At a Glance: Takenoko is a consistently excellent game. Between the great design, aesthetics, and pace, it has no weaknesses.
Takenoko is a game for 2-4 players where they will be cultivating plots of bamboo for the Emperor’s panda. It is a tile-laying game where players score based on three different types of objectives. On your turn, you roll the weather die and depending on what the weather is, you may take a special action. Then, you choose 2 different actions to perform on your turn. For the first action option, you may draw a hexagonal plot tile and place it on the table. The game starts with one pond tile and any newly placed tiles must either touch the pond tile or 2 already placed tiles. The second action is taking an irrigation channel. Irrigation allows bamboo to grow. Bamboo grows in a tower as tall as 4 pieces. Thirdly, you may move the gardener in a straight line, who grows bamboo wherever he stops, including any adjacent plots of the same color. Bamboo may be any of 3 colors, green, yellow, or pink. The fourth action is to move the panda in a straight line and wherever he stops, he eats a piece of bamboo. Lastly, you may draw another objective card. Objective cards are separated into three types of achievements: (1) Plots, where the plot tiles must match the pattern on the card, (2) Gardener, where the bamboo shoots must match the color and/or type of special tiles listed on the card, and (3) Panda cards, which award you for different colors of bamboo that the panda has eaten. Each objective scores points, and the first to finish a certain amount of objectives, depending on the number of players, wins.
If you like tile-laying games, then Takenoko is a must-try. But there’s so much more going on beyond the tile-laying aspect. As the bamboo gardens spread out and the shoots grow taller, the table presence of this game blossoms into something really cool and eye-catching. The 3 totally different ways of scoring lend to multi-faceted strategies, and they coexist in interesting ways as players focus on multiple goals. Sometimes it’s complimentary, but sometimes it is a bit hotly contested as players’ aims clash. I really like the added weather die at the start of your turn, as it always benefits you, from a free bamboo piece to maybe a bonus 3rd action you can take! Takenoko is pretty light overall, but does not feel shallow. There is some meat here, and even though it is easy once you get the hang of it, I am always reminded of the surprising depth of this game when I teach it. “Oh yes, then there’s this…oh, and this special tile means this…” Once you get going, turns are quick, so there’s very little downtime.
The artwork and component quality are excellent. The wooden bamboo are some of the coolest pieces in any game. There is no weakness that I can tell in this game. The whole production is top-notch. With the great design, aesthetics, pace, and fun, Takenoko has become one of my most favorite games.
Check it out: https://amzn.to/2Qsnpx5