Thursday, February 4, 2010

Pentago Board Game Spins Me Round (Like a Record)

Pentago is a deceptively complex game hidden within a simple framework. At first, it looks like it should be called Connect Five, as that is the object of the game. The twist (pun intended), is that you can rotate any one of the four quadrants of the board 90 degrees after placing your marble. This adds a dimension to the game that opens up seemingly infinite possibilities.

As the tagline says, it takes "seconds to learn, years to master," and I felt this way after losing most of the games I played when I first started.  I'm still no expert, but I can say I've beaten my elementary school students at least once or twice.  I wasn't sure if younger kids would like this game when I first saw it, but they've definitely taken to it and many will choose it ahead of Connect Four.

There's a clear educational value in Pentago, as the problem solving skills, logic and thinking ahead required are similar to that of chess but in a context where it's much easier to learn and enjoy.  It's a good way to get children to visualize, an essential spatial reasoning skill that helps prepare them for geometry.  Also, like a well-made chess set, there's variations on Pentago boards (see here and here) that are very artfully constructed and would stand out in your home or classroom. 

I consider this a good entry-level challenge that will pique children's interest in other educational games (chess, sudoku, Tetris, logic puzzles).  As long as the child in question is old enough that they won't put the marbles in their mouth, this is a great game to start them on as young as possible.

The video above is a quick introduction to what game play might look like, but you can also try out this online version.  You can get the lower-priced (but still high quality) travel version of the game, Pentago CE from Amazon.