Dec 25, 2013

[Games] Takenoko

In the post Kung Fu Panda era, it has become more commonly accepted that pandas are indeed cute. Whether it's because of the interesting interplay between the colors black and white or the general theory that chubby animals are automatically cute, pandas kinda rock. And a board game with a panda as part of the central mechanic can be pretty darned adorable.

We picked up Takenoko primarily because it looked like a heck of a lot of fun when they played it on Wil Wheaton's Tabletop. Tobie and I are pretty keen on games that involve a fair amount of strategic thinking and creative ways to score points for victory. And Takenoko manages to capture this experience wonderfully in one adorable package.

Synopsis: Takenoko is a board game designed by Antoine Bauza. The story goes  that the Japanese emperor once received a panda as a gift from the Chinese emperor as a symbol of peace between their peoples. The Japanese emperor was so proud of this special gift and he released the panda into his Imperial gardens. And given the garden is filled with bamboo, the gardeners now need to find  a way to maintain the garden despite the panda's voracious appetite.

In the game, each player is allowed 2 different actions per turn. You can draw 3 tiles from the deck and play one of them onto the play field. You can take an irrigation tile from the resource bank and either keep it or play it on the board. You can move the gardener (and thus cause bamboo to grow). You can move the panda (and eat bamboo) or you can draw one of three different card types.

Each card determines ways you can score in the game. Panda cards require you to consume a set number of bamboo shoots based on color in order to score the card. Gardener cards can be scored by growing certain configurations of bamboo. And Emperor cards allow you to score based on the configuration of the tiles themselves, again based on color.

The different elements of the game come together for one heck of a strategic challenge. The game ends when someone scores at least 9 objective cards and thus it's a question of making sure that your 9 cards are relatively high-scoring cards, but at the same time you don't want to be caught with too few cards as you try to score higher than the others. Plus tiles only really have value in terms of objective points and growing bamboo unless they're properly irrigated. So you can imagine various irrigation tiles snaking across the board.

The game changes with the number of players and everyone trying to advance their respective objectives. A player with too many gardener-related objective will eventually become frustrated by an aggressive panda player. A person focused on laying tiles for the Emperor may end up helping a gardener-focused player advance his own growth efforts.

Plus there's the element of the weather die that everyone rolls on their turn which can grant a bonus action for the player. You can get extra actions, you can scare the panda or you can draw a special improvement tile that can enhance existing tiles on the board. There are three types of enhancements - irrigation allows a tile to be considered irrigated even without the prerequisite water channels. The fence blocks the panda from eating any bamboo there. And the fertilizer provides one additional bamboo every time they grow.

Tobie and I have only played a few rounds of Takenoko thus far and we already love the game to bits. I perfectly understand why Wil Wheaton has been raving about the game pretty much all year. I can foresee this being a nasty additional to our regular game nights. Given we already have tricky games like Settlers of Catan and Citadels already being crowd favorites, I can foresee this cute little game end a few friendships as well. And that has the makings of a very great game experience indeed.

Takenoko is one of those "victory points" driven games that is sure to delight competitive strategy game players everywhere. Plus the panda is pretty darned cute. The game rates a 5 out of 5 - especially since it has a really awesome box design that factors in ease of storage!

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