A rainforest is a wonderful place. The balance, symbiosis and mutualism is a fantastic ecosystem that works together to create a bountiful world full of lush green plants, large towering trees and a multitude of wildlife.
Canopy is a one to two player set collection, drafting game designed by Tim Eisner and published by Weird City Games. In Canopy two players compete to create the most bountiful rainforest. By carefully selecting what grows in their forest, players can create a perfectly balanced and diverse rainforest with a range of flora and fauna. Players will take turns selecting new cards to add to their rainforest from one of three piles. Each time a player looks at a pile they can either select it and immediately add the cards to their tableau or return the pile face down, adding one additional card and then moving on to the next pile. If a player passes on all three piles, they draw the top card of the deck and must play that card.
The game is played over three "seasons" or rounds and the round ends when the draw pile is emptied. This triggers a scoring round where points are awarded for various plants gathered in that round, natural disasters such as fire and disease may be triggered. Points are awarded for trees that have had a canopy placed on them. There are other bonus points for the player with the tallest trees. All wildlife and uncompleted trees remain for the next round, but all flora cards are discarded. Wildlife cards are scored at the end of the game.
The game ends after three rounds and the player with the most points are the winner.
The first thing that struck me when opening this game was how lush and gorgeous that artwork was. Vincent Dutrait has done a wonderful job of evoking the feeling of the rainforest. But what about the game itself? One of the big draws was the card drafting mechanism and I was very interested to see how that would play out in practice. It seemed like an interesting twist on card drafting and one I was keen to try.
The way you draft the cards is a very compelling mechanism which I love. It creates a sense of pushing your luck, you want to find out what is in that next juicy stack of 4 or 5 cards. It could be the perfect set of cards for you, but it could also contain a disaster or two, or cards that you just don't want. Do you risk it or take what is in the current stack or take a chance on what is in the next stack? It can make for some tough choices, and I love the tension that it brings. You can also try and throw your opponent off when you look at a "good" stack but decide to pass on it, hoping that you can get it next turn. The adding of the additional card to a stack every time you pass over it adds further to that tension as it can create a "bad" stack into a stack that might just tempt you.
Flora & Fauna
The flora and fauna cards all score in different ways and there is a lot of variety in what you can draft to gain points. Some score based on having a total amount whereas others score based on having a set number. The wildlife has various abilities and bonuses that may trigger once per round or at the end of the game. In addition, getting a pair of the same animal will get you more points at the end game. As the cards in a player's area are public knowledge you can see what they may need. This can introduce some subtle hate drafting as you may well be more inclined to take the Jaguar or Howler Monkey card if your opponent already has one in their set, which gives some element of player interaction. However, the player interaction doesn't feel aggressive as you are usually taking a stack of cards with other things in as well. I enjoy the way the interaction is executed in Canopy.
You can also gain additional tree cards which can be used to grow an existing tree or be used to start a new one. There is competition for these cards as the person who has the tallest completed tree at the end of the round gains additional bonus points. This also adds a timing element to the game as well. You may decide to place a canopy on a tree to complete it, but you need to make sure that you are still the tallest tree at the end of the round. The timing and when to draft a canopy (assuming they are available) to cap off your tree is another element of the game, which is not apparent at first glance, that I really enjoy.
There is an element of luck involved as the deck of cards is fairly large and sometimes you get a perfect combination that is just right and sometimes you don't. However, the fact that there are three stacks to choose from goes some way to help with that. The game time is longer than advertised, at least in my experience but it is by no means a long game and with repeated plays, the game time does decrease. I did find, at times, difficulty in looking up information in the rulebook, particularly when trying to find out what some of the advanced cards did. There is one rulebook that contains the standard card explanation and another with the advanced cards. I can see the reasoning behind it. But it was not the easiest to deduce and I spent some time trying to find it before realising they were split.
Alone In The Rainforest
The solo mode is a very pleasant experience and is carried out similar to a two-player game. There are a few differences and ways that the cards are drafted for the AI but it is fairly intuitive. As a solo game though it can take up a lot of real estate on the table. You essentially need space for two sets of tableaus side by side, one for you and one for the AI. What I do like about the solo mode is that you can easily plan ahead as you know what stack of cards the AI is going to draft next. You can manipulate the game state to force the AI down a specific path and I love the puzzle of figuring this out. I found that my plays with AI are always a close affair, and you can still pursue different strategies.
Overall, Canopy is a delightful game to play as a two-player and as a solo game (I have not tried the 3/4 player variant). It looks gorgeous, there are multiple point avenues to pursue and has plenty of tough choices to make.