolutely is, in fact since it's illustrated by Eastern calligraphy its beautiful in a very, very traditional sense. The thing I really love about it is its box. That may sound silly, but box and inlay design in boardgames is depressingly weak if present and a sad number of games could seriously reduce their cost and shelf space by better designing those boxes. Inlay design is often one of those areas where the cliche "when we're good they never remember, when we're bad they never forget" is horribly true, a balance that I think we should make an effort to correct. Onitama's box is a thing of beauty, better still its board is a soft playmat stored in the magnet catch such that if you pack it just right you can flick open the catch and the board will roll out into place with a single movement, which makes my heart happy every single time.
The game itself is simple and chess like, every piece may move with one of two cards, chosen randomly at set up but then circulated tactically. The cards offer a range of knight move like chess steps. Whenever a card's move is used it is then offered to your opponent resulting in a simple but complex dance of movement and exchange where you control your opponents every option by your own choices. Not many games can claim to have a truly ageless chess like quality. Onitama could not actually be an ancient game, its combination of cards and pieces is both brilliant and inherently modern, but it is as close to the elegant simplicity of a game like chess as a modern game could be.
If you own games as objects of beautiful, elegant design Onitama should be at the very top of your list as a total object. If you value games design as elegant and effective it will satisfy and fascinate.