Buzzworthiness: Takenoko

It’s review time!  And today, I want to look at a game that has been around for a while, but that I’ve just recently gotten into playing:

image by BGG user jayboy

Takenoko is a game that was designed by Antoine Bauza and published by Bombyx and Matagot.  It’s for 2-4 players and takes about 45 minutes to play.  The story is that you are caring for a bamboo garden that was set up by the Japanese emperor to care for a giant panda that was gifted to him by the Chinese emperor.  So you have to grow bamboo, feed the panda, and expand the garden so you have room for this stuff to happen.

In the game, you get 28 plot tiles (hexagonal), 36 green bamboo sections, 30 yellow bamboo sections, 24 pink bamboo sections, 20 irrigation channels (blue sticks), 9 improvement tiles, 46 objective cards, 4 player boards, 8 action chips, a weather die, a panda mini, and a gardener mini.  To start the game, you’ll separate the three different types of objectives – plot objectives, gardener objectives, and panda objectives.  Deal one of each to each player.  Players also each get a player board and two action chips.  The pond tile is placed in the center, and all other plot tiles are shuffled and placed in a face down stack.  The panda and gardener both start the game on the pond tile.

image by BGG user hclerx

On your turn, the first thing you will do is to roll the weather die.  You’re not going to do this on the first turn, so I’ll go over it after describing the various actions.

The next thing you’ll do is to take two actions.  These actions must be different, and you’ll mark what you’ve done with your action chips.  Here are your options:

  • PLOT: Draw three plots.  Place one on the board, and the other two on the bottom of the stack.  The tile you place must be adjacent to the pond tile, or touching two other tiles.  If the tile is irrigated (next to a water source like the pond, or with a watershed improvement on the tile), it automatically grows a bamboo shoot.
  • IRRIGATION: Take an irrigation channel.  These may be placed immediately, or saved for later.  They can be placed at anytime.  These must be played on the border between two tiles, and irrigate the tiles they touch.  They must start at a water source (the pond), but then may snake out to other tiles.  If the tiles that are now irrigated were not before, they automatically grow one bamboo shoot.  This extra bamboo only grows the first time a tile is irrigated.
  • GARDENER: Move the gardener any number of spaces in a straight line, then grow bamboo in his landing spot and all adjacent spots of the same color as long as they are irrigated.  Bamboo only grows in places that are irrigated, and there is a maximum size of four for each shoot.  Also, there will only be one shoot per plot.
  • PANDA: Move the panda any number of spaces in a straight line, then eat one section of bamboo from the place it stops.  This is placed on your board.
  • OBJECTIVE: Take a new objective card from the plot, gardener, or panda stacks.  Plot objectives show different arrangements of plot tiles.  Gardener objectives are mostly concerned with heights, numbers, and locations of bamboo stalks.  Panda objectives are fulfilled by eating bamboo.  Taking an objective is an action, but once completed, you can play them at any time for free.

Now the weather die.  It’s a six-sided die, and each face tells of a different action you can do.

  • SUN: Take three actions this turn instead of two.  They still must all be different.
  • RAIN: Grow a bamboo shoot on an irrigated plot.
  • WIND: If you want, you may take the same action twice this turn.
  • STORM: Move the panda to any space and eat a bamboo section.
  • CLOUDS: Take an improvement tile and either store it for later or place it immediately on a plot.  These improvements include enclosure (bamboo there cannot be eaten by the panda), fertilizer (two sections of bamboo grow here at a time), or watershed (this tile is irrigated).  If there are no improvements left, treat this side as a question mark.
  • QUESTION MARK: Take any of the other five actions you wish.

When someone completes their seventh (four-player), eighth (three-player), or ninth (two-player) objective, they get the Emperor card, which is worth two extra points.  They finish their turn, then the other players get one more turn before the game is over.  Whoever has scored the most points from completed objectives is the winner.

image by BGG user Najak – real bamboo not included

COMPONENTS: This a beautiful game.  The tiles are a good size, and are illustrated to give a sense of the bamboo garden.  The bamboo shoots are wooden and stack very nicely, giving an extra 3D aesthetic to the game.  In my copy, some of the shoots were a little misshapen and difficult to stack together, but there are enough that this shouldn’t pose too much of a problem.  The irrigation channels are very thick, and the wooden die is pretty lightweight.  The panda and gardener minis are painted and very cool.  The action discs each have a different symbol that matches one of the player boards, which is a nice touch.  The player boards do a great job of reminding you what your action options are, as well as a rundown of the weather die actions.  My only real complaint about the game is that the objective cards are tiny.  I dislike tiny cards in pretty much everything they’re ever in, and I dislike it here too.  Tiny cards are just harder to shuffle and hold for people like me with big hands.  Nevertheless, the game is very well produced all around.

THEME: As evocative as the artwork is in this game, the theme is not terribly strong.  There’s a little story (even a comic) explaining how the Emperors of Japan and China came to a truce, and the Emperor of China gave his counterpart a panda.  But in the end, the game is about scoring points rather than anything to do with that.  The bamboo and the panda give you a nice framing device for what you’re looking at, but there’s not really much of a narrative arc to the game.

MECHANICS: The goal of the game is to score points, and the way to score is through the completion of objectives.  There are three types of objectives to choose from, which gives you several different avenues as you’re choosing your actions.  The actions themselves are limited – there are only five to choose from, and you can’t choose the same one twice.  This is an action-point allowance mechanism that doesn’t cause quite as much analysis paralysis as some other games, though there still can be some indecision there.  However, the objectives will help to guide you along a path you should probably take.

The weather die adds a bit of randomness to the proceedings as it gives you a bonus at the start of each turn.  Sometimes you’ll be hoping for a specific one, but they’re all pretty decent, and may even feel more powerful at different times.

Overall, the game flows very well with smooth mechanics and an ease of play that makes the game feel pretty relaxed.

STRATEGY LEVEL: Takenoko is not an incredibly deep game, but there are still a lot of decisions to be made.  Choosing which of your five actions to take is important, as is tile placement and the taking of objectives.  Taking objectives is a good idea, but there’s a significant amount of luck in whether or not you’ll get what you need.  In Ticket to Ride, you’ll take some tickets and must keep one, but can keep as many as you like.  Here, you can only take one and must keep it.  There’s no penalty for incomplete objectives in Takenoko, but as you’ll typically only be able to get one objective per turn, it makes your decision about which pile to choose from very important.  Plus, there’s a hand limit of five, so you can’t just hoard them.  It should be mentioned that, in the expert variant, if you draw an objective that has already been completed, you discard it and draw another.

ACCESSIBILITY: This is a pretty light game, and a good one to bring in new gamers.  It’s definitely a gateway level game – it has simple rules, it’s beautiful to look at, and the strategies are easy to pick up as the game gets going.

SCALABILITY: The game plays pretty well from 2-4 players, with the required threshold of cards to trigger the endgame going down each turn.  I haven’t played with three players, but I do prefer four to two in that the board expands more rapidly and you’re able to play off of what others have done.

REPLAYABILITY: I think this game is pretty replayable.  You’ll get a different set of objectives every time, which helps.  It’s possible that the game would get redundant over time, but that’s true for most games.

INTERACTION: The interaction in Takenoko is primarily indirect.  You’re moving the gardener and panda around, which can affect what others were planning to do.  You can try to guess what others are going to do in order to block them, but with so many objectives, that’s often difficult.

FOOTPRINT: The garden can sprawl out a bit, so you need at least a medium sized table for this one.  I should also mention that there’s a giant version of the game out there, and that of course will take up even more room.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  I like Takenoko a lot.  It’s a beautiful game, it has broad appeal, and is a very good gateway game to teach people who maybe aren’t familiar with the hobby.

Thanks for reading!

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