Sunday, 17 February 2013

Board game review: Takenoko

Takenoko 8.5/10

                What an impressive game. And I don’t mean that it’s the most fun or the most innovative game, but rather that it is, in my opinion, a beautifully designed game. Now don’t get me wrong, this game is fun, but like any game, you need the right crowd to get the most out of it. Players looking for a significant strategic challenge, big highs and epic comebacks might be left feeling disappointed. But on the other hand if you are looking for a great family game or a relaxing experience with beginner board gamers, this is the game for you.

       describes it as follows:
‘’A long time ago at the Japanese Imperial court, the Chinese Emperor offered a giant panda bear as a symbol of peace to the Japanese Emperor. Since then, the Japanese Emperor has entrusted his court members (the players) with the difficult task of caring for the animal by tending to his bamboo garden. In Takenoko, the players will cultivate land plots, irrigate them, and grow one of the three species of bamboo (Green, Yellow and Pink) with the help of the Imperial gardener to maintain this bamboo garden. They will have to bear with the immoderate hunger of this sacred animal for the juicy and tender bamboo. The player who manages his land plots best, growing the most bamboo while feeding the delicate appetite of the panda, will win the game.’’

The game itself

                The goal of this game is to complete hidden objectives in order to accumulate victory points. The first player to complete a certain number of objectives (depending on how many players you have) will receive a bonus victory point card (the emperor) and will trigger the last round. There are three types of objectives; Plot objectives (placing tiles in a certain configuration), Gardener objectives (making the gardener grow certain types of bamboo) and panda objectives (making the panda eat certain types of bamboo). To achieve those objectives, players get two actions per turn. 

Those actions can be; placing a plot tile, collecting and placing an irrigation tile, moving the gardener, moving the panda or drawing an objective card. In addition to this you get to roll a ‘’Weather die’’ that will give you a certain bonus (extra action point, movement bonus, growing bonus and so on).

                As you can imagine, since everyone is controlling the same plots, gardener and panda, a player might do something that will benefit them while at the same time being harmful to the objectives of another players.  Unfortunately, it is a bit difficult to know how your actions will influence other players since the objectives are hidden. While this makes for a less strategic game, it does make thing less confrontational which may appeal to a more casual or younger crowd.

                If you would like to take a bit of luck out of the equation, the rules offer a variant for ‘’advanced’’ players. In this variant, if players pick an objective card that is already completed on the board, he must discard it and pick a new one.  In my opinion, this variant should be a mandatory rule. Without it, the luck of the draw when picking objective cards plays too big of a factor in completing objectives. I found this to be especially true with the Plots objectives which made the game feel a bit unbalanced.

                So, what makes this game so good?
Well, this game offers a large number of simple game mechanics that all interact together seamlessly. Because of the simplicity of the mechanics, the well-paced, well-illustrated and concisely explained rules, It is easy to learn and easy to teach. Many people (including myself) will be impressed by the quality of the components and the beauty of the artwork. As mentioned earlier, the fact that the gameplay isn’t confrontational will appeal to a more casual and younger crowd making this a great game for a family games night or for introducing non-gamers to the wonderful world of board-gaming.

The Good
- Gorgeous art and design
- Quality components
-  Lighthearted and fun game
- Will appeal to younger players and non-gamers 
  Seamless interaction between theme and mechanics

The Bad
- Feels unbalanced without the ‘’variant’’ rule
- Luck plays a big roll and there is not much strategy to it. Although this could be a positive aspect in some settings.

The bottom line
- Looking for deep strategic play? Look elsewhere
- Looking for light family fun? The emperor’s garden is the place for you.
- A must have for family board game lovers
- When considering the target audience, I would give this game an 8.5/10

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