A giant panda. The Japanese royal gardens. Fickle weather. A frantic gardener.
These are the elements of Asmodee’s Takenoko. Any of these elements can earn you the points you need to win, but your opponents have their own objectives and those are quite likely to be at odds with your objectives.
As the story goes, the emperor of Japan has been gifted a rare panda by the emperor of China. The creature is ravenous, and its favorite food is bamboo. The gardener’s job is to keep the bamboo growing so that the giant panda will remain happy. Fortunately the bamboo grows fast. Unfortunately the panda is very hungry.
Takenoko is a strategic board game in which the board is created over the course of the game. In order to grow bamboo, players need to place garden plots. These plots must be properly irrigated in order to grow the bamboo. There are also other improvements that can be made to the plots.
There are a lot of pieces to this game. There are objective cards, garden plots, irrigation trenches, improvement tiles, bamboo sections (in three different colors), action chips, and a die for determining the weather. To their credit the game designers took their time to introduce you to the pieces with a very colorful and very helpful book of instructions. Takenoko does take a bit more time to learn and set up than many other Major Fun games, but I know you will find the game worth it.
On your turn you must roll the weather die and take 2 actions. I’ll come back to the die in a moment but the weather gives you something special you can do on your turn. For your 2 actions, you have 5 choices. You must take 2 different actions. Your choices are: place a garden tile (a place you can grow bamboo), take an irrigation ditch to be used when you need it, send the gardener to grow some bamboo on an irrigated garden plot, send the panda to eat a piece of bamboo, AND FINALLY, draw an objective card. The objective cards are how you earn points. If you can get the garden to meet the requirements of your objective, you earn those points. In a four-person match, when someone finishes their seventh objective, there is one more round and then everyone tallies their points.
The weather die gives the player a unique bonus. There are five bonuses and a wild (player’s choice): take a third action, grow one section of bamboo anywhere, move the panda anywhere, take the same action twice (usually you must take 2 different actions), or take an improvement token.
What you choose depends entirely on what your objectives are. The more difficult the objective, the more points it is worth. And many objectives work against each other. There is a lot going on in the game but the design of the instructions and the materials is so meticulous that once you start playing, you won’t need the rules. Each player has a mat on which he or she keeps track of the action. The mat serves as a miniature set of instructions so each player knows what to do next.
I really appreciated the weather die. This is one of the few random elements of the game, but there are no harmful results. You might WANT a third action but any result on the weather die is to your benefit. You aren’t worrying about good luck or bad luck, rather you have to decide how best to use your good fortune.
The game is beautiful. The pieces are colorful and wonderfully detailed. The gardener and the panda are represented by cute figurines while the garden tiles effectively create the illusion of a manicured garden on your table top. Enjoy the short comic strip on the front of the rule book and then appreciate the care taken in describing and illustrating the rules.
Then dive into the strategy of maintaining an emperor’s garden in the presence of a voracious panda.
For 2 – 4 players, ages 13+
Takenoko was designed by Antoine Bauza and © 2011 by Bombyx and Matagot. Provided for our enjoyment by the good folks at Asmodee.