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A long time ago, the Emperor of China offered Japanese Emperor a Giant Panda as a symbol of peace.
Your delicate mission is to take care of the animal by growing a bamboo plantation. But be careful with the sacred animal and its unhealthy appetite for the crispy shoots…
Today we’re time traveling back to feudal Japan!
The Emperor of Japan has received a wonderful gift from the Emperor of China. To seal diplomatic and economic ties, the Chinese Emperor has given the Japanese emperor a very rare GIANT PANDA!
As with all power structures, bureaucratic s#!t rolls downhill and just so happens to land squarely in your lap. The members of the court (aka YOU) are now in charge of feeding this giant panda. It wouldn’t do to have the symbol of peace and economic trade between the two nations die of starvation.
So not only are you now an exotic animal custodian but you are also expected to be an expert bamboo gardener. Lucky for you, bamboo is a plant that grows fairly quickly on its own, but you have the added challenge of keeping a rare giant panda happy and fed. Whatever you do, don’t mess up and destroy diplomatic ties between historically-hostile emperors… ooh yeah, that would be bad.
Check out the full Takenoko Review below.
Table of Contents
A Brief Overview of Takenoko
Takenoko is designed by Antoine Bauza who also designed 7 Wonders and Tokkaido, both of which are powerhouses in the board gaming world.
In Takenoko, players compete for the most victory points by feeding the giant panda, growing bamboo, and cultivating the land to the Emperor’s liking. It’s absolutely adorable, but don’t let the cuteness fool you. It can also be a pretty cutthroat game, depending on how you want to play it.
Takenoko definitely falls into the lighter category of Eurogames. Although there are certainly decisions to be made, it’s not strategically terribly deep and won’t require several turns of planning to achieve your goals (as is standard in most Eurogames).
Versions & Expansions
Takenoko Chibis adds a bit more depth to the game and fixes some of the issues that the original has. It adds some new objectives and alters the rules slightly. Overall, I consider it more of a fixer expansion than a true expansion.
One of the issues that a lot of players have with the game is the lack of depth and strategy. Chibis adds just enough to really flesh out the game and in my opinion, it feels more complete. Chibis introduces a female panda into the mix along with some additional rules. You’ll also have to deal with some baby pandas running around the board.Takenoko: Chibis
Coming soon! Available for Kickstarter backers in January 2020.
- 28 plot tiles
- 36 green wooden bamboo
- 30 yellow wooden bamboo
- 24 pink wooden bamboo
- 20 irrigation channels
- 9 landscaping tokens
- 46 objective cards
- 4 individual boards
- 8 wooden action tokens
- 1 weather die
- 1 panda figure
- 1 gardener figure
- 1 rulebook
When you unbox Takenoko, the first thing you’ll find is the big ol’ punchout boards for all of the tiles. The tiles are quality cardboard and I don’t anticipate any issues with warping.
The components that come with the game are fantastic and absolutely adorable. The bamboo comes in individual baggies. Each color has a starter bamboo and extensions that click directly into each other like Legos.
If you have small children, they can see how high they can make their bamboo grow. If you don’t have small kids and are just childish like me, you too can build random bamboo towers between turns too.
If you are the kind of gamer that loves components, you will really love Takenoko. Asmodee did an excellent job with this one and even rivals some of my other favorite publishers in quality and execution of production here. The two minis that come with Takenoko, the panda & gardener, are freaking adorable.
The art is lovely and there is something really satisfying about watching your bamboo garden grow in 3 dimensions as you play. It’s a really cute game. Both thematically and in quality of production, Takenoko is a winner here.
The insert that comes with the box is fantastic. I’m such a weirdo when it comes to game storage and Takenoko really delivers. There’s a place for everything and everything fits in its space. I’m weird, I know.
How to Play Takenoko
Takenoko is pretty easy to learn. Every turn, players roll a die and perform 2 actions. Boom, that’s it.
A player’s turn is divided into two parts:
- Roll the weather die.
- Take 2 actions.
Every player at the start of their turn needs to roll the weather die. Determining the weather gives some kind of bonus depending on the weather. In a game about growing bamboo, the weather can drastically affect a turn.
Sun: Perform an additional action. Actions must be different.
Rain: Place an additional growth of bamboo on an irrigated tile.
Wind: The player can use the same action twice on their turn.
Storm: Move the panda to any square (the panda is afraid of thunder and hides in a tile). It still eats bamboo on its new tile.
Clouds: The player takes an improvement tile and places it on the board, or holds it for later. If all the improvements are gone, it acts as a wild.
Wild: Choose your own weather.
Every turn players will take at least 2 actions. Sometimes you’ll get a bonus from the weather. The player boards will have all of the actions listed as symbols on the board.
Choose 2 of the 5 available actions:
- Plots: Draw 3 plot tiles, place one on the board and return the other 2 to the supply.
- Irrigation Channel: Take an irrigation token and either play it or keep it for later.
- Gardener to grow: Move the gardener and grow bamboo.
- Panda to eat: Move the panda and let him eat. He’s hungry.
- Objective: Draw a new victory card. You can pick what type of victory card you want; Tile victory, panda victory, or gardener victory points.
A useful player mat helps to keep track of spare irrigation channels, consumed bamboo, and also serves as a handy reference of the various actions available. The two tokens are markers to remind players which actions they have and how many they’ve already chosen.
Keep in mind that all players will be sharing the bamboo plants in the communal garden. That means that the carefully tended bamboo you’ve been growing to score points could easily be consumed by the panda on another player’s turn. On top of that, players have to deal with 3 different colors of bamboo and to score victory points, you’ll have to match up colors and numbers exactly as they appear on the objective cards. You’ll need to stay alert because every player’s turn can have an effect on the board.
The Object of the Game
The object of the game is to have the most victory points. Players have 3 different types of objective cards. Each card scores points based on 3 different criteria.
- Gardener Cards: award victory points for growing bamboo of specific numbers, colors, and height.
- Panda Cards: award victory points for having the panda eat specific numbers, colors, and heights of bamboo
- Emperor Cards: award victory points for placing tiles of specific colors and patterns on the board.
To put it simply, there are three ways to earn victory points; grow bamboo, eat bamboo, place tiles.
The end game is triggered by the number of objectives played by a single person. The amount needed to trigger the end game depends on the number of players, so naturally, if there are fewer players then you’ll need to complete more objectives to trigger the end game.
Every player still gets to take one final turn and then all that’s left is to tally up the score and determine the winner.
Your First Game of Takenoko
For your very first game, especially those players completely new to board games, Takenoko can be played without using the weather die. This simplifies the game and will help players become accustomed to the rules.
If you’re completely new to Takenoko, here are some beginner moves that always help out.
First, make sure you pick up at least 1 tile early on. If you need to build a specific set of tiles for points it helps to hold all the cards so to speak.
The next bit of helpful advice is to try and horde the irrigation tiles. There’s a limited supply of irrigation, and when it runs out you’re out of luck. Remember that when you use the irrigate action you don’t need to place it right away. You can leave it on your player mat for future use.
After a game or so you might start to feel limited by the lack of strategy. I know after a while I’ve played with a few players who like to horde panda objectives and try to end the game quickly. Panda objectives are usually easier to get and net quite a bit of early-game points.
Pros & Cons of Takenoko
- A lightweight, accessible, family-friendly board game
- Cute components and beautiful art
- Very little downtime between turns
- An excellent gateway game
One of the best parts about Takenoko is how quickly the turns move. As a gateway game, keeping everyone involved and gameplay moving is important. Long downtime between turns is a killer for new players. The gameplay is easy enough to understand that most ages will have an easy enough time keeping up, and if all else fails, they’ll want to play with the adorable panda and gardener.
- Not a whole lot of strategy
- A fair amount of randomness
The biggest complaint I’ve heard about Takenoko is the randomness introduced by the weather die. For players out there who haven’t adequately sacrificed to the RNG gods, this might be an issue, but sometimes it’s nice to have a bit of unpredictability in a lighter game. It keeps things fresh and ensures that no two games will be exactly the same.
Takenoko Review (TL;DR)
Takenoko is a lightweight, family-friendly game that offers a fun and quick gaming experience.
The rules are easy to learn so it is not too hard to pick up and play, even for newbies. There are enough options and strategy involved that will keep players interested without overwhelming them. After a few playthroughs, the more experienced board gamer may start to get a little bored with the (relatively few) options available.
It’s perfect for a quick game when you have a bit of downtime or as an appetizer before a heavier board game night. It is also an excellent option for a gateway game for new players or the younger crowd.
I honestly like to put this game into the same category as Catan… and I mean that as a very high compliment. It’s simple to learn but doesn’t offer nearly as much strategy. Perhaps a more accurate statement would be that both games fulfill the same role on the board game shelf.
They’re both lightweight enough that anybody can jump right in pretty quickly. Catan has many more opportunities for strategic decision-making and depth of play while Takenoko is much more user and kid-friendly. In my opinion, it’s a much better gateway game for kids, or for people who just like cute pandas.
A Technically-Sound Gateway Game
The other reason I’m comparing it to Catan is because of how technically-sound it is. The gameplay design and mechanics are all very well done. There’s a mixture of options available, several ways to choose victory, and a sense of urgency, due to never truly having enough time to complete everything you want to do in one turn.
I’m hard-pressed to find anything truly glaring or game-breaking within the rules and that’s one of the reasons why it’s so popular. There are definitely more exciting games with a ton more bells and whistles but sometimes you just want to play something fun and easy, and Takenoko performs beautifully.
Takenoko isn’t a strategic blockbuster hit that will keep you on the edge of your seat but it never tried to be that. It was designed to be a quick, happy little game about a fat panda and the poor gardener running around after it. You won’t find mind-blowing innovative mechanics within the box, but you will find a refined product through-and-through. This colorful, harmonious game definitely deserves a space on your board game shelf.
I’ve been giving Takenoko a lot of backhanded compliments, but I want to be clear. It’s an enjoyable, quick, easy-to-play game. I always enjoy playing it but after a game or so, I do want to move into something heavier.
I would love to hear your thoughts on our Takenoko review and the game itself. Drop a comment below and let us know!
Before starting GameCows with his wife Kendra, he used to teach English Language Arts in the US. He combined his love of gaming with education to create fun game-based learning lessons until he eventually decided to run GameCows with Kendra full-time. He’s known for pouring over rulebooks in his spare time, being the rule master during game night, and as the perma DM in his DnD group. Bryan loves board games, writing, traveling, and above all his wife and partner in crime, Kendra.