What is Takenoko?
UPDATE: Thanks to Antoine Bauza, the creator of Takenoko himself, for retweeting and ‘favourite-ing’ this review. Wow!
From the box onwards, everything about Takenoko is different from any games I’ve previously played.
I’d been debating for some time what game should be next on my list to invest in, and this game kept coming up as a great one for two players.
The theme of the game is certainly different – players are tending and extending a Japanese garden which is home to a giant panda and a gardener.
The panda eats bamboo, the gardener grows bamboo. Doing so allows players to complete various goals.
The game is designed by Frenchman Antoine Bauza, creator of 7 Wonders, Ghost Stories and Rampage (among others) who has a big reputation in the world of board games.
Players start the game with their own small beautifully designed ‘board’, which allows them to stockpile various items through the game, select what actions they will take each move, and remind them of options available to them.
‘Beautifully designed’ will be a common theme in this review. Everything about this game screams quality, and attention to detail.
Each turn players can perform two actions which are chosen in advance (no changing minds halfway through a go!). They may draw a garden tile and add it to the board, draw a goal card which will allow them to meet certain criteria in order to complete them, take an irrigation piece, move the giant panda, or move the gardener.
Garden tiles must ultimately be irrigated in order for bamboo to grow on them. The panda eats bamboo, and the gardener grows it.
Players’ goals fall into three categories – garden tiles must be placed in a particular pattern, combinations of different height and different colour bamboo must be grown by the gardener, and combinations of bamboo must be eaten by the panda.
Once these goals are complete, players keep the goal card to one side. Upon completion of nine goal cards by a player, the last round is triggered. Each goal card is worth points (some are more difficult to complete than others) and the player with the highest points wins the game.
Bamboo will not grow on garden tiles unless they have been irrigated. This will be done automatically if the tiles are placed around the starting pond tile, but tiles further away must receive irrigation through the blue wooden irrigation pieces.
This adds an interesting extra dimension to the game, as does the weather dice. Each turn the dice is rolled, and each side features a weather condition which can have an interesting effect on the game – they may scare the panda onto another tile of the player’s choice, for instance. There are also improvement tokens which allow players to immediately irrigate a garden tile, or fortify it and stop a panda eating any bamboo growing there.
Each of these means there is a surprising amount of strategy and forward planning involved. It might be tempting simply to choose to move the panda or gardener around each turn, but actually collecting irrigation pieces might be the better option as that last goal which could win you the game may need an irrigated garden tile.
Speaking of which, the tiles are gorgeous. There are three colours, pink, green and yellow, and it’s tempting to just draw them and place them as fast as possible. But it’s worth taking time to look at them properly, each one features some stunning artwork.
But is it good for two players?
Well so far I have only played it as a two-player game. And I loved it.
There is plenty to do during the game, there isn’t much downtime as there’s always a goal card to plan for or strategy to think up.
The board is constantly evolving thanks to the expanding garden you are building and the colourful bamboo you are growing, and moving the gardener and panda pieces gives a real sense of satisfaction.
I would highly recommend this game, and on the strength of it I’ve been researching a few other games designed by Antoine Bauza. If his others are this well-executed and simply unusual, he’s definitely going to remain a firm favourite.
Watch Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop play through a game here.
Check out the game’s official page here.