Friday, December 27, 2013

Takenoko, By Antoine Bauza

Takenoko is a game of expanding, cultivating, and eating for 2-4 players. Before I dive into the game, I’m going to save you some time; if you think this is cute, you’re going to enjoy this game:

Pictured here is the star of the show, the Panda, whose life’s ambition is to nibble bamboo stalks and lounge around the Emperor’s gardens. The Emperor wants a magnificent Zen garden, and has tasked the Gardener with maintaining it – something not easy to do with the Panda munching on the Emperor’s precious bamboo. The game is won by completing objectives aligned with these desires and, in doing so, by scoring more points than your opponents.

Points are scored as players meet the conditions on their objective cards, of which there are three types:

Gardener: Objective is to cultivate bamboo stalks to certain heights on certain colored garden spaces,
Emperor: Objective is to expand the garden to include specific arrangements of colored tiles
Panda: Objective is to eat bamboo of various colors

These objectives come in three separate decks, and players can gain them as the game progresses. The first player to finish 7, 8, ir 9 objectives (or 4, 3, or 2 players) takes a bonus, and triggers the last round of the game.

Each turn players are allowed to take 2 of 5 available actions, which allow for the manipulation of the garden to meet the different objectives. In general, the actions correspond to the desires of the game’s characters, as players seek to expand the garden, cultivate bamboo, eat bamboo (you will struggle not to say “nom nom nom” aloud each time you have the Panda dine on freshly-grown bamboo stalks), irrigate the garden, and draw additional objective cards.

The game begins with an empty garden, no bamboo stalks, and the Panda and Gardener innocently occupying the middle hex, which serves as a launching pad for expansion and the central source of irrigation in the game. Regardless of the number of players, the garden tends to grow quickly as players look to score their various objectives, and the beautiful imagery and mix of colors in the game makes this expansion as pleasing visually as it is in game-play. Players tend to be able to quickly finish objectives as the garden expands and is filled with bamboo shoots, and because objectives are hidden, there is very little room to impede opponent’s progress. This makes for a quick move from beginning to middle to end, and keeps the pressure on players to use their turns wisely, lest they fall behind, but without the sense of pressure that comes in other games.

In my experience, there’s never a point where it feels like you’re out of the game, as Takenoko borrows the Eurogame standard of victory points in lieu of elimination as a win condition, and most objectives are able to be completed in a turn or two. The winning margin is usually a few points, and tends to come because the winner had a good mix of attainable objective cards and got a little lucky.

The game feels like an exercise in mutual construction, as it’s not possible to move tiles or otherwise destroy the work of other players, with the exception of the Panda’s consumption of bamboo. The combination of beautiful art - including the instruction manual, which is incredible – and simple, quick game play makes for an enjoyable hour of gaming with players of any age, especially because reading is not required (for those of you with young kids).

Ease of learning: Easy
Ease of teaching: Easy
Space required: Kitchen table
Ages: 8+
Game time: 45 minutes
Number of players: 2-4
MSRP: $50
JR Honeycutt is a full-time husband and game-player, and co-host of The Nerd Nighters. You can find him on Twitter at @JayAhre or at a Friendly Local Game Store in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas.

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