Takenoko Review - Box Feature

Takenoko Review (2022): Panda vs Gardener 

Play Time: 45 Min / Players: 2-4 / Complexity: Low / Age: 8+ / Publisher: Bombyx, Asmodee, Matagot / Designer: Antoine Bauza

Takenoko Ratings and Summary

BoardgamingParent.com

Kids Rating
Teen Rating
Parent Rating

Summary

Kids rating from our daughters (7 &10).
Teen rating from our son (14).

Takenoko is a relaxed, family friendly game that is unlikely to cause friction or arguments. The theme and components are cute and likely to appeal to a wide audience, but there isn’t much in the way of deep strategy or tension here.

2.8

Pros

  • Theme is very cute and likely to appeal to a wide audience
  • Components are great and the 3D effect as the garden develops is nice
  • Relaxing vibe, not particularly adversarial should reduce arguments and friction for kids
  • Easy to learn rules.

Cons

  • Luck can play a big role due to the objective cards. If you get ones favourable to the current state of the garden you can pull ahead
  • No deep strategy here, the decisions are largely determined by your objective cards. 

Big thanks to BoardGameRentals.co.nz for providing a copy of this game for review. As always, we provide our own unbiased perspectives on games we review.


What You Will Find in Our Takenoko Review


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Designer Antoine Bauza’s Takenoko centres on a giant panda’s antics in a Japanese imperial garden. We have a cute panda, gorgeous 3D components, a simple rule set and a relaxed vibe which sound like the ingredients of a great family game. Takenoko largely delivers on its potential, and is a great option for families, even though it’s now over 10 years old. Those that are after some deep strategy or tension in their games probably won’t be keen on this game though.

How to Play Takenoko

Have you ever been given a gift you just don’t know what to do with? Maybe some art work you didn’t like or something a bit more out of left field? In Takenoko the Japanese Emperor is gifted a giant panda by the Chinese Emperor to help mend relations.

The emperor has now entrusted you with the difficult task of caring for this bamboo eating machine and establishing an imperial bamboo garden to accommodate its very particular tastes. Don’t worry you have a little help, the imperial gardener will help you grow the bamboo you need to keep your plump friend well fed and happy. Just tread lightly, our gardener isn’t a fan of our new guests’ antics and is getting a little cranky.

Takenoko Review - Game in Play
The game in play. Objectives will require you to make specific plot patterns, feed the panda certain bamboo segments or grow bamboo to a specific length and colour.

Objective

In Takenoko you must complete objectives that earn victory points. When one player completes a certain number of objectives (determined by player count), the final round is triggered. The prize for being the first to complete the required number of objectives is a small gift from the emperor of an additional 2 points.

The player with the most points at the end wins not only the affection of our plump panda and the emperor’s approval but also the game.

Set Up 

To set up you place the pond tile in the centre of the table and our cute panda and cranky gardener on top. This is the beginning of your bamboo garden. Each player will get a player board, two action tracking discs and one of each type of objective card (plot, gardener and panda objectives).

Then stack the land plot tiles and three objective decks face down on the table along with the emperor card. Irrigation channels, improvements and bamboo are then all placed somewhere within easy reach. You are all set to start ‘pandering’ to the whims of your cute friend. Sorry, that was really bad, I couldn’t resist one panda pun.

Objective Cards

Completing objectives is how you earn victory points and ultimately win the game. There are three types on offer, each with a different focus:

  • Plot objectives: Require you to create a specific pattern and colour of plots. Plots come in yellow, green or pink, their colour determines the coloured bamboo they will grow
  • Panda objectives: Require you to feed a specific number and colour of bamboo sections to the royal panda. These are the ones we seem to gravitate towards, my daughters just love feeding that crazy panda
  • Gardener objectives: Require you to grow a certain number of bamboo shoots to a specific height and colour. Beware the panda is greedy and may interfere with your bamboo growing plans.
Takenoko Review - Objective Cards and Emperor Card
To complete objective cards you must complete the exact requirements. There are three types, relating to plots, panda and gardener. The emperor card provides 2 bonus points for the first person to complete the required number of objectives.

Turns

Turns are split into two simple parts. Determining weather conditions which will grant you a one-off benefit and performing actions to achieve objectives. Determining weather conditions is not done on the first round and will only commence on round 2. We found this was a nice way to reduce complexity on the first turn and ease our kids into it.

To determine weather conditions, you roll the weather die and receive the benefit matching the icon you roll. The good news is that every roll will grant you some benefit, no down side. The weather conditions are:

  • Sun: Grants a player one additional action
  • Rain: Allows a player to place a bamboo section on any irrigated plot
  • Wind: Allows a player to take two identical actions
  • Storm: Allows a player to put the panda on the plot of their choice and eat one section of bamboo
  • Cloud: Grants a player one improvement tile. They can choose from an enclosure which prevents the panda from snacking in that plot, fertiliser that doubles bamboo growth rate, or watershed that provides irrigation to a plot. These can be placed immediately or in a future turn
  • Question Mark: Allows a player to pick the weather condition for their turn.

Once the weather condition has been resolved you can now get to work performing actions to complete objectives which in turn will please the royal panda. You will be able to perform two actions and you cannot perform the same action twice unless allowed by the wind weather condition.

You can choose from five different actions; you can draw three plot tiles and add one to the garden, move the panda who will in turn eat a bamboo shoot where he stops, move the gardener who will grow bamboo, take an additional objective card, or take an irrigation channel to place now or in a future turn. Your choices are usually simple and determined by your objective cards making it easy for younger players to be competitive.  

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Gameplay Experience  

Takenoko Review - Player Board
Takenoko provides a relaxed experience and is easy to learn. The player boards provide useful rule prompts.

To sum it up, Takenoko is a very chilled out experience. The decisions you are making are largely straight forward and determined by the objective cards you draw. There isn’t much in the way of tension or deliberate sabotage from other players. That means you’re not likely to get a lot of arguments or friction between siblings here. Great when you have beginners or younger kids to cater for and want some light hearted fun.

The different objectives have a nice interconnection to them as well. They just seem to fit nicely together. The plot objectives provide more land for bamboo, the gardener objectives encourage bamboo growth and that greedy panda loves to eat the bamboo shoots. As the game progresses and the garden expands, the opportunities available to players for objectives will also expand nicely. This gives Takenoko a nice feeling of progression and means you always have viable options each turn.

I mentioned earlier that the game has a relaxed vibe. There are no penalties for incomplete objectives and because objectives are hidden there is not much in the way of intentional sabotage. This makes it a great game to introduce to younger players who will likely be competitive quickly and won’t feel picked on by more experienced players or older siblings.

The relaxed vibe can be a bit of a negative for some. I find my daughters don’t engage as much with the game at times because there isn’t that much to do in between turns. Sure, the garden is communal and so every action can affect the entire group, but there isn’t anything that can totally ruin your plans.

The other thing you won’t get with Takenoko is deep strategy, as I said your choices are largely determined by the cards you draw resulting in a fair amount of luck. I recently played a game with my son where he was ahead 6 objectives to 2. The garden had expanded a reasonable amount so I decided to try drawing plot cards to see if I could get lucky. I ended up drawing 4 successive plot objectives over the next few turns that I could complete quickly because they happened to match patterns already close to completed on the board. My son could only sit there and laugh at how ridiculous my luck was. There isn’t a lot you can do to counter the luck factor here.

Components

Takenoko Review - Bamboo, Tokens, Dice and Irrigation
The components are of good quality and look great on the table. It’s nice to see the bamboo garden grow in 3D as the game progresses.

The components are a real high point in Takenoko. The great thing about the components is that as you build out plots and the bamboo shoots grow, they create a gorgeous 3D bamboo garden on the table. It looks great and kids will love the tactile nature of adding colourful bamboo segments to the garden. The segments are stackable and connect nicely.

The gardener and panda minis are also a nice touch. The panda in particular gets a lot of attention when our kids play, everyone loves moving the panda and feeding it during the game. It’s very cute.

Aside from what we have already mentioned, the uniquely illustrated plot tiles and counters are thick and sturdy. The player boards feel a little thin but are well laid out and provide useful prompts.

Theme

Takenoko Review - Panda and Gardener Close Up
The theme fits in nicely here, the gardener, panda and garden all support the back story nicely. Our daughters love the cute panda.

I was really curious to see how the theme would come together here, animal themed games are common but I haven’t seen many centred around a panda before.

I am happy to say that the theme is implemented really nicely in Takenoko. The rule book for example has a quirky little comic in the beginning describing the gardener’s frustration at accommodating the panda. It explains how this panda came to find himself here to begin with and why your gardener is so cranky about it. It’s actually quite funny.

The gameplay and components are really nicely connected to the theme as well. It does feel like a beautiful serene bamboo garden is sprouting up before your eyes. The amusing thing is you can visualise the gardener’s frustration as the panda rips through his garden eating all his carefully grown bamboo!

Final Thoughts

Takenoko is likely to appeal to people who like a relaxed vibe in their game without a lot of direct competition. It’s a light hearted game with a simple rule set that will make it accessible. The artwork and components are also likely to at least get kids interested in giving this game a try.

So, what do we think of Takenoko? My wife, son, oldest daughter and I enjoy it, but wouldn’t play more than one game at a time. It’s fun but lacks tension or challenging choices. My youngest daughter never really warmed to Takenoko, she found it hard to stay engaged in between turns and so isn’t that keen on it.

Is Takenoko easy to learn?  Yes. After a few turns it will largely all make sense. The game has a nice synergy between the different actions and the objectives so it is fairly easy to pick up.

What will Takenoko teach my kids? The key lesson here is how to efficiently complete an objective with the turns available. This will require creating patterns that match requirements. Learning how to follow instructions is useful for all kids right?

What age is appropriate for Takenoko?  We think the age rating on the box of 8+ is probably about right. Our 7-year-old needed a little help at first with this game but was able to grasp it after a game.

Does Takenoko have good replay value?  This is the sort of game you might play to relax every now and then or as an introduction to board games for new players. To that extent you are likely to get good value. We personally wouldn’t play frequently as it does start to feel similar from game to game.

We hope you enjoyed our Takenoko review. If you have any more questions or just want to share your thoughts on this game please leave a comment below, or get in touch through our contact page. You can also check out the Takenoko BGG page for more info.

About the Authors

We are parents who love board gaming. We have three children and have been enjoying board games as a family ever since we had our first child. We share our real unbiased experiences and opinions on board games so you can decide if they are right for your family. We also write guides and articles to help you get the most out of your family game time. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is Takenoko good for two players?

I prefer Takenoko at 2 players. Given there isn’t a lot in the way of interaction I don’t think it loses anything at 2 players. The upside is there is less down time at 2 players.

What does Takenoko mean?

Takenoko means Bamboo Sprout in Japanese.

What does the Chibis expansion add?

The Chibis expansion adds:

  • Miss panda and nine panda babies. Miss panda will appear when a special plot tile is placed. If she is moved to a tile with Mr panda the player that moved her there will receive a baby panda token
  • Baby pandas grant each player 2 points and a special bonus when they are received
  • Four new plot tiles that are different to the original plots. Kamis Garden enables you to grow any colour bamboo on it, Sacred Hills grows all bamboo of that colour when the gardener stops here not just bamboo in adjacent tiles, Celestial Pond has the same properties as the central pond in the base game, and Gardener’s Cabin allows a player to draw one objective from each deck and select one to keep when the gardener stops here
  • New objectives for each of the three objective types.

Are the objective cards balanced?

This is an interesting question. Many believe the panda objectives are easier and provide the added benefit of being a tie-breaker at the end of the game. I personally feel its situation dependant. If there are some nice plot patterns developing near the end of the game, I often find there’s a good chance you can get lucky with these and grab plot objectives that are almost done. I feel like the gardener objectives tend to be the hardest as you must exactly match the bamboo height.

Can you play multiple irrigation channels for free?

Gaining an irrigation channel for your supply costs an action. Once you have one or more irrigation channels you can place as many as you have for free during your turn. This is covered in page 5 of the rules.

Do gardener objectives require the bamboo to be an exact height?

Yes, the number of segments grown, colour and number of bamboo shoots must match the objective card exactly. For example, if the card displays four green shoots each with 3 segments, then you would not be able to complete the objective if the plots on the board have shoots with 4 segments. Exceeding the requirement does not count.

Are you allowed to move the panda or gardener zero spaces to trigger their effect in the space they are currently in?

No this is not allowed. From page 6 of the rules:

“To benefit from their action (Gardener or Panda), a player must move them at least one space.”

When I draw a tile with a watershed improvement does it automatically grow one bamboo segment when placed?

Yes, it is treated as though it is irrigated and benefits from the first growth rule. This is covered in page 7 of the rule book. 

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