Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Tuesday Reviewsday: Takenoko

Players: 2-4, better with more players
Playtime: 45minutes
Replay Value: 7/10

Takenoko is probably the lightest game I own. It's good to pull out every now and then to remind myself that not every games needs to have 12 layers of strategy and contingency plans. Sometimes it's gardening and feeding the roly poly fat panda.

Takenoko was released in 2011. Unlike the majority of my library it is a simple and pleasant concept, where you help build a lovely garden, grow beautiful bamboo, and then feed it to a roly poly panda.

The 'board' is initially set up with just the fountain tile, and then players take actions to build the garden, irrigate the land and grow green, yellow and pink bamboo. Each player starts with three objective cards and must complete 7-9 (depending on the number of players) with the most points to win the game.

There are three kinds of objectives in the game. You can gain points from Panda Cards, Gardener Cards or Plot Cards. The panda wants to eat bamboo, and can be moved around the garden for one action (in a straight line) or when scared by lightning (to any plot in the garden). Panda Cards will specify how many pieces of bamboo of a certain colour are needed to score the points on the card. Gardener Cards require you to grow a specific combination of bamboo, for example. a 4-high stalk of green bamboo, or a 3-high yellow stalk on a fertilized tile. Plot Cards are normally the hardest to complete, as they require you to build the garden in a specified way, and then irrigate each plot.

Some of the Gardener objective cards require you to grow bamboo on a special garden plot that has fertilizer, or a watershed, or a Panda-proof fence. Each plot can only have one improvement, and while some tiles comes with improvements, players can also use improvement tiles to modify a plot to help them achieve their objectives. Improvements can be tricky to place down as you can only improve a plot without bamboo on it, and improvement tiles can only be obtained by rolling the "Cloud" icon on the weather dice.

Weather is the main randomising factor in the game. After the first round, each player rolls the weather dice before their turn. If it is a sunny day, players can perform an extra action. On a windy day players may do the same action twice. Rain causes a stalk of bamboo (of your choice) to grow one segment, lightning scares the panda across the garden where he eats some comforting bamboo and clouds allow the player to take an improvement tile from the bank. The sixth side is a question mark, allowing the player to choose their own weather.

Playing Takenoko is simple and (considering how pretty it is) surprisingly stressful. Each turn you have a choice of two actions. You can build the garden, move the gardener to grow more bamboo, purchase an irrigation channel, move the panda to eat the bamboo, or collect another objective card. Unless you have rolled the wind on the weather dice you cannot do the same action twice.

To build the garden, you draw 3 tiles from the top of the stack, choose one and place it in the garden. At least two sides of the new tile must be touching the existing garden, or one side of the fountain tile. The panda can only move in a straight line, and eats one piece of bamboo from the tile he stops on. The Gardener moves like the panda, and will add one section of bamboo to the plot he is ends on, as well as every adjacent plot, as long as those plots are irrigated. In addition, fertilised plots grow 2 pieces of bamboo. Any purchased irrigation can be used immediately, or stored for later. When drawing objective tiles, players can choose whether to draw a Panda card, Gardener card, or Plot card.

Each action in isolation has a small effect on the garden. The game becomes strategic when you attempt to complete as many objectives as you can, with as few steps as possible. For example, you can complete two objectives in a turn if you move the Gardener first to complete his objective, and then move the Panda in to eat the just grown bamboo.

The game is cute, and well balanced. However it is hard to actively block your opponents. Objective cards are kept secret from other players, which will allow you to scheme and build the garden to your liking. However it doesn't give you any way to prevent the 'winning' player from breaking away. The most aggressive strategy I have been able to implement in moving the Gardener into a corner where he can't get to one of the colours when my opposition was holding lots of Gardener objective cards. I found out at the end of the game that this hadn't phased him at all.

The replay value of this game is largely based on the build-it-yourself board. The game play itself is very simple and slightly repetitive, but because the board is recreated each time there is never a perfect strategy, and a lot of your choices will have to be constantly re-evaluated as the board conditions change.

This game is really easy to pick up, and great for players who enjoy a light game. Turns happen reasonably quickly as there aren't many choices to weigh up. There is enough strategy to have you thinking about how to improve your game and a hefty amount of luck to keep things interesting. Unfortunately you can't play people against each other, or convince your friends to gang-up on someone due to the minimal aggressive play options. I'd recommend this as a gateway game for children, and those less than interested friends and family. It's also a nice filler game between those intense games that have you shouting at each other or shouting at the board.


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