A gardener and a panda team up together...
Takenoko is a modern gateway classic game of set collection, tile placement, route building, and more brought to your mobile devices by Asmodee Digital. Players in Takenoko tend to and build a shared garden in which bamboo grows, a gardener cultivates, and a panda snacks. Each player works towards collecting and completing objective cards for points, once a single player reaches the card goal for the game, one last turn is taken and then the game ends. Points from objectives are added and the winner is the player who scored the most. A digital game can be played in about ten minutes.
The game board started with a single tile, a gardener, and a panda. On their turns players may choose from two of five options: place a tile, move the panda, move the gardener, take an irrigation channel, or take a new objective card. Tiles expand the board and provide more places to grow bamboo. Speaking of which, the gardener is moved to any tile in a straight line and grows a bamboo on that tile, if it is irrigated. Generally, irrigated tiles are ones which are connected via a channel to a water source. Once a tile has bamboo growing on it, the panda can be moved to that space, also in a straight line from his current position, and eat one section of bamboo.
The point of all of this is to complete objective cards. These come in three flavors, with each player starting with one of each: plot, gardener, and panda objectives. Plot objectives are satisfied when a section of irrigated tiles on the board match the card. Gardener objectives are achieved when bamboo is growing somewhere on the board to match the card. Finally, panda objectives are completed when you have collected the bamboo sections on the card. There are a few odds and ends which break these rules, and also a die roll before each turn which does the same.
Players get two actions on their turn. The game is played until one player reaches the required number of objective cards for the game, which is based on the player count. This player receives a two point bonus and each player gets one more turn before the game ends. All objective points are added, the most points wins.
Takenoko is a relatively simple game, often cited as a strong gateway option. It includes a few different mechanics and acts as a fun introduction to modern games. It isn’t an especially deep experience, but it is light and, generally, quite peaceful. Players can, and will, thwart your plans, but as the objective cards are hidden, it is typically difficult to do so on purpose.
The game works well in digital form despite missing the cool feel of the panda and gardener figurines along with building the bamboo stalks up. I’m not sure Takenoko would have been near the top of my list of desired gateway ports, but I did find myself enjoying the digital experience more than anticipated.
Barrier to Entry
Takenoko is a gateway level game. There are a handful of things going on, but you are limited to a few different choices each turn to keep things simple. Ultimately, you are working towards fulfilling your objective cards which always provide a few clear objectives. All of this is to say that new players generally have an easy time learning this game. The app provides a tutorial upon initial startup as well as some text rules and in-game text about what you need to be doing. It all adds up to a really great experience for new players, they can hop into this app with zero knowledge and pick up the game rather quickly.
Starting a new game
Pretty graphics throughout
Look and Feel
The game itself is gorgeous and the app follows suit. You can’t fully replicate the tactile goodness of those little bamboo pieces and the adorable panda, but the app does a commendable job. The colors are bright throughout, everything is given a nice 3D model, and the game simply looks great. There are some comic-style art panels when you first load the game which also look fantastic.
The game uses a scrollable, zoomable 3D map. I have no issues with this layout, but it might be a bit more work than some want to put into navigating the play area. Along with this, the game uses visual effects for the weather added by the die rolls, I find these to be nice touches, but they are another thing that deviates a bit from the typical, top-down view many digital board games offer.
Control wise, everything is simple and intuitive as you would hope. The only downside in this category is the lack of an undo button which is especially troublesome as you are learning the game and realize too late you’ve made a terrible choice.
The online play in Takenoko offers asynchronous or real-time cross platform play. You can invite friends or create a public game for others to join. The game uses the familiar, and frustrating, Asmodee lobby system. It works fine, but the frustration comes into play as you are forced to sit in the lobby with the app open, unable to do anything else, while you wait for players to fill up your game. This is, for the Nth time, a horrible design and continues to be a very frustrating “feature” of Asmodee games. It’s a shame because they get so many other things right in allowing a wide range of timeout options (from seven minutes to 15 days), having leaderboards, and a karma system for filtering out quitters.
With it being a new game, the lobby has been empty when I’ve checked. I’ve occasionally had somebody jump into my lobby only to exit when not wanting to wait for more players to join. All of this means that I haven’t gotten the chance to try out how online play actually works with regards to notifications and everything else.
There is one glaring bug here. If you go into the online play section and back out, trying to return to it again will present you with a blank screen with no way to check the lobby or create a new game again without restarting the app.
The game does off local pass-and-play. The game pops up a screen when the turn is switching players so the hidden card information isn’t shown.
Single player games are played against one to three AI opponents. There are no AI difficulty levels, simply one AI to go against. This is generally a large red flag, but I’m happy to say that the AI in this game is quite decent. It took me quite a few games to get my first victory and even with those games under my belt I often find myself losing by a wide margin. The AI opponents properly load up on objective cards, often leading to scoring multiple cards in one turn near the end of the game. We always prefer scaling AI, but at least the single level provided in this game is well done.
More eye candy
Making a move
The app offers the Chibis expansion as an in-app purchase. The expansion adds a second panda to the game along with some new tiles and bonuses. The app gives you the option to try out the expansion before buying, which amounts to walking you through all of the features it adds in the form of a tutorial. This is a nice way to understand what it adds to the base game before buying.
There have been a couple of times (one mentioned above in multiplayer) where I found myself stuck in a state where nothing would happen and I had to restart the app to get it working again. Hopefully these are issues that are quickly ironed out in updates. It is also worth mentioning that the iOS has a slew of reported issues as well, they seem to be along the same lines but also include the game freezing mid-turn, which isn't something I've experienced playing the Android version. I do want to point out that the issues I've experienced are quite infrequent.
The Wrap Up
Takenoko is a fairly typical Asmodee Digital mobile app. They take lighter games, give them amazing looking digital ports with minimal options and a frustrating online system. The game is fun and works well for any play mode outside of playing random foes online.
There are a few bugs that pop up here and there and make you restart the app to proceed, hopefully those get fixed in updates, but that is not guaranteed by any means. The lack of undo button likely won’t change and is always a desired feature.
Want a fun, quick way to play this light family game against competent AI? Want a way to play it with friends online or sitting around a tablet? This game might be for you if you can deal with the occasional bugs. The Takenoko app does enough to warrant a place in the digital libraries of some, but falls short of being a game that all digital board gamers need to consider.