Review: Takenoko

Takenoko Box Art
Box Art

I have been meaning to pick up a copy of Takenoko for a while now. Recently I just happened to find myself going for work related training at a venue close to a gaming store that had a copy, among other games that I wanted. After much umming and ahhing I decided to get it. The next day the kids and I played 4 games back to back, and then we played on the following day too!

Best impulse buy I have made in a long time.

Takenoko is set in feudal Japan.  After a series of negotiations the emperor of China made a gift of peace to the emperor of Japan. A baby Panda. Not wanting to offend the Chinese emperor, the Panda was placed into the care of the imperial advisors (the players) and set free to roam the royal gardens. Much to the dismay of the royal gardener.

The players need to keep the panda happy, by keeping it well fed. While bossing around the poor gardener to landscape the gardens and grow a variety of bamboo. Accomplishing these tasks will net the players Victory Points and the person with the highest at the end of the game wins.

Takenoko is made by Asmodee and has won the GoldenGeek award for Best Art and Presentation in 2012 from BoardgameGeek.

For the TL;DR review click here.

Opening the Box

The specs on the box:

  • 2-4 players
  • Ages 8+ (can work with 6-7 depending)
  • 45 min

The box contains 28 map tiles and 9 cardboard improvement tokens that need punching out. A note on this, not all of them were punched all the way through. This meant that I had to give them a bit of a twist to punch them out and in one case it was really bad and some of the printed sticker peeled off. It’s not the end of the world, some tape around the corners of the tiles and no-one will ever know. It makes very little impact to the gameplay especially since it was on the back.

Takenoko Damaged tile
Next time I’ll use a Stanley knife…

There are also 4 player sheets, 20 wooden irrigation markers, a weather die, 46 objective cards, 3 packets of different colours of bamboo shoots, 8 player action markers and 2 really cute plastic figurines, the panda and the gardener.

For some reason I received 2 rule books in my box.

Everything fits very nicely into the box with slots & Ziploc bags for everything. This means setup and pack up times are really quick.

Takenoko Box Content
Box Content

Theme

The theme is really cute, the rule book(s) even start with a small, humorous, comic strip. The plastic figures are very well done. I had to pack them away very quickly when the younger nieces came to visit as they wanted to just play with them.

The map tiles have some very nice art on them and the wooden bamboo pieces are shaped and painted to look like they have leaves on them. Even the weather die is a nice size chunk of wood with easy to read paintings on it.

As the game progresses you do get a sense of a growing garden, a hungry panda (we make eating noises for the panda. The kids are split on what to name him though) and an over worked gardener. However, you don’t really get a feeling that you’re doing this for the Emperor. It’s just fun, light and a race to get points first.

Takenoko Panda and Gardener
Panda and Gardener

Gameplay

The rules are very easy to understand. It took me less than 10 min to explain to my kids Samara (11) and Ronin (8). The player cards are nicely detailed and have the turn laid out with easy to understand images. In fact, there is no writing on any of the game pieces, it’s just images and numbers. So it’s very kid friendly and I think it can be taught to younger kids.

Each turn the players can select 2 of 5 actions:

  • Draw 3 map tiles and use 1 of them to extend the garden.
  • Move the panda to a map tile where he could eat some bamboo.
  • Move the gardener to a map tile where he can grow bamboo.
  • Irrigate some of the new tiles from the centre pond (plants need water before they can grow).
  • Draw an Objective card.
Takenoko Objective Cards
Objective Cards

The Objective cards are the key, each will have a task for you to accomplish in order for you to claim that card and it’s Victory Points (VP). There are 3 types of cards:

  • Panda cards which require you to have the panda eat certain colours and amounts of bamboo.
  • Gardener cards will need you to have a number of shoots of bamboo grown to a specific height on the board.
  • The last type is landscaping cards which need to have formations of map tiles to be laid out in a shape and irrigated with water in order to be claimed.

From turn 2 onwards each player rolls the weather die to determine the weather on their turn. This can have an impact on how you play for the round.

If it’s sunny then the gardener can do more and you get an extra action for that turn. If there’s lightening then the panda gets scared and can be moved for free. Wind allows the you to perform the same action twice in your turn, which you cannot normally do. Rain makes any 1 irrigated tile grow some bamboo, and on a cloudy day the gardener would rather build something and you can grab an improvment token to build a water shed or an anti-panda fence on a tile. There’s also a “?” side which allows you to select the weather that you would like for the turn.

The first person to claim 7 Objective cards gets 2 bonus VP from the Emperor as praise for doing so much in his garden. Everyone then gets 1 last turn before totalling up their VP to find the winner.

Conclusion

Takenoko is a lot of fun, and easy to grasp. It’s a great family game, and a very good gateway game for people who don’t really count themselves as gamers. There’s a lot of depth for more avid gamers too. During each game I discovered a new tactic or strategy to play.

Takenoko Board
What it can look like in play.

You can play aggressively if you want to, deliberately placing map tiles in a way that you think will spoil other players plans or moving the panda to locations that you think they won’t be able to accomplish their objectives from. You could also play off of them let them setup the board in a way for you to capitalise on. Being sneaky behind a veneer of cute. Takenono does not lend itself to this though as every ones objectives are kept secret until they claim it, but you can try if that’s what you want to do or you’re good at reading your opponents.

I can see myself playing many more games of Takenoko, and teaching it to the cousins and uncles and aunties too.

Can I play this at a braai?

Yes and no. At a braai sure, as I already mentioned it’s very easy to setup and pack away, and you can play it out of the box by keeping the bamboo and other tokens in the box. The game can also be played in under 45min but it’s not a filler game. I’d think twice about taking it to a restaurant. The organic way in which the board grows means that it won’t do well on small square tables we find in most places and the board may have to be moved around to accommodate it, which is effort that I would rather avoid.

 

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