The Basics: Takenoko by Antoine Bauza and winner of the 2012 Golden Geek award, was published in 2011 by Asterion Press, Bombyx, and the New Galactic Empire. Bauza, perhaps best known for 2010’s 7 Wonders, has had a lot of hit games in the past five years—Terror in Meeple City (originally titled Rampage), Tokaido, Hanabi, among others, and these games are all the more notable for the fact that they are all so different from each other. It’s one thing to design a game so popular it gets distributed at major retailers like Barnes & Noble and Target, but quite another for a designer to still be willing to take chances by designing games that are quite different from what has been so successful in the past and to pull those games off too.
Takenoko is a light euro tile-laying, set-collection game set in a Japanese garden inhabited by a panda and the imperial gardener. Players take turns expanding the garden, growing bamboo with the gardener, and eating the bamboo with the panda. Along the way, players score points by achieving certain objectives such as having the panda eat certain types of bamboo or having the gardener grow so much of a certain type of bamboo. The game is certainly very manageable in terms of rules, and the high production values, especially the little vinyl panda, create a light and pleasant experience even as the game becomes rather tense in the last few turns.
What We Did Wrong: Recently someone very special gave me a copy of Takenoko: Chibis, which expands the game by adding Mrs. Panda, baby pandas, and a bunch of new tiles and objectives. In the course of reading the rules to the expansion, I happened across a reference to a base-game rule that apparently I had missed. When expanding the garden, a tile must be placed so that it touches either the pool at the center of the board or two other tiles. I must have missed the second option. As a result, our Takenoko boards were always kind of fractal and jagged. I played a game last night with the correct rules and got a much more harmonious looking garden.
Conclusion: Takenoko is a happy little game that doesn’t indulge in gimmicky or complex mechanics and delivers a fine and accessible experience. Additionally, while I don’t usually care for expansions, Takenoko: Chibis has proved to be an exception. Rather than crowd its base game with half-baked and largely superfluous ideas, Chibis cleverly inserts just enough action economy in places where the game otherwise tends to drag a bit. The new tiles also break up the visual aspect of the board, which in the base game while being colorful and appealing can tend toward monotony. So, in addition to recommending Takenoko to anyone looking for a light euro, I also recommend its expandsion, Takenoko: Chibis.