I’m not sure what it is about collecting sets but I love it. Maybe it stems from my grandmother who was a collector of collections. Regardless, when a game can take such a simple mechanism, turn it on its head, and throw in some cute pandas it has my attention.

Designer: Antoine Bauza


Players: 2-4


Playtime: 45 min

MECHANISMS

Set Collection
At its core, Takenoko is a Set Collection game. Your goal is to score points based on certain conditions shown on objective cards. The objectives aren’t difficult to understand which is nice because it allows you to focus more on how to attain them rather than understanding what you need to do.

Pattern Building & Recognition
So in order to complete your objectives you’ll need to manipulate the board to collect sets rather than managing your hand like in most set collection games. It’s an interesting way of handling Set Collection because it’s technically backwards. In your hand you hold cards that give you the “sets” you’re looking for on the board. And since everyone can manipulate the board, your strategy is constantly changing which keeps you engaged throughout the entirety of the game.

There are multiple ways to do this:

The decision to have stacking three-dimensional bamboo was a stroke of genius.

You can place plot tiles so that certain types match a particular arrangement.
By moving the gardener, you can grow bamboo to specific heights and quantities.
Or you can eat different bamboo combinations with the panda.

The trick here is making sure you can set up and claim one of these objectives at the right time before the board changes again and you miss your opportunity. I also like that each color, or type, of bamboo represents varying levels of difficulty. Do you go for the easier green objectives or the harder red ones?

Action Point Allowance
During each of your turns, you will be allowed to take two of the available five actions. This is nothing revolutionary but it keeps the game in check. By limiting the number choices you have each turn, Takenoko gives the feeling of “I need to do more.” It’s not quite the overwhelming feel of Agricola but games that include this mechanism always provide more meaningful choices and ultimately make for a better game.

The available actions are also relevant to the goals you’re trying to achieve. Many times there is too much distraction. In Takenoko, this isn’t the case. Each decision directly works towards what you need to do in order to win.

From left to right:

  • Place a plot tile. This is most useful at the beginning of the game but generally, you’ll be doing this to help out your plot objectives. It can also be helpful for ease of movement of the Gardener when trying to grow bamboo.
  • Store/Play an irrigation stick. This tends to be one of those things you don’t want to do but have to do. You’ll need these in order to irrigate plots which in turn will score points and grow bamboo.
  • Move the Gardener. You can’t grow bamboo without a little TLC from the gardener.
  • Move the Panda. He’s a hungry panda. Make sure you keep him fed and he’ll get you some points.
  • Take an objective card. Whether you’re out of cards or have one that you feel is too hard, sometimes taking a new card can be quite strategic. Especially near the end of the game. It can be quite advantageous to grab an objective card and find that it’s already completed.

Rolling the die will also give you some random actions but I consider those mostly a bonus since they’re fairly chaotic in nature.

THEME

Though this is basically an abstract game I think the theme comes through well. Each action makes sense in what it is trying to accomplish. You can’t maintain a garden without a gardener. Bamboo can’t grow unless it has a water source. Even the different colored tile arrangements are a simplistic representation of how someone would group their plants together in real life. On another note, considering that there are over 1000 species of bamboo let’s be thankful that our gardener has only chosen to grow three of them.

Now, regarding the panda, I’m not entirely sure who just lets a panda roam around his bamboo garden but I suppose if he did it would do exactly what we see here. A panda’s diet consists almost exclusively of bamboo so it only makes sense that he would be eating everything in sight. That’d be one happy panda. No sad panda here.

PRESENTATION

Art
The art is very cute which lends itself well to casual gameplay. Adults and children alike can both appreciate and enjoy the playful artwork. The brightness of the components is very inviting and stimulating. Also, I love the comic look to the rulebook. It just gives that icing on top of an already great look.

Graphic Design
In terms of graphic design there’s not a lot going here but the symbology is done well and easy to understand. The die faces might be the most complicated but even then the player boards offer a nice reminder graphic to help you remember what they do.

If I had one negative thing to say about Takenoko, it’d be that this could be a difficult game for someone who is color blind. (depending on the severity) There aren’t any symbolic references on the colors other than the color itself which is a bit disappointing. Something as simple as different leaf designs on the tiles and bamboo could’ve solved this problem. Unfortunately, in an attempt to make the garden design look more random, another opportunity was missed by not using the bamboo groupings to indicate color as well. Instead, they all have the same differing patterns; this does, however, give the board a more natural, organic look.

Components
The component quality is great. Good cardstock and nice thick chipboard. Nothing in this game feels cheap and should last multiple gameplays. My copy has stood up well against many playthroughs with children.

The decision to have stacking three-dimensional bamboo was a stroke of genius. This could have easily been another game with wooden cubes piled onto each tile but having actual bamboo growth is so thematic and full of flavor. I’m not sure this game would be the same without it. It also gives height to the game which many games don’t have and makes spotting objectives that much easier.

RATING:

Try this game if you like:

  • Catan
  • Carcassonne
  • Hey, That’s My Fish
  • Sushi Go!
  • Ticket To Ride
  • Zooloretto

FINAL THOUGHTS

This may be considered a gateway game but it is my absolute favorite game to play. Takenoko checks off a lot of boxes for me:

  • Set Collection – for every reason stated in my intro.
  • Action Allowance – which is like a mini, single player worker placement and provides a strategic use of choices.
  • Take-That! – even though it’s more of a by-product of manipulating the board it’s still funny when you mess with someone’s plans.
  • Modular Tile Placement – any game that can incorporate this into their design provides a huge amount of replayability.
  • Grid Movement – the moving of the Gardener and Panda is very chess-like to me. Growing up playing chess this gives me a very nostalgic feeling without being too abstract.
  • Family Game – while I enjoy a deep thinky game, I enjoy involving my family more. This game provides a nice balance of simplicity and depth combined with a playful theme.
  • Easy to Teach – speaking of family, Takenoko is very easy to teach and easier to grasp. I’ve played this with groups of all ages with great success.
  • Drafting – unfortunately, it doesn’t have my most favorite mechanism but I suppose you could draft your goals in the beginning. It wasn’t really designed for that and I haven’t tried it so I have no idea if it’ll mesh right.

What really solidified this game as my #1 was an event that took place this last Christmas season. A few years ago, when I first got Takenoko I was playing it with everyone I could introduce it to. Games were usually followed by more games which is a good indicator of a well-designed game in and of itself but a lot of good games have this kind of response. The first time I ever played Takenoko was with a few of my younger relatives. Fast forward a couple years after the last time I’d seen or played with them and the first thing they asked me was if I brought “that panda game.” Of course, I did, but I was floored that they remembered it so ardently.

Moral of the story? Everyone should own this game and play it with their family and friends. Monopoly? Pffftt…pull out Takenoko instead.

THOUGHTS FROM THE PUB

BRYAN

This game enjoys a place of honor in my household. I consider this a fantastic gateway game and safe to introduce to non-gamers. I also consider this a great game among regular gamers, especially if all four seats can be filled. Takenoko doesn’t try to be the quick-to-learn / 30-minutes to play game that is often considered when picking out something casual or introductory. Instead, it offers what I believe to be a better representation of gaming in a simple-enough format that truly leaves everyone at the table satisfied (and wanting more). Its tension comes from the common playing field found in continual flux as players manipulate the components to achieve their goals. That, coupled with the various paths-to-points really creates an airtight system that provides a nice feeling of control during your turn. All this is done with streamlined actions and simple iconography. Additionally, all your choices and roll-bonuses are positive things (maybe not exactly what you wanted, but never some negative effect). This is something often overlooked when trying to design a game that can be enjoyed universally. I look forward to playing Takenoko every time it comes out and it is always on my gateway list. This is already a classic in my book and should be on every gaming shelf.

BRIAN

I don’t feel like I have a lot to add to this review since I have only played the game once. But I will add this. That one time was with my 6-year-old nephew and he was able to pick the game up very quickly. Not only was he able to be competitive to the end, he ended up winning the game. So if you are looking for a beautiful game that you can play with your kids, Takenoko is one to look into.