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PANDA. IT HAS A PANDA. I’M SOLD.

Takenoko means ‘bamboo shoot’ and is another game by Antoine Bauza, who created the very clever Hanabi. To be honest, I think I’m becoming a fan. The game comes with a cute little comic which explains the backstory: a panda was given as a gift to the emperor and now wreaks havoc on the bamboo gardens, much to the imperial gardener’s chagrin. Fran and I played this game together while eating Pom-bears, because it seemed only appropriate and they were right there on my kitchen table. Takenoko takes only 2-4 players, and it’s almost a shame because I would love to share this game with more people at once but logistically, it wouldn’t work with lots of players.

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The game revolves around objectives, mostly. At the start of the game, everyone has objective cards which provide targets and points. There are different types of objectives. First are the panda objectives, which revolve around getting the panda to ‘eat’ different types of bamboo. Second are gardener objectives, which revolve around growing different types of bamboo using the gardener. Third are garden objectives, which revolve around laying tiles in certain pattern and colour configurations. The first player to reach the target number of objectives wins bonus points from the emperor, everyone has a final round, the game ends and the player with the most points is declared the overall winner.

What I found difficult to get to grips with first of all was the range of options you had at the beginning of a turn. You can take up to two actions from a choice of five, and initially they have to be different. You can take a tile to expand the garden, move the gardener to plant some bamboo, move the panda to eat some bamboo, take some water to irrigate fields so you can grow bamboo and finally, take an objective card in the hope that you can complete it and score some points. Whew. If it reads like a mouthful, that’s because it is but honestly, it becomes a lot easier when you realise that you have a card in front of you to help you remember what you can do on your turn. After the first turn, you also bring in the weather die – roll it and a weather condition happens which affects what actions you can take, or what happens in the garden. For example, lightning storms scare a panda so you can move him wherever you like to eat something rather than moving him in the straight lines that you usually have to.

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Takenoko is a quirky, fun game and even though you’re competing against your fellow players, it doesn’t ever feel fierce or serious; it can’t really when the box has a cute panda on it and you have to move the figure across the board. You can’t help but make it waddle and mime it eating bamboo and that never fails to make everyone laugh. Takenoko is too cuddly in my opinion to be truly competitive and I haven’t had a bad game of Takenoko – it’s always fun, even if I lose.

It’s even better when you introduce it to someone who’s never played before, and bring out the little figures of the panda and the gardener, march them around the garden, build stalks of bamboo and then tear them down. It doesn’t fail to impress or make a player smile. Part of its appeal is that it has these tactile pieces that you can really play with, and that even though there are elements of being a bit sneaky, it’s never truly underhanded, it’s all in good fun. You all work together in a way to create this lovely garden, and even if a player does move the panda so he eats something that you just planted (like Fran and I did to each other multiple times when we were playing the game), it’s more funny than annoying. Plus at the end of the game, you end up with something quite pretty. You can’t really hate the panda, nor can you really hate your friends if they win, and that’s probably why I like this game so much. Also, there’s panda and pink bamboo.

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Designer: Antoine Bauza
Publisher: Bombyx
Mechanic: Set Collection, Modular board
Number of Players: 2-4
Length of Game: 45 minutes
Complexity: Medium

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