Originally published in 1977 by Gary Gabrel, Pente was invented while he was working at a pizza restaurant in Oklahoma. It was sold as a cardboard tube with a flexible roll-up playing board, and and two velvety drawstring bags for the glass playing pieces. Parker Brothers put out a hard board version in the 1990’s and the game is still available, though is currently published by Winning Moves. Based on a variation (ninuki-renju) of the Japanese game GO, Pente is fun strategy game that only takes a few minutes to learn (or teach someone) but can get quite complex. Games can take from five to about thirty minutes to play, and can get quite exciting. I remember playing many a game on long winter nights of my youth, and still count Pente as one of my favorite board games to play. The game board is well-designed with a Greek motif around the edges of the grid, and the choice of the designers to use the glass game pieces makes the game look much more elegant and classy.
Pente is easy to teach children and can be a great way to engage them as they try and figure out how to trap the other player’s stones or planning a strategy where it forces the other player to continually counter and react to their moves.
The game is usually played on a roll-up game board with a printed grid and two sets of colored glass pieces, called “stones”. The object is to capture five pairs of the opponent’s stones or to get five stones in a row. Players take turns placing one stone at a time at any intersection on the playing grid to either build their five-in-a-row or stop the other player who is building theirs. Play continues until one player either captures five pairs of or gets their five stones in a vertical, horizontal, or diagonal line.
While it can be played with up to four players (as long as you have four different colored sets of stones), I feel it is best with two players only. Three and four player games are much harder to follow and can be longer and much more involved than two player head-to-head competition. There is a good “playability” factor and my experience is that one or two games usually leads to three or four more games being played before putting it away.
Quite popular in the 1980’s Pente, is fairly obscure these days and early editions of the game are collectible and somewhat rare. There have been a number of books written on the strategy of Pente, and at one time I believe there were tournaments in the US and elsewhere. This is a great game to look for at a thrift store, garage sale or you may even find a complete set in a black or red cardboard tube online that would make a great addition to your board game library.