Bamboo is a game about happiness, after all the happiest player will win. Bamboo from Devir games is fundamentally about making the most out-of limited resources to achieve balance in the pursuit of happiness. Doesn't it sound cozy?
In Bamboo you'll be looking to bring balance to your family home, through careful action management and tile placement. Bamboo takes place over 4 years, each broken down into seasons. In which you'll be gaining a gift from the forest, before using incense to win favour in temples to seek the power of the spirits, and the core of the gameplay takes place in summer. Summer is where you'll grow bamboo to seek balance, cook, obtain a home improvement, or manage finances.
Incense and bamboo are inherently linked, with Incense determining the effective strength of your action and bamboo determining how many incense you can play. You'll select an action area on your board each turn, noting you must move the action pawn so can't use the same colour bamboo twice in a row. And you'll need to pay incense as you have bamboo, or as much as you can afford. I ended up in this particular scenario, meaning I couldnt activate all of the bamboo I would then play. But you may want to do this, to ensure you can take actions and also to grow new bamboo being stuck with a board of red bamboo may not be as good as it first seems. There's a key choice here, that is the key teach of the game, which temple and therefore actions do you trigger and in what order, and where do you place your bamboo to harvest new bamboo.
Oh and don't forget to feed your family, for every room tile you have you'll need to pay food at the end of each year.
It's difficult to sum up Bamboo, it's a game of balance and/or happiness, that's actually a crunchy puzzle optimisation as you'll need to plan your actions carefully to obtain the right pieces for your fanily home. I was once again fooled by the artwork on the box, expecting a game filled with panda's and temples. When there's only one panda family here, although there is a bunch of cute looking spirits. There's alot to enjoy and for me the standout is the growing and harvesting of bamboo, I just would of loved a way to better plan for example my own bamboo forest would have been great. Rather than a shared plot, which means there's little to no forward planning.
But but, and there's several Bamboo isn't without it's flaws. Although none are gaming breaking, in fact they're all largely aesthetic. There's little boxes that hold tiles, they simply aren't big enough. They don't even hold all the tiles, so trying to get tiles out requires a surgical like operation, that does get easier as the game progresses. The icons on some of the tiles are too small, at two player we sat opposite and had the board between us. I couldn't always make out the icons on the tile.
My biggest gameplay complaint is that especially at two player is that you can be solely dependent on luck of the draw when trying to achieve objectives, and it feels that for a game that is all about optimisation and balance it can through a spanner into your home improvements.
Although I suspect at higher player counts you'll fly through tiles meaning you'll see more variety. I also question some of the layout choices and if it would have been better to have the central board laid out with temples on the left as these are the start of each year, rather than their current location on the right. And then there's the thematic relevance of food and feeding, which I get, but thematically, food for each room. It just feels odd. I can see how it all fits into another element you need to balance, but I'm struggling thematically.
If looks were deceiving that is how I'm coming to approach and sum up Devir's range of games. There's the delightful red cathedral packed into a tiny box, that has so much game packed in you may be fooled at first glance into thinking you've walked into a fairly light gaming affair, whilst Bitoku (which I've only played once) felt like overwhelming possibilities that left me wondering where 4 hours of my life had gone. Bamboo joins this club by hitting you with a bamboo shaped puzzle which is devilishly more overwhelming than it first appears and that advanced variant, is for me where I think most will find the most enjoyment.
As you know I rate games on a:
- Buy or play
- Wait for sale or play if you like game XYZ
Bamboo is a tough one to categorise that bamboo element makes me want to put this in the buy or play category, but those little gripes and what are for me final quality of life improvements, that I feel could have been ironed out, mean this is a play if you like red cathedral and it feels like a natural recommendation to say if you've played it's big brother Bitoku, then Bamboo feels like something you ought to try. I also couldn't help but think fo Tiletum, although I don't know why.
Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of Bamboo to review, however, wasn't paid for this content and all thoughts are my own.