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Onitama: Tiger Strategy

Onitama is not an easy game. Regularly compared to Chess it is a constant battle of wits – player versus player. At its heart, Onitama is a grid movement based territory control game. Of course, those who regularly play Onitama know it as more than that. It is the ultimate test of minds, one against the other.

Focused on short-term strategy, Onitama exercises different mental processes to other similar abstract games. Where you still need to predict how your opponent will react to every single move, you also need to understand the short-term implications of your actions. The game is a 20-minute balancing act, where you are always trying to tip it in your favour. Where there are generic strategy rules that can be applied, there are also specific strategies for specific cards. Today we are going to look at one card (which is a bit like looking at just the King’s Gambit Opening Move in Chess) and how it means you can win the game in three turns, before your opponent even realises what is going on. Yes, today we are going to look at the Onitama Tiger card and what strategies can be used with it. Just as useful, we’re going to look at what strategy can be used to counteract the card. Let’s do this.

Onitama Tiger Strategy

The power of your Art projects itself like a shadow.
Sense your opponent’s fear, and pounce with certainty and strength.

Let’s begin this by looking at what Tiger actually is.

Onitama Tiger

In the base set, Tiger is the only card that can jump half the board in a single move. As such it is a hugely valuable card, and needs to be thought about when it can be played. Until that moment, the player who is dealt Tiger should hang onto it for dear life.

Tiger is quite a limited card, having only two options for movement as opposed to the standard three or four. That being said, the jump makes it the only card that can win the game in three turns. How? Well, it’s simple. All you need to do is get your Master to the central square.

Attacking with the Tiger

Screen Shot 2018-05-25 at 13.37.10

On a side note – I drew all the diagrams for this blog in the Apple program Keynote using just basic shapes and the painted style of border. I am thrilled with how they came out.

There are ultimately three ways to get your Master to the central square; however, once he is there he can fulfill either one of the primary ways of winning the game. Assuming the other player hasn’t moved their Master then you can take their Master. Alternatively, you can get your Master to their temple space. Both win.

How you achieve this depends on the cards in play, as ultimately you want to use two of similar kinds of cards – either you want to use two cards that allow you to move forward (like the Ox), or two cards that allow you to move diagonally in different directions (like Mantis and Monkey). Vary your strategy based on what is in play.

I believe there are more diagonal cards in the game, so it is more likely to be one of those. This means two potential routes (and one mirror image depending on the diagonal cards in play).




The above uses straight cards to move the attacking Master directly forward two spaces. It uses the forward on the Horse, followed by the Boar. The colours on the animal cards are not the same as they are in the physical version. This was just to show the difference in cards when drawing them out.

Alternatively, using diagonals is also an option, with the following position.




The above diagrams show the top right diagonal from the Mantis being used, before the top left diagonal of the Monkey. Finally, this is topped by the Tiger.

Once your Master is in position then it is time to use Tiger and pounce, winning you the game. Whatever you do, do NOT use Tiger to get your Master to the middle square because then you will be giving Tiger to your opponent, who can use it to take your Master.

Defending against the Tiger

The Tiger “focused open” is such a powerful opening play that it is really difficult to defend against. That being said, it is not impossible. The critical move is after the opening move. If your opponent has Tiger, and makes a move to bring their Master forward in their very first turn, then you need to, in your first move, make that middle square as unappealing as possible. You do this by using the cards to manoeuver and position your Student pawns diagonally next to the central square.

You need to leave a diagonal for your second turn, so on your first turn, depending on whether your hand is straight/straight or straight/diagonal or diagonal/diagonal it will depend on which pawn you use. If you have straight/straight or straight/diagonal then you will make a move like the one on the left. If it is diagonal/diagonal then make a move like the one on the right.


Keep in mind, you will need to have some kind of diagonal in your second turn to be any kind of threat because otherwise there is no reason for the Tiger player not to move their pawn forward. Without a diagonal, you can’t defend against the Tiger.

Of course, depending on the diagonal, you may want to move the pawns on the other side of your master. The above images are just representative.

Whatever you do, do not move your Master forward. Moving him forward is a mistake as it just brings him closer to the opponent, and the opponent can use Tiger on their second turn to win instead.


If you go first in a Tiger game, but you are the defender and don’t have the Tiger card in your hand, then open with one of the previously mentioned Student moves.

The goal for you, as the defender of the Tiger, is to push the Tiger away from that central square. Once you have done that then it will turn into a normal game of Onitama. You can continue as you want. If your opponent gives Tiger up at any point then your goal is to maintain it and get to that central square. If they don’t then play an aggressive game. Gain control of the board, and keep them away from that square.

This will give you a relatively safe mid-game. The latter third of the game, however, allows for more manoeuvrability. This means it is more likely to be easier to position your Master in the central square; however, it is also easier for your opponent to manoeuver as well. Keep that in mind. If you don’t have the Tiger, use Students to control the middle square. If you do then get your Master there and pounce.

Pounce Like A Tiger

So that seems to be the Onitama Tiger strategy. Either pounce quickly, if you are attacking, or, if you are defending, keep the game going to the point where you gain control over the card. Once you do, you can mitigate the risk and even use it to your advantage. Just keep an eye on it, keep on eye on your Master and try to keep it away and out of arms reach of that Tiger’s pounce.

So, what do you think? Do you like using the Tiger card? Is it a card you will regularly use, or do you sit on it for the whole game until you really need it? Let me know in the comments below.

If you enjoyed reading this
you may also enjoy:
Onitama Review – Simple But Amazing

Other Onitama Strategies:


  1. This was a fantastic post!!! Have you ever done a review of the dragon card? That damn thing throws a wrench in my plans every damn time. I don’t know what to to with it.

    Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  2. An excellent detailed post, already won a few games using this strategy. I gotta say Tiger is really OP if you know how to use it. You don’t wanna give this card away if you have it…

    Are you working on anymore posts like this?

    Liked by 1 person

      • I agree, this was excellent. I’m brand new to this game, and anything at all would help. Dragon makes sense. Even something basic about your notion of what the opening game, mid game and end-games can look like.

        So for example, right now when I play I make it a goal to control as much of the three middle squares of the middle row as soon as possible. Is that reasonable? Etc, etc.

        Liked by 1 person

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