Review – Takenoko

Sometimes you’re in the mood for a light, relaxing game rather than a no-holds barred slugfest of a game where your brain feels like it’s going to melt from all the decisions you have to make.

Sometimes you happen to find that game and you have a nice smile on your face, ready to enjoy a luxurious romp through some fun game mechanics.

And then a panda comes along and eats it because you’re out of bamboo, and you’re back to square one.

Yes, I’m talking about the classic 2011 game published by Matagot called Takenoko.


Takenoko was designed by Antoine Bauza with art by Nicolas Fructus, Picksel, and Yuio. It plays 2-4 players.

Is it a fun game?

To borrow a phrase, does a panda…uh…do bathroom things in the bamboo patch? (Editor: Actually, we don’t know that they do)

Let’s take a look!

In Takenoko, players are the caretakers of a panda in the Japanese Imperial Court’s garden. The panda was a gift from the Chinese emperor, and it gets kind of hungry. The gardener is trying to grow his bamboo garden so that it’s a beautiful sanctuary, but the panda keeps on eating bamboo shoots because it’s hungry.

Takenoko - Miniatures
The gardener is much more harried than he looks.

You start the game by placing the pond tile out on the table, with both the gardener and the panda placed on it.

During the game, the garden will grow as players will be putting tiles out on the table. Each tile can be one of three colours: green, yellow, and red.

Takenoko - Bamboo
Yellow bamboo is tasty, but you can’t beat the red.

As tiles are placed and irrigated (either by being next to the pond tile, having the pond improvement on the tile, or by having irrigation channels placed along the edge), bamboo will start to grow on the tile.

On a player’s turn, they will take two separate actions, but they will start by rolling the weather die.

Takenoko - Die
Nice, but hard to read

This die will let the player do whatever the die says:

  • Sun: Take an additional (third) action
  • Rain: Grown a bamboo shoot in an irrigated tile
  • Wind: May take two identical actions instead of different ones
  • Storm: Move the panda and eat a bamboo shoot
  • Clouds: Choose an improvement (Watershed, Enclosure, Fertilizer). You can place it immediately or hold onto it until you need it.
  • Wild: choose one of the other five options

Once they’ve done that, they will do their two (or three if they rolled Sun) actions, which are as follows:

  • Plots: draw three tiles and then place one, putting the other two at the bottom of the stack
  • Irrigation Channel: Take an irrigation channel to hold on to or place immediately
  • Gardener: Move the gardener to any tile on a straight line from his current one. Grow a bamboo shoot on that tile if it’s irrigated
  • Panda: Move the panda to any tile on a straight line from his current one. He then eats a bamboo shoot (meaning you take a shoot off and put it on your player card).
  • Draw an objective card.

Once you’ve done both of your actions, it’s the next player’s turn.

Takenoko - Goal Cards
Now *that’s* a harried gardener

The key to the game are the objective cards, as you need to complete a certain number of them (determined by player count) to win. Each card will give you a certain number of points for completing it. Some are harder than others.

The three types are:

  • Plot objectives – a certain pattern of tiles present in the garden
  • Gardener objectives: a certain pattern of bamboo shoots present in the garden
  • Panda objectives: a player has collected a certain number and type of shoots on the card.

(Sorry for all of the bullet points, but I just think that my panda accountant would get a kick out of them.)

Play goes around the table, with each player taking their actions, until somebody has completed their final objective card (again, depending on player count). That person takes the 2-point Emperor card. Everybody else then has one more turn to try and catch up.

Total the points on your objective cards and whoever has the most is the winner!

Is Takenoko a peaceful romp through a beautiful bamboo garden? Or is it a panda who keeps falling on its head because he’s clumsy?

I really love Takenoko, though I wouldn’t want to play it too often in a row. It does tend to play out the same way with repeated plays.

First, let’s look at the components.

For those of you who have been with this blog since almost the beginning, you know I love a good insert.

Takenoko - Insert
Beautiful and pink!

And Takenoko’s is amazing! At least until you get the expansion (which I have not played). There’s a place for everything, it fits wonderfully. I don’t think the cards spot would fit sleeved cards, but I see no reason to sleeve these.

Why do I have the bamboo in bags? I could easily put them all in their spaces, but the rattle that would make when the game was moved around just makes my head hurt. Hence, the baggies.

Takenoko - Player Sheet
Clear and concise!

The player cards are gorgeous too, though flimsy. They’re a perfect aid for players, a place to put all of the bamboo you’ve had the panda eat (I boggle at the thought of one panda eating bamboo yet four people having its stomach, but that’s probably not something to think about).

They also give you a place to denote your actions, a guide for what the symbols on the die mean, a reminder that you can’t take the same action twice (except with the Wind die roll). A place for your irrigation and your improvements.

They’re just awesome. And while flimsy, they’re probably as good as they need to be.

The little wooden die is a bit odd, though. It fits the theme, but I find it hard to read and the colour could easily flake off.

The bamboo shoots are made of hard wood and are really nice, though sometimes they don’t fit together as well as I would like. Occasionally they’re kind of tight and other times they’re so loose that a soft breeze will blow them over.

Takenoko - Tiles

Finally, the tiles are good quality, thick cardboard. The colours are vibrant and they look wonderful on the table.

This is a beautiful game.

For gameplay, it’s a very simple game, easy to teach, and it is quick. It makes a great lunch-time game as it will take you about 20-30 minutes tops.

If you like your games hard, this is definitely not the game for you. But it makes a nice filler for before the main event or something to drag out because you have a spare half-hour left at the end of the night before everybody goes home.

On the downside, Takenoko definitely has a runaway leader problem. If somebody gets two objective cards ahead of you, it’s not likely you will be able to catch up. However, in a game this quick, does that really matter?

Why not just Zen out and enjoy the experience?

Give in to the Way of the Panda.

Another example of how this may not appeal to hardcore gamers is that the decisions are usually pretty straightforward. What are my objective cards, and what do I need to do to achieve them?

Ok, I have a gardener objective that needs a certain amount of bamboo on a red tile. Time to move the Gardener. I have a tile objective with green and yellow tiles. I guess I’d better draw some tiles.

That’s the reason this game is so quick; if anybody suffers Analysis Paralysis in this game, there’s something wrong with them.

Takenoko - Irrigation
I just noticed that the bamboo bases do look a little like nuclear power plants.

There isn’t much player interaction in the game either. You may move the Gardener or Panda in a way that makes it so that I can’t move them to get what I want. Oh well. I’ll do something else this turn.

Or maybe you put a tile somewhere that makes my Plot objective impossible to do without putting a lot more tiles down. Ok, I’ll abandon that one and do something else.

It’s all very easy-going and relaxing.


There’s a reason this made it onto Tom Vasel’s “Top 10 Relaxing Games” list recently.

I think that’s why I like Takenoko. It’s just a pleasant little game, it doesn’t tax you, and it’s a nice way to spend 20-30 minutes with a couple of people.

I can see how it might not be for everyone.

Some gamers don’t fine the relaxation in a game that doesn’t make them think at least somewhat.

And that’s ok.

The Panda doesn’t mind.

The Panda abides.

If you get the chance, give Takenoko a try.

You may just find yourself feeling calmer.

And isn’t that a good thing?


(Editor: Dave? Dave? Stop staring off into space and finish the review! Those are pretty tiles. I think I’ll just stop a minute…ommmmmmmmmmm)

This review was written after 7 plays









5 Comments on “Review – Takenoko

  1. Good points all round. I really like this game for playing with my children (7 and 9 years old at the time of writing). All the things that you note might put off more hardcore gamers are exactly the sort of things that I consider a positive when children are involved. It’s not a game for everyday, but it is nice palette cleanser between more ‘serious’ games on a nice boardgaming menu.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I found this review patronizing. The tone of “this is so easy” was very off putting.
    So your a hard core gamer and you can play this in your sleep. So what? I’m not impressed with your review.

    Liked by 1 person

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