Board Game Night - Takenoko

Number of players: 2-4 (best: 3)
Playing time: 45 minutes
By: Antoine Bauza / Bombyx
Rank on BoardGameGeek: 175th

Gameplay
A fairly simple collection game, you are in charge of the gardens where lives the Emperor's prized panda. Goal cards of three types allow you to score, and each turn you get to place garden tiles, irrigate them, move the gardener so he can make bamboo grow, and/or move the panda so it can eat that bamboo (which comes in three colors). When it's your turn, you will also roll the weather die, with each weather type giving you a special ability during your turn (from doing multiple actions to moving the panda more often to growing more bamboo). Cards requiring you to have certain tile configurations, have certain bamboo shoots in the panda's belly, or different height bamboo on the board are worth points which you can redeem on your turn, and once you have enough points, you get the Emperor card (an extra 2 points) and trigger the last round.

The game will work well for families (in part because it's so cute!), but won't be a drag for more serious gamers either. There are enough things you can do to keep things lively and natural reversals balance the game. For example, the panda might eat the bamboo you've been cultivating, making it impossible to redeem a particular card on your turn. Then again, if you're not particularly tactical, most cards are fairly easy to achieve and redeem.
Theme
The theme is strong with this one, and unusual too. The weather die is a nice touch, and the interplay between gardener and panda pleasant. The Japanese motif gives the whole enterprise a zen quality where it can be as important to make pleasant patches of green, yellow and pink terrain; grow nutritious bamboo; and fill your stomach with it. It's a question of balance. When the Emperor shows up, you want him to see beautiful gardens, beautifully arranged, and a well-fed panda. Each patch needs to be irrigated, naturally, unless it has its own water hole, and some might have fences that protect bamboo from the panda, or be particularly fertile. You just happen to be the gardener in chief on any given day, but more abstractly, you don't really work together to score points.

Components
Gorgeous. The centerpiece is of course the cute panda figurine, though the gardener is of equal quality. The tiles look good and are sturdy. The cards are those small ones I don't like as much as those of standard size, but that's a minor point. The player's card creates an area where you can keep your irrigation, power tokens and eaten bamboo, and is not strictly necessary, but also acts as a good crib sheet for what each weather type means, what actions you can take, etc. Your action markers, the bamboo and the irrigation are made of wood, real nice. The interlocking bamboo can sometimes be wobbly, but won't fall down even at full height. When a game's LOOK makes you want to play to more than any actual mechanic, that means something.
House Rules and Expansions
Takenoko has an expansion called Chibis that adds a female panda that has babies when she moves to a tile where the male is, and that includes new tiles (including a gardener's hut where you can regroup) and new ways to score in conjunction with the new tiles and the panda's mate. This neither makes the game too complex for the family, nor too easy for the serious gamer. It could have been part of the original game easily.

In conclusion: A beautiful game with a cute theme and enough depth to keep players of all levels entertained.

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