Getting to Know Takenoko
There is a clear distinction that proves to me whether my friends fall into one of these two groups: 1) Decent and admirable, or 2) Pure evil.
It’s when I pull the Taboo, Cluedo and Boggle out, that I learn who is actually the devil in disguise. It seems I have a sort of board game addiction. While I know not every body loves board games as much as I, I call it blasphemy when my friends perform a childish tantrum because they’d rather die than draw absurdities in a friendly game of Pictionary.
I had never understood this anxiety when faced with board games, until this week. I was introduced to two games I had never seen before. One was called ‘Story Wars’; an almost unregimented game whereby you have to defeat opponents by explaining your plan of attack (something you might see on The Big Bang Theory), and the other an intriguing composition of luck and strategy, titled ‘Takenoko’.
It was this second game that had me at hello.
Upon first impression, it was delightful to look at. The packaging was brightly coloured, and sported a panda holding a little pink umbrella. In all, the game was cute! It also smelt new due to the crisp cards and fresh, wooden pieces. I was so overwhelmed by how much I was enjoying this game before we’d even begun playing.
Then we began to play- the instructions were awfully specific in the contextual story of the game, and vague in the actual play-by-play steps. It seemed that each element was explained in an illogical order and so we found ourselves constantly flicking back and forth through the book.
Finally we sort-of, not really, got the hang of playing, and just bluffed our way through the bits that didn’t make sense. I must admit, once we eventually reached a state of confidence the game was actually enjoyable. The objective was to gain as many ‘power points’ as possible, achieved through growing bamboo stalks, creating unique land patterns, and munching through other players’ bamboo with the panda. When it was not your turn you were able to evaluate what your next move would be – as you would in scrabble – and reflect upon the moves of competitors. Xu, Barba, Radu, Gandy and MacIntyre (2011) discuss the elements that support social interaction and bodily presence in board games, one being ‘the work required for play to happen’. This refers to the activities that one must perform in order to continue playing, including analysing your own potential moves and those of competitors. These steps are referred to as ‘chores’ and are proved to be essential for successful social play. It was obvious amidst our game play that each of these interactions made for a far more engaging experience.
The final 5 minutes of the game felt intense- a feeling I didn’t think would occur during a pastel pink packaged game. This intensity turned to celebration when I marched into victory, winning the game. While I have often heard it said that winning is always fun, the IR Theory discussed by Xu, Barba, Radu, Gandy and MacIntyre (2011) proves this point, suggesting that positive performance can ‘enhance emotions’ and result in ‘social enjoyment’. This is one of the key elements that causes physical board games to be so effective.
I have to say, Takenoko was a beautiful example of a physical game that results in ‘successful social interaction, including bodily presence, mutual focus of attention and synchronization of emotions’. It honestly leaves you with a rollercoaster experience. It starts off great because the graphic design and illustration work is impeccable. It then feels like a train wreck, because you’ll find you don’t actually understand the point of the game. Fortunately, it ends on a high, as you fluently glide through each turn and conclude that the 20 minutes of struggle to begin with were totally worth it.
- Xu, Y, Barba, E, Radu, I, Gandy, M, MacIntyre, B 2011, Chores Are Fun: Understanding Social Play in Board Games for Digittal Tabletop Game Design, ‘DiGra 2011 Conference: Think Design Play’, pp. 12-13