May 2018 be all you dreamed it would be and be all that you dreamed...
This review continues my series of detailed reviews that attempt to be part review, part resource for anyone not totally familiar with the game. For this reason I expect readers to skip to the sections that are of most interest.
If you liked the review please thumb the top of the article so others have a better chance of seeing it and I know you stopped by. Thanks for reading.
Game Type – Euro Game
Play Time: 30-70 minutes
Number of Players: 2-4
Mechanics – Action Points, Modular Board, Pattern Building, Tile Placement
Difficulty – Pick-up & Play (Can be learned in 20 minutes)
Components – Excellent ++
Release – 2011
Designer – Antoine Bauza - (7 Wonders, Attack on Titan: The Last Stand, Conan, Ghost Stories, Hanabi, Hurry' Cup!, The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet, Mystery Express, Oceanos, Samurai Spirit, Terror in Meeple City, Tokaido, Welcome Back to the Dungeon)
Overview and Theme
The often turbulent relations between China and Japan have taken a turn for the better. China as a sign of good faith have gifted the Japanese Emperor with a Giant Panda, a symbol of the goodwill to be shared between the two nations and a reminder of all that is ying and yang!
But that spells trouble for one Japanese citizen however. The hard working gardener tends to the Emperor's Garden daily and now there is a ravenous Panda looking to eat the bamboo faster than it can be grown!
The players must take action to expand and water the garden, grow varieties of bamboo and control the Gardener and Panda at different points. The weather will play its part too and the players are trying to manipulate proceedings to their advantage (complete scoring card objectives). This is the nature of Takenoko, and for those that like to learn such things, the term (Takenoko) refers to woody grasses that grow in temperate and tropical climates. It can also refer to the individual segments found in bamboo. Class closed for today.
Takenoko was released to pretty positive reviews way back in 2011 (boy has it been that long already?) and such was its popularity that a collector's edition was released with larger components. The game has also spawned an expansion called Takenoko: Chibis, which I will cover towards the end of this review. Antoine Bauza has something of an affinity with Japan and this release was followed up with several other Japanese themed games in Tokaido and Samurai Spirit, which form something of a Japanese Trilogy of sorts (despite there being no connection between the designs).
His two most recognisable and acclaimed releases have been 7 Wonders and Ghost Stories, both from some time ago now. So how does Takenoko stack up? Grab that parasol...yes parasol...men can carry parasols too you know. Besides mine matches my bum bag...see?!
As publishers, Bombyx and Matagot have good reputations for making great looking games. Takenoko is no exception and is the perfect visual treat to lure its target audience.
Plot Tiles – Takenoko makes use of large hex tiles that are similar in size and quality to Catan. Each tile depicts a section of the garden but the detail that matters is that they come in pink, yellow and green. There is also a blue Pond Tile, which starts the game in play.
The tiles are vibrant, like the rest of the production. I also like that they contain a matte\linen finish. Some tiles also feature an Improvement Icon, which I will explain a little later.
A very subtle but excellent inclusion is that the image of 3 tiles is printed on the tile backs. This helps the players remember that when taking the 'Plots' action, they must draw 3 tiles and pick one. Little reminders as to the rules of the game like this are always great.
Image Courtesy of Alice87
Panda and Gardener – This Euro design features two minis and they are pre-painted at that. The adorable Panda and the worrisome Gardner both add much to the experience. Whilst these could have worked as tiles rather than minis, the reality is that they would have seemed out of place with the rest of the production. As they are, the minis add a warmth to the game and they also help make them visually prominent, which also supports the players in assessing the movement options that are available.
Image Courtesy of OdinMithrandir
Bamboo – It is the bamboo though that really brings Takenoko to life. It gives the game a lovely 3D element. Not surprisingly, the bamboo shoots come in the 3 main colours of the Plot Tiles, linking the two together, which help make the game a little more intuitive to learn.
The bamboo pieces are wooden and in addition to their colour, also contain a painted stamp feature, which is lovely. The base pieces of bamboo have a bulbous base to help support the weight above and the additional rod pieces make use of a peg and hollow design so the pieces can fit into another.
Image Courtesy of henk.rolleman
Weather Dice and Irrigation Channels – The game comes with a beige, oversized wooden dice with 6 different icons to represent forms of weather and a question mark. The images are printed rather than etched and whilst this can be a concern, mine is yet to show signs of fading.
The Irrigation Channel pieces are large, oversized rods, just think bigger Catan Road pieces, perhaps 2.5 times the size and length. This sizing allows the pieces to occupy the full length of one hex side when placed on the Plot Tiles. Naturally, they represent the flow of water.
Image Courtesy of Alice87
Player Boards – Each player receives a Player Mat or Board that features artwork at the top and a series of panels and boxes underneath.
These boxes are actually highly functional and help the players remember the sequence of play, the actions available to them and also have room to place things they have collected.
The first row of icons outlines the results of the Weather Dice and what each result allows a player to do. Then there is the Action box, outlining the Actions available to a player on their turn. The remaining space is then used to place Improvement Tokens, Irrigation Channels and eaten bamboo.
The Player Boards are a reminder of the attention to detail that was put into the production of the game. The artwork at the top of the mat shows a cheeky panda finishing off a meal. The location where eaten bamboo can be placed is not a simple box, but a silhouette of a panda. This may not seem like a big deal to many but it is a subtle touch that is both indicative of the game as a whole and appealing to the players.
I must confess I had never looked at the back of the Player Mats until this morning. They too feature lovely art of our forlorn Panda standing under an umbrella as a rain cloud does its thing overhead. The back also features an image of one of the Action Token pairs, letting the player know which tokens they should use. It is not essential to match one's Player Board to a pair of Action Tokens...but...I guess you can. Having seen thousands of games over the years...I have come to appreciate little flourishes like these as they are not always present.
Image Courtesy of Alice87
Objective Cards – These cards come in 3 different types and all make use of the smaller card format. The cards relate to 3 different elements of the game; the Panda (eaten bamboo), Gardner (grown bamboo) and the Garden itself (orientation of the Plot Tiles).
Each card features a visual representation of the objective that must be completed and a number of VPs that are awarded for doing so.
Each deck features a unique colour and image (on the card back) to help identify the goals that each deck contain. The cards feature a matte\linen finish also, which is great.
I should also note that the game includes a single green card called the Emperor Card. It is worth 2 points and is awarded to the player that triggers the end game.
Image Courtesy of frankiestein
Improvement Tokens – These small cardboard hexagonal tokens come in three forms to represent irrigation, a bamboo enclosure and fertiliser. The icons used can also be found on some of the Plot Tiles that make up the Garden, signifying that some tiles come with built in improvements.
Image Courtesy of gavinpaul
Action Tokens – These round wooden tokens feature painted patterns that are quite similar but unique all the same (they come in pairs). The white on brown is effective and these pieces can be physically placed on the Player Boards to show what actions have been taken by the player.
Image Courtesy of gavinpaul
Tray Insert – I rarely mention the insert used by a game unless they are extremely good or bad. In this case Takenoko shines, with a lovely space for everything and room to include the expansion pieces as well. The pink\violet colouring of the insert is another lovely touch to help bring the whole production together.
Image Courtesy of analisisalcubo
Rules – The rules start with a cute comic strip, which helps set the scene or background to the game (this is replicated in the Chibis expansion also). The rules are well set out but I must confess that I have always had trouble finding certain clarifications when needed. I'm not sure why this is and perhaps it is just me and the ageing process.
Image Courtesy of Alice87
Really Takenoko is worth every cent of its asking price from a production perspective. It is clearly made with thought and love, so much so that the game did spawn a Collector's Edition a few years later that was larger in every respect. It is impossible to not give this game top marks for its production. We are spoilt for quality in games as we head towards 2020 but Takenoko was doing it well before it became something of an industry norm.
Image Courtesy of Slashdoctor
Takenoko takes only 5 minutes to set up. Each player takes a Player Mat\Board and a pair of matching Action Tokens. The blue Pond Tile is set in the middle of the playing surface and the Panda and Gardener figures are placed on this tile.
The remaining Plot Tiles are shuffled\mixed in some fashion and placed in a face-down stack, ready to be drawn as the game is played.
The 3 sets of Objective Cards are shuffled individually and placed on the table and the green Emperor Card is placed beside them. Each player then receives 3 cards, one of each type, which are kept hidden (face-down) from the other players.
The bamboo pieces and Irrigation Channels can be left in the box to be taken out as needed or placed on the table within reach of the players, whichever is easiest.
The Improvement Tiles are placed in small stacks (according to type) to the side of the playing area.
A start player is selected in some fashion and handed the Weather Dice. The game is ready to begin.
Takenoko is an action selection game in which each player completes their turn before the next player can proceed. The game definitely falls in the light-weight category and the central mechanisms are easy to understand and execute as a result.
A single player turn looks a little like this -
Roll the Weather Dice – A player will always begin their turn by rolling the Weather Dice. The result of this single roll then alters their turn in some way. Before I outline the results of each possible icon, it actually makes more sense to outline the basic play of the game first and return to this dice later. If you would like to see what the dice does now, jump to point four below.
Take 2 Actions – A player is allowed to take 2 actions on their turn as long as the actions taken are different from one another.
These actions include :-
Placing a Plot (Growing the Garden) – This action allows a player to extend the garden by adding a new tile to the play area. The active player draws 3 tiles, selects one to place and returns the other two (in any order) to the bottom of the stack.
A new tile must be placed next to the central pond or adjacent to at least two other tiles already in play. The garden cannot be allowed to meander off in a single line somewhere.
Take an Irrigation Channel – This action allows a player to take a blue Irrigation Channel and either add it to their Player Board or put it directly into play.
Bamboo cannot grow in a Plot that is not irrigated, so placing one of these channels such that it leads away from the central pond and lays along the edge of a tile (think Settlers of Catan roads) will ensure that the two tiles on either side of the Irrigation Channel are irrigated.
When a tile becomes irrigated for the first time, it immediately grows bamboo. The colour of bamboo that grows is determined by the colour of the tile.
Thus a tile that is placed adjacent to the central pond will be automatically irrigated and receives one bamboo shoot immediately. This is also true of any tile that is placed that features a Watershed Improvement Icon printed on the tile.
But some tiles can be placed where they are not immediately irrigated and therefore they will not receive their first bamboo shoot until an irrigation channel reaches them or a Watershed improvement is added.
If a player decides to place their Irrigation Channel onto their Reserve Board, it can be placed in any future turn for free (not an action) and multiple Channels can be placed in the one turn if held.
Move the Gardener –
Image Courtesy of barti18 This action allows the Gardener to be moved as far as the player likes, in a straight line, from his current position.
The Gardner is a master at all things plant-like. As such the tile that he ends his turn on and all adjacent tiles (of the same colour), will enjoy the growth of 1 bamboo shoot IF they are irrigated. This can result in multiple bamboo segments being added to the garden for the one action.
Bamboo can never grow to a height of more than 4 segments. If a stalk is already at a length of 4, then no bamboo is added to that tile.
Move the Panda – The Panda moves in the same fashion as the Gardner (straight line). If the Panda ends its turn in a plot containing bamboo, it will eat one segment. The Panda can move to a plot which does not contain bamboo.
Segments of bamboo eaten in this way are taken by the active player and added to their Player Board, in the silhouette of the Panda, (representing his tummy rather nicely).
It is now clear to see that the Gardener and the Panda have quite diametrically opposing effects on the Emperor's Garden.
Take an Objective Card – The game offers up 3 different types of Objective Cards. One relates to the formation of the garden, another to the variety and heights of Bamboo that have been grown and the last relates to the bamboo that Panda has eaten (under your guidance).
This action allows a player to take any 1 of these cards from the top of one of the card stacks. Once taken, Objective Cards are kept secret from the other players and of course these cards act as the driving force in relation to what actions the players take in order to complete them.
Plot Cards (blue back) require a player to try and place tiles in such a way that certain colours of tiles (remember there are 3) are placed in certain orientations. In addition all tiles featured must be irrigated.
Gardner Cards (red back) require that bamboo of a certain height is present in the garden. They may relate to the requirements of a single Plot or that a certain amount of bamboo of a given colour has been grown throughout the Garden. Objectives that feature a single Plot may also require the presence of a specific Improvement Icon or have no Improvements at all.
The Panda Cards (purple back) require that a player has used the Panda to eat a number of bamboo pieces of a certain colour(s) and that they are present together on their Player Board.
I will talk more about how these cards can be completed in point three below.
A player can never hold more than 5 Objective Cards at any one time. Once the 5-card limit has been reached a player cannot acquire or discard cards until one of those in hand is completed.
Completing Objectives – An Objective Card can be revealed as soon as its conditions are met, at any point in the game. This means that a player may find that one of their objectives is completed through the actions of another player (most fortuitous)! This is completely legal. However if a player fails to see this occurrence before the end of the current turn and conditions change (bamboo grows too tall or gets eaten for example) then they cannot claim the reward by stating it happened last turn or the one before. This will keep good players tuned into the action at all times.
Of course it is most likely that a player will complete an Objective Card on their own turn through their own actions.
When an Objective Card is completed it is revealed and remains in play face-up for all players to see. In this way the players can see how they are tracking and develop their strategy to try and best the competition.
The Weather Dice – And finally we are back to the Weather Dice, which is rolled at the start of a player's turn and it serves to manipulate the basic rules of play as outlined above. Now that you better understand the basic actions available, these effects will make more sense.
The effects of the Weather Dice are :-
Sun – Allows the player to take 3 actions instead of the usual 2 but they must all be different actions.
Rain – The active player can grow bamboo in the irrigated plot of their choice (two segments will grow in a plot with the Fertiliser Improvement icon).
Wind – Allows a player to take 2 identical actions if they wish but they are not obligated to do so.
Storm – Panda gets scared by lightning. This allows the active player to place the Panda on any one Plot\tile and eat a segment of bamboo that is growing there. He can be placed on a tile with no bamboo if desired.
Clouds – A Plot\tile in the garden can be improved in one of three ways. When the Cloud result is rolled it allows the active player to take any one Improvement Token from the supply. They can choose to place this token onto any Plot of their choice or they can hold it in reserve (Player Board\Mat). These tokens are finite and once a type is exhausted it cannot be selected.
The 3 Improvement types include Fertiliser, Water Shed and Enclosure. A Plot\tile containing Fertiliser will grow 2 segments of bamboo instead of one (when growth is required). A Water Shed makes a plot irrigated, even if it has no access to an Irrigation Channel or is not adjacent to the Central Pond. A Plot\tile with an Enclosure Token means that the bamboo growing on this tile is protected from Panda, he can stop there but he cannot eat.
The reason for placing these tokens is to help complete Objective Cards. The only restriction regarding Improvement Tokens is that a tile can never have more than one Improvement on it and some tiles already start out with one of the three Improvements printed on them.
If the Cloud result is rolled on the Weather Dice and all of the Improvement Tokens have already been taken, the result serves as another Question Mark result (?) as outlined next.
Question Mark (?) – Allows a player to select the weather condition of their choosing.
Ending the Game and Scoring – The endgame is triggered when a single player completes a certain number of Objective Cards (based on the number of players). This ranges from 7-9. The player to trigger the final round earns the Emperor Card (worth 2 VPs) and the other players get one final turn to complete as many Objective Cards as possible.
Once the last player has had their turn it is a simple case of counting up each player's points to find the winner.
The highest score has pleased the Emperor the most and takes the win. In the event of a tie, the player who has earned the most points from Panda Objective Cards takes the victory. Ties beyond this result in a shared win.
What is the Appeal of Takenoko and What is at Play?
Image Courtesy of woodenbricks
First and foremost Takenoko is a game that is bright and vibrant. It has real eye-catching appeal on the table and the colours used make it feel welcoming. Throw in a cute pre-painted Panda and Gardener and the game is off-the-scale gorgeous and looks great whilst playing. That is a big draw-card for some gamers right there. The bamboo shoots look great as they grow, creating a mini-forest on the table and the whole thing feels kind of relaxing.
Then there is the game play. It is light to be sure and it won't be competing for table-time with the likes of Concordia or Terra Mystica (for gamers who like a bit of meat). But the game is easy to play and doesn't require massive brain-capacity to do relatively well in. That will be a plus or minus depending on your gaming-bent and perhaps your mood when perusing the shelves. The nature of the Objective Cards can be a little bit luck-based at times but that can be a bonus too when playing with less experienced gamers as it can help to even out the field.
To summarise the game, Takenoko is really a front-end loaded design. The players start with Objective Cards and can acquire more. It is these cards that dictate what they are all about and the actions they are likely to take. This makes the game quite easy to learn and play once the various Objectives are understood. There is no direct 'take-that' present in the design and player interaction is minimal as the actions taken by a player are made to benefit them. Any consequences (positive or negative) are usually not directly intended.
If you look at the game more deeply, one of the things the players need to avoid is taking an action that might help another player complete an Objective out of their turn. This could come about by growing bamboo on a certain tile, adding an Improvement Tile to a location or irrigating a given tile. It is also wise to have a variety of Objective Cards 'in-hand' to maximise your options each turn.
The one element that is likely to annoy pure Euro-snoots is the inclusion of the Weather Dice. This certainly adds some luck to the game as the right roll at the right time can be very rewarding and as the game heads towards its conclusion the wrong rolls can cost a player the game in a tight race. It doesn't happen all that often but the potential is there. Given the weight of Takenoko I see this aspect as 'within the nature' of the game and so I don't have a problem with it.
For me, the only potential negatives here are that the Panda and Gardener movement rules feel a little static as often the Garden (board) is not that huge so really clever movement actions involving the Panda and Gardener are not really possible. It's not a game breaker but I would have liked some more interesting movement options for the two main characters. The other one is that the rules as written can be a bit tricky to peruse on the fly when learning the game.
Takenoko with 2-Players
The game works pretty well with two but it isn't a compelling experience when compared with good games specifically designed for two. This is because there is less Plot placement\Garden expansion and that then diminishes the need to select the Plot Objective Cards. In fact Annie and I all but ignore them because the points on offer here are just too small when compared to the other Objective Cards and without others to help build the garden, there is too much work to be done for that VP payoff.
Other than that the 2-player game is decent and only takes 25-30 minutes. But for my precious time I'd rather save Takenoko for when we have 3 or 4 players. Instead I will reach for a Morels, Targi, Unfair or a Santorini when I have only 2-players.
Takenoko Chibis - Playing with the Expansion
Image Courtesy of W Eric Martin
The Chibis Expansion essentially adds 4 new elements to the game -
Miss Panda - There is now a new Panda on the scene in the form of a lovely lady in pink. She starts the game off the board and will not come on until a tile is placed that features a Miss Panda icon.
Once in play, Miss Panda serves as another option for the 'Move Panda' action. When this action is taken the players can choose to move either Panda with the movement rules being the same for both (straight line). However Miss Panda never eats bamboo at the tile she stops on. Instead she has the opportunity to have a baby...thank god these are Panda's and not women or there would be an uproar!
Babies (Chibis) – I guess this element is where the game gets its Chibis subtitle from? If a player can move Miss Panda so she ends her turn on regular (Mr.) Panda and the player can discard a piece of bamboo (sustains her through the pregnancy I suppose), a Baby Token can be taken. The token taken must match the colour of the bamboo eaten and the active player can choose which one they want from the ones available in that colour.
There are 3 types of bonus powers within each of the 3 bamboo colours. One earns a player an Irrigation Channel, another allows a player to take any one Improvement Token (from those still available) and the last benefit allows a player to discard an Objective Card from their hand and draw a new one from any pile. This last one can be handy if you have a card that you can't see being completed anytime soon and it can help if you have reached your hand limit as well.
As well as the ability awarded, each earned Baby Token is worth 2 VPs at the end of the game.
New Tiles – The 3rd addition to the game is the inclusion of new Garden Tiles. Some of these naturally feature the Miss Panda icon to allow her to enter play and when one appears she will immediately move to the new tile from her current position (which may foul up a player's impending turn ).
But there are also some new special tiles that change up the game :-
Kamis Garden – Artwork featuring 3 bushes of the colours used in the game make this one semi-obvious. Whenever this tile is irrigated, one shoot of bamboo in each colour grows. If the Gardener moves to the Kamis Garden, all 3 colours grow as well as adjacent irrigated plots. If Pando moves here, he only eats one piece of bamboo (player's choice) and if the Rain result is rolled the player picks any one type of Bamboo to grow.
Sacred Hills – This tile features a large stone statue. If the Gardener stops at the Sacred Hills and cultivates bamboo growth (tile must be irrigated) bamboo will also grow on all adjacent irrigated plots and on all irrigated plots of the same colour as the Sacred Hills tile.
Celestial Pond – This tile, with a lovely bridge feature, serves as another location from which irrigation channels can be built. It also immediately irrigates all adjacent tiles. Bamboo never grows here but the Gardener and the Pandas can stop here or move across the Pond.
Gardener's Cabin – If the Gardener moves to his cabin (this tile) a player is allowed to draw the top card from each of the 3 Objective Piles, select one to keep and return the other two to the bottom of their respective decks.
Bamboo never grows here but the Gardener and the Pandas can stop or move over the Cabin tile.
New Objectives – The 4th and final addition to the game is the inclusion of new Objective Cards that are added to the original 3 decks. These cards include objectives such as Panda needing to eat different types of bamboo and be at the Pond\Bridge Tile, Gardener growing multiple heights of the same bamboo type or growing lots of one bamboo type, irrigating a large number of plots of a given colour or creating plot formations that include Miss Panda tiles.
These are all a little more involved than some of the original Objective Cards and as a result they are generally worth more points.
A note on the cards though is that the Panda Objective Cards in the expansion feature more of a pink colouring on the card backs, which is different to the more violet colouring of the original game. This may have been fixed with later print runs but it is slightly annoying to notice the difference between printings of a game and expansions. Experienced gamers may derive a small advantage by knowing that the next available Panda card is a base game or expansion card. Don't play that hard and don't play with people that take advantage of such things.
Summary of the Chibis Expansion –
Image Courtesy of dotKeller The expansion is not modular like some offerings so it is a case of 'all in or all out' as various elements rely upon the inclusion of one another.
Is it a must have? In this case I don't think it is. The base game plays well enough on its own without having to have Chibis.
But it doesn't do anything wrong either and for that reason and the improved variation I will always include it. If I had to make one criticism, it would be that bamboo tends to grow much more readily when using the expansion due to the Sacred Hills and Kamis Garden Tiles and due to that Panda has a hard time chomping through it all and keeping it down. This tends to play into the hands of the Gardener Objective Cards to some degree and that can lead to players targeting that deck of Objective Cards in the late game stage to try and pick up some quick (and sometimes) easy points.
Apart from that, this expansion is a 'nice to have' without being essential. It will add about 15-20 minutes to the playing of the game when first learning it but experienced players can add Chibis to Takenoko and not see any real addition in game length.
It's also nice that the expansion content can fit into the base game box, allowing those with space issues to turf the expansion box (one of those annoying slim, tall numbers -think 7 Wonders: Cities and Leaders).
The Final Word
Takenoko is a pretty good design in the light-medium Euro genre. It plays relatively quickly (inside that 1 hr mark...in about 45 for experienced players) and it looks great on the tabletop. For the target market these factors are home runs. Throw in a cute Panda, ever changing table-based landscape and pretty intuitive rules and Takenoko is pretty much a fun 'crowd-pleaser' for most gaming households and groups.
In fact if I consider Takenoko in the context of 7 Wonders and Tokaido, I think these designs sum up the design principles of Antoine Bauza. Oceanos could also be added to this set of titles. They are all attractive, easy to learn, well produced, fun games that are not too taxing on the old 'grey matter. Ghost Stories would be his main outlier to these principles.
So if that sounds like you or you like those other designs I mentioned, then Takenoko is most definitely for you.
Till next we meet, keep chomping Paaaanda!
Image Courtesy of crountch
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The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet
- Last edited Sun Oct 21, 2018 10:52 am (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Wed Jan 31, 2018 4:32 am
Wonderful review. It might scare away lazy people who fear text, but these aren't the people you're writing for anyway.
Concerning one of your points :
If I had to make one criticism, it would be that bamboo tends to grow much more readily when using the expansion due to the Sacred Hills and Kamis Garden Tiles and due to that Panda has a hard time chomping through it all and keeping it down. This tends to play into the hands of the Gardener Objective Cards to some degree and that can lead to players targeting that deck of Objective Cards in the late game stage to try and pick up some quick (and sometimes) easy points.
This to me is actually a plus, because I consider panda objectives to be imbalanced, and are worth so many points that it caused other objectives to be neglected. So I find it nice when something pushes the other way.
However, great example of a review done right.
Okay now you have talked me into the chibis expansion, especially since my wife likes this game.