WBG Score: 8
Published by: Weird City Games
Designed by: Tim Eisner
Canopy was a huge kickstarter success back in January 2022. It hit the crowd funding sweet spot with gorgeous looks, accessible but interesting gameplay, and sold at a fair price. Over 5,000 backers later and the game is now on its second retail print run, has received all sorts of positive reviews, and has gained thousands of admirers from around the world. But what makes this little box card game so special? Let's get it to the table and find out.
Getting this delightful game to the table is very simple. Place the season cards down in the below layout to form the 'board.' Take the full deck of cards, shuffle them, remove 10 cards at random, then separate them into three piles of roughly the same size and place them into the locations for the three seasons. Draw six cards from the deck for the first season and place one card face down under the space for growth pile one. Do the same with two cards in growth pile two and with three cards in growth pile three. Place the seed deck next to this and give each player a reference sheet and starting tree card. Place the points and animal tokens into a central area, and you are now ready to play. So far, so green. But wait...
How To Play
Starting with the last player to water a plant, (but not over watered just to go first, that's just as bad as letting them dry out!) each player will now take cards from the central reserve, adding them to their canopy tableau in front of them. This is done in a very interesting way. First, you will look at the card(s) in growth pile one. If you like them, simply take them and add the cards to your collection. If you don't, you can put them back, face down, adding one extra card from the deck to it, making that pile a little bit more juicy for the next player. Then take a look at the card(s) in growth pile two. Again, if these are not for you, add an extra card to this pile and check out growth pile three. If this final one still does not tickle your fancy, you will have to take a single card blind from the top of the deck. If you take any card(s) from either growth pile, replace the now empty slot with one card from the deck. So, either way you will be taking at least one card and adding it into your array, and reducing the deck by at least one card.
The game will go on like this until the deck run's out, which signifies the end of season one. Some cards will be scored, removed, and actioned, more on that shortly (like, the next paragraph ok? Just chill). Then season two will begin with the same process and end of season scoring. The game lasts three seasons before the game ends and final scoring is done.
The cards come in six main types. Wildlife, Seeds, Threats, Trees, Plants, and Weather. Each has it's own way of contributing towards your scoring options, either at the end of the season; or as is the case with the wildlife cards, at the end of the game. Plants mainly work in a classic set collection way. Collect a certain amount of the same card and get a certain amount of points. Get one more/less and get more/less points. The clever and interesting thing here is how the game gives you extra ways to get more or less cards to assist with these scoring opportunities. The Seeds cards allow you to draw one from three cards from the seeds deck at the end of the season for each seed card you have. The fire cards, if you have at least two, allow you to get rid of one card. This is a clever way for you to manipulate your scoring opportunities within each cards parameters. All plant cards are discarded at the end of a season, so you need to get to the sweet scoring spot before then.
The wildlife works in one of two ways. Each animal comes in a pair. One card will score you points, the other will give you a power. But collect both, and you have a mating pair and your points will grow exponentially. These are harder to collect a set for, as there are only two cards of each in the deck. But don't fear, you won't have to discard your wildlife cards at the end of each season. These cards stay in your array alongside the tree cards. Giving you more time to find the other card. And remember the whole deck will be seen, other then the ten card you removed at the start of the game. So, your chances are high. It just may take some time.
Threats work by removing either animals cards, in the case of disease, or plant cards, in the case of the fire. The more you have, the more cards are lost. Sometimes this is a good thing. Getting you down to the most efficient and high scoring set. Other times, this makes you loose points in a frustrating way. If you get three or more fire cards, the fire spreads and the other players at the table will start loosing cards too. So, you could start collecting more to attack other peoples tableau. Although, I have never seen this myself.
Weather works quite simply, in a little set of its own. Rain is useless on its own. The Sun working solo wont help you at all. But get both, and harmony is restored. Points are awarded.
The tree cards come in two types. Either as a trunk card, or the canopy. When you take a canopy card, if you have an open trunk, you must place the canopy over it, thus completing that tree. But if you draw more trunk cards, you can build up your tree, increasing its height and the chance of it winning tallest tree that season, and also the points it will generate.
Is it Fun?
Playing Canopy is a real joy. It a strange way it reminds me of Furnace. The games are completely different. But in the way that Furnace distills the engine building mechanic and builds a game around this one core idea in a simple but brilliant way. Canopy does that same for set collection. As such, if you have ever enjoyed set collection in other games, then I would wager you will love this.
Canopy looks gorgeous. The art is stunning and really brings the theme alive. Just look at the art of the tree cards below. Building them up, to grow the tallest trees, gaining more points, but also creating something of real beauty. It just feels good to do this.
As the game progresses, and more cards hit the table, it will become hard not to stop and admire what you are creating. Everything just looks so pretty! I mention this not just because the art is nice, and this is a review of a card game. But because with a set collection game, I think having good art, art that really appeals, helps so much with the overall game experience. You want to get a certain card not just because it gets you more points, or finishes that set you have been collecting all game. But also because it looks stunning! This may be a small point, but one that I think goes someway to explaining why this game has been so successful.
Make this an abstract game collecting shapes or numbers, and it will not sell 1/10th of this amount. Replace the art with photos, and I don't see this doing half as well. The art adds to the visual appeal of not just the game, but the set collection process itself.
When you complete a tree, you will score it at the end of the season. You will then place one of the below animal tokens into it to mark it as complete, so that you don't forget, and accidently score it again the next season. This is a nice touch, but again, is more about making the experience more fulfilling and visually attractive. Making the table presence more exciting and colourful. You could simply collect the cards in the tree and flip them over. But no. This game wants you to proudly keep all your trees out all game, looking stunning. And contributing to your overall tableau.
Now of course, there are the below points available for the tallest tree each round, and then the most trees finished at the end of the game. So, there is a mechanical reason to keep them all out as well. But I think the visual benefit is the dominant force here. And I am all for that!
Like everything in the game, the art, components, and simple ruleset draw me into this world. I am instantly immersed in the game. I find that when I play Canopy, I am lost in the game almost immediately, right until the last card is drawn and final scoring begins. It is a wonderful world to visit and get absorbed in, and I am drawn back to its charm, simplicity, and addictive gameplay.
There is a three and four player variant, but I think this game shines in a two. There are also the below shifting season cards which add a variable to make each game feel different. But I don't think they are overly necessary Perhaps after 20 games you will gravitate towards them. I am 10 games in now and still very happy with the basic game. There is something about a game as pure as this. When a designer has distilled a mechanic in such a simply but effective rule set, I can see the temptation to then add shiny extras, especially via kickstarter adds on's. But they don't always make the game better, and often distract from what made the game so enjoyable to start with. But, they are a nice to have and there in the background when required.
I would recommend this game to anyone who has ever enjoyed set collection as a process in any other game, and is looking for a relaxed but rewarding two player experience. Canopy delivers in spades for this and I see this becoming a highly played game in my household. It is just so accessible, simple, but enjoyable. The ratio of fun to simplicity is always important for me as I play so often my with children. But I can see this being a regularly chosen filler game with adults on game night too. It is over a little too quickly for my liking. But I don't think a longer game would be better. That would require more cards, which would make collecting sets harder, and the balance right now is perfect. It's just that when it finishes, I always am left wanting more. But that's fine, just rack em' up and go again!