I have always been an avid fan of tabletop games. My companion and I are gamers in every sense of the word, and we try to play a board game or card game on a regular basis to keep the competitive spirit alive. So naturally we are always on the hunt for something new and interesting.
Fellow Nerd Much writer and friend of mine, Elizabeth Bernstein, recently gifted me a game called Takenoko, for no other purpose than it has the most adorable panda on the front and the art is absolutely beautiful. In fact, she was pretty sure the game was going to be a tad boring and we were going to end up playing it with her young kids. Little did she know this game is recommended for ages 13 and up! Naturally, pandas give me life and I was beyond excited to crack the plastic and play a round regardless of how elaborate it was or was not.
It didn’t take long to realize that this game was much more complicated than the cutesy cover portrayed. Perhaps it was the Golden Geek the game won in 2012, or the eight page comic/instruction manual that gave it away. In Takenoko, you have been tasked with caring for a panda that has just been gifted to your Emperor. You cultivate land plots, painstakingly irrigate them so a farmer can grow an abundance of bamboo, just for this chubby panda to come around and eat it all.
Think a slightly less involved Catan. Throughout the game, players complete objectives to gain victory points hoping to be the first to reach a predetermined goal. It takes forethought and strategy to simultaneously complete your own objective and prevent your opponent from completing their own. With a play time of about an hour, Takenoko quickly became a household favorite.
If you are like me and rarely have a house filled with three or more people, except for prearranged game nights, then you are constantly on the hunt for games that are just as fun with two people as they are several. Numerous tabletop games are advertised for two players but the game play is just not as intricate as with more. Takenoko doesn’t have this flaw.
The gameplay is not diminished with lack of numbers. It is in fact just as interesting competing against one as competing against three. Actually, I find you can play with a total of five people without any hindrance (or at least none that I have run into). The instructions are very clear, and it takes just a short while of immersing yourself in the game to really get the flow. However, it took us time to understand all the complex rules for movement and actions. The first three or four games were played with an open rulebook next to the board space.
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After you have fallen in love, played a shocking number of rounds and eaten as much bamboo as your panda stomach can handle, you should consider investing in the expansion, Takenoko Chibis. Yes, Takenoko takes on new life with the introduction of Miss Panda and the subsequent making of panda babies.
Playing with the expansion is arguably more enjoyable than the original. It adds fresh land plots and objective cards and a lot of new fun. While the original game is entertaining, playing with the expansion is perhaps just my favorite. I like the added elements and the larger game board- A player needs to make more deliberate movements to make progress around the play area. I only have one complaint for Chibis. The panda babies are not little figures; they are represented by small round tiles. While this works great for gameplay, it is less fun for those of us with panda obsessions.
There is one last element of Takenoko I feel is worth noting, the exceptional organizational system. Every piece, card and tile has a specific place in a perfectly crafted plastic insert. Every time I open the box, each part is undisturbed and ready to be used even if the box gets jostled. It makes set-up a breeze and satisfies my need for game cleanliness. I mean, it makes me want to pull out my hair when I open a game box and have to spend 45 minutes reorganizing all the bits. In addition, the expansion integrates perfectly into the main box, so you don’t have to lug two boxes around every time you want to play. It’s just the sweet topping to an already exceptional board game.
To close, buy this game and play it with your friends, significant other, family, or random person on the street. It’s worth it. Some points for recap:
1. Takenoko is GREAT for two players
2. Surprisingly intricate gameplay
3. The art is beautiful and you get to play with PANDAS
4. Clear, precise instructions
5. Expansion for continued fun
6. Amazing structural insert for organized gaming!
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