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Derek Thompson
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When I previously interviewed Antoine Bauza, he mentioned that long before he worked on hits Ghost Stories and 7 Wonders, he had worked on a design about a giant panda eating bamboo in a Japanese garden. That game, Takenoko, is now available via publisher Matagot (and distributed in the U.S. by Asmodee). The theme is unique and the graphics are good, but how is the gameplay? Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:

Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine the setting described in the game?
Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?

Components: Even when I first played the prototype of Takenoko at GenCon, the first thing I noticed were that the components are adorable. The hexes and wooden pieces (irrigation channels, action tokens) are all serviceable, but the art really shines on the cards and player mats. The panda and gardener are drawn in a cute, bright style and the included figurines match it well. The most enjoyable component, though, is the set of bamboo pieces, which come in green, pink, and yellow. As you play, you stack them (they hook in to each other) to show the bamboo growing on the fields. The instruction book even includes a short comic, explaining the premise of the game. The components are top-notch, and the primary reason I found myself initially so enamored with the game. My only complaint is that the game was bumped to $50 MSRP after being announced at $45, and I don’t think the amount of material quite justifies it.

Accessibility: The idea of the game is straightforward enough. You have “task” cards that you earn points for doing, and take actions to accomplish them. You can add hexes or irrigation channels to the board, grow bamboo by moving the gardener, eat bamboo by moving the panda, or look at more task cards. The problem, though, is that a lot of nuances in the rules were ambiguously worded or left out, so much so that it didn’t take long for the game to have a FAQ online. A game so clearly aimed at young kids and families should not need a FAQ – many of those types of buyers may not even know where to look for it (although admittedly in the U.S., buying this game at all requires a bit of internet savvy). Once these things are ironed out, though, the gameplay is fairly straightforward and not hard to comprehend, but it’s very fiddly. There are a lot of little rules to remember, and though for many gamers that’s not an issue, there are too many for the intended audience. That said, it’s easy the first time through to get a basic assessment of how well you are doing, which is something I value highly.

Depth: Despite the game being beautiful, and fairly easy to learn, the game is frustratingly random. The “task” cards work like tickets in Ticket to Ride, though you aren’t punished for incomplete ones. However, you have no idea how easily you might complete a new task, and you draw them one at a time. You might already be done with it and just earn free points, though an “advanced rule” says that in this case you must draw a new card instead. Or, you might be mostly done with it and be able to keep it. Or, it might be nearly impossible. You have no way of knowing, whereas in Ticket to Ride you are able to gauge your probability of finding something useful in the ticket deck by your current network. There’s no analogous gauge in Takenoko - just luck.

Furthermore, each turn is begun with a die roll, offering you a bonus action – but these vary wildly in power, and one important action (improvement tokens) can only be attained this way (although some hexes already have the improvements). It is very frustrating to have a task that requires a certain improvement, when you can only find a hex with that improvement by a very lucky hex draw or a very lucky die roll (and then you have to actually do the task). It was impossible to have a long-term strategy in the game, even if you drew a lot of tasks at the start. I never felt in control of what I was doing.

With two players, we were able to accomplish enough around the water hex and with what few improvements we had that we rarely ever wanted to take the irrigation channel action, and that seemed odd. There are so many mechanical quirks and imbalances in the game that it feels unfinished more than anything else.

Theme:
The theme of the game is fun and unique and it works well. The movements of the panda and gardener on the board humorously simulate a mental image of the gardener wildly running around while being harassed by the panda and his appetite. What doesn’t really fit the theme are the tasks and who the players actually are, along with the building of the board. However, if you don’t take the theme too seriously and just take it for what it is, there’s a lot there to appreciate – it’s cute, and fun both to watch on the board and to imagine in your mind. Building and tearing down the bamboo is an especially fun part of the theme, and the components and mechanics mesh well to bring it to life.

Fun: I was ecstatic when I played this game months ago at GenCon. It seemed to strike all the right notes for me and my wife, and the other girls in our playgroup – it had a cute, fun theme, indirect interaction, simple rules… and the possibility of strategy. That possibility was an illusion, and in fact mechanically this is a pretty terrible game. “Lipstick on a pig is still a pig,” even if the lipstick makes the pig look like a really cute panda.

I’ve played other games with this level of randomness and enjoyed them more, and it’s really about the expectations that the game brings to the table. When I reviewed The Dwarf King, I felt like the rules and “image” of the game made it clear that it was meant to be zany, and therefore a bit random. Takenoko wants to be a family strategy game in the vein of Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne, but the clumsiness of the rules and complete lack of long-term strategy kept it from being actually fun to play. I’d rather watch people play this than play it, and that’s not exactly high praise.


Takenoko clearly advertises itself as a family-oriented, cutely-themed strategy game, but the “strategy” part isn’t really there. If you don’t mind that, Takenoko may be worth your time, but I strongly recommend you check out a different game instead.

Originally posted on http://meepletown.com
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Runcible Spoon
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Re: Review: Takenoko
Thanks for the review. I have been looking for a lighter family strategy game for a while, and I was starting to lean toward this, but one of my least favorite aspects of Ticket to Ride is the "draw a route you have already completed phenomenon". I still like TTR but that nocks it down a notch. Your "depth" section mentions this and I must admit that this pushes Takenoko back a notch on my purchasing/trade list.

As a small tip regarding formatting your reviews you might consider using a little text formatting like bold to enhance the visual structure of your review.

Thanks again for a good review and have a thumbsup

 
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Derek Thompson
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Re: Review: Takenoko
Runcible Spoon wrote:
Thanks for the review. I have been looking for a lighter family strategy game for a while, and I was starting to lean toward this, but one of my least favorite aspects of Ticket to Ride is the "draw a route you have already completed phenomenon". I still like TTR but that nocks it down a notch. Your "depth" section mentions this and I must admit that this pushes Takenoko back a notch on my purchasing/trade list.

As a small tip regarding formatting your reviews you might consider using a little text formatting like bold to enhance the visual structure of your review.

Thanks again for a good review and have a thumbsup



The lack of bolding was an oversight - I tend to get pretty lazy copying these over to BGG... yeah, that can be annoying in TTR, but I feel it is significantly more random in Takenoko. In TTR, yes, I might score free points, but once you've realized it's part of the game, a calculated risk, it becomes more strategic. If I'm connected LA to NY or thereabouts, I feel I can confidently (at least in a Mega Game) ticket dive and score some free points. In Takenoko, I have no clue if I'll have any progress on a "ticket" at all.

Very few games can compare to Ticket to Ride, though.
 
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Re: Review: Takenoko
aldaryn wrote:

Very few games can compare to Ticket to Ride, though.



Thank god...
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Brad McKenzie
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Re: Review: Takenoko
I agree with the game being quite random, but thankfully everyone gets the same amount of randomness, so it balances out. There is strategy in knowing which type of cards to be picking up throughout different times in the game (don't choose Panda cards if there is no bamboo grown), and playing well can often mean doing something that helps you while hinders others (eating that bamboo that obviously your neighbor has been trying to cultivate).

It is a family game, and is very easy to teach. Like Ticket to Ride, games can be as vicious as you choose to play, choosing to stick to your own plans or mess with others. It was an automatic purchase for my family as my wife hates games with lots of rules. Plus it has a panda - what's not to like?
 
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Dean Adam
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Re: Review: Takenoko
This has just arrived in a box for me, well... the box has hit NZ, hoping it arrives at work tomorrow. So I was a little dismayed to see your review - although to be fair, I'm not too sure why I brought this game I mostly thought it would appeal to friends and family who don't get the heavier games, but give me enough to enjoy. I have been (probably unsuccessfully) been trying to avoid games before they'd been geek tested more thoroughly and the early reviews seemed favourable.

Your review, however, suggests is pretty clear that it might not be all that great :/ I'll throw my 10 cents in once I've had a chance to play it... Am just hoping that perhaps we like different things in games, I see you've scored a couple I like a fair bit lower than I have, but then have scored some I like about the same... will see how the panda rolls I guess.

Do appreciate the alternate perspective though, just would have been nice it had come about 2 weeks ago

 
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Stefan Kaiser
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Re: Review: Takenoko
I think with Takenoko it depends on what you are expecting before playing your first game.

If you expect deep strategy, nice learning curve, tough decisions etc. than you will be hugely disappointed...

For me, this is the perfect family game. I knew what i was getting thus my expectations were pretty low. But in that regard the game exceeded my expectations because it is really nice to play. Components are gorgeous, mechanics are easy to learn and to understand. The game just flows by, so to say. With a play time of 30 to 45 minutes it absolutely fills the family game gap.

Thanks for your review. I share your opinion about the components but strongly disagree with your conclusion.
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Stefan Kaiser
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Re: Review: Takenoko
aldaryn wrote:


Accessibility:... The problem, though, is that a lot of nuances in the rules were ambiguously worded or left out, so much so that it didn’t take long for the game to have a FAQ online. A game so clearly aimed at young kids and families should not need a FAQ – many of those types of buyers may not even know where to look for it (although admittedly in the U.S., buying this game at all requires a bit of internet savvy). Once these things are ironed out, though, the gameplay is fairly straightforward and not hard to comprehend, but it’s very fiddly. There are a lot of little rules to remember, and though for many gamers that’s not an issue, there are too many for the intended audience. That said, it’s easy the first time through to get a basic assessment of how well you are doing, which is something I value highly.

...

Have to come back to this one. I am not sure but with my german copy of the game the rules were as straightforward as it could get. No questions were left and we could jump right into action.

I am not sure what exactly you mean by too many small rules though. And last but not least i think that this game is not fiddly at all... if we were talking about Dungeon Lords or Through the Ages i would agree... but not with this game.
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Jeff Kayati
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Re: Review: Takenoko
Brettner wrote:
aldaryn wrote:


Accessibility:... The problem, though, is that a lot of nuances in the rules were ambiguously worded or left out, so much so that it didn’t take long for the game to have a FAQ online. A game so clearly aimed at young kids and families should not need a FAQ – many of those types of buyers may not even know where to look for it (although admittedly in the U.S., buying this game at all requires a bit of internet savvy). Once these things are ironed out, though, the gameplay is fairly straightforward and not hard to comprehend, but it’s very fiddly. There are a lot of little rules to remember, and though for many gamers that’s not an issue, there are too many for the intended audience. That said, it’s easy the first time through to get a basic assessment of how well you are doing, which is something I value highly.

...

Have to come back to this one. I am not sure but with my german copy of the game the rules were as straightforward as it could get. No questions were left and we could jump right into action.

I am not sure what exactly you mean by too many small rules though. And last but not least i think that this game is not fiddly at all... if we were talking about Dungeon Lords or Through the Ages i would agree... but not with this game.


The English rules weren't properly translated. As a result, some rules are wrong or vague. For example, the English rules have you draw 3 plot tiles, play 1 and put the other 2 back in any order on top of the draw stack. They should be placed on the bottom of the stack, so exactly the opposite is listed as the rule.

Rules for Improvement tiles are unclear as well. I've taught the game to more than a few people, and the improvements are the toughest thing to get right. It shouldn't be that difficult for the audience of the game.

I still think that, with the Advanced Rules, this is a great game. Light enough for anyone to play, enough decisions to be interesting, and some strategy to explore. Excellent gateway/family/filler type game.
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Derek Thompson
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Re: Review: Takenoko
moonglow wrote:
This has just arrived in a box for me, well... the box has hit NZ, hoping it arrives at work tomorrow. So I was a little dismayed to see your review - although to be fair, I'm not too sure why I brought this game I mostly thought it would appeal to friends and family who don't get the heavier games, but give me enough to enjoy. I have been (probably unsuccessfully) been trying to avoid games before they'd been geek tested more thoroughly and the early reviews seemed favourable.

Your review, however, suggests is pretty clear that it might not be all that great :/ I'll throw my 10 cents in once I've had a chance to play it... Am just hoping that perhaps we like different things in games, I see you've scored a couple I like a fair bit lower than I have, but then have scored some I like about the same... will see how the panda rolls I guess.

Do appreciate the alternate perspective though, just would have been nice it had come about 2 weeks ago



Don't be too alarmed - just because I didn't like it, doesn't mean you won't. I want my light and simple family games to still have a manageable level of randomness and enough strategy to overcome the luck factor (again I put Ticket to Ride as kind of the gold standard).
 
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Derek Thompson
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Re: Review: Takenoko
jkayati wrote:
Brettner wrote:
aldaryn wrote:


Accessibility:... The problem, though, is that a lot of nuances in the rules were ambiguously worded or left out, so much so that it didn’t take long for the game to have a FAQ online. A game so clearly aimed at young kids and families should not need a FAQ – many of those types of buyers may not even know where to look for it (although admittedly in the U.S., buying this game at all requires a bit of internet savvy). Once these things are ironed out, though, the gameplay is fairly straightforward and not hard to comprehend, but it’s very fiddly. There are a lot of little rules to remember, and though for many gamers that’s not an issue, there are too many for the intended audience. That said, it’s easy the first time through to get a basic assessment of how well you are doing, which is something I value highly.

...

Have to come back to this one. I am not sure but with my german copy of the game the rules were as straightforward as it could get. No questions were left and we could jump right into action.

I am not sure what exactly you mean by too many small rules though. And last but not least i think that this game is not fiddly at all... if we were talking about Dungeon Lords or Through the Ages i would agree... but not with this game.


The English rules weren't properly translated. As a result, some rules are wrong or vague. For example, the English rules have you draw 3 plot tiles, play 1 and put the other 2 back in any order on top of the draw stack. They should be placed on the bottom of the stack, so exactly the opposite is listed as the rule.

Rules for Improvement tiles are unclear as well. I've taught the game to more than a few people, and the improvements are the toughest thing to get right. It shouldn't be that difficult for the audience of the game.

I still think that, with the Advanced Rules, this is a great game. Light enough for anyone to play, enough decisions to be interesting, and some strategy to explore. Excellent gateway/family/filler type game.


Jeff properly answered this, I think. The mere fact that it has a reasonably long FAQ means that it's a bit too past what I expect. It's different for each person. If you're teaching your gaming group, or your kids grew up playing board games with you, maybe it's different than me teaching something to my, say, mom and dad, for example.

I'm glad it seems like many of you out there who purchased seemed to like it and haven't come out swinging at me as is common with negative reviews. I do think the game is very pretty, but the gameplay isn't as smooth, simple and elegant as other games I'd rather play.

I keep saying Ticket to Ride, but other examples of fun/pretty family games I'd prefer would be things like Finca, Keltis, or Aquaretto (as I think even Zooloretto's rules have too many exceptions, and Aquaretto's rules are more streamlined).
 
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Derek Thompson
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Re: Review: Takenoko
airdroppers wrote:
aldaryn wrote:

Very few games can compare to Ticket to Ride, though.



Thank god...


I didn't really grasp the meaning here, but I hope it means "Thank God, because otherwise I'd have to buy all of these so very many fantastic games!"
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Bobby Ramsey
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Re: Review: Takenoko
aldaryn wrote:
airdroppers wrote:
aldaryn wrote:

Very few games can compare to Ticket to Ride, though.



Thank god...


I didn't really grasp the meaning here, but I hope it means "Thank God, because otherwise I'd have to buy all of these so very many fantastic games!"


I read it as "Thank god. Otherwise there would be a lack of interesting games to play." One person's trash and so forth...
 
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Re: Review: Takenoko
aldaryn wrote:
airdroppers wrote:
aldaryn wrote:

Very few games can compare to Ticket to Ride, though.



Thank god...


I didn't really grasp the meaning here, but I hope it means "Thank God, because otherwise I'd have to buy all of these so very many fantastic games!"


No...

Thank god, as in, Ticket to Ride sucks so much balls, I am glad that there isn't many games out there similar to it.
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Derek Thompson
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Re: Review: Takenoko
airdroppers wrote:
aldaryn wrote:
airdroppers wrote:
aldaryn wrote:

Very few games can compare to Ticket to Ride, though.



Thank god...


I didn't really grasp the meaning here, but I hope it means "Thank God, because otherwise I'd have to buy all of these so very many fantastic games!"


No...

Thank god, as in, Ticket to Ride sucks so much balls, I am glad that there isn't many games out there similar to it.


Maybe our tastes are inverted and you should totally give Takenoko a whirl!
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Re: Review: Takenoko
A very fair review.

Your point, regarding the irrigation tiles:
aldaryn wrote:

With two players, we were able to accomplish enough around the water hex and with what few improvements we had that we rarely ever wanted to take the irrigation channel action, and that seemed odd. There are so many mechanical quirks and imbalances in the game that it feels unfinished more than anything else.
I agree totally with, and have made the same observation elsewhere on The Geek. We've played this game a number of times now with 2 and 3 players and have never felt the need to lay the wooden irrigation channels (I've only ever done so to make the 'garden' look even more attractive and to see if I was missing anything - I wasn't). There are more than enough, easier ways to irrigate. As I said elsewhere, the only way I can see us laying the irrigation channels is by removing some of the irrigation plot tiles and irrigation improvement tokens before starting the game.

Additionally, although I still like the game, I too feel as though it's not quite finished.
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Alan Kwan
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Re: Review: Takenoko
In general, the more public things and the fewer private things a game has, the more tactical and the less strategic the game is. For example, Quarto is entirely tactical with hardly any long-term strategy (beyond your opponent's next move).

So it should be expected at first glance that this game is largely tactical with not much strategy.
 
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Re: Review: Takenoko
Alan Kwan wrote:
In general, the more public things and the fewer private things a game has, the more tactical and the less strategic the game is. For example, Quarto is entirely tactical with hardly any long-term strategy (beyond your opponent's next move).


You mean Go is not strategic?
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Keith Textor
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Re: Review: Takenoko
Very good review. I haven't read all the replies yet, however.
"Incomplete" is a good way to describe this game. It's very family oriented, and it's a beautiful game to see "grow" on the game table, but the actual game play is a bit too random and ... as you said ... "incomplete."

Huge potential, but a bit disappointing. A harmless filler game though.
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