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Subject: Contains elements to please almost every gamer rss

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Ed Collins
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The origins of Pente (pronounced PEN-tay) date back more than 4,000 years. The ancient games go-moku and ninuku-renju could certainly be considered first cousins to Pente.

In the mid '70s, Gary Gabrel simplified the rules of ninuki-renju, while retaining the complexity. He combined the five-in-a-row theme of go-moku with the capture rule of GO and came up with a new game he appropriately named 'Pente' which is Greek for 'five.'

For awhile, in the late '70s and early '80s, Pente was very popular. In fact, the game was so popular that, for at least six consecutive years, world championship tournaments were held--which is certainly something not every game can boast of.

Although it can be played with more than two players, as with many other games (Scrabble and Quoridor are two that come to mind), Pente is BEST played with only two. The rules are simple and can be learned in under five minutes. Basically, each player alternates turns by placing one stone on the intersections of the 19 by 19 playing board. Note: A special 'tournament rule' helps negate the slight advantage of moving first. With this rule, the first player's second move must be at least three or more intersections away from the center point, where the first player made his first move.

The object of Pente is either to:

A) get five (or more) stones in a row, either horizontally, vertically, or diagonally with no empty points in between

or

B) capture five (or more) pairs of your opponent's stones.

Capturing: If a player has two (and only two) stones which are adjacent, those stones are vulnerable to capture. To capture them, the player's opponent must bracket both ends with stones of their own.


As mentioned above, the object of go-moku is simply to get five (and only five) stones in row. There is no capture rule. Fortunately, the capture rule is what helps to give Pente its great depth. Mark Thompson, a math and computer science tutor and avid abstract games fan, believes the right combination of four elements are necessary for an abstract strategy game to have lasting value. These four elements are: depth, clarity, drama, and decisiveness. I believe Pente has an almost perfect blend of all four.

1) It has great depth. It's one of those 'simple to learn' but a 'lifetime to master' type game.

2) It has clarity. In many positions and puzzles, the winning move may be difficult but is not impossible to find. The average player can usually form a judgment about what is the best move in a given position.

3) It has drama. It may be difficult, but it is not impossible for a player in a poor position to recover and still win the game.

4) It is decisive, meaning it is possible for one player to ultimately achieve an advantage from which the other player cannot recover. (A simple example of a game that is not decisive, for everyone but beginners, is tic-tac-toe.)


Pente may not be as popular today as it was twenty years ago, but that's probably more a fault of marketing and current trends than anything else. Whether popular or not, Pente remains a modern-day classic. It's a wonderful game that has elements to please almost every gamer: ease of learning, a quick pace, and a combination of both strategy and tactics.

If you're a fan of abstract strategy games, a copy of Pente should certainly be considered as an item in your gaming library. Deservedly, it currently resides in GAMES Magazine's Hall of Fame.
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Trent Garner
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Pente is certainly one of my all-time favorite abstract strategy games. I agree with your assessment regarding the four game elements, Pente has all of them in a near-perfect blend.

There are a couple of great strategy and tactics books written by Tom Braunlich that teach players how to think and plan ahead, introducing formations and patterns to watch out for, or to play for. They are brief but effective guides for improving your Pente play in a short time.
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Mark Johnston
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This is one of my top 5 favorite games of all time. It actually works surprising well as a 2 v 2 game. We used to play it a ton at work. We used to have "seasons" where you and your teammate would be competing against other teams to win best out of 20. Pente has such simple rules, but great depth. Nice review of a classic game.
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Carl G
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Pente was my first board game love. I played so much of it back in college. Everyone who likes abstracts should give this a try.
 
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