I received Takenoko for Fathers Day last month, and was finally able to get the whole family available to play. Cortnie and I previewed it in a two player game, then my two year old Tesla and I went up against my other two kids, and my wife in a four player game.

Takenoko is a game that takes place in the Japanese Emperor’s Garden. The Emperor of China has given him a rare and special gift: a Panda Bear. Not knowing what to do, the Emperor receiving the gift puts it into the Gardens and has the Gardener grow bamboo for it to eat.

For a full explanation of set up and play, head to Watch It Played. For the record, I do not have the collector’s edition, but after watching Rodney play with it, I would love to have it. During the game each player takes two actions on a turn. Each action must be different from one another. A custom die is rolled at the beginning of each turn that gives bonuses in various ways.

Possible Actions:

  1. Move the panda; eat bamboo
  2. Move the gardener, grow bamboo
  3. Irrigate a garden tile
  4. Place a garden tile
  5. Draw a card.

There are also three types of objective cards that earn you points. When, on your turn, you meet the requirements of the objective or objectives your have, play the card and claim the points. When a player has played enough objective cards, which changes based on player count, the game ends with one last turn for other players.

  1. Gardener Card: with these cards, you need to have specific colors of bamboo, grown at specific heights, with specific improvements.
  2. Panda Card: This card has the panda eat Bamboo that the Gardener has grown. When you have eaten the right amounts and colors of Bamboo, you complete the objective.
  3. Plot card: This card requires the garden tiles to be in a specific configuration, and irrigated.

Cortnie and I started the game and it was clear she was focusing on moving that adorable little panda around. I had guessed this before we started, so I was already planning to focus on the Gardener, so I could shake my fist at her when she ate my bamboo. This game was a welcome change from the Take That! style of play I had been using, even in more friendly games. We each played our own games and in the end the score was very close.

The main reason I wanted this game, was because I thought it would be a great family time game. After a big breakfast this morning, we opened up the gaming table and set up the game. Since it was our first time with the whole family, we played with open hands, so Cortnie and I could help understand the objectives. My wife started by reading the short comic at the opening of the rule book and stage for the Panda being in the Garden, and why the Gardener was unhappy about it.

Interestingly enough, my four-year-old daughter, Ripley, took the same actions as my wife had in our first game, while my son took after me. Every time Ripley moved the Panda she would make adorable chomping noises. When she rolled the storm on the die, which lets you move the panda anywhere on the board, she would give a little scream and hide behind her hands, then grin and move the scared panda and return to her chomping.

Zeb started moving the gardener around and drawing gardener cards. He was getting frustrated by the panda eating his work, but then something amazing happened. He started growing bamboo in places that would leave the panda in a position that it couldn’t move to where Zeb needed to grow it. I could see his strategy unfolding in his mind, looking at turn after turn, predicting what other players would do.

Cortnie also took the gardener cards and ran with them, growing bamboo everywhere she could.

I took a seeming passive role in this one. I would draw a plot card, and draw a tile. Once I was full on plot cards, I took irrigation tokens instead, storing them for later use. I sat back playing a card whenever it was completed, using an occasional action to advance one of my kids’ objectives. Then, when I knew I could end the game, I played three irrigation tokens and a watershed tile, and turned in four objectives to trigger the end of the game. I ended up winning only because I got an extra two points for triggering the end. My son was one point away from beating me, and Ripley was only four points down. Cortnie too was only a couple of points shy.

Next game, we’ll play with closed hands, although one of us will still help Ripley until she gets a firmer grasp on it. We all had fun, and Ripley spent the rest of the afternoon claiming to be a panda and asking for bamboo.

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