Hands down, the best Family Strategy Game for 2012 was Takenoko.
Takenoko was available only by special import in 2011, and then became widely available in the US in 2012, and that’s good enough for me.
This is a delightful game about growing bamboo and feeding a giant panda. No, really.
It’s a variant on a worker placement/limited action game. each turn, you choose to execute two actions. Place Land Tiles, Irrigate Land, Move and Feed the Panda, Move the Gardener and Grow or Gain New Objectives.
The objective cards are how you gain points. They come in three flavours. Plot card are combinations of coloured land tiles you hope to be able to place, Gardener cards are combinations of bamboo the gardener has grown and Panda cards are combinations of bamboo the cute little guy has eaten.
Choosing which goals to try to complete is the essential heart of the game. Early on, land combos are hard to complete, as there is very little land. As the board grows, the chance of completing one of the patterns is much greater. Gardener cards allow you to take advantage of other players’ hard work. And panda cards require you do all the foot work (paw work?) your self.
You don’t directly get to choose to muck with other players plans, but may accidentally ruin their strategy. This makes it excellent for family gaming as there is no direct attacking, only accidental attacking, which adds to groans and frustration, but not anger.
The game is gorgeous beyond belief. For the price tag, the components are well beyond anything similar. You get a bunch of little objective cards, a stack of large gorgeous land hex tiles, fully painted awesome little gardener miniature and his panda nemesis, and wonderful wooden bamboo segments that pop together to grow the bamboo crops. Go ahead, click the pic above for a clearer view.
The insert to keep pieces and the player aid cards are top notch. Once you know how to play, the player aid cards will mean you never have to look at the rules again to know what you can do or what that tricky Weather Die has granted you. And not a single word of English is on any of the components. No reading. Remarkably well crafted components.
The challenge is choosing which of your two meagre actions to take. You want to feed the panda, and place new land, and grow bamboo, but you need to irrigate a plot… wonderful little choices each turn.
And slowly, some player will start creeping up in score, eating and growing just the right bits they need.