Don’t you love when someone gives you a gift that actually ends up becoming a chore? Remember when your parents got you a pet? You had to clean up after it, take it for walks, clean it, and feed it? Yeah, that doggy in the window was adorable before you came to the realization that you are cleaning up another living thing’s poo and that your place on the food chain has been all screwed up.
Takenoko tells this tale in a more regal fashion. A long time ago, the Chinese Emperor offered a giant panda bear as a symbol of peace to the Japanese Emperor. The Japanese Emperor passed the challenging chore of caring for the animal to the players. By tending to the bamboo garden, players will keep the feeding and growing circle in motion in hopes of satisfying the insatiable panda’s hunger.
The gameplay, simply put, is wonderful. I have no idea how to categorize it. Just when it starts to feel like a worker placement game, you get taken back into its elegantly simple gameplay. At times it even feels like a pickup and deliver game with Ticket to Ride elements—again the game’s charm kicks in and brings you back to a simpler reality. If it had to be labelled, you might call it an innovative roll-and-move game with objectives—maybe?
2–4 players take turns performing 2 different actions (of 5 possible). Actions allow you to draw and place plot tiles to expand the garden, collect irrigation channel pieces that can be used to irrigate areas of the garden, move the gardener (which causes bamboo to grow on the plot he lands on and the surrounding irrigated plots of the same color), move the panda (which then eats 1 piece of bamboo from the plot he lands on), and finally draw more objective cards. Your motivation for choosing actions are either to spoil what other players might be doing or set yourself up to score objective cards.
Objectives are separated into 3 types; panda, gardener, and plots. A few example objectives might be: score X points if the panda eats a pink, yellow, and green bamboo; score X points if the gardner has grown 3 sets of yellow bamboo 4 pieces high; or score X points if there are 4 pink plots on the board in a diamond orientation. Once X amount of objectives are fulfilled (depending on the number of players) the last round is triggered and the game is over. The winner is the player with the most points—but really the winner is the panda, a well-fed and taken care of panda by the end.
One nice random element in Takenoko is the weather condition die. After the first round, players roll the die at the start of their turn to determine the weather condition. Sun, Rain, Wind, Storm, and Cloud conditions each add a nice twist to each turn and adds a little flavor to the experience.
The components are nice. The little figurines for the panda and gardener are fun, but the gardener is a little flimsy and pulling him out of his place in the box might cause some damage if you don’t pay close attention. The plot tiles are nice, thick cardboard with beautiful coloring that gives the game a peaceful garden feel. The bamboo pieces are pretty cool, some pieces are a little rough around the edges visually but they serve their purpose. At times, a little nudge on the table might knock over a few stacks of bamboo if they are stacked higher than 2, but once you are conscious of it, the gameplay isn’t hindered by it.
Takenoko is really a great game. Its just the right amount of complexity to teach to new players and hold the interest of seasoned gamers. The theme is beautiful and fun; the artwork and construction is of a good quality. I’d like to see this game grow into the common shelf space usually reserved for mass market games like Monopoly, Sorry!, Life, and even Ticket to Ride.