ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
While I have discussed this game via contrast in my review of Renju, to which I think Pente (the game being reviewed here) comes off as superior in a direct comparison, I have yet to discuss this classic game on its own merits. Pente well deserved a spotlight of its own. As per the title of this review, I have been playing for nearly thirty years and the game is still a favorite.
I do not remember at what age my father gave me this game, but I am sure I was not yet ten years old. Although the box is a bit beaten up and taped, I still have the same set today my father gave me then. The board (which is not the vinyl roll-up playing mat the tube editions had but an actual board) is still in excellent condition and I have not mislaid any of the pieces. Yet from the day I got this game, it has received considerable play.
Due to the length of the game, it can be played like a filler, Yet it has a depth few fillers do. Indeed this game is an abstract of the brain-burner mold-- especially when players are both skilled and experienced.
2. Rules and equipment
Save for the condition, which really is not so bad apart from some non-transparent tape on a corner, my box is identical to the image above; the reverse side can be seen below.
Included are two sets of 32 semitranslucent stones, respectively in the light yellow and deep maroon pictured on the box.
These are made of high-quality plastic which tactilely feels like glass but can be safely dropped when the inevitable accidents occur during gameplay. The board is a Go board with the grid somewhat smaller than the standard size and decorated in an ancient Greek motif. The motif does cover some of the grd points on the edge, by those points can be used in gameplay.
Yet I can assure people, being myself a trained Classicist, that in spite of using the Greek word for five as the title, this game is not from ancient Greece.
The equipment is nice enough that when I bought a Go
set, I quickly became disenchanted with it and ordered enough Pente
stones to play Go
with my Pente
I had wanted black and white, but these were not available, nor were my yellow and maroon. So I purchased metallic blue and transparent stones in the quantity needed. I even got some odd pieces to allow me to play Alea evangelii
These components are to me that good.
The rules (as per my copy) are simple:
The first player places his stone on the center point of the grid. In a series of games, this is customarily the winner of the previous game. Then players alternate placing one stone of their own color on any open grid point. Primarily the object is to form a line of five stones of one's own color whether horizontally, vertically or diagonally, because a player who does so immediately wins the game.
What makes this game not a pencil and paper game and also adds an increased layer of depth is the mechanism of capturing pairs. If an opponent has exactly two stones in a row horizontally, vertically or diagonally and a player places one of his own stones such that he has then a stone exactly adjacent on either side of that pair (similar to custodial capture in Tafl but for pairs) the pair is captured and removed from the board. One can also win by making five such captures of pairs.
Some have proposed further restrictions and multiplayer versions of the game but these are respectively unnecessary and not as good IMO.
This is a game of geometry and of blocking. The basic element is the formation of line segments and blocking one's opponent from doing so. What takes this to a deeper level is inclusion of the capturing of pairs. One therefore need not only be cognizant of potentials for five in a row, both for one's own pieces and those of one's opponent, but one also need be aware of the presence of vulnerable pairs.
The most basic tactic, because lines are restricted to three axes, is to attempt to force an opponent to place stones such that they are not collinear along any of these axes. Yet that often in practice facilitates an opponent going for the win by captures.
Thus one need strike a balance between building/blocking potential open fours and capturing/defending vulnerable pairs.The result is a surprisingly deep game which can be played by young children and yet which can also absorb adults. Like Chess, the game can be played at a variety of levels. That's why, after all this time, this game is still a favorite. What is more, the game has become a favorite of my wife too, although she only encountered after we were married. The game appeals to anyone who likes simple but deep strategic games.
Steve R Bullock
Pente was the first abstract game I played that most people had never heard of - we are talking about the early 1980's here, mind you.
I really enjoyed it (still do), and keep a copy around for a quick 2 out of 3 game series.
Funny how after a game gets to be a few years old gamers forget about it and move on to "newer and better" game designs.
Pente, like Chess or Go, is a classic that has stood the test of time.
Thanks for writing about this excellent game!
By the way, the board/box you have looks exactly like the one I had in the 1980s. I have since lost it, but now have the rolled mat/board.
- Last edited Thu Mar 31, 2011 4:59 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Thu Mar 31, 2011 4:57 pm
Pente is much more accessible than Renju. I find it an excellent game.
I have the exact same edition... mine's showing it's age, though. Thank you for reviewing this classic.
I have been playing since the late 80s and always assumed this was a much older game, though I have not played it recently. One of the things I enjoyed most about the game are the "Etiquette" Rules which require you to inform your opponent if a play is made that could result in a capture or win.