How much fun is feeding a panda?

…Well, if you’re using the board-game Takenoko as your meter of enjoyment, the answer is VERY!

Takenoko is a game by Antoine Bauza, the designer who brought us Ghost Stories which I told you all about before.

This is an ideal gateway game, by which I mean, it is a great game to pull out for people who don’t play many board games; the rules are simple, the character of the game is fun, and it provides a high level of enjoyment which will hopefully bring them back for more, possibly advanced, games.

Starting Position

The premise is simple: the Chinese have been very nice and given the emperor of Japan a panda, who in turn has told his gardener to look after the giant lump of fur. The players take it in turns to perform actions and complete objectives while fulfilling this task.

At the start of the game, all you have on the board is the starting hex tile (the pond) and the gardener and panda are placed upon it. Starting with the tallest player (yes, that’s a rule) the players take it in turns to perform their actions.

At the start of their turns (except their first) each player rolls a special dice to determine the weather, and each result has a special result from granting extra actions to growing bamboo and getting special tokens which change the rules for farm plots.

Next, the player may take two separate actions (unless modified by the weather). The first allows them to draw three plot tiles from the stack, choose one and play it then return the remaining two to the pile. The plots come in three colours (pink, yellow and green) which grow bamboo of the same colour and may be placed next to the pond or adjacent to two other plots.

Then we have irrigation, where a player may expend one of their actions to pick up an irrigation stick. They may either play it immediately or place it on their board for use in a later turn. Bamboo needs water to grow, so the tiles connected to the pond or containing one of the special irrigated tokens (gained from the weather) are already irrigated, and the irrigation sticks are used to get the water from the pond to non-irrigated plots. They may also be placed on the intersection of two plots and lead the water along them, irrigating both plots they are adjacent to.

Gardener & Panda

Now we get into the nitty-gritty of the two major and only characters in the game. The first half of each of their actions both work the same, moving, and you can move the gardener or the panda any distance in a straight line along the 6 directions leading from the tile they are on. Once they have moved, they do different actions. The gardener instigates a bout of bamboo growth, and if the tile he lands on is irrigated it grows a bamboo and so do any neighbouring tiles which are the same colour. When the panda stops, he simply eats a bamboo on the tile, moving it to the players board.

Finally, a player may draw an objective card. There are three categories of objective cards: plot objectives, farming objectives & food objectives. At the start of the game the player will receive one of each and may have a maximum of 5 in their hand. By fulfilling the requirements of the objective they may play the card face up and get the listed amount of points. Plot objectives are based on tile positioning. Each one has a picture of an arrangement of tiles, and if the play area has irrigated tiles matching this image, you score. Farming cards are concerned with where bamboo is growing and how high; the higher the requirement, the higher the amount of stacks or special requirements like having the stack affected by a special token increases the score when completed. Food objectives are concerned with what the panda has eaten. If your board has the amounts and colours listed on the card, you may return them to the “bank” and score the card.

Once a player has scored a set amount of objectives (9 in a 2 player game, 8 in a 3 player and 7 in a 4 player) They receive a one off card which represents the emperors favour (worth 2 points) and triggers the end game, where the rest of the players get one more turn to score as much as possible before the results are tallied and the person with the most points is declared the winner.

As you can see, it is a very simple game. Like any truly great game, you can play it as a novice but the more you play and learn, the more you see the game strategy come into effect, and you find yourself taking actions not only to complete your own objectives but to halter progress on what you perceive others objectives to be.

This game has immediately gone to the top of my list of games to buy for my own collection. I cannot really think of a more glowing review than that, can you?

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