Carcassonne board game
Pizza Theory board game
City Square Off board game
Dominion card game
Brain Freeze board game
Splendor board game
Ligretto Dice game
Hive board game
Monkey Lab board game
Timeline Challenge card game

Onitama – 2 player strategic fun

Onitama board game

Onitama is loaded with fun, 2-player battles.

One of the first family board games we reviewed many years ago was Ninja Versus Ninja – in which 2 players face off on a grid trying to get their ninjas far into the opposing dojo for points or to knock out all the opposing ninjas.

While there’s a bit of strategy in Ninja Versus Ninja on when to move which ninjas and to where, the options were always based on the lucky (or unlucky) roll of the dice. It’s a fun and quick game, but a lot comes down to luck.

Well, if you’re looking for a fun and quick 2-player game with a dojo type theme that doesn’t revolve around luck, we got a great game for you – Onitama!

In Onitama, players try to either take out their opponent’s Master piece or move their own Master onto their opponent’s Temple Arch.

It’s a simple and straightforward game that’s filled with strategic choices throughout.

But it’s the unique way players maneuver their pieces that really makes this game shine!

Onitama board game

Strategic battle of wits underway.


How to play Onitama

Set up:

Onitama board game

The icon in the bottom right indicates who plays first.

To begin, players set their Master pawn on their colored Temple Arch and place their 4 Student pawns along their baseline.

They shuffle the 16 Movement cards and each draw 2 cards which are placed face up in front of them.

Then one more Movement card is drawn. The color of the icon in the bottom right of the card determines which player begins (red or blue). This card is then placed face up to the right side of the play mat respective to the starting player.

The rest of the Movement cards won’t be used in the game and be placed back in the box.

Thus every game is only played with 5 of the 16 possible movement cards.

Onitama board game

The use of only 5 movement cards each game offers a ton of variety.


Player turns:

The flow of play in Onitama is super simple.

Onitama board game

Blue is closing in.

On a player’s turn, they move one of their pawns.

The options for moving a pawn are shown on the two cards in front of them.

The black space in the center of the card represents the pawn they choose to move. The colored spaces dictate where that pawn can move to.

So the player must choose one of the cards in front of them to use for moving a pawn.

Pawns can not move off the board and pawns can not share a space. As such, a player may not move a pawn to a space occupied by their own pawn. However, a player may move a pawn into a space occupied by and opponent to eliminate it from the game.

Once a player has moved a pawn, they place the movement card used to the left side of the play mat. They then take the movement card to the right of the play mat and place it next to the card they didn’t use. Thus, once again they have 2 movement cards in front of them.

Then play passes to the other player.

Play continues this way until one player has won the game – by either eliminating their opponent’s Master or getting their own Master onto their opponent’s Temple Arch.

Onitama board game

Red wins!


Can the whole family enjoy Onitama?

Onitama is a fantastic board game the entire family can enjoy!

The game play is super simple, yet requires strategic thinking.

It has chess-like elements and feel, but the play time is short.

It doesn’t require any reading, yet demands spacial understanding.

The options for movement each game are limited, but the variability is huge.

And the game can be quite addicting.

All of those things combined make Onitama a great game for families to enjoy.

While young kids may not understand all the strategic elements of the game, they can still enjoy moving their pawns around to match the cards in front of them. And along the way, they’ll start to develop such skills.

If you’d like your kids to develop their strategic thinking, Onitama is a wonderful way to do it.

Onitama board game

Only two cards to choose from, but still plenty of options.


Strategic thinking required

Like with most 2-player strategy games, the most engaging game experiences are between players of equal aptitude.

That doesn’t mean the game isn’t fun for a parent to play with a child. In fact, doing so will help your child develop great mental skills.

Similar to chess, Onitama is a battle of minds where players maneuver into enemy territory to corner a King.

However, unlike chess the movement options aren’t tied to specific playing pieces. Instead, the movement options in Onitama are limited to which cards are in front of a player on their turn. But those keep changing from turn to turn.

And that requires a new level of thinking – as well as planning.

Onitama board game

The Rooster card will come to me next. It might help me with what I need to do.

Not only do players need to pay attention to what movement options they have to work with, but they should also keep an eye on what options their opponents have to choose from to counter.

By looking at the cards in front of their opponent, they can anticipate potential moves their opponent may make.

Players can also look ahead to the card they’ll get as a movement option in their next turn by paying attention to the card to the right of the play mat.

On the flip side of that, players will also be passing off their used card to their opponent – giving yet another thing to think about when choosing which card to use for movement on a turn.

It’s all a great back-and-forth battle of minds that we really enjoy.

Onitama board game

Which card should I use, Crab or Rabbit?


Very well produced

Not only is Onitama very fun to play, but it’s also very well produced.

Arcane Wonders did a fantastic job with all the components in the game!

Just looking at the game box you can tell the game is unique. It stands tall and uses a magnetic closure.

Upon flipping open the box you’ll see that everything has its place.

The pawns each have their own slot as do the movement cards. And the play mat is rolled up neatly.

Speaking of which, the play mat is terrific.

It’s made of the same rubber composite as typical mouse pads and the art on it delivers a nice oriental theme. The play mat also makes the game easy to play almost anywhere as the pawns won’t slide around.

The movement cards are also well done.

The movement diagrams on the cards make it easy to know your options as well as clearly see your opponent’s on the other side of the play mat. In addition, each card has a cool design in calligraphy style that matches the name of the movement card.

Well done Arcane Wonders!

Onitama board game

Everything stores so well in the game box.


How does Onitama score on our “Let’s Play Again” game meter?

Onitama board gameAs if our “quite addicting” comment above doesn’t say it all, Onitama scores very high on our “let’s play again” game meter.

I’m a big fan of 2-player strategy games and love the way they get me to exercise my mind. However, some of these type of games can last a long time.

Not so with Onitama.

Onitama gives you a great mental exercise and fun experience in short shots. That’s also why it’s so easy to play game after game.

Add to that the fact that there are 16 movement cards and you only play with 5 each game means that there’s an endless variability in how each game will play out.

We’ve played both ways – random card selection vs. using specific cards at the start of the game – and have enjoyed the game every time.

Onitama has earned a prominent spot in our game closet and we highly recommend it for everyone!

We’d like to thank Arcane Wonders for providing a review copy of Onitama. 


Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is great fun

Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle card game

Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is a cooperative deck-building game the whole family can enjoy.

When we first heard about Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, we got excited.

After all, we love cooperative games.

We enjoy deck-building games.

And we love Harry Potter!

So the thought of USAopoly combining all those elements into a game was very exciting.

It also created very high expectations.

The big question was – could it live up to our high hopes?

Well, it’s time to find out…

Read more »


Best Board Games of 2016


Looking back on 2016 and forward to a fresh 2017.

Happy New Year!

So we may be a few days late in wishing you a Happy New Year, but better late than never.

The last couple weeks around our house have been full of relaxing fun. So much so, that I’ve totally set aside our game reviews for a bit of a reprieve.

Well, now that the new year is under way, it’s time to dust off the keyboard for our 2016 Year in Review!

A few months ago, I wrote about my Top 11 Games and Experiences YTD.

Codenames: Pictures card game

A new and improved Codenames is among us.

It was split about 50/50 between board games and game experiences (like going to Gen Con 2016 and D-Day Commemoration with Memoir ’44). And of the games I mentioned, only 3 were games published in 2016.

So rather than rehash that list, today I’m sharing my current picks for Best Board Games of 2016!

There’s 3 simple criteria for this list:

  1. The game was published in 2016
  2. I’ve played the game
  3. I’ve had a great time playing it and get excited thinking about playing it again

While there are still a number of “hot” games being talked about for 2016, if I haven’t played it, I can’t yet make a judgement call on it. So naturally those don’t make my list (yet).


183 Board Games Played!

Before I dive into my list, I’ll share a quick recap of my year in board gaming.

I love looking back from year to year at the games I’ve played and the people I’ve enjoyed playing them with. And this year I started using a a new and very cool app for tracking my game plays – Board Game Stats.

In 2015, I played 132 different games and wondered if I’d be able to hit 150 during 2016.

Best Family Board Games

The 15 games I played the most in 2016.

Well, I seem to have knocked it out of the park by playing 183 different board games this year!

Total number of game plays = 449

Total number of new games played = 131

That’s right, I played about as many “new to me” games in 2016 as I did total games in 2015.

Or in other words, 71.5% of my games played this year were ones I played for the first time.

As a game reviewer, it shouldn’t be surprising that such a high percentage of my game playing is with new games. (Good thing I’m intrigued by learning new game rules.)

My most-played games for 2016 include: Dominion, Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, Mr. Jack Pocket, Codenames: Pictures, Fugitive, Six, Luchador, Quixo, Ice Cool, Love Letter: Batman, Spyfall, Longhorn, Patchwork, Magic Minds, Indigo, Memoir ’44, Onitama, and Abyss.

In addition, my stats show that I played games with 102 people in 19 different locations.

We also posted 57 game reviews during 2016 – the most we’ve ever done in 1 year!

I share this mostly as background to say that when it comes to picking the best board games of 2016, we’ve got a solid base from which to evaluate the games.


Best Board Games of 2016

So without further ado, here are our picks for the best board games of 2016:


7. Star Trek Panic

Considering we’re not even Trekkers, Star Trek Panic is a fantastic cooperative board game. It definitely lives up to the “Panic” heritage yet also includes different missions to complete as well as being able to maneuver the Enterprise.

Star Trek Panic board game

Good thing we can maneuver the Enterprise to have a shield in front of this attacking enemy ship.


6. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle

A introductory deck-building game with a theme that appeals to families all over the world (Harry Potter). Plus, it’s a cooperative game where families get to work together to defeat the villains.

Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle card game

Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battles is a fun cooperative, deck-building game.


5. Ice Cool

I never would have guessed that either a children’s game or a dexterity game would make my “best games” list, but we’ve had a genuinely fun time flicking penguins all around their icy school. Great game for families of all ages.

Ice Cool board game

Flicking penguins around is lots of fun.


4. Mechs vs. Minions

This massive game produced by Riot Games is an absolute hit. It’s a cooperative game where players program their mechs to complete missions (including destroying tons of minions along the way). It reminds me a lot of one of my favorite games (RoboRally) with programmed movement but instead of racing each other, now we can work together.

Mechs vs. Minions board game

Programming Mechs to take out all the Minions and complete objectives.


3. Codenames: Pictures

I couldn’t imagine an improvement on the super fun group game, Codenames. But it turns out that Codenames: Pictures brings out even more creativity in our clues and allow us to more frequently locate multiple agents on a turn. After having the game just 2 months, it quickly shot into #4 on my “most played” games for 2016.

Codenames: Pictures card game

A bottle as a cannon? Chess pieces with a mallet?


2. Star Wars: Rebellion

Perhaps the must-fulfilling Star Wars board game I’ve every played. It’s an immersive game that nails the theme and keeps players engaged the entire time. We don’t own a copy yet, but after my first experience playing, it quickly shot to the top of my game wish list. Can’t wait to play it again.

Star Wars Rebellion board game

Major battles between the Empire and the Rebellion.


1. Scythe

There’s no doubt Scythe got a lot of buzz this year. But I’m also happy to report that it completely lived up to my high expectations. There isn’t enough time to cover everything I find so cool, so I’ll simply refer you to check out “17 Things I Love About Scythe“.

Scythe board game

Vying for control of territories and resources in Scythe.


More to Come

2016 was definitely a great year in board gaming. Not only are game designers and publishers continually improving the quality of game components, but they’re also designing such engaging and rich game play experiences.

There’s no shortage of great board games, card games, and more for people to enjoy playing together face-to-face. And we expect the same trends to continue through 2017.

We also anticipate playing even more 2016 games in the coming months which could have a chance to break into our Best Games of 2016 list. We’ll just have to see…

In the meantime, we’ve still got plenty of games in our review queue that we’re excited to share with you!

So keep an eye out for many game reviews to come…


Have a Merry Christmas!

Innkeeper Christmas

Let’s make room.

We wish you a Merry Christmas!

There’s so much to love about Christmas.

As the year comes to an end, we get to take time to reflect on all that we’ve experienced over the past year and appreciate our blessings.

We also get to spend lots of time with family – a grand blessing indeed.

But the biggest blessing of all is found in the reason for the season.

“Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” – John 8:12

Read more »


Rubik’s Race and other puzzle challenges

Rubik's Race board game

It’s not a Rubik’s Cube, but it’s got the Rubik’s name.

Earlier this year, Caleb noticed a Rubik’s Cube on one of our shelves and set out to solve it.

The colorful puzzle cube captured all his attention for quite some time. Before long he had figured it out and was challenging us to mix it up “harder” to see how long it would take him to solve it.

On average he was solving it in 1 minute 10 seconds. And like you’d imagine, he loved getting under 1 minute.

So when we saw a game called Rubik’s Race, of course we were interested.

The good news for me though is that the game isn’t about seeing who the fastest person is to solve a Rubik’s Cube – otherwise I’d never stand a chance against Caleb.

Instead, Rubik’s Race is a short and fun 2-player challenge of getting colored tiles into position before the other player.

Read more »


Playing with marbles is fun in Potion Explosion

Potion Explosion board game

Potion Explosion is a fun game for the whole family.

Games and toys are made to be fun.

After all, having fun is why we get together with friends and family to play games. And kids love playing with toys because they’re fun.

So when we see a game with a big toy factor to it, we naturally tend to think it’s going to be fun.

Such is the case with Potion Explosion. The game has a big toy factor that revolves around playing with marbles!

And doesn’t playing with marbles have “fun” written all over it?

But is the marble toy factor all the game has going for it? Or is Potion Explosion actually fun to play?

It’s time to find out.

Read more »


Codenames: Pictures is better than the original

Codenames: Pictures card game

A new and improved Codenames is among us.

When I first heard a new version of Codenames was being published using pictures, I thought it sounded ridiculous.

After all, how could Czech Games Edition improve upon the original Codenames?

Codenames became an almost instant hit with our family when we got it. It quickly achieved a place among our Family Favorite Board Games.

There’s a reason we included it in our 2015 Board Game Gift Guide.

We love the challenge of giving, as well as understanding, one-word clues to guess multiple cards on the table.

Read more »


Star Wars: Imperial Assault game insert

Star Wars Imperial Assault Insert Here game insert

Insert Here makes a great game insert for Star Wars: Imperial Assault.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens in less than a week!

I can hardly wait.

And to keep my excitement alive and well, Star Wars: Imperial Assault is staying set up on our game table for playing a number of times this week.

It’s a game I enjoy so much it’s made my Top 10 favorite board games list.

The game also has a lot of components including the miniatures, tokens, dice, various card decks, and plenty of tiles.

It’s a lot to pull out and set up every time you want to play.

But with a great game insert, like this one from Insert Here, keeping it so well organized in the game box makes set up much simpler.

Read more »

Powered by WP