It’s nice to own pets despite the responsibilities. You have to clean up after them, take them for walks, and feed them. Still, you love the adoration your pet gives you. You will do anything to make sure your pet lives a happy life. As for Takenoko, these ‘chores' level up into greater proportions.
In ancient times, the Chinese emperor offered a giant panda as a symbol of peace to the Japanese Emperor. The Japanese emperor assigned his court members (the players) to take care of this sacred animal by helping grow bamboo shoots for the panda to eat.
The players will have to cultivate land plots and irrigate them to make bamboo grow. Much to the chagrin of the players and royal gardener, the panda has immoderate hunger strikes and will chomp on random bamboo it finds. The player who manages the plots best, grows the most bamboo while feeding the panda, wins the game.
- 28 plots. Plots come in 3 colors: green, yellow, and pink. These are beautifully crafted hexagon plots that will represent the land to where bamboo will grow. Plots need to be irrigated, especially if they are not beside the pond. Other plots have water sources on their own. Some plots contain special "improvements" to which players will have to follow. Example, if a plot has a 'No Eating Panda' improvement symbol, then the panda cannot eat bamboo from that plot.
- Bamboo sections. Consists of 36 green bamboo sections, 30 yellow bamboo sections, and 24 pink bamboo sections. These bamboo stalks are well made. They are sturdy and functional to stack onto each other. These stalks cleverly accentuate the esthetic value of the game.
- 20 irrigation channels. These blue strips symbolize channels to where water will flow through and irrigate far-reaching land plots. The pond is the only source for water irrigation.
- 46 objective cards. These are small, colorful cards that will be the basis of all players’ moves. Players will need to meet each objective and earn points via plot, panda and gardener objective cards.
- 4 individual boards. These boards provide easy and graphic representation on all of Takenoko’s rules so players wouldn’t get lost on what to do next. These also become storage areas for bamboo stalks the panda eats, for irrigation channels, and for improvement chips.
- 8 Action Chips. These are used together with the boards. These chips serve as markers for each player’s actions.
- 8 Action/Improvement chips. These are special chips that can be placed on plots to help facilitate the growth of bamboo.
- 1 panda and 1 gardener figures.
- 1 weather die. This die comprise of different weather effects.
- 1 rule booklet. A very colorful and easy to understand rulebook.
Except for the first round, each player takes their turn rolling the weather die, applying that weather’s effect.
- If you roll a sun, you get 3 action moves. By default, you do 2 different actions.
- If you roll the rain, you get to grow a bamboo stalk on any 1 plot.
- If you draw a wind, you can do the same action twice.
- If you draw the cloud, you can collect an improvement chip.
- If you draw a lightning, the panda is scared. He can go to any plot and eat a bamboo stalk (if any).
- If you draw a question mark, you can choose the weather you like.
After rolling the weather die, a player will choose 2 from 5 primary actions. You cannot perform the same action twice unless you rolled wind from the weather die.
The 5 primary actions are the following:
- Expand the map. Look at the top 3 plot tiles from the plot stack. Choose one plot, place it on the map, then return the remaining plot tiles at the bottom of the plot stack.
- Take an irrigation channel. A player can collect and use irrigation channels to make plots, that are far from the pond, irrigated.
- Move the Panda. When moving the panda, it can go to a plot as far is it can go as long is it moves on a straight line. If the panda lands on a plot with bamboo, the panda eats one bamboo stalk. This bamboo stalk goes to the panda stomach reservoir found on the individual board.
- Move the Gardener. Similar to the panda, the gardener can to a plot as far as he can go as long as he moves in a straight line. Wherever irrigated plot he lands on, he grows a bamboo stalk. If the plot has similar colored adjacent plot tiles next to it, those plots also grow a bamboo stalk.
- Take an objective card. You can have a maximum of 5 objective cards on hand.
Objective cards enlist players to make the panda eat a specific number and type of bamboo, make exact plot formations, or have exact bamboo type formations.
Gameplay ends when a player reaches a predetermined number of objective cards collected.
To win the game, you have to be the player with the most points.
I have to admit that the cuteness of this board game was the first thing that called my attention. This game is truly thematic. Tension arises between gardener and panda as can be seen in the rulebook. That tension is able to manifest itself to actual gameplay when the panda eats the bamboo you work so hard to grow.
Quality of Artwork and Components:
This game is gorgeous. Colors and art are vibrant and superb. Despite the size of the panda and gardener figures, they are pretty well detailed. The bamboo pieces are also good and stack well onto each other. The game box has made it easy to organize all components of the game.
It has an easy learning curve:
Takenoko’s rule book is so well made you will be able to play like a pro in no time. It's almost like reading a short graphic novel about a strict gardener and a rambunctious panda.
This is a light game:
This game is suitable for family and non-gamers. It is also applicable for gamers, who wants a ‘chill’ kind of game without too much analyzation needed. There is a certain level of decision-making to be done at every turn, but don’t expect to do so much thinking to arrive at a point of analysis paralysis.
Don’t be deceived by the cuteness of the game for there is a ton of strategy to consider while playing. Having 3 different objective cards on hand to help score points affects the way the game can be played out since not all players will go complete the same objectives as you.
If you have a gardener card, you may need to grow several bamboos in a cluster of plots. The panda objectives cards encourage another player to eat said bamboo. These conflicting objectives can set players back a bit if they end up fighting over 1 specific area.
A bit of randomness goes through the game:
Players are limited to what objective cards they have on hand. Any planned strategy may take the curb if a player is forced to focus on another strategy or risk not scoring anything.
The weather die introduces element of randomness into the game, but it doesn’t affect players actions too much that it will destroy any plans.
Takenoko is a short and sweet game for 2-4 players. It is a good gateway game for non-gamers. Its beautiful components, simple rules and short play time make it an enjoyable game for any people in the gaming spectrum. It’s quite a relaxing game, lovely to look at and is a great social game for people who aren’t used to heavier board game fare.