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Cards & Dice & Tabletops: Takenoko

Mike O’Raw loses some manly points as he reviews Takenoko

Photo 04-02-2014 20 07 23Puppies, kittens, cat videos on the internet, my niece and the wee girl from Despicable Me. All of these things are cute. This is the way of the world and there is no denying it. Consoles, gadgets, horror films, comics and boardgames on the other hand, are meant to be cool. You never see anyone hunched over the latest Playbox 461 going “Aww, its soooo cuuuute.” “Look at the cute wee Chthulu that ended all our lives” is not something you’re likely to hear at a boardgame session either. Until now. This week’s game has a cuteness factor that is off the charts. During the playtest we had hit five awws per minute and that was just taking the pieces out of the box! “How is this possible?” you ask. Well, my friends, prepare to go “aww” yourself when you find out that the cutest game ever played on Cards, Dice & Tabletops features…… a panda.

Takenoko is a relaxing game of skill and tactics for two to four players. The game is set in ancient Japan where the emperor has received a giant panda as a gift from the Chinese emperor. The players have been tasked with looking after said panda whilst maintaining the emperors beautiful garden. Players achieve this by either expanding the garden, growing bamboo or feeding the panda. All of these tasks are in a way dependant on each other which, whilst this is a competitive game, will have players working together to a certain extent. Takenoko starts off with a solitary plot of garden as the game area. Plots of land are then added to this on which the bamboo can be grown. Bamboo can only be grown on garden tiles that are irrigated and in the presence of the gardener and finally the panda, who can only eat one piece of bamboo at a time. The players also need to pick up objective cards which will give them points for completing these tasks and the player with the most points at the end wins the game. The cards will award points for feeding the panda certain amounts and types of bamboo, growing bamboo to various sizes or placing garden tiles in a specific pattern. These objective cards are separated into different piles which means the player has the freedom to decide on how to win the game.

Photo 04-02-2014 20 56 56One of the first things you will notice about Takenoko is the production value. You will be hard pressed to find another game that is as beautifully made as this. Even the way the game is presented inside is the box impressive. Each component sits in a little compartment of its own whilst the logo of the game is embossed in the plastic. The instruction book also has a really sweet manga style comic at the front explaining the story of the game. This beautiful artwork style is also used not only on the cards and player sheets but on the box itself. The little pieces of bamboo that connect together are really well done and the whole thing feels like it should be a piece of art rather than a boardgame. But the most impressive of all the pieces of this game are also the smallest. The gardener and panda figures are really tiny and the detail in them is extraordinary. The wee panda in particular is super cute and I have yet to see anyone pick him up without a) trying to hug him or b) breaking into baby speak!

Playing Takenoko is not as difficult as you would expect because of the choices available. The game gives players a choice of two of five actions each turn. Players may add a garden tile to the game area, irrigate an existing garden tile, use the gardener to grow bamboo, use the panda to eat bamboo or take an objective card. There is also the weather dice which adds a random element to the game to keep things lively. The result of the weather dice roll can have players getting bonuses like gaining an extra action in their turn or growing an extra piece of bamboo. The gameplay is very gentle and makes a refreshing change from other games where you are either stabbing opponents in the back or killing them off. Not that I’m knocking a good bit of murder and mayhem but sometimes it’s nice to be nice. You will often find yourself using stockpiled irrigation channels to irrigate land your opponent has just played. Although this may help him complete a land objective it may help you in completing a gardening objective and who knows, your next objective card could be for something that now is already completed on the board. Never before has a competitive game been so relaxed. After losing my first game of Takenoko, the only thing I could say was “that was lovely”!

Takenoko will steal your heart. Unlike a lot of boardgames where you remember the fun you had playing it, Takenoko will leave you with a goofy grin and a case of the warm fuzzies. It will add a nice change of pace to your games during a game day and is highly recommended. Now, if you excuse me, I have a panda to cuddle.

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