It Must Be Love....Looove....Lov, Oh Bamboo!! - Takenoko Chibis Review

It took me so long to get Takenoko played, but wow, when I did, it grabbed me and didn't let go. It was an instant purchase at ManorCon and it quickly shot up to #7 in my Top 75 Geeklist from the podcast. I called it "charming" in my full review of the game and I stand by that. It instantly calms you after a bad day or a heavy Euro game and you just can't help but make "om nom nom" noises every time the panda eats some bamboo.

So an expansion has now been released and it was my #1 Anticipated Essen release (ok I know GenCon got a few copies, but we didn't so there!) It sounded like it would do what most expansions should be doing - adding in some new twists, not complicating the rules too much and most of all, NOT ADDING ANOTHER PLAYER!! Seriously publishers, adding another player does not automatically improve a game, if anything it pretty much always makes it worse.
I grabbed my copy at Essen, got it signed by Antoine Bauza and Corentin Lebrat with some funky panda artwork and stickers and was more than glad to get it played to see if it met my expectations.


Designer: Antoine Bauza / Corentin Lebrat
Publisher: Matagot / Bombyx
Players: 2-4
Age: 8+
Time: 45 Minutes
Rating: 7.74


And People Wonder Why I Don't Want Kids!

  
Everything has gone so well in the Emperor's garden with the panda living happily on a constant diet of multicoloured bamboo trees grown by the hard working Gardener. So much so that the Emperor has acquired a new panda, a female one at that. So now the Gardener has to deal with a bunch of panda babies on the scene and unlike in real life, these ones are popping up all over the place. With some additional locations to add to the garden as well, the poor Gardener has got more on his plate to deal with.

So that's the gist of the new expansion, and before I go any further I'm going to address the giant elephant in the room. Now components wise, everything is still great here, the artwork is colourful, the new panda miniature looks cool (and no I'm not bothered in the slightest that they used a pink dress to differentiate it, it's a game piece people) and the cards have their usual linen finish on them.

But there's a big issue which I swear no other reviewer is addressing here. The back's of the location hexes clearly do not fully match the ones from the base set. At least not in my copy of the game from Matagot. The artwork is the same, but you can clearly tell that the white background brightness is different. One is far brighter than the other and therefore it will be possible to see whether an expansion tile is on the top of the stack. However as much as I feel this is something that clearly could have been avoided, it's actually not a big deal in-game. You still don't know which tile it's going to be and given the frequency that the tiles action is taken, it doesn't unbalance the game in the slightest. So it's a minor nitpick and certainly not one that I'm going to down mark the expansion for.


The Best Way To A Girl's Heart Is Through Her Stomach


The biggest addition from Chibi's that we can take is the new female panda. It shares the same characteristics of movement as the male panda and doesn't eat bamboo. Instead if you move her so that the two pandas meet, the player can discard a piece of bamboo stored in their stomach (because apparently even panda's know that a good first date starts with a nice dinner) to gain a baby token of the same colour. There are 3 for each colour, each with a quick bonus, but mainly they are an extra 2 points per baby at the end of the game.

It's a fun mechanic that gets a lot of jokes going, but more importantly it's a neat way of getting points outside of the objectives. It can make up for turns where you can't do anything else that productive and the bonuses themselves can be pretty useful, especially trading in an objective for a new one. You can even base your strategy around just churning out babies for the points with some other objectives thrown in and still turn out a good score. I would have loved it if the babies were also little miniatures, but I think that would have been overkill. However Matagot have said that Chibi's is coming to the Takenoko Deluxe set so who knows, maybe we'll see something there?


More Bamboo Than You Ever Dreamed Of. . . . Strange Dreams There Mate!


The other additions are relatively small in complexity, but make a good improvement. The new objectives add more variety to each of the 3 decks to keep everything varied and the locations add some cool new effects to the way the garden grows. Some will grow bamboo of one colour across the whole map, another can host all three types, one allows you to mitigate the luck aspect of drawing new objectives and there's even a new pond tile that irrigation channels can use. All these additions are just as easy to teach new players as the rest of the game, so I have no hesitation in including Chibi's in every game. It still remains at the gateway level, yet gives players more options.

The expansion also includes some extra bamboo pieces of every colour and at first you're wondering why, but trust me you'll need them if people start putting out the expansion tiles. The idols that grow a single colour across the whole map and the garden that houses all 3 colours result in a lot more bamboo being grown around the place. So much so that in my last game I was actually able to complete the 8 point objective from the base set that has the mixed selection of green trees - no kidding, that's the only time I've seen it done, where's my golden bamboo trophy? 





Verdict


The babies give a new means of earning points in the game and in some ways help to address some of the minor balance nitpicks from the original game. The issue with the tile colour differentiation surprisingly doesn't have a big effect on game play and thus shouldn't put you off acquiring this and some people haven't even got this issue so perhaps it was restricted to a particular batch.

If you enjoy Takenoko, then this expansion is a must-buy. Now that being said I don't think you need to rush out and get it if you've only just acquired the base game as it's not essential and doesn't change the fundamental nature of what Takenoko is and how it plays. But it does what I like best in expansions - it doesn't complicate the game and adds more of the cool stuff even if there isn't a ton of it here. It's made a game I already love even better and that's what an expansion should do.

 
You Will Like This Game if:

·         You love Takenoko already and want to add to the experience.
·         You want to still be able to use it as a gateway game - the new elements aren't complex at all.

·         You want more options to do on your turn.


You Will Not Like This Game if:

·         You weren't a fan of Takenoko to begin with - it's adding to the game, not changing it.
·         You are a fan of the original insert as even though it can be done, it's not a perfect fit.

·         You are opposed to the panda having a dress. . . . . seriously what, people have a problem with this? 

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