How to Play Onirim, a Solo Card Game of Dreams and Nightmares

Updated on October 15, 2019
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I love board games and card games, particularly ones that allow cooperative or solo gameplay.

A Single-Player Card Game With a Richly Illustrated Theme

I love cards and board games, but too often, I don't have an opponent handy when I have a few minutes to play. I have some cooperative board games that can be played solo, but until recently, I didn't know of any single-player options for cards other than solitaire. (Playing online isn't the same to me; I like the tactile sensation of handling the cards.)

Then I was searching Amazon and discovered Onirim. Since the price was low and reviews were fairly good, I decided to take a chance and get a copy. And I love it! Read on to learn more about the dream world of Onirim.

Onirim: the door cards
Onirim: the door cards

A Quick Summary of the Game

In the game of Onirim, you're trapped in a maze of dream rooms, each with one of four themes (the aquarium, the garden, the library, and the observatory). To win, you have to locate and capture each of the eight doors (two for each location) before you run out of cards. There are also nightmare cards in the deck that cause setbacks: You either have to give up a door or key, surrender your hand, or discard the next five cards of the deck.

How to Play Onirim

You play Onirim by first dealing a hand of five dream cards. (Any doors or nightmares are put to the side and shuffled back into the deck.) Then you begin playing cards one at a time, replenishing your hand from the deck after each play.

Cards can be played in almost any order, but you need three consecutive ones of the same color to win a door—and you can't play two cards with the same symbol (sun, moon or key) back to back. That rule can make things a bit tricky since there are more suns in the deck than moons or keys.

It's very helpful to keep the symbol disparity in mind as you play; knowing that there are lots of suns can help you decide what to discard if you don't have a playable option. It's also important to know that there are different numbers of each color; red/pink is most plentiful, while brown is the rarest.

Playing the cards: a typical hand
Playing the cards: a typical hand

Nightmare Cards

A nightmare card triggers the penalties I mentioned earlier. There are ten nightmares in the deck—quite a lot—and they can seriously derail your chances of winning, particularly if they're clumped together in the deck.

A Challenging Game

When I first started playing, I thought I'd never be able to win! While the game intrigued me, I kept with it out of sheer stubbornness; I was determined that I was going to figure out how to beat the game.

After losing more than half a dozen times, I finally read some reviews online and realized that I was handling the nightmare cards all wrong: I was either giving up a door (which should be your last resort) or discarding the next five cards of the deck, which meant I ran out of cards way too soon. I was also using the keys wrong; I'll explain more about keys (and how to use them against nightmares) in a minute.

Keys: The Most Powerful Cards in the Game

Keys are the most powerful cards in the deck. They can be used to capture doors; if you draw a door and you have a key of that color in your hand, you can trade the key for the door. When I first started playing, I tried to save keys for that reason, but that isn't the best strategy.

Keys are much more powerful for dealing with nightmares. You can surrender a key to defeat a nightmare card, and that's always my first choice in that situation. But you can also use keys to avoid nightmares. Playing a key allows you the gift of "prophecy": You can turn over the next five cards in the deck and discard one, then rearrange the rest in any order and put them back.

I love using this option to try to locate nightmares in advance and get rid of them. I also find it helpful to see what the upcoming cards are; if I have two cards of one color and two of another, I can decide what to play based on which colors are coming up in the deck.

Observatory cards: sun, moon, key
Observatory cards: sun, moon, key

Other Thoughts on Game Mechanics

One or two reviewers complained about the mechanics of the game. While they didn't elaborate, I believe they were referring to the fact that the doors are scattered through the deck, and when you play three cards to get a door, you have to search the deck for it and then re-shuffle. You also have to re-shuffle if you run into a door during gameplay and don't have a key to win it. So you end up doing a lot of shuffling, which can become tiresome.

But I don't really mind that aspect because, sometimes, you can use it to your advantage. For instance, if you use a key and discover two nightmares coming up, you can discard one and put the other one last; then, if you can capture a door before that card is drawn, you get to reshuffle and move it elsewhere in the deck.


The game does include expansion cards that create three additional variations of the game. So far, I haven't tried them yet because I've been happy playing the base option. But other reviewers said they like the expansions and find some easier to win.

Solo or Cooperative

If you want a strategy-based card game you can play alone, I suggest you give Onirim a try. Onirim can also be played as a two-player cooperative game.

The card game Onirim. Includes the base game and expansions for other variations of play. This is the second edition of the game and is packaged in a lovely presentation box. It also contains additional expansions not included in the original game.

© 2014 C A Chancellor

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