How to Play Onitama the Board Game (Rules and Instructions)

Do you have what it takes to use ancient martial arts maneuvers to outsmart your opponent and claim their territory? Use moves such as the Rabbit, Elephant, or Cobra to make your way across the battlefield claiming victory over your opponent’s master. 

Winning the UK Games Expo Award for Best Abstract Game in 2016, Onitama is a competitive two-player game requiring strategy to win. This complete overview covers everything you need to know about the Onitama board game rules. 

This Onitama rules guide will cover the following:

  • What is Onitama the Board Game?
  • A brief history of Onitama
  • What you’ll need to play Onitama
  • Onitama Rules
  • How to play Onitama (Video Tutorial)
  • FAQs

Read on to learn how to play Onitama: 

What is Onitama?

Onitama Board Game Info image

Set in Japan, Onitama, the board game is a strategic two-player board game that requires strategic moves to overtake your opponent’s master, thus claiming the Shrine. 

Number of Players: 2-players

Ages: Recommended for 14+

Difficulty: Easy

Length of Play: 15 minutes

Category: Boardgame, Strategy

Similar to: Chess, Checkers, Backgammon

Main Objective: Players will execute movements using pawns and specific martial arts actions to either claim their opponent’s master or occupy their Shrine. 

Why We Love It: Compact and easy to travel with, Onitama is also very easy to learn, making it a fun grab-and-go companion for any vacation, party, or game night. 

A Brief History of Onitama

Onitama, the board game, is one of many award-winning games published by Arcane Wonders. Arcane Wonders first started creating and selling games in 2012 and are well known for their “Mage Wars Arena” games. 

Arcane Wonders also released three expansion games for Onitama fans:

  • Onitama: Way of the Wind
  • Onitama: Sensei’s Path
  • Onitama: Light and Shadow 

What You’ll Need to Play Onitama

Everything you need to play is included in this boxed set.

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The complete game box contains: 

  • 1 board (roll-up playmat)
  • 2 Master pawns
  • 8 Student pawns
  • 16 Move cards
  • 1 Rule book

Area of Play

To begin, set up the game mat in the middle of the table. Each player selects a master and four student pawns in the same color, red or blue. 

Place the master in the square on the center of your side of the board, called the Shrine. Place two student pawns to either side of the master. 

Shuffle the movement cards and deal two cards to each player- face-up. Turn over one more card to determine which player will go first. Look at the lower corner of the card for either a red or blue marking, which decides who begins. 

Place the card to the player’s right, red or blue, and the remaining movement cards can go back in the box. 

Onitama Rules

The first player begins by looking at the two movements cards placed face-up in front of them. 

The movement cards depict black and grey squares showing examples of potential pawn movement and position on the gameboard. 

The black square on the illustration shows the starting point for one of your pawns, and the grey boxes indicate a potential spot for movement. 

The grey boxes are relative to the position of the black square shown on the card. You must compare the movement card image to your current pawn location and move your piece accordingly. 

However, keep in mind that you cannot make a pawn movement if it positions you on top of one of your pawns or places you off the playmat. 

If you can move your pawn to a square with an opponent’s pawn, you remove their pawn and place yours in its place, overtaking the square. 

You can jump to a position on the board, following the designated movement shown on a card without concern for other pieces that could be in the way. Simply jump over them and place your pawn on the desired square. 

After playing a movement card, place it to the left of the board and replace it with a new movement card. Players continue to play various moves until both players’ pawns move across the gameboard. 

How to Keep Score in Onitama

While no numerical scoring is required when playing Onitama, there are two different ways to win. You can claim victory either by The way of the Stone or The way of the Stream. By completing either of the following moves, the game ends, and you are declared the winner!

The Way of the Stone

You can use either your pawn or master to capture your opponent’s master pawn by overtaking the square on the board where the master was positioned. 

The Way of the Stream

In order to win by way of the stream, you must move your Master pawn directly into your opponent’s Shrine. 

How to Play Onitama – Video Tutorial

Frequently Asked Questions 

How old is Onitama?

Released in 2014, the board game Onitama is fairly new to the gaming community, but don’t let that stop you from adding it to your collection! 

Is Onitama like chess? 

Onitama appears very similar to chess in the initial setup. There are two opposing sides, and like chess, both players work to move across the board, claiming each other’s pawns along the way. 

However, Onitama has fewer pieces and uses cards to determine specific movement patterns. Chess is more complicated to learn and requires more rules to play. Onitama is quick and easy to learn. 

Other Games Similar to Onitama (Our Guides)

If you enjoy playing Onitama, be sure to check out these other great games:

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Read all the articles (60) written by Andrea Huguley