Friday, January 24, 2014


I love board game designers Stefan Feld and Uwe Rosenberg, and the wonderfully involved games they keep on creating. Nested machinations, tons to do, loads of bits -- great stuff. But as satisfying as those games can be, it's nice to come across a board game that manages to be satisfying while remaining much simpler. Recently, I found such a game in Takenoko.

From designer Antonie Bauza, Takenoko is a hex tile game. Players take turns maneuvering a panda token and gardener token around an ever-expanding forest where the bamboo grows in three different colors. Each player is armed with hidden cards, each card outlining a specific condition for scoring points. Some ask you to use the gardener to grow bamboo to a certain height in a certain place. Others ask you to move the panda to locations where he'll eat certain colors of bamboo. Still others are looking for the land tiles themselves to be placed in particular configurations. Each turn, you get two actions to try to fulfill your scoring conditions, revealing cards as you satisfy them. The game ends when one player has managed to play eight cards.

Mind you, this game is not "bottom rung simple" in its rules set. Some board games in my collection are even more streamlined (and generally, are much more abstract). But Takenoko is considerably less involved than the games I tend to like most. And I was pleased to find that even stripped down, there was plenty of room to strategize. I felt myself challenged to turn my opponents' contrary moves to my advantage, and to find ways I might maneuver them into doing things I wanted. Plus, it all went down in a rather short period of time; for taking easily half as long as most German board games, it didn't sacrifice half the fun.

Over on Board Game Geek, Takenoko is ranked quite highly in the Family Game category. I can believe it -- both the high score and the notion that a family really could play it together. It's not so basic that you could graduate a small child from Candy Land to Takenoko, but I do think that the manufacturer's suggested "8 and up" sounds reasonable. It might also make a great "bridge" game for any of you out there who wish you could make enthusiasts of certain friends who've never seen a board game you can't buy in the toy section at Target.

I'd give Takenoko an A-. It succeeds wonderfully at what it's trying to be, keeping things more manageable without becoming boring for a veteran gamer.

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