Canopy originally released via the crowdfunding website Kickstarter in 2020 and now this card based drafting game has seen a retail release. Designed by Tim Eisner, featuring artwork from the esteemed Vincent Dutrait, the game sees 2 players pushing their luck to craft a stunning rainforest, with other modes available including a solo mode. With set collection, drafting and special effects to trigger, players will place canopies on towering trees, have the likes of Jaguars and Howler Monkeys in their built environments, and hopefully not too much fire and disease! However, is this an environmental themed game for you? Let’s find out!
To setup players take the rainforest deck and give it a good shuffle. Splitting it roughly into three these become the phase decks for the 3 rounds. Each player takes one of the starting trunk cards, with most of the other tokens placed within reach. Finally shuffling the seed deck, Canopy is ready to play! At the start of each round three new growth spaces need to be filled from the current phase deck. The first gets 1 card, the second new growth pile gets two cards and the final pile gets 3 cards. Starting with the player to last water a plant, players take it in turns gaining cards.
On a turn the active player takes a look at the first new growth pile. The player can choose to take the cards or pass on it and move to the next pile. When passing the player returns the cards and adds the top card from the current phase deck. They then get to look at the next growth pile, again making the choice between taking them or passing. If a player passes on the final pile they must take the top card from the deck.
If the player chooses to take the pile they add all the cards to their tableau, refilling the new growth space with a single card from the phase deck. Cards come in a variety of forms, making up different sets to collect. There are 6 main card types. Wildlife cards come in two types, with each animal having one of each. One of the animal pair will come with an ability the player can use in future turns, while the other half of the pair gives points for collecting the pair. Wildlife cards only score at the end of the game so are built up over the three rounds.
Plants and weather score at the end of the rounds before being discarded. These come in numerous forms, with each type wanting different amounts of the same type to be collected. For example, Sun and Rain want to be collected in pairs, while Ferns generally score higher as more are collected. At the end of the round Seed cards are spent to draw cards from the seed deck, which are often additional plant or weather cards to help the player score more. Threats come in the form of fire and disease. These work independently and on their own are fine. However if a player collects two of these they must discard two plants or animals respectively.
A chunk of the player’s points will come from trees. Tree cards can be used to either start new trees or grow an already played tree. These sections score between 0 – 2 points at the end of a round in which they are completed. To complete a tree a canopy card must be gained, which in turn offers points based on the height of the tree. Trees only score once, though not only is a tallest tree bonus awarded at the end of each round, whoever has the most completed trees at the end of the game gets a 10 point forest bonus. The three rounds work in the same way going back and forth until all cards are taken. At the end of the game the player with the most points wins, with ties split by wildlife.
There’s an elegance to the design of Canopy. Every turn boils down to simple choices of taking a pile of cards or passing over it in the hope of something better, or at least just more cards. There’s a balance to be struck between taking potentially okay cards for your tableau with pushing your luck. Making the choice more interesting, you can see what your opponent has in front of them, thus what’s good for them – so opportunities for hate drafting cards also appear.
Just from the way the deck is shuffled a game of Canopy can turn out quite differently. If many animals with powers come out in the first round there’s more uses of those abilities. At the other end of the spectrum there’s no guarantee they won’t all come out during the third phase instead. The abilities aren’t game breakingly good, some are only situationally okay. Having the chance to slightly break the rules in different ways though is that little extra that stops the game going flat. Expanding this Canopy comes with an entire second set of animals which can be shuffled in instead, making the experience fresher for longer.
Another mini expansion included are the shifting seasons cards. Each phase the top card of the seasons deck is flipped revealing a slight tweak to the rules for all players. These range from there being a 4th selection pile to each player keeping one threat card between rounds rather than discarding them, making each phase unique. After playing a single game you’ll want to include these and never go back.
Simply put, Canopy is a brilliantly illustrated title. From the animals vividly depicted on the animal cards, though to the little ones on some of the trunk cards, it all builds together to make a visually pleasant game. Thankfully, this isn’t at the expense of making the game easy to play, with very simple iconography and plenty of room for abilities and scoring conditions to make them clear.
Canopy is a rather pleasant game to play. Players are building out their own sections of the rainforest, triggering abilities and such. However, players can take it that step further and hate drafting or take fire/disease to disrupt their opponents. The core of the game revolves around the push your luck choices, and that alone many will enjoy – before the theme and gorgeous artwork captivates them. With variety already there in the box, with mini expansions ready to go, Canopy can keep hitting your table for a long time to come, staying fresh and fun every play.
(Editor’s Note: Canopy was provided to us by Asmodee for the review. The game is currently available from local board game stores! Find your local store here.)