This particular game is one that I have been wanting for a long time. To start, the game is Onitama (Arcane Wonders and I can’t see a date for when it first came out). Right now I am just working with the original game, but there are a couple expansions for it as well. And of course, when I say the original game I am actually referring to the digital version of the game. There are some reasons for that (namely I can play the digital for free).
Anyway, this is an incredibly complex game that can play in just a few minutes depending on who you are playing with. But I think I need to unpack that a bit, as well as go into some deeper thoughts right off the bat. See, this game is an abstract game with an indirect link to chess. I don’t know its history and I am not really looking to delve that deep into it right now. It could be an game based on an incredibly old game or it could be something new with a decent amount of abstract flavor. But either way those thoughts aren’t as important for where my mind is with it right now.
The game itself is two player with each player using only 5 pieces. You have four “pawns” or students and a single master. The game is won by either moving the master into the position of the opponent’s master starting position or by capturing your opponent’s master. Very simple and very straight forward. It gets even more simple when you accept that there are only 5 possible basic movements in each game. Throughout the game you and your opponent share the different moves available.
I realize I should explain that a little. What you start with is movement cards, five different “movements” chosen at random for each game. These cards have specific ending positions for the piece you will move on your turn. You can move any of your pieces you choose on your turn and they are all limited to the specific movement you choose that turn. Each piece can capture an opposing piece if their movement lands them on an occupied space and they can’t occupy the same space as another of their own pieces.
I am not sure I am giving a good enough picture of this yet. But that’s the thing. This game is so incredibly simple in the layout and how you approach it. All of the complexity comes from the players, their interactions and how they use the moves available to them. If your focus wavers for a second and you make the fatally wrong move, you have lost.
I knew from the moment I saw this game that it would be one I want to have in my life. I can remember the first time I played chess and the times I played it growing up. Each piece had a specific action it could do and you knew going into the game the possible moves you could make throughout a game. A single wrong move could give your opponent the upper hand. And as I sit here thinking of it now, I know that I have never played as much chess as I would like to have played in my life. It was always one of those games from a different time that didn’t really factor into the games the people around me would want to play. The action and adventure of it was always more mental. It feels a bit slower than many of the games available now.
Which is also why I have waited so long to get into Onitama. I knew from the moment I saw it, it would be one like chess for me. I would have a hard time finding someone willing to sit down with me for the challenge. So then you wonder what would be the point of buying a game you might never play.
Which actually raises an interesting point. In the past I have picked up games without a ready made play group. Sometimes that falls a bit into hoarder mentality (Don’t ask me about the number of role playing game rule books I have picked up through the years without ever playing the games). It’s a matter of finding a good balance of owning something useful and owning something just to own it.
But I digress…
I’m sitting here debating on where I was going with all of this right now. I mean, if it were simply a review of a game, this would be the moment where I would tell you to pick up the app and see if it’s a game you could find a home for. It’s worth it for sure. One thing I have found with other pure strategy games now in this new digital age, there are players hidden out there in the ether you might not have been able to find years ago. And this is something to consider not only for online games but for face to face games. Sometimes you can introduce a new game to people that didn’t even know they were looking for a new game.
But I also find that there is something deeper to be thought about games like this if not the game itself. Deep strategy games aren’t for everyone. Or more to the point, something like chess can be one of those games that eats up so much of your mind and life and it’s been around for ages now. When you find something a bit off the radar it can be an exciting time that leads you down a path you didn’t expect.
I’m always going to like games of this nature even when I don’t have someone in the real world to play with. I guess life in the digital age has given me something I might not have found outside of it. Not only can I play games like this against a computer opponent, but with a bit more searching I can find others out there like me, willing to dig into a challenge.
If you enjoy these stories, consider leaving some coffee money in the jar or you could buy a book or two. Either way helps keep the stories flowing.