Do you like panda’s? Of course you do they’re adorable. Do you like bamboo? Who doesn’t like bamboo am I right? Ever wanted to grow bamboo and care for a panda? If you answered yes to these questions then have we got just the game for you.
Okay, that wasn’t exactly the most enthralling introduction for this review, but essentially that’s the best way to describe Takenoko.
In Takenoko you take the role of a court member of the Japanese emperor and are tasked with cultivating land and growing bamboo with the help of imperial gardener. But it’s not quite that simple as you need to grow enough bamboo to satisfy criteria to win the game, and enough to keep the emperor’s panda happy.
First thing to note though is how charming the game looks. It’s age range is for players of 13 years and older. And I’d agree with that as while the game looks bright and colourful and could certainly capture the imagination of younger players, especially with the gardener and panda figures. There is an element of strategic play involved that could be missed by the younger player (heck I missed a trick on a few rounds myself embarrassingly enough).
The game is played on an ever increasing in size area made up of beautifully illustrated and brightly coloured hexagon tiles. They come in 3 colours which means only certain colour bamboo can be grown on the corresponding coloured hex. The hex tiles are essentially the areas of the garden, but before you can move the gardener to these gardens to start growing bamboo you need to ensure that the garden is irrigated by canal pieces that you need to lay down from the centre starting hex.
Each player is given one type of category card (plot, gardener and panda). On each turn the player firstly has to roll the weather dice to determine what weather effect is taking place during their turn. Each effect gifts a different advantage to the player during their turn. For example if the player rolls and the sun effect is in play that player gains an additional action. Players only have 2 actions per round so this 3rd bonus action is often very welcome addition. You do not have to use your gifted weather effect though, it’s there should you choose to take advantage of it.
With the weather decided for their turn, the player now has 2 actions to use (or 3 depending what weather is in play). There are 5 options available that the user can make, but each action the player uses must be different. The actions the player can choose from are laying a piece of land down, placing an irrigation channel down, moving the gardener to a garden which results in growing bamboo, moving the panda to a garden which results in eating / collecting bamboo or picking up a category card which when you complete gives you points.
The category cards discussed above are like objective cards. They’ll have a goal on them such as grow one bamboo 4 pieces high on green land. If successful this means you get 3 points (for example). Once a player has completed 7 category cards the game is over. The player with the most points tallied up from the category cards wins the game.
This is where the strategic element comes into the game and where it could perhaps fly over the head of younger players. While there are only 2 turns to take per player, you’ll need to think if you can clear two tasks at once or play towards completing as many tasks as you can quickly. You can lock down gardens with bonus tokens which means bamboo can’t be eaten from a specific garden, or that you can use a different bonus token that means bamboo can grow double the size which again can cause issues for players if they only want a bamboo shoot to be 3 pieces high but you make it shoot to 4 pieces by using the double grow token.
Takenoko is a very entertaining game, that did stir some laughs from players mainly at my stupidity when playing as there were occasions I really botched turns up. This is no fault to the rules that are presented in a beautiful comic book style. It’s more my incompetence at bamboo growing. The game does have a bit of a steep learning curve as to how the canals are placed, the use of bonus tokens, remembering to place bamboo on cultivated land and such. But once it’s all noted and remembered the game ticks by at a nice pace and can result in a different experience each time you play it as you lay your garden tiles down in different formations each time.
A charming fun game, with detailed pieces, beautifully illustrated player cards and rule-book.