Pentaquark: Preview

If you haven’t read it, you should first pick up Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe before you continue reading this review. I’d suggest the Kindle version so you can get it right now. I’ll wait.

Done?  Cool, you’ll need it.

Today, Fairway previews Pentaquark, a frustratingly fun solitaire game from designer Mike Mullins and part of Buttonshy’s ever-expanding wallet game series. In this preview, Fairway explores the smallest things in the known universe in search of the pentaquark. CERN, look out!  The Kickstarter launches this week!

Pentaquark is a single player, solitaire game in which you are a particle physicist trying to detect the elusive pentaquark in your detector. See, quarks come in sets called “hadrons” typically consisting of three quarks (i.e., baryons) or one quark and its antiquark (i.e., mesons). But you’re in search of the “pentaquark,” a hadron made up of five quarks. As a wild-eyed, crazy scientist, you are also seemingly cash-strapped since you have a very limited chance to do it and if you waste too much, you’re going to miss the discovery of a lifetime.

Initial Impressions ^

  1. This game is frustratingly fun.
  2. The science theory it teaches is pretty great.
  3. Any one game of Pentaquark is very quick, once you learn the rules.
  4. The game is only 18 cards, comes in Buttonshy’s trademark wallet, and is far more portable and interesting than a standard game of solitaire.

Game play. ^

The elusive Pentaquark.

The goal of the game is “simple:” detect two up Quarks, one down Quark, one charm Quark and one anti-charm Quark. Or, as my daughter started singing upon hearing me repeatedly saying it: “🎶Up, Up, Down, Charm, Anti-Charm.🎶” Also, for it to count, your pentaquark must also have one of each color present : red, blue and green. I told you, “simple.”

To play, you have a deck of fifteen double-sided quark cards and three cards “annihilation” cards. Each quark card consists of a color and a type. On one side of a quark card is normal side and on the back is the “anti” side.  For example, one card might have “red” and “strange” on one side and “anti-red” and “anti-strange” on the other side. At the start of the game, the cards are arranged so that half the deck (or so) is the normal side and half is the “anti” side.  These are then shuffled together to form your “beam deck.”

The game then is played over a series of, what I’ll call “pulses.”  With each pulse, three cards from the beam deck are set out in a line in front of the deck. The cards are played straight across and not flipped.

This is the “beam deck” and it’s beam. With each “pulse,” three cards are placed in the beam. These cards must then be placed in each of the scattered region, the detector and discard pile.

During each pulse, you must move the three cards into one of three locations: your detector, your discard pile, or the scattered region.  Cards in your detector are the only ones that count toward finding the pentaquark. Cards in your discard pile will be recycled back into the beam later with some of the other cards at the end of the round.  Cards in the “scattered region” have a high likelihood of being lost (i.e., annihilated).  With each pulse, you must place the cards in each different location, if you can.

When you place quark cards in your detector or the scattered region, the card will be annihilated if its placed in a location such that both the normal and anti-card are present in the same place at the same time. For example, if you move an “up” and “anti-up” into your detector, these two cards would be annihilated (removed from the game). If too many cards are annihilated, there won’t be any chance to win.

The one exception: you form a stable collection of quarks by “confining” them. There are three ways to confine quarks:

  • By putting a color and its anti-color together.
  • By putting one of each color together.
  • By putting one of each anti-color together.
Examples of two confined sets: green with anti-green, red with anti-red.

Importantly, cards when played to your detector or to the scatter can be moved around. This lets you change the type of confinement such that you can make the most use of your available cards.

Finally, when the beam deck runs out, you need to refresh your beam. During this phase, you discard any confined cards in the scattered region, discard any non-confined cards in your detector along with any other confined quarks in your detector you wish, and annihilate any unconfined quarks in your scattered region.  An “annihilate” card is added to the discard pile. The annihilate card, when drawn, forces you to annihilate one card in play. The discard pile is then flipped, shuffled and placed as a new beam deck.

The game ends when, at any time, you have the pentaquark or you can’t make the pentaquark.

On the Green ^

This game is quite a compelling solitaire game.

The aesthetic.  I like the look of the game. The colors are vibrant and have a very futuristic feel. The pentagons surrounding the quark looks a little like a Stargate. I’m okay with that too.

The science model.  It’s amazing. Pentaquark takes the science model and runs with it.  The red, green and blue colors follow the standard color charge model. The use of two Up quarks and one Down quark is what is said to make up protons. Similarly both charm and strange quark are part of the standard model.

It goes a bit further too. The confined mechanism is based on the models for hadryons: meson (color and anti-color), baryon (all three colors), and anti-baryon (all three anti-colors). That’s just awesome!

The gameplay.  The game play is original and compelling. There’s not a ton of actions, but Pentaquark requires some good planning and offers plenty of decision points.  The limited number of quark card forces you to strategize about how to preserve your Ups, Downs and Charms while ignoring the rest of the quarks.

Where it comes up short. ^

I take no real issues with this game.

Learning curve. I was given a pre-production version of the game and I struggled mightily to initially learn the game. The new how to play video helped. And once I figured it out, it was pretty clear what I was supposed to do.  Hopefully, some of this is cleaned up before production.

Likewise, having an objective key would have helped the learning curve. The rules had a copy, but I ended up repeatedly saying, aloud since the paper took up a lot of room. As I noted above, I must have said it so many times that my daughter started singing it.  Having a quick reference for just that combination would be helpful.

On Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle ^

I am left scratching my head a bit about whether my wins and losses were because I’m great/terrible at the game or they just amount to luck of the shuffle. As such, it seems to walk a fine line between brainy strategy game and one that turns entirely on the draw order. This fact alone adds somewhat to the theme and its allure since if was solely predictable the game would be winnable every time. I haven’t figured that out yet. I guess it really just means I’m going to have to repeat the research study… I mean play again. Aw shucks.

In the hole ^

There’s a certain charm to this strange little game. Whether you’re a fan of solo games or quantum physicists, you’ll find Pentaquark frustratingly fun. Pentaquark offers a lot of replayability in a very small form fact. Even in the face of my losses, I continued to play until I won. As such, I got a bunch of play out of this little game and I suspect other will too.

Pentaquark is in the hole for a par. ^

Fairway was provided a copy of Pentaquark for this preview but was not otherwise compensated for his opinion. He also did a fair amount of learning Quantum Mechanics to prepare for this review. That learning opportunity was priceless.



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