by Derick Green
(first published in the Games and Puzzles Journal issue 16)

Pagoda is one of the more recent versions of the ancient game of Go-Moku, which is believed to be as old as the game of Go or Wei Ch'i. Go Moku is normally played on a Go board of 18×18 squares. Pagoda, Pente, Go Moku, Renju, Peggity, Peg Five and Spoil Five amongst many others have all been marketed in the West since about 1880 and all belong to the five-in-a-row family of games. All of these games have some slight variation in their rules, for this article however I will concentrate on the rules to Pagoda.

Pagoda was marketed by MB Games in the mid-1980s and was sold in an eye-catching large red, yellow and gold cardboard tube. The board was made of vinyl and backed to make it more durable. Each player was supplied with a set of playing stones, one in red the other pale yellow, and each set was in its own small bag, sealable with a piece of cord. No designer is credited but information on the history of the game states that Pagoda is based on the traditional Japanese game of Ninuki Renju.

Pagoda is played on a 17×17 squared board and each player has 40 playing stones that I will refer to as black and white within this article (the first player using the black pieces). The object of the game is for each player to be the first to make a continuous line of five stones. The winning five-in-a-row must be in a straight line exactly five stones long and may be horizontal, vertical or diagonal. Six or more stones in a row are not winning positions. In Figure 1, a, b and c are winning positions for black, d however does not win.

A player may also win by capturing five pairs of the opponent's stones. A player captures a pair of the opponent's stones by trapping them between two of his own. In Figure 2, e, f and g, White captures two black stones in all three examples, with the move marked by an arrow. Note however that a player may place a stone between two opponent's stones without being captured: in example h Black's stones are safe.

The board starts empty and in turn each player places a stone on any vacant square on the board. Note that in Pagoda there is no restriction on the first stone being placed in the centre square. Once placed, no stone may be moved unless removed by capture.

For handicap play the weaker player gives the stronger one, two or three stones. These are then placed on the board before the play begins.

Each game is quite different. However, it is important to attempt to create a chain of four-in-a-row with empty squares at each end. Whichever end your opponent plays to you can play at the other end and win. It is also good sense to avoid placing two stones side by side as it is better to place stones with a space between them. In Figure 2, i, White has played at the position shown by the arrow. If Black plays at X, White captures Black's stones and if Black plays elsewhere, White plays at X and wins.

The following are two games from postal play. The notation is simple: square coordinates and a cross for capture of two stones. Both these games are quite short compared to most I have played. They do however show how different games can be, and show how the game is played quite clearly. Draws are possible, but I have never come across one in any of my games or those played within my postal group.

Example Game 1

1. h8 a4 2. f10 (the one-space jump) g9 3. h10 g11 4. g10 i10 5. e10 d10 6. h9 h7 (blocking here avoids too many pairs, e.g. g11/h11 and h11/i10) 7. h11 h12 8. i13X h12 9. i12 j13 (blocking Black's row of three at f9 would have led to another capture) 10. e8 (multiple threats, row of five to i12, row of three to e10, or a row of four to h8) f9 11. e9X f9 (forced, and the game is lost) 12. e11 and White resigns. Diagram: End of Game 1.

Example Game 2

1. n11 l9 2. n15 l11 3. l13 n13 4. m12 o10 5. p13 (Black has created an interesting diamond pattern, threatening four-in-a-row in several directions) m14 6. o12 q14 7. l15X o16 8. o14 q12 9. m16 l17 10. n17 k14 (if White allows Black to play here, Black would have two rows of four and a win) 11. m14 n13 12. m15 k16X (any attempt to block Black's potential row of five at m16-m12 by playing at m13 would fail after a capture at o13) 13. m14 m13 14. 013X m13 15. o15 and White resigns. Diagram: End of Game 2.