“A panda and a gardener walk into a bamboo forest…” To some this may sound like the start to a very weird joke or story. This strange introduction, however, is the beginning of Takenoko the board game. No seriously, trust me this isn’t as strange as it sounds and will soon make perfect sense.
In Takenoko you are charged with looking after and expanding the Imperial bamboo forest. Sounds easy? There’s just one catch, you also have to make sure that the Imperial panda is fed and happy. The player who can grow the most bamboo, manage his plots and keep the Imperial panda happy wins the game. See I told you it would make sense.
Takenoko is easily one of the most beautiful board games I have played. From the high quality tiles, to the wooden bamboo sections, each component is expertly made and painted. The Imperial panda and gardener miniatures are also very detailed and a great addition. The game, when set up, is a definite attention grabber. On many occasions people passing us stopped and came over to look. This is a board game that turns heads.
The card stock is good and the cards handle well. The art on both the cards and tiles look great and add to the theme. The fact that the weather dice is made from wood is also a nice touch.
Player boards are beautifully illustrated and all the information you need is on them. Rarely did I have players struggling to understand what to do on their turn.
So what is the basic idea of the game? Players have to complete objective cards to score victory points (as indicated on the cards). These objectives are placing plots of land, using the gardener to grow bamboo or letting the panda devour the bamboo (this of course to the dismay of the gardener). This can seem easy, until you realize that there are also different colours to contend with.
The final turn takes place when a player completes his seventh, eights or ninth objective. This end game condition depends on the number of players.
Each plot that is placed needs to be irrigated for bamboo to grow on it. This is done in one of two ways. Either building adjacent to a plot with a pond on or irrigating it with an irrigation channel. Placing plots seems easy, until you realize your careful planning has just been foiled thanks to another players plot placement.
Some plots also have certain upgrades on them. These range from, fertilizers which increases the growth of bamboo on the plot, to an enclosure which makes sure that the bamboo is safe from the ravaging panda.
Moving the panda and gardener is great fun. The fact that you actually move miniatures really makes the theme come alive. Seeing the bamboo sections disappear as the panda devours them and grow as the gardener tends to them is very satisfying.
I found the rules quick to learn and teach. The rules manual is very colourful and easy to understand. The cartoon strip on the front of the rules manual that introduces us to the premise of Takenoko is a brilliant idea. It pulls you into the story and theme from the beginning.
So how does the game start? The game begins by placing the first tile (pond tile) in the center of the playing area. The Imperial panda and gardener figures are placed on the tile. The remaining plot tiles are shuffled and placed aside to draw from. All the card decks are then shuffled to form three draw piles, a panda, a gardener and a tile/plot deck.
Each player receives a player board and two action chips. The players also draw a card from each category making sure to keep it secret. After all you don’t want the competition to see what you have up your sleeve.
A players turn starts with rolling the weather die to see what the weather is on their turn. Different weather conditions have different effects (as it does in real life). This adds an element of luck to the game.
The conditions are one of the following:
Sun – The player gets an additional action to the two they already have.
Rain – The player can place a bamboo section on any open plot of their choice. (Up to a limit of four sections per plot)
Wind – The player may take two identical actions. (Actions taken usually need to be different)
Storm – The player may move the panda to any plot of their choice. (If there is bamboo on the plot the panda eats a section)
Clouds – The player can choose an improvement chip. It can be placed immediately or kept to place later.
Question mark – The player chooses their condition from any of the above.
After the dice is rolled and the weather determined, the player then chooses one of five options to resolve. The options that are chosen need to be different from each other, unless you were lucky enough to roll the wind condition.
The five options that you can choose from are:
Draw three plots and choose one. The remaining plots are placed at the bottom of the draw deck. The chosen plot it then put into play adjacent to the pond tile or any other two tiles already in play. Plots next to irrigation channels and pond plots are automatically irrigated.
Taking an irrigation channel and placing or keeping it. Irrigation channels need to be placed adjacent to a pond tile on one of its six edges.
Moving the gardener. The gardener can move any number of tiles in a straight line.
A section of bamboo grows on the plot that he ends his movement on.
Moving the panda. The panda can move any number of tiles in a straight line. The panda eats a section of bamboo from the plot he ends his movement on.
Drawing an objective card from one of the decks. The player can choose to draw a card from any of the three objective decks.
The player then ends their turn and the next player continues.
Takenoko can be dismissed by some because of its bright colours and cute art.
Ever heard of the saying don’t judge a book by its cover? This is true for Takenoko.
I found that beneath its cute and colourful exterior resides a fun, strategic and sometimes vicious game.
The game has amazing production values. The theme is interesting and unique as I haven’t seen many games with a panda as a mechanism. For any potential game designers reading this please put more pandas in your games.
I loved that there were three uniquely different ways to score.
There can be an element of “take that” in Takenoko. On numerous occasions I found myself moving the panda on purpose just to stop another player from scoring on that plot. I won’t lie; I did gain some satisfaction from this.
There are very few feelings that can compare to finishing a combo and scoring a huge number of points while also preventing another player from scoring.
It is easy enough to learn and seems deceptively simple yet; it had enough strategic depth that kept us going back for more.
The game impressed me by the fact that it was so easy to teach. I had friends who never play board games enjoy Takenoko so much, that they would want to play another game right away. I even got my wife to play with us which rarely happens.
I struggled to find anything that I didn’t like about the game. The fact that it is a medium weight game might not appeal to the real hardcore boardgamers and the luck from rolling a die could also be off putting to some. These things did not bother me at all.
Antoine Bauza has created a board game which is challenging enough for serious board gamers without alienating casual players. Takenoko is a perfect medium weight gateway game. It is also a good way to get friends and spouses who seem threatened by other board games into the hobby.
Components: 5/5 This is one of those rare beautifully crafted games. From cards to miniatures it is a joy to look at.
Gameplay: 4/5 With the help of the player boards a player is always sure what they need to do next. Gameplay is fun and works well from 2 to 4 players. There is an element of luck when rolling the weather die and this can be off putting to some.
Complexity vs. Depth: 4/5 The game is easy to grasp and makes for a great medium weight gateway game. There is enough to keep casual and serious board gamer’s entertained.
Theme: 5/5 Just looking at the game while being played you get drawn into the game. From the rule book to the miniatures every part of the game wants you to experience the theme.
Overall: 4.5/5 Takenoko is one of those rare games which I feel will appeal to different ages and level of board gamers. It is beautiful to look at, a joy to play and oozes theme. I believe this is a game that will get more people into the board gaming hobby which is always a great thing.