Antoine Bauza has provided table top gaming fans a lot of enjoyment over the years. Probably his best known hit, and a personal favorite of mine, is 7 Wonders, which is artistic, strategic, and enjoyable by many ages and gamer types. Over the last few months, there's been a lot of buzz about two oriental themed games he has been working on, Tokaido and Takenoko. While we're looking forward to playing Tokaido soon, today we have the garden growing, bamboo eating romp called Takenoko for your pleasure!
I am personally always concerned "the next game" from Antoine will be a bit of a letdown, as almost all his games are simple, fun, and highly addicting. I'm happy to say, that is not the case here, and Takenoko delivers on all levels of gaming goodness! The simple premise of Takenoko is that there is a Garden, a Gardener, and a Panda. As all players build out the Garden, anyone can use the Gardener or the Panda to Grow and Eat Bamboo to achieve objectives from cards they will have in the game. When a certain number of achievements are met, the last round commences, and points are tallied up.
Simple right? Well that's where Antoine's designs usually shine, in making the simple extraordinary. More after the video, but for now, let's jump into the garden and get to growing!
Whatever you do, don't let the light, colorful, childlike facade of Takenko fool you! Like that cure, cuddly little Panda you see at the Zoo eating bamboo, this game is ready to pounce and make an impact if you give it a chance!
First, you should know this is for 2-4 players and is recommended for ages 13 and up. We have had no issues playing with NinjaZach who is 7, and this is truly something I can see as both a gaming fan's game and a family gamer's game. The box says it plays in about 45 minutes, but we've found most games take about 60 if playing with 4 people, which isn't a problem, as you'll be having so much fun, time won't matter much, other than when you're running out of it!
To start the game, each player is given a player board (pictured right), and two matching action tokens (as seen in the center row of the board). In addition, they’ll be given one of each type of Achievement Card, a Growing Card, a Land Plot Card, and an Eating Card. According to the rules, the tallest player goes first, which is great for me in my household and gaming group!
Finally, the Island Hexagon Land Plot is placed in the center of the board and the Gardener and the Panda both go on it. This is the first hard concept to manage through, possibly with younger players. No one owns or controls the land, gardener or panda. Instead, they are all communal and each player places land, moves the gardener and the panda on their turn, to place land, grow bamboo, and eat bamboo to complete the goals on their objective cards for points.
The top row of the player board is a reference to the different side of the main die in the game. During the first round, no one uses this, but after each player has taken a turn, the first phase of each player's turn moving forward will be to roll the dice.
The die provide different in game affects, like taking a 3rd action, growing more bamboo, eating more, and upgrading land plots. It's random enough to be enjoyable without making a constant random impact in deciding the game every time and is a nice design.
The second row is your action row. Each turn you can take two actions, consisting of:
Underneath those on the lower left, is a place to store the bamboo shoots that the Panda eats when you move him on your turn. These are turned in when completing the objective of a Panda Card. To its right are two more rows, one to store Irrigation Channels and one to Store Land Plot Upgrades.
Some Land Plots have natural upgrades (Bamboo Shelters which prevent the Panda from eating any bamboo on it, Fertilizer which allows two shoots of bamboo to be grown on that land, and Irrigated Land, which as you may imagine, means that the Land Plot is automatically Irrigated and doesn't need a Channel) however you can not add an upgrade to a Land Plot that already has an upgrade on it. Minor but notable.
Achievements are how you will score points in the game. Once a player has met the game's threshold for successful achievements (based on the number of players in the game and scales well) then they take the Emporer card, which gives them a 2 point bonus, and the last round begins. Each player can finish one more turn, and then all successful achievements are added up for each player and the highest score wins.
The strategy comes in play in three main ways. First, there is laying down tiles. This sounds simple, but it can become quite challenging. The Land Plot cards will have achievements for having a specific number and color of Land Plots on the board, and Irrigated, along with the right configuration placement. As you can imagine, this can be simple and complex, as if someone places something right in the middle of your well laid plans, it's back to the drawing board, or gardening shed with you!
Additionally, the Panda and the Gardener, while capable of moving as many spaces as the player wants to when choosing their movement as an action, can only move in a straight line! Since all the Land Plots are hexagons, this can cause some placement fun and placement challenges!
When the Gardener moves and stops, he grows a piece of bamboo on the Land Plot he stopped on, provided it is irrigated, as well as all adjacent plots of the same color, providing they are Irrigated as well. There are four ways to irrigate a Land Plot. Land Plots are Irrigated if they are connected directly to the Island Plot in the middle, if they have an Irrigation Channel on an adjacent side that goes back to the Island through s series of connections, if the Land Plot has the Irrigation upgrade symbol printed on it naturally, or if you add an Irrigation upgrade tile to the plot as well.
Irrigation is key in the game, both for achieving land placement objective cards, but for ensuring your placed land can grow Bamboo. It may sound complex, but it's quite simple after a gameplay or two. Place land, move gardener to grow and move panda to eat. The challenging parts are when someone else takes their turn, eats the bamboo you needed to grow, or eat, or completely blocks your land placement objective and forces you to shift strategy!
Finally, Bamboo cannot grow taller than 4 shoots high. This too may sound simple, but as you can see by the board to the right, it can become very challenging to keep track of multiple shoots of bamboo that all need to be at a certain height for you to achieve your growth objective cards, while ensuring that pesky, cute, cuddly panda isn't eating them all!
Takenoko fires and hits on every level. It's beautiful artwork, components and unique gameplay design shine and make it an instant eye catcher of a game. Not to stand on beauty alone though, Antoine Bauza has delivered another simple game engine that provides a vast amount of options, replay, and cunning strategy, which at times, can even be very cutthroat! During one of our gameplay sessions, an opponent said to me, "You know, for a cute game, this thing is quite devilish!" I couldn't have said it better myself!
Takenoko is a Crit of a game! If there is anything to be panda sad faced about, honestly it's hard to find. Other than maybe being so cute it could get looked over, Takenoko provides a great amount of fun for all ages and all gamer types. Part of me could even see this being rebranded with a science fiction theme where you are building alien buildings while an enemy ship is shooting them down, but for the moment, Pandas and Gardeners will do!
If you are looking for something colorful, strategic, family oriented, that has deep replay value, or just looking for something downright fun to play with about anyone you know, Takenoko is something I'd highly recommend! Also, I have had many folks ask me "What game would you recommend for me to get my girlfriend/wife into gaming with me?" This is it, look no further! It's light enough they'll enjoy it without thinking they are stuck in the Mines of Moiria but it's strategic enough to introduce them to a hobby we all love!
Finally, Takenoko is once again a work of art by Antoine. He has combined the culture of ancient Japan and the playful nature of a cute animal with the mundane task of growing plants and turned it into a playable work of art for all to enjoy! Tokaido is right around the corner, but with Takenoko readily available, we have another Crit of a game from an inspiring designer that almost any gamer could not help but fall in love with!
Final Score: (Crit, Hit or Miss):
Crits Happen was supplied a copy of Takenoko to produce this review by our Friendly Local Game Store, Dragon's Lair! Check them out at http://www.dlair.net