Meet Takenoko.

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So, what’s the deal with Takenoko?

The Chinese emperor has gifted a giant panda to the Japanese emperor as a symbol of peace and the Japanese emperor has entrusted the care of the panda to his royal gardener. Unfortunately, this giant panda wants nothing more than to eat all of the gardener’s carefully cultivated bamboo! Manage the growth of the royal garden and care for the panda to be successful in Takenoko.

What makes Takenoko special?

Well, the game is SUPER CUTE. I find it absolutely delightful to play with the tiny panda and gardener figurines and to use the exquisite wooden bamboo pieces to build stalks of bamboo on the map. It’s really easy to want to give the game a try because it’s clearly fun to play with. Fortunately, the game is also a great design that is a lot of fun to play.

Alright, so what’s the gameplay like?

The game starts with the panda and gardener standing on the lake, the only tile on the board at the start of the game. During the game, the players expand the garden, irrigate water from the pond to other tiles, grow bamboo, and feed the panda in order to complete task cards.

There are three types of task cards, and each player starts with one of each. Task cards instruct the player to build the garden in a certain pattern, grow bamboo to specific heights, or feed the panda certain colors of bamboo.

On a player’s turn, they first roll the weather die (except on the first turn), which gives a special benefit to the player for the turn. The player then takes two different actions out of five choices:

  • Cultivate land – Draw the top three tiles from the face-down stack of garden tiles, choose one, and add it to the garden. If the new tile has water, it grows bamboo!
  • Irrigate – Take an irrigation piece and either add it to the board immediately or save it for later. Irrigation delivers water from the pond to tiles that are not adjacent to the pond. A tile must have water for bamboo to grow!
  • Grow bamboo – Move the gardener in a straight line as far as you like. The tile on which the gardener stops and all adjacent tiles of the same color all grow bamboo as long as they are watered.
  • Feed the panda – Move the panda in a straight line as far as you like. He eats one piece of bamboo from the tile on which he lands!
  • Get a new task – Choose one of the task decks and draw the top card. You can never have more than 5 tasks at once, so make sure to complete tasks to make room in your hand.

Players each have a personal board to track their action choices and to keep game pieces they have earned, like irrigation pieces or eaten bamboo.

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When a task is complete, the player reveals the task and removes it from his or her hand to score the points printed for the task. The game ends after one player completes a certain number of tasks. After everyone gets one last turn, whoever has the highest score wins!

I think I get it. Who do you recommend this game to?

Takenoko is certainly lighthearted but really chases that fun factor of playing with charming little pieces on beautifully illustrated boards. It’s hard not to develop an affinity for the pudgy little panda and his frustrated gardener caretaker. However, there’s still a lot of opportunity for strategizing and for interfering with your competitors in the game. It’s important to plan ahead to try and complete your task cards as fast as possible.

Because tasks are distributed fairly randomly and they are all worth different points, there is a luck element that can be unsatisfying – if you end up drawing only 2 and 3 point tasks, it’s hard to be competitive. In fact, that’s Knight Moves owner Devon’s biggest grip with Takenoko. For me, it’s easy enough to overlook in favor of the joyful feeling I get while playing the game.

Takenoko could be a great introduction to strategy games as well. It’s not quite as straightforward as something like Ticket to Ride (one of my favorite games and one I’ll sure write and introduction to in the future), but options and winning strategies are not as obtuse as they are in some strategy games, and the game’s art and components offset any added complexity and rules explanation by getting an early buy-in from anyone who wants to play with a tiny panda figurine – which I can only assume is pretty much everyone.

To Summarize:
Players: 2-4
Time: 45 minutes
Strategy: 3
Luck: 3
Complexity: 3
Game Elements: Planning, Pattern Building, Optimizing Opportunities

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