As board games go, many can take up to an hour to play. Traditional board games like chess can take several all hours and truthfully, who has the time in this fast paced, electronic world? If you love games like Chess, Go, or Chinese Checkers - then the latest game by Arcane Wonders - Onitama - is worth trying.
Simple in play and elegant in design, Onitama is a two-player game utilizing chess-like moves to either capture your opponent's sensei (teacher) or by landing on your opponent's temple square with either the sensei piece or any student (pawn) piece. The game of dojo vs dojo is played on a beautiful, well-made play mat consisting of a five by five grid and five playing pieces; one master/teacher and four students. The game has a total of sixteen cards named after various animals like the goat, the horse, or the dragon, each with its own move sequence. Each card has an illustration of the grid and the legal moves (squares) a piece may move to when using that card.
Game play proceeds as follows: each player picks either red or blue and places them on the corresponding end of headboard with the master piece on the temple square, two pawns on either side. The sixteen cards are shuffled and each player is dealt two cards always left face open. A fifth card is dealt to the side and the rest put aside as they are not used. In the corner of each card is either a red or blue symbol. The color of the symbol on the fifth card determines who moves first. The first player moves a piece, any piece using one of his cards to a legal square (as in chess, landing on an opposing piece captures). The player than takes the fifth card onto his side of the board and replaces it with the card he just used. And play proceeds with used cards replacing the side card. Play continues until one of the two winning conditions as mentioned earlier is met.
Onitama takes literally less than a minute to learn, with the average game time lasting anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes. Like chess, replay value is very high since the cards are shuffled between games. Guaranteeing that each game will be different, offering moves you may not have used yet.
The actual product itself is top quality with a lovely oriental motif on the rubber backed mat and the playing pieces are simple and elegant. This was a game I had been waiting for since I played it as a demo at a game trade show a little over a year ago, and it was worth the wait.
Review by Dan Longoria
Pandemic Legacy is a co-operative Legacy game, designed by Matt Leacock and Rob Daviau, and published by Z-man Games. It is based on the original Pandemic game created by Leacock, and Leacock and Daviau incorporated Legacy campaign mechanics similar to those found in Daviau's smash hit Risk Legacy. The game plays as a co-op for 2-4 players, and the campaign should be finished in between 12 to 24 games. Core mechanics are Point to Point Movement, Hand Management, and Set Collection.
For those new to Pandemic, it is a game in which players take on the roles of various personnel working for the CDC, helping to combat the outbreak of four deadly viruses worldwide. Each role has special abilities and functions, and choosing which roles to take with you might be the deciding factor in salvation or global devastation. Each turn, players are given four actions to move to cities, cure infection cubes in the city they are in, trade city cards they have collected, or build research facilities. At the end of their turn, they draw two Player Cards. Most of the cards are color coded city cards; collecting sets of these are how you cure the individual diseases. But there are a handful of Epidemic cards that shake things up and increase the difficulty level of the game. The turn finalizes by flipping over Infection Cards, which spreads disease to a few new cities. The players win when they cure all of the diseases, and the players lose if they run of cards in the Player Cards deck, or if there are eight Outbreaks (when a disease tries to spread to a city with more than three infections, and instead infects every city it touches).
The Legacy element is introduced in the campaign. Game one starts out in January, and it plays like a normal game of Pandemic. However, narrative cards tell you what to do at the end of every month based on whether you won or lost (you get two chances to win each month). Several packets, envelopes, and secret slips of paper are sealed away in the box, only to be opened when the narrative tells you it is time. There are also several packs that are to be opened at specific triggers, such as "Open when you have lost four games in a row," or "Open when you eradicate three diseases in one game." Because so much of the fun and novelty is the surprise value in the hidden packs, I'll not give away any spoilers. But I will give my pros and cons as vaguely as I can.
This game is highly addictive. Because it is story driven, you have a reason to play the next game other than "I want to try that again." Although most of the mechanics in it existed previously in Pandemic and its expansions, it was a fun way to introduce them in a campaign as part of the progress. But aside from the mystery of the envelopes and the new ways to play old games, my favorite part was the modification; you get to modify the world! You like playing that Medic? Put a sticker on his character sheet that lets him permanently dig through someone else's discards. Have you noticed that Beijing is where you always build your second research center? Put a sticker on the map, and now there will be one there forever. Everyone's copy of the game will come out different and that is amazing.
But, that's also a big flaw. If you're a diehard collector, you're really not going to like the idea of putting stickers on the map, or ripping up a card because you didn't meet the win conditions to use it. But that's something you need to know before you pick this game up. The other big flaw in the game is replay value. Besides already knowing the story after completing it, you couldn't play it again anyway because you've already opened up the envelopes and ripped up all the cards. Assuming you never win the first game of the month, the most games you would get out of this is 24. If you're awesome and win every one, you'll be done in 12. But, if you pick up a copy on Amazon for $45, and each player pitched in a dollar a game, even if you did it in 12 sessions, you'd still each pay roughly a dollar an hour for the entertainment, and that’s not shabby.
Overall, I can't help but recommend this game. If replay value is your focus, pick up the original Pandemic, but if you're in the mood for a story, or the gaming group needs a change of pace, Pandemic Legacy is the shot in the arm your game night needs.
Review by Randy Keen
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