Review: A Battle of Onin

A Battle of Onin is a strategic trick-taking card game with a twist. You’re introduced to Ronin Samurai, Sohei Monks, Kunoichi, and Shoguns and taken through imperial Japan to battle for the most influence in the land. 

Players: 2-4

Duration: 30-40 minutes

Age: 10+

DISCLAIMER: I was provided a prototype copy of this game for the purposes of this review. These are early prototype components, and the final components may be different from these shown. Also, it is not my intention to detail every rule in the game, but rather to go through a general overview, how it plays and my reaction to it. Although this game is best played with at least 3 people, I only had the opportunity to play the 2 Player version of the game, which is added into the FAQ section of the provided rulebook. If you’re interested in the game, be sure to follow them on Facebook to be notified of their upcoming Kickstarter campaign. 

How To Play A Battle Of Onin

The objective of A Battle of Onin is to collect 35 Influence (victory points).

There are four Factions within the game and different strengths for individuals within each Faction.

To set up the game, you’ll want to follow the attached rulebook. Generally speaking, each player will have 13 cards in their hand and a random Ruling Class card (trump) will be dealt from the leftover facedown deck. 

Starting from the player to the left of the dealer, each player will bid how many Conscriptions (tricks) they will win in the round. After all bids are declared, the player left of the dealer plays first. 

The card the first person plays is the leading Faction. Everyone else then plays a card in from their hand in turn. After everyone has played, the highest ranking conscription in that Faction wins the Conscription. 

The player who wins each Conscription leads the next. After all 13 battles are played in the round, total Conscriptions are counted and attributed to the player’s Influence. There are no bids in rounds 1, 5, 10, 15, etc. In those rounds, all Conscriptions won are added to a player’s Influence. 

Excess Conscription won beyond the bid amount count as Corruption. Corruption points are tallied after each round. If a player’s accumulated Corruption reaches 7, 10 points are subtracted from their Influence.

The minimum bid per player is 3. If a player fails to reach the minimum bid of 3, only 1 point is subtracted from their Influence. For bids greater than 3, failure to reach that bid results in the bid number being subtracted from their total Influence.

While learning the game, I’ve found that the publishers have created an easy-to-follow video on their Facebook page to help with setup and understanding the rules. This is especially true if you want further explanation of the Corruption, and how scoring Influence for underbidding and overbidding works. 

My Take On A Battle of Onin

I was sent this game and really excited to play since trick-taking games don’t often come up in the repertoire of games I usually play (mostly Euros or worker placement games). 

This game was particularly exciting due to the additional layer of Corruption to the mechanics of the game. In a typical non-bidding trick-taking game, players just win each round with either a trump card or the highest card in that category. In a typical trick-taking game that includes the bidding mechanic, players win or lose whatever they end up bidding. This is all different in A Battle of Onin.

With A Battle of Onin, if players downplay the strength of their hand, they are essentially punished for underbidding through the addition of Corruption. On the flip side, players are also punished for not living up to the expectations of their bid through the subtraction of their bid from the Influence total (pretty typical to a bid-type trick-taking game). 

With this said, while playing we found that the penalty for overbidding was quite harsh compared to the penalty of underbidding. For example, if a player bids 6 at the beginning of the round but ends up with 7 Conscriptions (one above the bid)), they’ll come out with minus 6 from their total Influence. However, if that same player bids 6 at the beginning of the round but ends up with 5 Conscriptions (one below the bid), they’ll come out with an additional 5 Influence and one additional Corruption, which isn’t too harsh compared to the alternative. This is especially true since Corruption points (at least in the 2P version) were not too difficult to stay away from. I can see this being a more involved part of the gameplay with additional players added into the fray.

At the end of the day, we ended up getting quite into the gameplay as we raced to add to each other’s Corruption and defending from lost Influence while also adding to our own Influence. Throughout each of the battles in each round, both my partner and I found ourselves scratching our heads and thinking in depth about our next move, while really challenging each other as we got close to our assigned bids. 

Even after the game was over and we were cooking dinner, we found ourselves continuing to discuss the complexity the Corruption mechanic added to the game and alternative ways we could have played it to keep our Corruption points low, meet our bid amounts, and gain the most Influence – which I feel is a sign of a great game.

So even though I have a prototype copy of the game, I will certainly be holding onto this one. Despite trick-taking games not really frequenting our play table with our core group, my partner and I are both excited to bring this out to see how the mechanics hold up with additional players.

If you are looking for a trick-taking game that adds an additional layer of strategy, be sure to check out A Battle of Onin that will be launching soon on Kickstarter. 

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