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Often it's lighter games that come packaged in medium-sized boxes. In the case of Bamboo, the cartoon art on the box might also hint at a light family game. Appearances can be deceptive, however: Bamboo is actually a medium-weight euro game, and more complex than many bigger box board games.

Bamboo is designed by Germán P Millán, who also designed Bitoku (Devir), and it shares a thematic link with that game, in that it too refers to forest spirits. Bamboo tho' might be regarded as 'Feng Shui the board game' because players' individual boards represent their house and the object of the game is to try to achieve 'balance' in your house: having tiles in the grid there that meet your harmony and balance conditions will score you 'happiness points', and you'll lose points in end-game scoring if your house is out of balance.

The game is played over four rounds (years), each made up of four phases (seasons). In Spring, the 2-4 players add a stick of incense to their board, along with a 'gift from the forest' tile that gives them an action. In Summer, you choose which of four temples to visit in order to collect the bamboo shoots on your board that correspond to that temple. You must also place incense on that temple's central board. You take the action(s) indicated on the bamboo you collected from your player board and then you place that bamboo at the base of one or more of the columns (stalks) of bamboo on the central board. That in turn will push up the bamboo so that you can harvest the shoots at the top - adding those bamboo pieces to your player board ready to be activated on a future turn; provided of course you have the requisite incense...

In Autumn, area control 'spirit of the forest' bonus tiles are awarded to the players with the most incense at each temple. Winter is essentially a clean-up phase. If you've previously used a forest spirit tile for its ability, you can pay the indicated cost to refresh the tile so it can be used again in the next round. In this phase you also need to have the collected the food needed for all the tiles in your house. If you don't have enough food, you lose happiness points.

Like Bitoku, there's a lot going on, so Bamboo is not a game that's immediately easy to learn. Once you grasp it, you'll see tho' that there is a logic to the game because each action follows or builds on the next. You have some key choices to make - for example, over which temple to visit and so which actions to trigger and in what order - so this is a puzzle optimisation game that you probably won't want to play with players prone to Analysis Paralysis. And once you think you've fully got to grips with the game, you have the option of flipping the player boards to further raise the level of challenge. The art from Jonatan Cantero adds to the game's appeal but some of the tiles and smaller icons can be hard to make out if you're playing in dim light.

At Board's Eye View, we've enjoyed our plays of Bamboo, tho' those on the losing side have bemoaned the fact that you can be scuppered by the luck of the draw on the tiles that come out. Turn order too can be a factor here, tho' the advantage of going first in a round is counterbalanced by the advantage of going after others have placed out their incense (ties for area control at the temples are determined in favour of the last player to place). And this is as it should be: Bamboo is, after all, a game about balance.

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