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The Chess Variant Pages


Onitama is a dynamic CV on a 5x5 board, where each piece moves identically, but in a constantly changing way. Onitama was invented by Shimpei Sato and published by Arcane Wonders.

In Onitama, each player has 4 pawns and 1 king (called the master). Each player has two cards dictating how the pieces may move, and a fifth card is put to the side, chosen from a deck of 16 different cards. Every turn, the player uses a card to move one piece (pawn or master) according to the card, and swaps their card with the extra card. The card they just used will enter their opponent's hand at the end of the opponent's turn. This means that players must consider not only how pieces move right now, but also how they will be able move a few turns later (Even if a certain series of moves and captures happens, different cards could have been used to accomplish it!)

Onitama is won either by capturing the opponent's master (called way of the stone), or navigating their master to the other team's temple, where the master starts (way of the stream). This encourages moving the master into the action, but players must also be careful not to let the master get trapped in a bad spot - especially since the movement patterns change quickly, so a seemingly safe position reveals itself to be dangerous if not carefully considered.


Each player starts with the pawns in a line, with the master in the center. The master's starting spot is called the temple. Movement cards are randomly selected from the set of 16 possible cards, two for each player, plus a fifth card set aside.


Pawns and master move in the same way - of course, don't let your master get captured! The 16 different movement cards are as follows (These decide how the pieces move) - note that some cards are flipped versions of another. These are listed together, with the first version being whichever one is more left-oriented, but are on seperate cards. Note also that the Boar is a rotation of the Horse/Ox, and the Crane, Mantis, Eel, and Cobra make a symmetry group as well, although these groups are listed seperately:


Tiger: Jump 2 forward or step 1 back

Dragon: Jump sideways forwards knightwise, or step 1 diagonally back

Crab: Jump 2 sideways or step 1 forwards

Elephant: Step 1 sideways or 1 diagonally forwards

Monkey: Step 1 diagonally in any direction

Mantis: Step 1 diagonally forwards or 1 straight back

Crane: Step 1 forwards or 1 diagonally back

Boar: Step 1 forwards or sideways

Frog/Rabbit: Jump 2 to the left (right for Rabbit), diagonally 1 forwards left (right) or backwards right (left)

Goose/Rooster: Step 1 sideways either direction, or diagonally forwards left (right for Rooster) or backwards right (left).

Horse/Ox: Step 1 forwards, backwards or left (right for Ox)

Eel/Cobra: Step diagonally 1 left (right for Cobra) or sideways right (left)

The following cards are added in the Sensei's Path expansion:

Giraffe: Jump sideways forwards knightwise, or step 1 back

Kirin: Jump forwards knightwise or step 2 back

Phoenix: Step diagonally 1 forward, or jump 2 sideways

Turtle: Jump 2 sideways, or step diagonally 1 backwards

Dog/Fox: Step to the left (right for fox) directly or diagonally 1

Bear/Panda: Step 1 forward, 1 diagonally forwards left (right for panda), or diagonally backwards right (left)

Viper/Sea Snake: Step forward 1, jump 2 left (right for sea snake), or 1 diagonally back right (left)

Rat/Mouse: Step 1 forward, 1 left (right for sea snake), or 1 diagonally back right (left)

Iguana/Tanuki: Step 1 forward, jump knightwise forwards left (right for tanuki), or step 1 back right (left)

Otter/Sable: Step diagonally 1 left (right for sable) forwards, 1 right (left) back, or jump 2 right (left)


From the deck of 16 cards, each player takes two movement cards, and a fifth is set aside at the start of the game. On their turn, each player must choose a card, and move a piece (either a pawn or a master) according to what the card allows. The player will then remove this card from their hand, and swap it with the card set aside. The card just played is now set aside and will enter the other player's hand at the end of their turn. If a player cannot move any piece, then the player swaps one of their cards, and play passes to the other player. If a card can be used, then the player cannot skip their turn, and must move a piece. Pieces may not land on other pieces of the same team, but can capture the other team's pieces. The Master starts in the middle of each player's first rank, called the Temple. If a Master is captured, then the capturing player wins the game. If a Master reaches the Temple on the other side of the board, then that player wins the game. Note that the rules do not prevent players from moving into check, so a player can win by moving their Master into the other team's temple, even if that square is guarded.


Onitama makes for a quick, dynamic variant. If you ever want to play with a friend, it won't take very long to play, but you also have to carefully consider the moves. The card system means that a safe structure might no longer support itself, and a piece which previously was safe is suddenly in danger, even without any pieces moving. All of this is accomplished with perfect information and no random chance beyond the initial setup, which makes it a good way to introduce chess and chesslike games to people with no experience.


There are also two expansions for the official game: Sensei's Path adds additional movement cards, for a total of 32, while Way of the Wind adds a neutral piece called the wind spirit which either player can move, cannot be captured, and can swap places with other pieces, in addition to new movement cards (including special cards which can move both a regular piece and the neutral piece in the same turn).


An official digital version of Onitama is available for Android and iOS.

This 'user submitted' page is a collaboration between the posting user and the Chess Variant Pages. Registered contributors to the Chess Variant Pages have the ability to post their own works, subject to review and editing by the Chess Variant Pages Editorial Staff.

Author: Mikk . Inventor: Shimpei Sato.
Web page created: 2019-03-10. Web page last updated: 0000-00-00