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Type of Game: Euro, Action Based, Medium to Light Strategy
Number of Players 2 - 4
Length of Game: 30 - 45 mins

Takenoko; taken from the Japanese word - take no ko (竹の子 or 筍) translates to the simple pair of words bamboo shoot. Now, bamboo is quite the delicacy and it's something I'd recommend you try eating at least once in your life. Either you'll come to understand the giant Panda in this game (who I like to nickname 'Shorty' for obvious reasons) or you'll vow never to touch the stuff again, either way let me know how it goes!

Takenoko is also a board game by Antoine Bauza, the designer of the 2010 hit 7 Wonders (see my review here). When you've had such a successful hit design like 7 Wonders, the question often follows - what will you do next? The options tend to be:

1. Vary the mechanics slightly and release a new game that is just different enough from the previous, I like to call this method the Kinizia method.

2. Unleash the expansions!

3. Board your luxury yacht which is now overloaded with dubloons, diamonds and ancient religious relics bought with the ill gotten gains milked from the adoring public.

4. Disappear never to be heard from, not even by family members. (like the WFRP writer Phil Gallagher)

5. Release an new game and take a gamble that it will be a hit.

Takenoko belongs to the fifth category; although I'm sure it was designed from the deck of Antoine's luxury yacht anchored off shores of Catan Island, somewhere in the far east...



The Overview:
Takenoko is, quite literally, a game about growing bamboo shoots. You are one of the members of the Japanese court entrusted with the task of caring for the grand diplomatic gift China have presented - a giant Panda - by growing a bamboo garden for it to frolic in, peek out from between the shoots and devour every living thing in it's path.


Spot the Eating Machine

The Winning Conditions:
The game ends when one player has achieved a certain number of conditions (9 for two players, 8 for three and 7 for four). Players total up the points of their completed objective cards and the player with the highest number of points wins. Ties are broken by the player who has managed to keep the panda best fed.



The Component Quality:
Takenoko is a visual feast, the game has beautiful, engaging components that have a 3D quality added to them - the extra dimension has no mechanical purpose, but it adds to the play experience greatly.

In the box you get:
1 Gardener, 1 Panda and a Starting 'Pond' tile:

Here they are ready to start playing!

Bamboo Sections

These come in two types (bases and middle/top sections) and are made of an attractive plastic in three colours.

Plot Tiles and Improvement Markers:


Plot Tiles come in three colours that match the bamboo. Improvement Markers also come in three different styles and are smaller.

A weather dice and Player Chips:

(The chips are used to mark which actions a player has taken in a turn)

Individual Player Boards:


Objective Cards and the Emperor Card:

They come in three types (along with the Emperor Card).

Wooden Irrigation Channel Markers:

These blue rods are used to mark where water channels have been dug.

And a full colour rulebook that has a two page comic explaining the complex back story to this game:


Finally I have to applaud the inlay:

It's a delight to see when a manufacturer has thought hard about the best way to keep all those pretty bits safe.

Beautiful game, beautiful bits.


Even the prototype was gorgeous!

The Rules:
(If you don't require a summary of the rules, skip to the next section)

The game starts with the pond tile in the middle of the play area, the Gardener and Panda are placed on this tile ready to start moving around. The plot cards are shuffled and placed in a face down pile with the other components nearby (Improvement tokens, irrigation channels, objective cards).

Each player takes an individual player board, draws 1 of each objective card and then the tallest player begins (which means my wife will normally go first...)

In a player's turn they first roll the weather dice to see what the weather is like (this step is skipped in the first turn of the game), the weather has five different effects:

Sunny - Gain a Third Action
Rain - Place a Bamboo Section on the board
Wind - You may take the same action twice this turn
Storm - Place the Panda anywhere, he then nom's a piece of bamboo (Storms scare pandas, as does sneezing)
Clouds - Gain an improvement chip, you may place it immediately or save it for later.

The final side is a wild card side, your choice which of the above you get. In addition, if all the improvements have been used the Clouds icon also becomes a wild card.

Then a player takes two actions (three when sunny), these actions must be different (unless it's windy). The actions are the meat and bamboo-potatoes of the game and they work as follows:

Plots: Draw three plots, choose one and place it according to the placement rules. A new tile must be placed either adjacent to the starting pond, or next to two existing tiles. These plots may have 'built-in' improvements.

Irrigation: Take an irrigation channel; either use it immediately or store it for later. Stored ones can be used at any time during a future turn.

Gardener: The poor hardworking gardener moves in a straight line across the board and grows bamboo in the space where he stop;, he also grows it in all adjacent patches that are the same colour. This growth is limited; only 4 pieces of bamboo can be on each patch, if there are already 4 on a plot - no further growth will occur (unless they are 'panda-fied'.

Panda - 'Shorty' moves in a straight line (same way as the Gardener) and nom's (eats) 1 bamboo section (not the entire shoot) in the tile he finishes in. You place the eaten section on your board in his 'stomach' for scoring later.

Objective - draw an objective card of the category of your choice (maximum hand size is 5).
Also during your turn you can cash in any objective cards that have their requirements met, it's possible that other players may have achieved the objective for you, congratulations - you're on your way to becoming middle management!

Irrigation:
Irrigation is a big part of the game and worth a short explanation. The irrigation channels are placed along the edges of the plots, like roads in Catan, and any plot card they are adjacent to counts as being irrigated. These channels can only be placed next to the pond or next to existing channels. This represents digging channels between plots to allow for the flow of water around the garden, it's pretty simple to get your head around.

Also, it's worth remembering that you tend to only need 2-3 irrigation pieces to water just about any tile in this game. Irrigation is important, but easy to achieve.

Improvements:
Improvements are either built in to a tile or you gain one of your choice when you roll the Storm result and you decide when to place it. They come in three types, irrigating Watersheds - which make the plot they are on automatically irrigated, Double growth Fertiliser which makes bamboo gain 2 sections when it grows and enclosures, which keep that Panda away from the precious bamboo and make it "un-nom-able".

Objectives:
The objectives are vitally important, they are the only way you will score points and as you have a limited number of them you can hold each turn, you'll need to pay attention and work towards them. They're a bit akin to the Tickets in Ticket to Ride really.

They come in three types; Plot, Gardener and Panda. Plot objectives score you points for certain arrangements of three or four plots, if the board has a section that matches the card and they are all irrigated, score it! Gardener objectives score for growing certain types/set up of shoots; they will require either a 4 section tall shoot with or without an improvement or four sets of three shoots anywhere in the garden. Finally the Panda objective cards are scored by having the relevant shoot sections in your Panda's tummy (on your individual board), which are then returned to the general supply (or pooped back out if you like). The Panda objectives cannot be completed by anyone else on your behalf (growing and plots certainly could be) as the only way to gain the sections is by moving Shorty on your turn.

The Plot Cards score lowest and the Panda cards score highest, (they also break ties) but if you're trying to complete plenty of Panda cards you're working alone, whereas the other players will feed off each other's actions.

Once a player has achieved the preset number of objectives, the game enters a final round, the player who triggered this gets the Emperor card (worth 2 points) and ends their turn. Everyone else gets one more turn to complete as many objectives as they can.


Look how sad that Panda is about the enclosed bamboo plots. Who'd do a thing like that to him?

The Good Parts:
It's almost impossible to write about this game without mentioning just how darn cute it is, the game is a beauty to look at and it has tactile components that draw spectators in. The theme is well placed and enjoyable - especially the endless cycle of grow and destroy that the Panda and Gardener represent and it all makes sense. You can't grow bamboo without water, you can irrigate by building channels to run the water from the pond, the panda eats bamboo, the gardener grows it. Everything is easy to remember because it just darn makes logical sense - the game feels like a representation of growing a bamboo garden while a panda attempts to devour all of it. That helps.

The game itself has a nice balance of objectives that allow for different play styles. Plot and Gardener cards work well in synergy and players may find that the benefit each other's scores, which encourages a sense of harmony and cooperation. The Panda appeals to the little child in all of us, the ability to be selfish and destroy, but you don't feel bad about doing so because, hey! It's a Panda and the garden is there for him to eat! Look at his little face, would you want to make him cry? No, I didn't think so.

The game is simple, lightweight and accessible without too much chance, the dice has a 1/3 to ½ probability of giving you the result you need (depending on the Storm/Improvement situation), and the only other randomised element is the plot tiles and objective cards you draw - you even have a fair control over which of these you get! This leaves a wide chunk of the game down to strategy.

There is also a hierarchy to the game's objectives, you could almost call it a food chain - Plot cards cannot be scored unless the plot tiles are irrigated, which allows for the Gardener to grow his shoots that finally allows the Panda to scoff them down and generate some victory point fertiliser. This chain encourages cooperation and also can force players trying to score further up the chain to aid those below them - to a certain extent, see below.


No Panda in sight!

The Weak Parts:
Takenoko is a light game; it's a friendly, cutesy game that encourages people to go aww. However there is a vicious beast at the heart of the game, one that has the potential to upset some players. The flow of the game is a tug of war between the Gardener and the Panda, the Gardener grows, and the Panda destroys. This produces a potential 'take that' element where a player with Panda objectives can be directly in competition with another player trying to create Gardener combinations. The enclosure helps protect this somewhat, but it does mean that there is the potential for someone to go 'Mono-Panda' and concentrate on devouring all they can for the objective points. As Gardener cards require 3 - 4 sections per shoot, it is possible for the Panda to put a serious crimp on this.

Fortunately, Plot Objective cards don't care about anything the panda is doing, so in this situation a player can switch gears and concentrate on scoring via landscaping. Also, multiple players working on Gardening will soon outstrip the Panda's ability to munch. So it's more something to be aware of in the dynamic of the group and it's more likely to become an issue with 2 players. The trick is to either stop playing the growing game and landscape or join the Panda player by munching everything before they get their hands on it.

The panda actions are, in short, very selfish - compared to the rest of the game they stand out as the way that a player can 'attack' other players and play without cooperating.

The game is also shallow, there's no major depth to the game, you can boil it down to a very simple set of mechanics and as a consequence some players may find it too light for their taste.

Interaction, apart from the potential Panda issue mentioned above the game has little direct player interaction, the shared garden all players work from means that there is little scope for anything beyond trying to position the Gardener/Panda in inconvenient positions or talking other players into completing your objectives (Middle Management returns!)

On the whole though, there's not a lot wrong with this game for what it is.


I will DESTROY YOUr bamboo

The Summary:
I adore Takenoko, the game is a rare combination of cute, fun, thematic and excellent. It accommodates multiple play styles thanks to the ability to tailor your objective style, which is a huge improvement over many 'draw a random objective' types that are out there (I'm looking at you Twilight Imperium).

However, it must be said that the game does not have that much depth to it, this is not a game you will play over and over, endlessly discovering new strategies, it's a game that is fun, beautiful and passes the time pleasantly, especially with light gamers.

To read my other reviews, check out this Geeklist:
N/A



The Update:
It's not often I go back and update a review, but I've had the chance to play Takenoko several times two player this week and I must say it is a delight to play. In two players the mono-Panda 'nom nom' play does not dominate as much as I feared and every strategy is competitive, even concentrating on mostly placing the tiles (which is low scoring) works well if spiced up/supported by some tactical panda/gardener movement and the odd other objective card.

There is an additional issue I have noticed, we had one game where Datura drew nothing but green points cards all game. Seriously, nothing else but greens on the table and in her hand, she couldn't compete with my score. That was the only game we've had that wasn't close.

Last of all, advanced game is where it's at. Much better when you can't fish for completed objectives and have to work at scoring each time.

Fantastic light strategy Euro game. Highly recommended.
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Jim Andrew
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i agree, this game is a visual feast, fun to play, but doesn't have much depth to it. there's a bit of luck dependent too (especially the plot card points.. the emperor card worth so little, too)
fortunately with the game's simple setup we can easily add house rules to get rid of parts we dislike
anyway, this review is really well done. good job
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Antonio Ferrari
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Styfen wrote:

However, it must be said that the game does not have that much depth to it, this is not a game you will play over and over, endlessly discovering new strategies, it's a game that is fun, beautiful and passes the time pleasantly, especially with light gamers.


Great review, even if I have to say that, just why it's light and with not the depth of a brain-burning game (it has got all necessary depth according to me), I'd like to play it over and over.
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Luc VC
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veenickz wrote:
doesn't have much depth to it. there's a bit of luck dependent too


this somehow scares me away from the game. It it all style over substance? Or does it have something you can sink your teeth into?
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fen
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Wolfshade wrote:
veenickz wrote:
doesn't have much depth to it. there's a bit of luck dependent too


this somehow scares me away from the game. It it all style over substance? Or does it have something you can sink your teeth into?

There's a little you can sink into, but it's not going to satisfy if you're seeking anything more than a light/medium strategy game. There's a few points where you can strategise if you're familiar with the victory point cards which will let you figure out what your opponent(s) are going for and maneuver to block (by placing tiles, positional play with the gardener/panda or eating the colour they're after) but that's about it.

There is certainly some substance, but it is a light weight game that lands between a filler and a main event.
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Brad McKenzie
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Having just bought the game and played it for the first time, I can say that there will definitely be enough meat to the game to keep your teeth happy for a long time.

The game reminds me a lot of Ticket to Ride, in that you need to work off of a communal board and hope that you get what you need built (cultivated, eaten...) before another player comes along ruins your plans. The cards also give it a TTR feel, and knowing which type of card your opponents are collecting can help in building a strategy to block if necessary.

I would totally recommend this game for anyone who enjoys a lighter strategy game.
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Muddy Boots
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I too enjoy playing this game and, like most people really enjoy the look of it. The "problem" I've encountered is that, in the games we've played (2 & 3 player), no-one ever lays an irrigation tile. Why would you waste turns doing so? There's plenty of water supplied by the central lake, the pond tiles and pond tokens. I suppose, to increase their use, you could remove some of these plot tiles and tokens.

Aside from this aspect, the only part of the game I don't like are the plot pattern objective cards. There's something soulless and selfish about their act. At least when the Panda goes munching, it's fun. In fact, I wish all the objective cards themselves were of a higher design/manufacture standard. They're not up the the same quality level as the rest of the game.

APART from these points, it is a good, lightish and unique game.
 
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Adam Porter
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Muddy Boots wrote:
The "problem" I've encountered is that, in the games we've played (2 & 3 player), no-one ever lays an irrigation tile. Why would you waste turns doing so? There's plenty of water supplied by the central lake, the pond tiles and pond tokens. I suppose, to increase their use, you could remove some of these plot tiles and tokens.


I've seen a few posts saying that the irrigation channels don't get used. This is certainly not the case in any of the games I have played. In order for a tile to score a "tile objective" it needs to be irrigated and tiles far from the central pond often aren't. Hence channels are laid. The irrigated marker on certain tiles makes this slightly easier, but an "irrigated-marker" tile doesn't irrigate adjacent tiles, and channels cannot be run from it. Again, irrigation channels are the answer.

So as long as plenty of plot objectives are being used, there should be a constant need for irrigation channels. Unless I'm missing something.

We deal one card of each objective type to each player at the start of the game which ensures that all objectives get utilised to some degree.
 
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fen
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Yes. It sounds like you're playing in a growing/eating heavy metagame - which is understandable as you get more points for growing and eating than landscaping.

However, I'd argue that the plot cards are the least selfish of the cards to complete. Building the foundation of the garden is quite a powerful place to be - especially when playing 4 players, you can dictate how well the bamboo grows by the way you lay out the tiles and irrigate.

People who are munching are arguably playing the most selfish personal game of Takenoko because the play style does not assist anyone else in their tasks. They need people to plot and grow for their food, but they don't need to assist others.

Sometimes I think that the points offered on the various cards is not right and that they should have been inverted (highest for plot arrangements) because of the lack of assistance you receive. If you're going to try and make 3 greens together you're unlikey to get help from the grower (they really only need 2 greens to walk back and forth watering as long as they have the right kind of tile) and you'll get no help from anyone seeking Panda poop objectives*.

Of course, this assumes players are focusing on one particular objective card type, that does happen more when you play the advanced game, but it's really a metagame scenario that should hopefully fall into a stable pattern. I'm just concerned that for some groups this pattern will land heavily on the more focused 'single objective' strategies. I'm also not that worried because, let's face it, the game is rather lightweight and quick to play.

*I've come to the conclusion that the Panda feeding cards involve inspection of the Panda's poop before awarding of points. You don't score until they're removed from the Panda's stomach on your personal board you see...
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