It’s time to go back to feudal Japan. His majesty the Emperor of Japan has just been given the gift of a rare panda bear by the Chinese Emperor. His highness has entrusted you to care for this animal and to cultivate the bamboo gardens where he lives. That’s the premise behind Takenoko, the award winning game from designer Antoine Bauza (7 Wonders, Ghost Stories). Players must work to cultivate the gardens and grow different species of bamboo all while keep the hungry panda fed. Does Takenoko have what it takes to be a rare gift in your game collection or should it be fed to the panda? Read on to find out!
Takenoko is a beautiful looking game for 2-4 players by Asmodee Games. The game plays in about 45 minutes and we have found that Takenoko plays equally well with any amount of players.
As stated earlier, players are charged with cultivating a bamboo garden and taking care of the royal panda. On a players turn, they will build the garden plots, grow bamboo, feed the panda, irrigate the land and draw objective cards. Players roll a weather die at the start of their turn that will provide a random benefit to the player, possibly providing them with more actions. Players use their 2 actions per turn to achieve the specific goals on their objective cards. Once a player meets the conditions on an objective card, they can play them to claim the victory points. Once enough cards are played, the game ends and the high scorer is the winner.
Takenoko looks awesome. The first thing that got me to buy the game was its amazing components. It’s rare that a game can rival something produced by Fantasy Flight Games in the components realm, but Takenoko will give any of their games a run for their money. The game’s production values are a treat and I wish more games put this much thought into their components.
Takenoko comes with a number of hex tiles (each uniquely illustrated with a bamboo garden scene), 3 different colors of stackable, wooden bamboo pieces, a deck of cards and 2 painted miniatures: a panda and a gardener.
All of the cards, tiles and even the rule book are gorgeous to look at with well crafted, thematic art. Speaking of the rule book, it even starts out with a page of comic panels that are entertaining and help set the theme of the game.
The bamboo pieces are painted in one of 3 different colors and interlock to be built up during the game. It’s incredibly satisfying to watch the garden grown in 3D while the game is played. Both the panda and the gardener are sculpted out of plastic and look hand painted.
If you are a gamer that loves beautiful looking components, then you will fall in love with Takenoko. Asmodee did a top notch job in putting the game together. The pieces range from cute to beautiful to fun. There is not much more you could ask for from a game’s components.
How to Play:
So we know the game looks good, but how do you actually play the darn thing? Well the rules are actually quite easy to learn. To setup, the pond tile is placed in the middle of the table with the panda and gardener figures on it. Then each player gets a play mat to track their actions and 2 action markers. Each player will draw one of the 3 different typos of victory cards and the game is ready to play.
A players turn is divided into 2 parts:
1. Roll the weather die
2. Take 2 actions
The weather die will give a player certain bonus actions based on what’s rolled. These could be an extra action, growing bamboo, moving the panda, and so on. All are positive for the player and help to keep the game varied and interesting. I feel that some are better than others, but none are useless. And with one of the sides being a “pick your own”, you have at least a 33.3% chance of getting the result you want.
Once the weather die is resolved, a player gets 2 actions on their turn, each of which must be different. These actions can be: placing a garden plot tile, collecting an irrigation token, using the gardener, moving the panda or drawing an objective card. Players mark off their actions on their play mat as they use them with their wooden discs.
The main goal for these actions is to try and complete the player’s objective cards. There are 3 different types of objective cards: Plot objectives (placing garden tiles in certain configurations), Panda objectives (making the panda eat certain colors of bamboo), and Gardener objectives (making the gardener grow specific bamboo to a certain height).
Completed objectives are played in front of the players on their turn. Once the required number are played, the game ends. The player with the most victory points in the winner.
In case you couldn’t tell from my brief rules summary, Takenoko is really easy to learn and play. After a round or two in the game the actions become very intuitive. The icons and pictures used on the play mat are clear and well thought out. Game turns go by fairly quickly as a player can only take 2 actions on their turn, so downtime is usually minimal. And that’s what helps make make the game so accessible. Everything in the game is played in a very logical manner. The bamboo garden plots need to go down first. Then bamboo needs water and a gardener to grow and finally the panda has to wait until the bamboo grows to eat. Things just make sense, which helps to lower the learning curve. This makes it a great game for your non-gamer friends and spouses. They can easily understand the theme (which is fun in itself) and what needs to be done on their turn.
Takenoko falls on the lighter side of euro games. The game plays in about 45 minutes and the strategy isn’t incredibly deep. It should be fairly obvious what needs to be done on your turn. Some of the heavier euro games have you thinking multiple turns in advance as you build up your empire/city/farm/etc. In Takenoko, it will probably only take you a few turns of score an objective card. And because the bamboo garden is communal, sometimes it will take less then that if a player inadvertently helps you out.
Takenoko does have a nice sense of harmony in the game though. The 3 different type of objective cards will play off each other. One player might be concentrating on a plot card, and the tile he plays will help the player concentrating on a gardener card. In turn, the bamboo that grows from that tile can help the player focusing on a panda card. This creates a nice balance where everyone can be simultaneously working together and against each other. All three of the game objectives work together in a large chain.
There is also a bit of a tug-of-war between the gardener and the panda. The gardener grows and the panda destroys. This is another way a player can effect another player’s objectives. You might spend a good amount of time growing the green bamboo, only to have the panda zip on over and eat it. This helps keep the game in a great balance where one strategy can’t dominate the game. Each of the other players actions can influence what you were planning on doing your turn. It is this bit of balance that helps to make Takenoko such a great game.
There are some critics of the game that feel it’s too luck based. If you draw the right objective cards, you can easily complete a goal. Personally, we never found this to be an issue. The objectives felt pretty well balanced against each other based on their difficulty. The ebb and flow of the game meant people still had to use actions to get their objective cards completed. If you play with the advance rules (if you draw a card and it’s already competed, discard and draw again), this will further help to keep the game in balance. That way, no one can draw an already completed objective.
But to be honest, my favorite part of the game is just watching the garden grow. It’s bright, it’s vibrant and it’s a pleasure to view. I love as it slowly expands from a single pond into an multi-plot garden with varying degrees of bamboo height. There are not too many euro games out there with this enjoyable of components. It’s nice to play one that is both highly thematic and works so well with the rules. That’s another thing I like about Takenoko. The theme and the game play are perfectly intertwined. Many times euro games are criticized for having a pasted on theme (Dominion, Lords of Waterdeep). However in Takenoko, both the theme and the game play fit together perfectly. Change either one and you have a completely different game.
As a light euro game, there is a lot to love with Takenoko. The game is simple, lightweight and very accessible. It blends a nice mix of both luck and strategy to make for an enjoyable game experience.
I think it’s fair to say that designer Antoine Bauza has another hit on his hand with Takenoko. He created one of my favorite game of all times in 7 Wonders and I think he has done an amazing job with Takenoko. If I’m looking for a light euro game, this will probably be my new go to game.
Between the fantastic components, the easy to learn rules and the quick play time, Takenoko is a game that can brought out for just about any group sitting at the table. Some people might the turned off by the lack of depth in that game, but it was never an issue for us. Sometimes a light game is just what you are in the mood for. On those occasions, Takenoko should be high on your list.
Takenoko blends a nice combination of fun, excellent components, great theme and flexible play styles into an award winning game. The game scales perfectly from 2 players to 4 players so you can enjoy it equally when its just the two of you. While it won’t be a game where you will play over and over trying to discover new strategies, it does make for a game that is fun and enjoyable that can be played with almost anyone.
Next time you are in your friendly local game store (FLGS), take a look at Takenoko. The box visuals and weight should give you a great idea of what’s in store for you at your gaming table. Give this gem a try today and watch out for the panda.
If you are interested in getting a copy for yourself, it’s about $40.
Final Score: 8.5/10 – A high thematic, light euro game that’s accessible to just about everyone. What’s not to love?
• Not incredibly deep strategy
• Luck can play a role