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Dragon – Onitama [Game Changer]

Onitama is a masterful game. Quick to play, but difficult to truly master, Onitama is a chess-like grid-based two-player game, in which you control a school of highly trained martial artists. Your school comprises of four students and one master each.

As a player, in Onitama you must do one of two things to win the game. Either you must take the master belonging out of your opponent out of the game or you get your master to the temple arch belonging to your opponent.

Now, one of the reasons that Onitama stands out as a game is because it has a really unique card based turn system. There are five cards in play at any one time, and those cards denote the types of moves you can do. Each player has two in front of them at any one time, and that forms their hand, visible for all to see. The final card lives in a limbo between players. On their turn the player must take one of two cards, play it, and put it in between the two players, taking the card that was previously between them into their hand. This continues in a circular manner, until one of the players wins the game. It’s a spectacular system, and one that ensures the possible moves are always in constant motion.

Dragon in Onitama
Dragon in Onitama

Dragon in Onitama

When thinking about writing a “game changer” article on Onitama there were a couple of cards that came to mind. The first was Tiger, which we wrote about in June 2018. After writing that strategy, however, I actually got a whole series of comments and emails asking to look at Dragonin much the same way.

You see, in Onitama cards seem to come in pairs, threes, or fours. Within those groupings, cards go together, being variations on a theme. For instance – Cobra, Eel, Mantis, and Crane are all variations on the same set of moves. They all offer one movement perpendicularly left/up/right/down, with diagonal movement in the opposite corners.

That being said, there are also a series of unique cards, and due to their nature, unique cards can be game changers. Tiger is one such card, allowing for something like a four turn victory, since it is the only card in the game that allows for a forward jump. It is possible to win, using Tiger, if you simply manage to get to the middle of the board.

Other unique cards include Crab, Monkey, Elephant, and Dragon.

So, what makes Dragon so special? Well, actually, Dragon is special for a couple of reasons.

What makes Dragon so special in Onitama?

Okay, so what are the reasons that Dragon is so special in Onitama? Well, first thing is first, what does Dragon do?

Dragon is a card that is a jumping card – namely a card that allows for you to travel more than one space away at any one time. Where there are other cards like this (Crab, Rabbit, Frog, and Tiger), Dragon does it moving forward. This makes it one of only two cards in the game that allows for a forward jumping action, rather than one that is purely to one side or the other.

What this does is put Dragon in a similar class to Tiger, as both can move you forward.

The question is – where it is easy to see the use in Tiger, what is the use in Dragon? It allows for such a large jump to one side, that can surely throw a character off course.

Well, yes and no. There are, in my mind, two core ways to use Dragon. The first is way less exciting and a suboptimal way of using Dragon, which is as a get-out-of-jail-free card. By using it, you can catapult your piece literally halfway across the board, which is incredibly useful for getting your master out of the way. This usage is reactive however and, generally speaking, not an ideal way to use Dragon.

Instead, I find that one of the best ways to use Dragon is as a strike card, able to come in and use pieces that are generally considered nonthreatening as deadly assassins.

Using pieces on the edge of the board

Due to the nature of Onitama, a lot of the action can happen in the centre of the board. The temple arches are in the centre of the back rows of each side, and the masters start in the centre of that row as well. This can mean that a lot of the game happens in those central columns.

The second you introduce Dragon, however, it means that you are able to use the pieces on the edge of the board with deadly precision. Where, in a normal game, pieces on the edge can move into a central position with two cards (assuming Crab isn’t in play), Dragon makes those two cards a one card jump. This means that it is possible for you to move faster than usually possible, getting a piece from the edge of the board to the centre. What is more, using Dragon means you can use diagonals to move your master to the edge of the board, and have him take over your opponent’s temple arch from that position using Dragon.

What the Dragon card does is it enables a whole new style of play. By using the Dragon, it allows for pieces at the edge of the board to enter the middle of the action, making keeping to the edge until the perfect moment a truly viable strategy for winning the game.

There is no doubt that Dragon is a really neat card and it can really change the way Onitama can be played.

So, there we have it – a look at the Dragon card from Onitama and how it can help change the game.This was the fifth article looking at various different game changing elements in board games – from cards to abilities to components. This was a look at the Dragon card from Onitama. With that in mind, what is your opinion on the Dragon card from Onitama? Let me know in the comments below.

Other Game Changers:
Second Chance – Star Wars: Destiny
Pan – Santorini
Recover the Magister’s Orb – Lords of Waterdeep
Monopoly – Catan

Other Onitama Articles:
Onitama Review
Onitama: Sensei’s Path Review
Onitama: Way of the Wind Review
Tiger Strategy
Kirin Strategy

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