Takenoko… Family Panda Time

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Player/s: 2-4

Play Time (Box): 45mins

Play Time (Goof): 30-60mins

Producer/s: Asmodee, Bombyx & Matagot

Designer/s: Antoine Bauza

A while ago now, when I was first convincing the family that Board Games could be something more than Monopoly, one of the things that helped were to select games with a great art style and a family friendly theme. It doesn’t get much friendlier than feeding a Panda.

If you’ve read the Goof’s Guide on the subject (click here), you’ll know I feel strongly about the educational value of board games. And what’s more, I feel strongly about board games as a bonding experience. As time to spend with family and friends. Some of my favourite memories are the looks of surprise on my parent’s faces as my brothers and sisters beat them in a board game, or when one of them pulls off a move no one sees coming.

Takenoko fills that spot nicely. It’s family friendly, teaches abstract thinking, and (most importantly), it’s fun.

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Gameplay (6/10)

The objective of Takenoko is to cultivate plots, grow bamboo, and feed the most adorable Panda. The objectives work together nicely. They’re just opposite enough that players will be constantly inadvertently blocking each other’s plans, yet not so polar opposite as to cause the game to become stagnant. And when another player accidentally helps you score points, it’s all the more sweet.

Having said the above, this game doesn’t actually feel competitive. It’s just sort of a nice time. Instead of feeling like you’re out to thwart your opponents, it’s more of a race. The ability to turn what you have in front of you into points in the minimum number of moves. There’s something to be said for games in a family setting where you’re not trying to turn your sibling rivalries into metaphoric victories at the gaming table (see any family game of Monopoly for what I’m sure could be empirical evidence by this point). You can’t sit back and just do whatever you feel like, but you’re also not clenching your fists together under the table. It’s a nice middle ground.

There’s a lot of symbology in this game. Not an overwhelming amount for those of us who’ve played a few games, but new players may take a bit before they get it all down pat. Which is not to say the rules are complicated- I’ve played this one with my seven year old sister (who was six at the time) and she did fine (Charlotte has asked that I not mention the part about Sophie beating her).

If I had one major gripe, it’s this – there is a distinct lack of strategic options. You sort of have to play the cards you’ve been given and hope things happen to add up to your victory. You still have options, but when you really need an improvement to finish one of your objectives, it’s annoying that you either need to draw a tile with the improvement/colour combo you need. Or have to roll what you need on the dice (2 out of 6 chance). And while at first glance it sounds like that should be enough, I find it rarely is.

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What I think it all boils down to is the way you get objective cards. When you use one of your two (very vital) actions to get a new card, you’re crossing your fingers and hoping for something which is already partially completed or something worth a good number of points. In the last game I played, I found I kept drawing cards for green tiles which weren’t worth much, and it was taking me just as long to complete those as it was my competitor who had supposedly harder objectives to complete. I think a lot more strategy could come from taking the top card of each pile (gardener, plot and panda), selecting one and putting the others back. Or take two from one pile, select one and put the other at the bottom. It wouldn’t even be too complicated (there’s already a similar mechanic with the plot system), and it’d add some much needed control over the board state.

 Pros: +Balanced Objectives, +Nice Vibe, +Simple Rules

Cons: –Lack of Strategic Options

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Theme (9/10)

Companies who go the extra mile to add story to your game, give yourselves a pat on the back. Seriously. The little comic strip this game comes with is adorable. I love it. It tells the story of the Chinese Emperor gifting a Panda Bear to the Japanese, and of the Imperial Gardener’s struggle to tend to his garden while the Panda eats all the bamboo. It’s a really great theme! My family and I make all sorts of noises with the Panda eating the different pieces, and “pooping” to score points (not sure that bit’s canon, we just find it funny). Think I’m going to work on my “frustrated gardener” voice for next time.

There’s really good synergy between the theme and mechanics. A way you can tell whether this is the case is if you can teach the game through the theme. Often, explaining the way the Panda and Gardener move and their motivations are enough to immediately understand what a player will be expected to do to help shape the garden.

Pros: ++You Really Get Into the Theme, ++Synergistic Theme and Mechanics

Cons: None

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Production (7/10)

An aspect of this game I adore is how pretty it looks once you’ve been playing for a bit. There’s so much vibrant colour and the board becomes multi-dimensional. It’s a physical representation of the game you’ve just played and the time you’ve spent in this garden.

The bamboo is really tactile to play with. I enjoy putting the pieces in together. I’m not sure if this is an Australian thing (given our humidity and temperatures in Queensland) but the occasional bit does warp slightly. It’s never been enough to detract us from playing games, but it is slightly frustrating for those of us who take great pride in the pristine-ness of our game pieces.

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I will say for all the game’s beauty, and the quality of the pieces (the paint job is great and the components are excellent), the box insert makes no goddamn sense. The bamboo pieces never stay where they’re supposed to, and you usually have to spend a few minutes sorting everything out before you can get into setting the game up (and again with the Australia heat warping things…our insert looks like a Panda sat on it. So at least it’s thematic).

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Pros: +Pretty and Colourful, +Fun Components, +Quality Components

Cons: –Stupid Box Insert

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Conclusion

I like Takenoko. It’s a little outside of my usual games in that I prefer more hardcore strategy games or difficult co-ops. But there’s something about the friendliness to this game, and having something fun to play for all ages. Something which makes you naturally want to make goofy noises and pull cute faces.

I give Takenoko:

7/10

I’d recommend you give this one a go, especially if you’re playing with gamers more towards the casual end of the spectrum, if you have some kids who want to get into board gaming, or if you just really freaking adore Pandas.

Want to give Takenoko a try? Come on down to our next Boarding School event!

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