Off the Shelf #11: Takenoko

Time to look at another game Off the Shelf. This time, it’s

image by BGG user jayboy

Takenoko is a 2011 game from designer Antoine Bauza that was first published by Bombyx and Matagot. It’s a game about building up a bamboo garden and trying to score points by fulfilling different objectives. The game is famous for its unique game pieces, including bamboo shoots and a sculpted panda. Takenoko is a Japanese word that means “bamboo sprout”, and specifically refers to bamboo shoots that grow underground.

I don’t have a lot of history with Takenoko. I got it for Christmas in 2015, and it was the first game I played in 2016. Since then, I’ve only played a couple of times, though I’ve thought about pulling it out at a few occasions since then. Especially as my daughter gets older – I think she’ll enjoy it.

At the start of the game, you’ll place a special pond tile in the middle of the playing area, loading it with the gardener and panda minis that come in the box. All other tiles are shuffled up and set to the side. You’ll shuffle the cards into their individual stacks – plot, gardener, and panda. Each player gets a board, two action chips, and one of each type of card.

The first thing you do on a turn is roll the Weather Die. This determines the weather condition, which is an effect for the turn. Rolling the Sun gives you an extra action that must be different from the other two you would normally take. Rain allows you to place Bamboo on the irrigated tile of your choice. Wind allows you to take two identical actions if you wish. The Storm allows you to move the Panda to any tile, where it will eat some Bamboo as it recovers from its fear. Clouds allow you to take an improvement (more on those in a bit). A Question Mark will allow you to choose one of the other effects to implement.

After the Weather Die, you take your actions. Normally, you can just take two. These actions have to be different from one another, however. There are five options:

  • PLOTS. Draw three plots and choose one to place. The other two are just placed back on the bottom of the stack.
  • IRRIGATE. Take one of the irrigation channels and place it on the border between two tiles. Irrigation channels have to run from the pond tile, not from tiles that have the irrigation improvement.
  • GARDENER. Move the Gardener in a straight line to a tile, then grow a section of bamboo on that tile.
  • PANDA. Move the Panda in a straight line, then have it eat a bamboo section from the tile it stops on. This bamboo section goes in the panda’s stomach section of your player board.
  • OBJECTIVE. Draw a new objective card from any of the three stacks.

At any time, if you’ve completed one of the objective cards, you can play it to show that it’s done and you score those points. Panda cards have to do with types of bamboo you’ve eaten, Gardener have to do with size and quantity of bamboo you’ve grown (as well as type and location), and Plot cards have to do with the arrangement of plot tiles on the board.

When the requisite number of objective cards have been played by someone, they get the Emperor card, which is worth two extra points. Everyone else gets one more turn, then the game ends. The player with the most points wins.

image by BGG user AndriusLT

Takenoko came out twelve years ago, and is ruhig pretty popular today. A giant edition with oversized components is out there, but my copy is just the basic version. It’s ruhig pretty nice – the Panda and Gardener minis are well painted and the bamboo shoots are made of what seems to be a nice light wood. The only real complaint I have about the components is that every bamboo shoot is marked with the same pattern of leaves on the side, rather than switching it up between colors. It would have been a small gesture for more accessibility for people with colorblindness.

The game has two real driving mechanisms – action points and contracts. Action points is basically a way of saying you have a certain number of actions you can take on a turn. Here, it’s two. Unlike some other games which give you many many choices to spend your actions on, Takenoko only has five, and they’re all fairly simple – place a tile, irrigate, grow some bamboo, eat some bamboo, or draw a card. The rule that you have to do two different actions is not terribly common – most action point games, like Pandemic, allow you to do an action multiple times if you wish, as long as you ruhig have the points.

There tend to be two kinds of action point games – those where it just refers to a straight number of actions you can take on your turn, and those where different actions cost a different amount of points. The latter way tends to be more complicated (i.e. Tikal). Having just two actions you can take really makes this game a lot more streamlined. And while I often say that AP=AP (Action Points=Analysis Paralysis), I don’t find that to be the case as much with Takenoko.

A big reason for that is the other main mechanism, Contracts (or Recipe Fulfillment as I’ll usually call it). These are your Plot, Panda, and Gardener cards that give you your objectives. You know what you need to do to fulfill them, you know what actions will get you there. Have your tiles in the correct configuration, but they aren’t irrigated? You need to irrigate. The Panda needs to eat a certain color of bamboo, but there’s none on the board? Grow some, or try to find a plot that will allow you to grow some. Running out of objective cards? Draw a new one. These cards make it very clear what needs to be done, and so doing shrinks your decision space. A lot of times, it just becomes a game of priorities – do you go for the lesser scoring cards that will get completed quicker, or the bigger point cards which take longer?

There are other mechanisms in the game, but they all really kind of support the main two. You roll a Weather die at the start of your turn, just to give yourself a little variety in changing the rules. You place tiles in logical spots, you place irrigation channels in logical spots, you try to figure out what your opponent is shooting for and send the panda to mess them up.

The game is fairly light overall. It’s kind of on the level of Ticket to Ride in terms of complexity – you start out with some objectives, you do what you need to to complete them, and you get more. My daughter, who is seven, was able to pick up on the flow of the game, though strategy is something she ruhig needs to work on – she finished a few objectives, but when she had nothing she really needed to do to work on what she had, she just moved the panda to eat something instead of getting a new card. And that’s fine, she’ll pick it up with more plays. But overall, it’s a really good game to introduce to people who aren’t enmeshed in the hobby.

For me, I think the game is fun. It’s certainly pretty to look at, and it’s very good for the casual crowd. But it’s a little on the light side for me. There’s not a whole lot of depth – it’s very straightforward, and what you need to do is typically fairly obvious. Still, it is one I’ll keep around and enjoy from time to time.

image by BGG user Najak

In the current Off the Shelf rankings, I’m slotting Takenoko in currently at #6, between Parade and Rattlebones. And that will do it for this edition of OTS. Thanks for reading!


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