Takenoko is a light strategy game by the amazing Antoine Bauza. It serves as another great gateway game that helps get your softcore gamer friends to play a strategy game with you because who can turn down a game about a fluffy, giant panda who eats bamboo, especially when lightning scares him into eating more as a coping mechanism? This games is fairly luck-based, but there are some important strategies to understand that will help improve your winning percentage. You can view the video version immediately below or keep reading for the text version of this analysis.
The best strategy, if it works for you, is to rush. You ALWAYS want to start by attempting this one. Use the Objective action to draw your second and third Plot objectives right away while performing Plot actions to build the board to meet the patterns you need. There are not that many different patterns in the Plot objectives, so your opponents will help you complete them. If you can complete them quickly, continue drawing more Plot objectives to rush through to the end of the game. If you do not complete the first few right away, you will have to switch to a more balanced strategy of drawing Gardner and Plot objectives, but usually, you will speed your way to the end and win by a landslide. Your objectives will have fewer points, but you will win way before your opponents so you should still easily have more points in total. The only Gardner objective you will have is the one from your starting hand while you should alway have a single Panda objective to which you can apply bamboo you obtain through Lightning weather rolls. This strategy is a little less effective in the Advanced Variant where you discard any already-completed objectives when they are drawn and draw a new one, but even when you play with this rule, you should still attempt this strategy in every game.
In this strategy, you focus on the Gardner and Panda objectives. You use the Gardner actions to grow the bamboo you need for Gardener Objectives and then Panda actions to prune them to the correct size. Panda objectives can often be very quick to complete and these two both have high point rewards, so overall, you will have a higher average number of points per completed objective than someone going for Plot objectives too. The only Plot objective you should have with this strategy is the one you get in your starting hand. Ideally, you have two Panda objectives and three Gardner objectives in your hand at all times to guide your growing and eating.
When you get a question mark on the weather roll, you almost always want to choose the Sun to get an extra action unless something like a Wind will let you end the game. The Sun will do wonders for your turn efficiency.
Never place irrigation channels on the board unless it will immediately complete an object for you that you need out of your hand and you do not think other players will complete it for you. Hopefully someone will irrigate part of it (or all of it), which will allow you to irrigate something else later. Placing channels before they actually complete something for you is a complete waste and may very likely help an opponent.
No matter which strategy you are using, always keep a Panda objective in your hand because the weather rolls might give you an opportunity to move the panda without using an action and you do not want to waste them.
Once you become familiar with the game, you will know which Panda, Plot, and, albeit less-so, Gardner objectives your opponents have based on the actions they take. Use this information to hinder their progress whenever you can without forfeiting your own, especially when you can target the player(s) in the lead.
Once objectives are completed, they remain face-up, so you always know exactly where you stand compared to others at all times. Once you get within 3 objectives from ending the game or your opponents are within 2 objectives from completing it, count everyone’s points and plan out your final turns so you can maximize your points. I know it is tempting to keep your head down and blindly working through each objective, but you need to do some serious planning in your final turns to give yourself the best chance to win.