Before Pente graced the shelves of coffee shops, middle school math classes, and seasonal mall kiosks, I was introduced to this game the way I was introduced to all hobby games prior to the online-age… my grandfather’s back patio over clever quips and sodas. It still looks odd on a top 10 list next to euros and the miniature fair, but there is good reason you shouldn’t overlook this game.

Pente is an abstract game, typically for 2 players, taking on the trappings and mechanics of a classical board game. But don’t let the Greek artwork fool you; despite its timeless feel, many would be surprised to learn this game was designed in Oklahoma and first published in 1977. As a modern “classical” venture, Pente didn’t break any new ground or pave the way for future mechanics; indeed, it may have been inspired by Go-Moku or Renju which carry many similarities. But within its short play and simple design, it has served by being an approachable abstract game with enough bite for experienced players to enjoy.

Try this game if you like:

  • Blokus
  • The Duke
  • Gipf
  • Hive
  • Impede
  • Lines of Action
  • Cannon
  • Qwirkle

COMPONENTS AND ART

The game is played on a standard Go board (19 x 19 grid-intersections) with a seemingly endless supply of glass stones. But what stands out as the most recognizable component is the rolled up game-mat and paper tube packaging that has come to identify the game as much as the Greek red-figure painting that has bordered the play area for the last four decades. Hard board, rectangular boxed editions exist today and circulate at a fairly high price, but fortunately the original soft mat version is still obtainable at a reasonable cost (and my favorite way to experience the game).

MECHANISMS

Players take turns placing stones in an attempt to be the first player to achieve the unbroken row of 5 stones (pente means five in greek) needed for victory. Pairs of stones can be captured and removed from the board by completely flanking two of the opposing player’s adjacent stones during placement. In addition to the “five-in-a-row” victory, five pairs of captured stones will also result in a win. So as I’ve recognized Pente had not ushered in new mechanics to the simple abstract genre, it did give fresh life as an offensive/defensive tension was added within the design through a simple concept.

… an offensive or defensive tension was added within the design through a simple concept.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Pente is one of those rare games that can be played with very little explanation and seemingly few complexities, but there is depth beyond the surface that appreciates with more plays. The challenges offered by your opponent can seem disproportionate to the how easy it is to understand the strategy, and games easily play in under 10 minutes where it is often the case many consecutive games naturally flow from the first. For some reason, abstract games are often marginalized from our gaming hobby and while I can’t say Pente is a gateway to this genre of games, it can definitely be enjoyed by someone less inclined to play them. The strength of Pente lies in its ability to deliver a comprehensible 2 player experience to large audience in an otherwise sidelined category… and it’s really fun.