The panda, the gardener, and the bamboo

takenoko

This week I was joined at first by Sheer, and we returned to the Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, to see if we could do any better than last week’s struggle. We couldn’t. In a previous session, we had completed the first quest – given a difficulty rating of 1 (on the scale of 1-10, the higher the more difficult) – but this ‘4’ rated second quest was just slaughtering us. Since the third quest in the box is a ‘5’, we won;t be going anywhere near that for a time. Meantime, Sheer and I are off to research solutions for quest number two.

When Peleg turned up, we started a game of Takenoko, new to all of us. I read and explained the rules – it took about 15 minutes – and off we went.

The gardener

The gardener

The theme involves the Emperor’s garden and a panda. The players are competing to keep the panda happy, and have the best contribution to the garden, growing bamboo, and irrigating plots. Meantime, the panda is wandering around eating the bamboo.

The panda

The panda

The components are high quality: the plots are stiff board hexagons (in three colors), the bamboo are exquisite pieces that can stack (again in matching three colors), and the panda and gardener are lovely painted miniatures. The production standards are excellent. The only slight niggle was a poorly worded rule about game end, but we figured that out correctly.

The bamboo

The bamboo

Each player’s turn has two parts: weather die, and actions.

The weather die is a six sided thing with symbols, each representing a weather and game effect. For example, the sun gives you an extra action. The cloud allows you to take a development marker. So, there is a pretty chunky luck element here. I would think about taking this out and replacing it with a deck of six cards for each player, each card only usable once in each of six rounds. But that’s for another time.

As actions, you can add a new plot to the garden, take an irrigation channel, move the gardener (which increases the bamboo growth), move the bamboo (which reduces the bamboo by eating it!), or take a victory point card. You can always add an irrigation channel or a development marker, without costing you an action. The channels allow plots out from the center to be irrigated (and so grow bamboo) and the development markers do things like boost bamboo growth, protect from panda attacks, and automatically irrigate a plot.

The cards are how you win. Each has a goal – for example, four yellow plots in a particular pattern, or a yellow bamboo at a height of four, and so on. Once you have the matching requirement, you can claim the victory points and put the card down in front of you. The first to eight cards down triggers the last round.

I screwed up one major victory point card by not noticing the need for a development marker. That set me back, but I was already falling behind. Peleg got the game quickly, and he raced off to a decent score. Just over the last two rounds, Sheer managed to catch up and overtake him.

The game claims a playing time of 45 minutes. With repeated play that is possible, I guess, but an hour seems a more reasonable target if everyone plays quickly.

This is good fun, light, and a great bridge game for novice gamers. As stated above, for my own tastes I would reduce the luck element, and that would make it more of a gamer’s game. I would rate it now as a high quality filler.

Thanks to Sheer and Peleg for joining in.