Thursday, April 16, 2009

Review -- PENTE


While a game created 30 years ago might be termed a vintage game given that it is 30 years old, in the case of Pente you really have the feeling the design is much older than that.
Pente works on such a simple, basic level in terms of mechanics, you might think it would have been created a century, or two ago. But, that's not the case as Gary Gabel and Tom Braunlich designed the game in the late 1970s, and the rest as they say is history.
In fact, Pente is a Games Magazine Hall of Fame Inductee, and that speaks of just how well-respected the game is, considering there are only about 25 games awarded the recognition to-date.
Pente is a perfect information abstract strategy game for two players (variant rules for more participants are out there), which works on a very simple premise, the placement of stones toward achieving a straight forward goal. Players place glass bead markers on intersections of a 19-by-19 grid. The object of the game is to get five of your own markers in a row, or capture five pairs of your opponent's pieces, with the first to achieve either goal the winner.
The variant rules, which emerged with the game's 20th anniversary, allow for up to six players, but you would need beads of multiple colours. The game is still best in general for two, as is the case with most abstracts.
Capturing takes place when exactly two pieces are sandwiched between pieces of the opposite color.
Interestingly, Pente, although having a huge board to play on, tends toward being a generally quick game, with the win conditions usually not before the board gets overly filled with pieces. As you get better, and play better players, of course the depth of the game will grow, and bring more pieces into play as experience allows each player to block and protect to avoid giving the other the win.
Even when the game play gets better, this is a quicker game, allowing you to roll through a bunch of plays in a single evening, and that is usually a good thing since it keeps the interest up. Playing a best-of-seven, or nine, is really the way to go with Pente.
Now I stated earlier Pente has the feel of being a game which might have been created a century ago. That feeling might be because the game shares a root lineage with a trio of much older Oriental classic games; Go-Moku and Renju,which do not feature capturing, and Ninuki-Renju, which does have a capture mechanic.
There are numerous other games which revolve around getting five-in-a-row as a win condition, but most pale in comparison to Pente. If you are interested in such connection games, Pente really is the place to start.
There have been several different versions of the game released over the years, ranging from a cardboard board that folds like a typical checker board, to much nicer vinyl boards which roll up and store in tubes.
If you are looking for a Pente set opt for the vinyl board, it may be more pricey, but really is worth the investment. The vinyl game board in a tube is ideal to take to the coffee shop, or the park on a summer's day.
This really is a game for anyone's collection, quick, deep enough to offer re-playability, well made, and a classic which has stood the test of time.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper April 8, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

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