Board Games have the enviable ability of taking mundane tasks and transforming them into lively and enjoyable experiences. This is a feat that Asmodee North America's Takenoko accomplishes with great ease. Based on the foundations of growing bamboo and feeding an adorable panda, the game takes those rather menial activities and mines from them easy to learn game mechanics that just about anyone can pick up and play.
It also helps that the rules are cleverly laid out as a small comic, giving you an introduction to the lovable panda and the world she inhabits (in our game the panda is a girl and her name is Matilda). You might glance at the various systems at play and think it overwhelming, but rest assured after a turn or two it all clicks into place.
You have two actions during your turn, except for one circumstance which I'll get to in a minute. Those two actions can be one of five things, and both actions have to be different from each other. The five choices are either picking up a Plot of Land, laying an Irrigation Channel (required to make your plot grown Bamboo), moving the Gardner, moving the Panda, or picking up an Objective Card. These five never change, but they can be altered depending on the other significant game mechanic, the weather dice.
Each time you start your turn you roll the weather dice, which contains 6 possible outcomes. If it's Sun, you are then allowed to take one extra action during your turn. Rain means you may place additional Bamboo on an irrigated plot. Wind allows you to take two identical actions. Storm allows you to move the Panda to a plot of your choice. Clouds give you the option to add an improvement chip to your plot, and finally, the question mark allows you to pick any weather effect for your turn.
This seems like a lot, but in practice, it becomes second nature pretty quickly.
Each mechanic feeds into the other, with the ultimate goal of fulfilling certain objectives. For instance, let's look at the examples above. The first card (on the far left) would require you to have at least two pink plots and two yellow plots in the design shown on the card. Both also must be connected to an irrigation channel. Once you've fulfilled these requirements, you then receive the points located on the bottom left of the card. Others like the middle card require you to grow a certain number of bamboo shoots, here shown as 4 yellow with a watershed improvement attached. The third one (far right) centers around the panda. You have to eat the required color and number of bamboo shoots represented on the card, here shown as one yellow, one pink, and one green. All of these are avenues through which you can achieve victory, and once you get the hang of what is required, the real fun begins.
I played Takenoko with my wife, and numerous times that panda made its way onto my plots of land, attempting to eat all my hard work. I also significantly underestimated her tactics of sweet manipulation, as she would recommend something during my turn that sounded like a great idea, only to then realize on her turn that ultimately it was for her benefit. Quite sneaky, but I'm more upset that I didn't think of it first. The games art style is adorable, but don't let that fool you, there is plenty of competitiveness to be had while playing. After the initial playthrough, it became readily apparent that this would be a regular staple on our tabletop, and I couldn't be more pleased.
As with any new board game, there were multiple things we figured out during gameplay, whether due to complete oversight or just slight confusion about an interpretation of the rules, but nothing that was significantly hindering. I do wish the figures themselves were of greater size, as they are much smaller than I anticipated, but that is just personal preference. Granted, I also play Monopoly with POP figures, if that gives you a better indication of what I'm looking for. If there was one slightly confusing aspect of the rules, it would be in regards to irrigation. It took a while for that part to truly sink in, and even towards the end of the first playthrough, I was still unsure of if I was doing it correctly.
All in all, Takenoko is a truly fun experience that I would recommend to all age groups, and especially to people who are newer to this kind of tabletop experience. It eases new players in while still containing the multi-layered mechanics that gamers covet. If you have someone that loves lighthearted and cheerful worlds or even just adorable animals, this is a great segue into the world of intricate Tabletop games.
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