The use of panda diplomacy has a long history within China. In pursuit of closer diplomatic ties with other countries, China has a centuries-long practice of gifting its giant pandas in an act of generosity and political friendship. The act was first recorded as early as the 7th century. Takenoko (literally: bamboo sprout) is a light-hearted homage to this ancient tradition, telling the story of a panda given to the Japanese emperor by his Chinese counterpart. The panda is set loose in the royal gardens, and the poor royal gardener is forced to deal with an animal that is suddenly eating all the trees.

To start off this year’s tabletop recommendations, we take a closer look at Takenoko. This brilliant game by Antoine Bauza is extremely easy to learn, and its cute characters and non-violent themes make it a perfect fit for families. However, its strategic depth is far more than you might imagine at first glance, thanks to an asymmetric approach to victory conditions, and a tile-based board that evolves over the course of play. 

Getting Started

Takenoko comes in a thoughtfully designed square box that comfortably holds all its components, and even includes easy-to-access cups to store components during play, keeping the rest of the table clear for the growing tile layout that develops over the course of a session. 

Two to four players each receive a sturdy play mat that includes spots for storing game components for later use, as well as a pictorial reminder of a player’s actions on any given turn. Since the game board develops in the natural course of a game, setup is incredibly simple – a central tile is placed in the middle of the table, and the tiny gardener and panda figures are placed on top, ready to spread out across the board as the game begins. 

With the player mats as visual aids, a player that has read the rules can easily explain the entirety of the game to fellow players in a matter of minutes, and then the bamboo eating gets underway. 

[Next page: Growing bamboo only to chomp it away]