Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Wheaton Effect Part Seven: "Takenoko"

It's been awhile since anyone in our gaming group answered the siren call of one Richard Wilhelm "Wil" Wheaton. That is, until this particular episode of Tabletop aired back November 14'th 2013:

Tasked by his wife to pick up a new board game, Jeremy wisely went with Takenoko after watching this episode of Tabletop. I say "wisely" because I was quite smitten with the game myself and secretly delighted that someone in our inner circle had pulled the trigger on it. 

I don't know what it is, but I'm a real sucker for anything related to feudal Japan. So much so that it makes me think that reincarnation is an actual thing. Why else would a dweeby white kid from Newfoundland harbor an affinity and interest in such things? Was I a panda-loathing Japanese gardener in a past life?

Notwithstanding the game's exotic setting, I was also highly impressed by its considerable aesthetic appeal and potential strategic depth. The game's official sales pitch on Asmodee's website seemed to re-enforce my initial impressions:

"The players take the role of courtesans of the Nippon emperor and take on the role of caring for his Giant Panda by growing a bamboo plantation.

"Their mission: to farm parcels of land, irrigate them, and grow green, yellow or pink bamboo. In turn, they see what the weather brings and perform two actions from among those offered to them: get a new plot of land or irrigation channel, grow bamboo, feed the panda or draw an objective card.

"The game ends when a player has completed 7 to 9 objectives (depending on the number of players). The player who gets the best score by adding the total value of their completed objective wins the game."

Wanna read the full edition of How To Feed And Care For Your Tapeworm-Infested Pet Panda (I.E. the game's rules)? Click on the link right here!  


After our session of Euphoria was over, Jeremy was kind enough to lead Chad, Dean, Jonathan and I though a game of Takenoko.  Here's how the match played out...

Setup was simple enough; we just threw down the central Pond Tile as well as the poor, exasperated Gardener and that deceptively-cute but clearly evil Panda. Just look into those cold, dead eyes! *Shiver*

"I'll swallow your soul."

Note to self: take up a collection for Dean to get him a new tablecloth. Jesus, that's thing's hideous.

Anyway, we began the game by taking several Plot Actions. Within a few turns we had a pretty decent little garden springing up with a surplus of Pink Bamboo, three segments of Green and a little sprig o' Yellow. Subsequently I placed and then irrigated a third Pink tile, which allowed me to play the first Objective Card of the game for four points.

By the time five more Plots were added to the board (three Yellow plus another one each in Pink and Green), we'd already begun to explore some of the game's other Actions. After wrestling with the idiosyncrasies of Gardener and Panda movement, Jonathan fulfilled a pair of three-point Panda-Objective Cards by cramming four Green Bamboo shoots down the fat fuck's voracious maw. To add some Yin to this Yang, he then decided to branch out into landscaping, earning a lucrative four-point payment for orchestrating two Green and two Pink Plots side-by-side.

Dean claimed a highly-prized six-point Objective Card by strategically placing a Watershed Improvement on a Pink tile and then growing some matching Bamboo. I managed to respond in kind, dropping another six-pointer for spotting two, three segment Pink Bamboo shoots. Just moments later, Chad sent that ravenous, monochromatic troglodyte over to our side of the table where he immediately began what I can only characterize as a vicious campaign of criminal Bamboo deforestation.

When it became blatantly obvious that Chad was trying to complete his first Objective Card by spoon-feeding Yellow Bamboo to the Panda, the rest of us decided to initiate a scorched earth policy against him. Time and time again, the Panda was cattle-prodded back over to his side of the board, where it helped itself to the "All-You-Can-Keep-Down" Yellow Bamboo buffet. The Panda gobbled it as fast as Chad could grow it, leading him to fear that he might end up getting skunked.

Not only did this provide endless amusement value for everyone else at the table, the four segments of Yellow Bamboo that the Panda scarfed on my watch ended up fulfilling two of my four-point Objective cards. WOOT!!!

Eventually the novelty of kicking Chad in the knutz while he was down began to wear off and we all moved on to different pursuits. As a result, Chad finally got on the board, using the Panda to score four points for his two-piece Yellow Bamboo snak pak. On a subsequent turn he placed a third abutting Green Plot, rewarding him with a similar amount of points in the process.  

Meanwhile, Jonathan diligently kept plugging away, gorging the Panda with some haute cuisine Bamboo: two in Yellow and two in Red for another nine-point windfall. He probably would have scored even more if the rest of us weren't playing "Panda Keep Away" with him. Thanks to our inadvertently prickish efforts, Jonathan had a really tough time luring that rotund, beady-eyed little cretin in a straight line back towards his Objective hexes.

Dean continued to storm back, earning a two-point reward for spotting three Green Plots in a row. Sticking with the ebony theme, he began the slow, arduous task of growing some matching stalks, eventually scoring four more points for an equal amount of Fertilized Bamboo which he safely barricaded behind a Panda-proof Enclosure. Even more critically: Yellow Bamboo was starting to flourish now that the heat was finally off of Chad. With perfect timing, Dean played a seven-point Objective Card just as three stalks of three-segment Yellow Bamboo came to fruition prior to reaching its apex. This would prove to be a real game-changer.
With Dean nipping at my heels, I decided to move away from the easy-to-complete but low-reward Panda Objectives and start working on Blue Plot cards. Unfortunately many of the random cards I drew offered pitifully low rewards. Even though I was able to complete a two-pointer for three Green Plots and three-points for a similar count of Irrigated Yellow tiles, I feared that this wouldn't be enough to ward off Dean's advances. And trust me, you want to ward of Dean's advances. He gets a little "gropey".    

Fortunately I had some reasonably-good fortune right at the buzzer, drawing a couple of higher-value Plot Cards which came pre-completed thanks to a our prodigious garden growth. This included a four-point Objective which required two Red and two Green Plots together. In playing my seventh Objective Card (requiring four neighboring Yellow and Red tiles for five points), I won the two-point bonus Emperor card and triggered the final round.

And that's when Dean's pact with Satan kicked in.

And, no, that's not the plot for an awesome episode of Supernatural. I'm actually referring to Dean's uncanny ability to draw exactly the right card and then roll precisely what he needed on the Weather Die. Unable to get to his objective in a straight line, Dean willed a Lightning result into existence, scaring the fertilizer out of the Panda and granting Dean permission to put the chubby bastard anywhere he wanted. I certainly had a few choice ideas as to where he could cram it. Like his urethra for instance. 

He moved that glassy-eyed, gluttonous freak to a space where he ate a third Bamboo color, giving him six point for this Panda-friendly bento box. He then used the Gardener to grow some Green Bamboo up to four segments on a Fertilized Plot, completing the three-point goal card he drew last turn in the process.


After Dean's eleventh-hour dramatics, Chad had his final turn. In a last-gasp, "Hail Mariko"-style play, he drew and then completed a five-point Objective which required a four-segment Yellow Bamboo tower on a Watershed Improvement Plot.

With the game at an end, the only thing left to do was add up all the points and declare the final victor!



Chad...12 Points

Jonathan...19 Points

Me...34 Points

Dean...35 Points

You're reading that right, folks: because Dean was able to draw an easy-to-complete Objective and then roll exactly what he needed on the Weather Die, I lost by a single frakkin' point. Going back to the whole re-incarnation thing, I'm starting to believe that I was a Japanese Gardener who also in the habit of cheating people out of their hard-earned koku in rigged games of Go and Shogi. Lord knows I'm paying for it in this life.

Man, talk about frustrating!




  • Along with hips, the only other thing which is indisputable in its truthiness are pictures. Hopefully the photos in this entry convey just how beautiful the game really is. We've got practical and whimsically-illustrated Individual Boards. The Bamboo bitz, Weather Die and Action Chips are all made out of real wood. The Objective Cards are durable and charming. The Improvement tokens and Plot Tiles are colorful and sturdy. And finally you also get two highly-detailed figures. The stressed-out look on the Gardener's face is priceless. It's as if he's constantly thinking: "If that walking esophagus eats another furshlugginer piece of bamboo the Emperor's gonna throw me a seppuku party!"
  • Between the Weather Die, five different possible Actions and points which can come from Plot, Gardener and Panda Cards it all adds up to a respectable number of options. Indeed, there's a surprising amount of strategy for a game that includes a little plastic Panda.
  • Just as it is in real life, Irrigation is key to successful gardening. So I'm told.       
  • If you're lagging behind in the game, Keep Calm and Panda On. As Dean clearly illustrated, it's definitely possible to come back after an early deficit if you plan things right and catch a few lucky breaks. 
  • The game isn't particularly complicated and should be relatively easy to teach to folks who are experienced with light Euros. Bonus points as well for the colorful and amusing rulebook.
  • Between the fickle Weather Die and crap-shoot late game Objective Card draws, there's a lot of luck involved in this game. 
  • A few fiddly things RE: Gardener/Panda Movement, Plot placement, Objective fulfillment, Bamboo Growth and Irrigation result in more rulebook references then expected.

There's a very, very good chance that I'll add Takenoko to my collection at some point in time, not because its so awesome or revolutionary but because I just love the theme and the game's curb appeal. If Asmodee has a spare copy of the ginormo-edition sittin' around collectin' dust, I'd be more then happy to play Emperor of Japan to your Emperor of China, ifyouknowwhutImsayin'! *nudge, nudge*  *wink, wink*

Takenoko scores four pips out of six with a tilt up toward the tallest bamboo stalk in the Emperor's garden!


Looking to make panda foie gras?  Click on the box cover below to order a copy of Takenoko and help this blog's garden grow! 

No comments:

Post a Comment