The Jaded Gamer

Opinions, not always positive, on the gaming world.
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The Little Panda

Alec Chapman
United Kingdom
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Anyway, how's your sex life?
"She said the same thing about waffles."
Microbadge: Offline from The Geek for a while
Retrospective 2: Takenoko
How obtained: In trade for Wasabi!

ALGO wrote:
"So my plan from here is to talk about virtually every game I've ever owned. I'm not going to slap the word "review" on those posts, because it'll be a completely subjective recollection of my experiences with each game, rather than a judgement on its merits or qualities from anything other than a personal history perspective."
Board Game: Takenoko

While I would be lying if I claimed that Tabletop hadn't been the primary source of my spotting "the panda game" - my reasons for obtaining it were a bit more sensible.

Board Game: Wasabi!

Up until this trade I had been the "proud" owner of Wasabi!, that most awful of things - a game my wife enjoyed greatly, but that I absolutely despised. As a result I was trapped in that horrible space where she would want to play it and I tried not to throw up while doing so.

I'm not entirely sure what I have against Wasabi!, either. While it is in essence an abstract game with themed bits, everything sort of works within the theme so it doesn't feel entirely pasted on (well, aside from the Wasabi cubes themselves) and I don't mind abstracts at all. I enjoy them a lot, in fact.

In hindsight, I suppose the problem was that while on one level the system works, it still fails to either:

a. Make sense
-after all, you don't make sushi by lining stuff up and sharing the crossovers

b. Be fun
-and this is pretty subjective, but it felt pretty samey. You could try and complete your 5 ingredient recipe if you liked, but if so you had to be ready for a lot of tedious blocking and unblocking that felt far too rote to be enjoyable.

I don't have any issue with anyone who likes Wasabi! - it just isn't for me. If you do enjoy it, why not temper my harsh words with a comment below?

Having decided to kick the sushi game out of the door, I was faced with the irritating prospect of losing one of the games I was reasonably assured my wife would play if I wanted to get a game out of an evening.

At this point I was lucky enough to watch that Tabletop episode and, while recognising we weren't in the realms of high no-luck strategy games here was something that could easily capture her imagination.

Board Game: Takenoko

Image is by BGG User kevacoustic

Of course, the cute story and Panda help greatly - as do the incredible production values on display - each tile looks great, the bamboo is perfect (if a tad wobbly) yet retains enough clarity and symbology to make the game an absolute breeze to play. It also helps that the card drawing and risk/reward of trying to grow the garden towards them is similar enough to Wasabi! to retain a bit of familiarity when teaching - so I could literally say "just like Wasabi" when explaining the scoring cards.

The rest of it still proved a teeny bit tricky to teach, since doing one thing THEN two other things a turn isn't the most intuitive system for occasional gamers. There have been a couple of moments where doing things in a slightly different order has happened (i.e. the weather die gave an ability that would help in the MIDDLE of her turn) and the usual discussion about why I am such a nitpicker was had and so on.

But since, as I said, I understand we're not in the realms of high strategy here I have let a couple of moments slide in favour of actually enjoying the process of playing.

I do think it's worth taking a moment to think occasionally about whether the process of a game is fun. For instance, when I recently learned Alchemists I wasn't so enamoured of the actual game after scoring as I was of the processes I used while playing it, especially the testing of potions using the app.

I'm sure Alchemists has been discussed at length elsewhere, so all I'll say is that the game seems to be won and lost by how you play the bit of it I didn't like very much - the publishing of theories; rather than the bit I did like - the testing of potions.

As a result, my memory of entering the end game was of frustration, despite loving the experience of playing it while it was happening - your mileage may vary of course.

However, in Takenoko while the end game and the strategy determined by your card draws is a lot simpler, probably, than in Alchemists - I didn't feel that moment of "well, I just wasted my time doing the fun bit" that I did in the other game. Neither did I spend the whole game hating the process of laying tiles and stacking or swapping them in a near-zero sum boredom fest as in Wasabi!

There's a few options and while they're not the most complex, they do all contribute to your scoring, and so long as you maintain some kind of flexibility you're not stuck up a blind alley or facing the next twenty minutes making up the numbers. I like watching the garden and bamboo grow and making "yum" noises when the Panda eats - probably the only dull move, for my limited definition of dull, is picking up irrigation (since you don't get to change the board unless you place it immediately). And you end the game, not with a horrible mish/mash of sushi related tiles slapped onto a board; not with a whole load of interesting sheets and deductions that don't matter any more; but with a colourful, cute little bamboo garden that has scored you a bunch of points.

It's not my favourite game by a ways, since it does have a limited range of experiences to offer - it is not variable in its set up and the only optional rule is not really much of a change (since randomness has such a big part to play the scoring card having to be qualified for again is just as arbitrary as it already having been completed). I have yet to work out if I can be bothered to try and learn the scoring card distribution to try and play it as a game of brinksmanship.

I think I will continue to use Takenoko as I have been. It's, at its lightest, a fun little activity and game that produces a few giggles and a little bit of thinking, as well as a pretty awesome looking result.
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