Canopy Review – Just Press Start

Canopy was originally released through crowdfunding website Kickstarter in 2020 and now this card-based drawing game has seen a retail release. Designed by Tim Eisner, with artwork by the esteemed Vincent Dutrait, the game sees 2 players push their luck to create a stunning rainforest, with other modes available including a single player mode. With set collection, drawing, and special effects to trigger, players will place canopies over towering trees, have jaguars and howler monkeys in their built environments, and hopefully not too much fire and sickness ! However, is this an environmental-themed game for you? Let’s find out!

To set up players, take the rainforest deck and shuffle it well. Dividing it roughly into three, these become the phase decks for the 3 rounds. Each player takes one of the starting chest cards, with most other tokens placed within easy reach. Finally mixing the seed packet, Canopy is ready to play! At the start of each turn, three new growth spaces must be filled from the current phase’s deck. The first receives 1 card, the second new growth pile receives two cards, and the last pile receives 3 cards. Starting with the player who waters a plant last, players take turns earning cards.

On his turn, the active player looks at the first new stack of growth. The player can choose to take the cards or pass them and move on to the next pile. When passing, the player turns over the cards and adds the top card of the deck of the current phase. They can then look at the next stack of growth, again making the choice to take or pass. If a player passes to the final pile, he must take the top card of the deck.

If the player chooses to take the pile, they add all the cards to their tableau, filling the new growth space with a single card from the phase deck. Cards come in different shapes, making up different sets to collect. There are 6 main types of cards. Fauna cards are of two types, with each animal having one of each. One of the pairs of animals will come with an ability that the player can use in future rounds, while the other half of the pair will award points for collecting the pair. Wildlife cards only score at the end of the game and are therefore accumulated over the three rounds.

Plants and weather score at the end of turns before being discarded. These come in many forms, with each type wanting to collect different amounts of the same type. For example, Sun and Rain want to be collected in pairs, while Ferns usually score higher as more are collected. At the end of the round, the 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 fires and disease. These work independently and by themselves are fine. However, if a player collects two, he must discard two plants or animals respectively.

Part of the player’s points will come from trees. Tree cards can be used to start new trees or grow an already played tree. These sections score between 0 and 2 points at the end of a round in which they are completed. To complete a tree, a canopy card must be earned, which in turn awards points based on the height of the tree. Trees only score once, but not only is a tallest tree bonus awarded at the end of each round, but whoever has the most trees completed at the end of the game receives a forest bonus of 10 points. All three tricks work the same way back and forth until all cards are taken. At the end of the game, the player with the most points wins, with ties being shared by the fauna.

There is an elegance to Canopy’s design. Each round comes down to simple choices of taking a stack of cards or stepping over them in hopes of something better, or at least just more cards. There’s a balance to be struck between taking potentially acceptable cards for your tableau and pushing your luck. By making the choice more interesting, you can see what your opponent has in front of them, so what’s good for them – so opportunities to draft hateful cards also appear.

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Just from the way the game is shuffled, a game of Canopy can look very different. If many animals with powers come out on the first turn, there are more uses for those abilities. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s no guarantee that they won’t all come out in the third phase. The abilities are not extremely good, some are only correct in the situation. Having the ability to slightly break the rules in different ways, however, is that extra bit that keeps the game from going flat. This canopy extension comes with a second full set of animals that can be mixed together instead, making the experience cooler for longer.

Another mini expansion included are the changing seasons cards. In each phase, the top card of the seasons deck is flipped over, revealing a slight rule change for all players. These range from a 4th pick pile to each player keeping a threat card between turns rather than discarding them, making each phase unique. After playing just one game, you’ll want to include them and never go back.

Simply put, Canopy is a brilliantly illustrated title. From the vividly depicted animals on the animal cards, to the smaller ones on some of the chest cards, everything builds together to create a visually pleasing game. Fortunately, this doesn’t come 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 enjoyable game to play. Players build their own sections of the rainforest, triggering abilities and the like. However, players can go further and hate the draft or catch fire/sickness to disrupt their opponents. The core of the game revolves around pushing your luck choices, and that alone will be enjoyed by many – before the theme and gorgeous artwork captivates them. With a variety already in the box, with mini extensions ready to go, Canopy can keep hitting your table for a long time, staying fresh and fun with every play.

(Editor’s note: Canopy was provided to us by Asmodee for review. The game is currently available at local board game stores! Find your local store here.)

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