This week we’re taking a look at panda-themed board game Takenoko. This is a lightweight game for 2 to 4 players. It is the players’ job to cultivate a bamboo garden for the emperor’s prized panda. With quality components, adorable visuals and straightforward mechanics, I’ve yet to meet anyone who didn’t enjoy a game of Takenoko.
How does is it work?
Takenoko is easy to teach, as there are only a handful of actions a player can take, and generally, they can only do two of these actions per turn. The goal of the game is to earn the most points by completing objectives. These objectives fall into three categories: tile layouts, feeding the panda, and growing bamboo.
One of your available actions is laying down tiles to expand the garden. All players share the same garden, so placing a certain tile may help you complete one of your objectives while simultaneously ruining the layout an opponent was working towards. Irrigating a tile causes bamboo of the tile’s colour (green, yellow or pink) to grow on that tile, as does moving the gardener to that tile. Growing certain colours of bamboo to specific heights is a relatively easy objective to fulfill, but it can also be accidentally sabotaged by other players.
Players can also move the panda around. When he reaches a tile that has bamboo on it, he’ll eat one piece of bamboo, which is collected by the player that moved him. A player will collect these pieces of bamboo until they complete one of their objectives. There are several tokens you can place onto the board to help you complete objectives, or perhaps interfere with someone else’s plan.
There are a few additional rules about how the panda and gardener pieces can move, how tiles get irrigated, weather conditions, and other minor actions the player can take. Overall the game is quite simple, but as I’ve already mentioned, your opponents will likely do things on their turns that may complicate things for you. Or they may unwittingly help you complete an objective. The game ends when a player completes a certain number of objectives, dependent on the number of players.
This fun and light-hearted game generally takes less than an hour to play, and is very easy to set up and pack away. The tiles and cards are sturdy and high quality, as are the other game pieces. The wooden bamboo pieces that you stack onto the board add a lot of dimension to the board as the garden grows. The beautiful panda and gardener pieces are especially noteworthy, as they have a surprising amount of detail given their size.
There’s no text on any of the cards or boards, so you may need to refer back to the manual to check what a symbol means as you learn to play the game. Fortunately, there’s really not that much to remember, so everyone will generally get the hang of things quite quickly. It’s worth noting that there are no symbols to differentiate between the three bamboo colours, so the game is not very colour blind friendly.
For such a lightweight game, you’ll still need to figure out a winning strategy before someone else does, all the while dealing with complications that arise through the actions of your opponents. The game generally creates a relaxed atmosphere that’s not too competitive. If a player is focusing on their own objectives, any interference with your plans is usually unintentional.
Takenoko has a single expansion, Chibis, which introduces a female panda, baby pandas and related mechanics, as well some new tiles, including several special tiles, and objective cards. While the baby pandas are cute, the addition of the new tiles and the additional objective cards really add to the game. While many board game expansions tend to dilute or over complicate the core game, I feel that Chibis is an essential expansion if you play Takenoko regularly.