#839 – Canopy

Base price: $19 for the retail version.
2 players. Solo and 3- / 4-player variants exist.
Play time: ~30 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Check it out on Kickstarter!
Logged plays: 3 

Full disclosure: A review copy of Canopy was provided by Weird City Games.

CONTENT WARNING: Some of the photos here feature big spiders on cards. If spiders aren’t your thing, skip the Setup section.

Hey, look, it’s almost the end of the year. We made it! 2021, and all that. Not much to report; it was largely the same as 2020 (didn’t leave the house much), though I did manage to get to PAX Unplugged. Was it a good time? Probably; I’m writing this a bit in advance of the actual review posting, so I haven’t made it there, yet. Wish me luck, I suppose. Hopefully this will usher in more fun games for me to talk to you all about. Speaking of fun games, let’s check out Canopy, just off of Kickstarter from Weird City Games!

In Canopy, players are trying to build up a lush rainforest, full of life and plants and other life that gets eaten by the first set of life. Circle of something, I’ll tell you what. Anyways, to do so, you’ll need to nurture plants and trees from sapling to fully-grown; manage the threats of fire, disease, and drought; and plant new seeds and see what blooms from them. There’s a lot going on, but you’ve probably got it. Can you make the perfect rainforest?

Contents

Setup

To kick things off, place the Season and Growth Cards in the center of your play area:

I kind of make a pile of the point tokens:

But the Tree Tokens should be set in increasing order:

And keep the Wildlife Tokens so that everyone can see them:

The Seed Deck Cards should be shuffled together and set to the side of the Season Card (not above or below):

Shuffle the standard Rainforest Cards together, then remove ten cards randomly from the deck and return them to the box:

Split the deck into three equal stacks, placing one near the “Current Season” space on the Growth Cards, and the other two near “Season 2” and “Season 3” on the Season Card. Next, place one card from the Current Season Deck below “New Growth 1”, two cards below “New Growth 2”, and three cards below “New Growth 3”. To finish up, give each player a Starting Trunk card:

You should be ready to start!

Advanced Cards Setup

There are a few different types of Advanced Cards that you can use. One is the Advanced Plants and Threats, and the other is Advanced Wildlife:

You can mix these in however you want. If you want to use Advanced Plants and Threats, just mix those in with the standard cards. If you want to use Advanced Wildlife either by itself or with Advanced Plants and Threats, remove the Standard Wildlife from the deck first. You can also create your own custom Wildlife set by making a mix of 6 or 7 Wildlife pairs that you like.

One last set is the Shifting Seasons Variant. This adds some round modifiers to each Season of the game, so if you want to play with those, shuffle them up and set them near the play area:

Draw one at the start of each Season.

Gameplay

A game of Canopy is played over three Seasons, where each player pulls cards from the Growth and adds them to their slowly-growing forest. Threats, Wildlife, and Weather are also in the cards, so good management and a bit of luck will lead to the best forest out there.

On a player’s turn, they may look at a pile and choose whether to take it or pass, starting with New Growth 1, then 2, then 3. When a player passes on a pile, they must immediately add a card from the top of the deck face-down to the pile. If they pass on all three piles, they add the top card of the deck to their Forest. Naturally, once the deck runs out, players can no longer pass on all available piles.

If a player takes a pile, they add all cards in the pile to their Forest. When a player adds cards to their forest, the type of card determines how it’s added:

  • Tree Trunks: A tree trunk may be added to any existing incomplete tree or used to start a new tree. Your choice.
  • Canopies: Canopies are used to complete trees. When you take a canopy, you must complete an incomplete tree, if you have one, but if you don’t have any incomplete trees, the canopy is discarded. Complete trees are scored at the end of the Season.
  • Drought: Drought, when taken, forces the player to discard one card from their Forest (and then discard the Drought card). This means that you can’t use Drought to discard other Drought. You also cannot discard cards in scored trees.
  • Wildlife: Wildlife may have an ability that you can use, but you cannot use a Wildlife Card’s ability on the turn you gain it.
  • Weather / Plants / Seeds / Threats: These cards stay in your Forest until the end of the Season, at which point you deal with them.

Once all cards have been taken, the Season ends and players move on to End of Season Scoring.

End of Season Scoring

Starting with the player who took the final pile of cards, players score their various available cards in the following order:

  1. Wildlife: Activate any End-of-Season Wildlife effects first.
  2. Seeds: At the end of the Season, any player with Seed cards draws 3 cards from the Seed Deck, plus one additional card for every Fire card they have. That player may keep X cards from the cards they draw, where X is the number of Seed cards they have. Any unclaimed cards get returned to the bottom of the Seed Deck, and the player discards all of their Seed cards.
  3. Threats: There are two threats in the base game, Fire and Disease. Fire affects Plant Cards and Disease affects Wildlife Cards, but they work the same way. If you have two of the same Threat card, discard two cards of your choice of the affected type from your forest. If you have three of the same Threat Card, both players discard one card of their choice of the affected type.
  4. Trees: Each tree with a Canopy that hasn’t been scored yet gets scored. To score a tree, count up the number of points on Trunk cards and add the points awarded by the Canopy (0 – 2 points per Trunk card). To indicate that a tree has been scored, place a wildlife token on it. You can pick your favorite from the ones remaining, and that’s half the fun.
  5. Tallest Tree: Of the trees without a Tallest Tree token, the complete tree with the most Trunk cards gains the Tallest Tree Token for that season, placing it on its Canopy. This means that you can score Tallest Tree for a Tree that you completed in a previous season. If there’s a tie, both players get the points and place them on their respective Canopies to indicate that the tree can’t be scored again.
  6. Plants / Weather: Score these cards as indicated on the card.

After scoring, discard all cards from your forest except Trees and Wildlife.

End of Game

After three seasons, the game comes to an end and players do final scoring! Final scoring is pretty simple, since there’s only two things left:

  • Wildlife: So there are two types of Wildlife: Active Wildlife (with text) and Mating Pairs (without text). Active Wildlife always score the points on the card, but Mating Pairs will score the higher value if (and only if) the other Active Wildlife is also there. So, score those.
  • Largest Forest: This bonus is awarded to the player with the most trees. If there’s a tie, both players get the bonus.

The player with the most points wins!

Player Count Differences

There are additional player count versions of Canopy, but I stuck with the two-player version. We really liked the head-to-head play of it, and felt like it really captured the experience we wanted to have. I’d definitely recommend the two-player version, but I didn’t try any others; I’m just aware they exist.

Strategy

  • An early Monstera or two can go a long way. Monstera is a great plant to invest in early in a Season, since you can get a pretty solid 8 points out of it if you manage to get enough of them. Problem is, if your opponent does the same thing, then you both risk ending up with nothing. For the pettier players, this does mean that if your opponent already has a few Monstera, you might as well go after them. Plus, Monstera that aren’t scoring are perfectly valid fodder for Drought and Fire and other things.
  • Collecting Wildlife early can give you a lot of cool bonuses, but it also makes you a very large target for Disease. If I see someone pulling a ton of Wildlife cards, I’m absolutely waiting on Disease cards in the hopes that they have to take a couple. That said, I don’t want them to get three or more, otherwise I’m losing Wildlife cards, which is frustrating.
  • Sometimes you want to take Drought or Fire and lose some cards. There are plenty of cards that if you get too many, they become garbage. Bromelia, for instance, start being worth negative points if you end up with too many of them, so, once you start over-accumulating, it’s probably time to hope for a Drought or a Fire or something to burn the garbage out. The compromise standpoint is just having a couple spare cards that aren’t quite as valuable, just so you have some fodder (like the aforementioned Monstera).
  • Seeds are almost always worth taking. Seed cards let you essentially pull a bonus random card at the end of the round, which can be very helpful! You already know your strategy and plan at the end of the Season, so being able to pull the final card you need to complete a tree or balance out a plant set or something might be critical to a big scoring swing.
  • There’s no shame in taking the top card of the deck if you don’t like any of the piles available. Naturally, taking more cards is often beneficial (provided the cards aren’t garbage), but sometimes things don’t align. Don’t necessarily just take cards you don’t want or need; you can just take the top card of the deck. That said, whether or not that card actually helps you is really anyone’s guess.
  • Getting a tall tree or two is nice, but getting a lot of trees can pull a lot of points for you. I tend to try for one or two pretty tall trees and then I focus on spreading the trees out for that big final point total. Whether you want to go for tallest tree every season (12 points total) or the most trees (10 points total), you might be able to make things work.
  • Sometimes it can be worth taking a Canopy card just to deny your opponent a completed tree. It’s mean, but effective. If you manage to keep an opponent from finishing a massive tree, that’s a ton of points that they no longer get! Just watch out for a lucky Seed card pull; there are a few Canopies in there that can turn things around for a lucky player.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • Hey, no plastic. It looks like they made a game without using any unnecessary plastic, which is great. Cards are sleeved with paper, insert is cardboard; the whole thing is very nice.
  • The art is phenomenal. No shock; it’s Vincent Dutrait. There aren’t that many games that are willing to invest in just … a ton of green, and the whole game really pops! It looks great on the table, and the use of color makes the rainforests that players create feel extremely vibrant and alive. I’m a huge fan of it.
  • Very fast-paced two-player game, which I like. Your turns are very short; honestly, the longest part of the game is scoring each Season, and as long as players group the cards well, that doesn’t even take that long. You’re just looking at up to three piles of cards, so, as players get used to the cards and their effects, the rounds speed up.
  • The press-your-luck elements of the game are fantastic. I really like how the various piles work! There’s a bit of randomness and a bit of memory, since players should try to remember what was in piles they’ve seen previously, but there’s never a guarantee. I think the core loop of the game is refreshingly quick and clever, and I’d love to see it pop up in more games.
  • I also really like how Fire, Disease, and Drought work in this. The threat of being forced to discard good cards crossed with the potential benefits of discarding terrible cards is compelling! I like that there are benefits and drawbacks to taking these cards (except for Disease, really), and it’s a good feature for the game.
  • Honestly, the game as a whole is very tightly made, and I appreciate that. There’s a lot to do and a lot of ways to go about doing it. A variety of things for players to prioritize and manage keeps the game fresh and interesting on repeat plays, especially with trying out various Wildlife abilities. I loved them on my first play and didn’t even see them on my third play. The different possible scoring routes are pretty exciting and entertaining, and I’m always interested in mixing things up from game to game.
  • Fairly portable! It’s a decently small-box game, so that’s nice.
  • I appreciate that there are advanced elements for players who want to go that route, as well. You can mix them in or substitute some out or make your own mix, which I appreciate. I always enjoy the “make your own mix” variants, ever since Lost Legacy.
  • The game also doesn’t overstay its welcome; the playtime feels right every game. I think it helps that the turns are quick and the Seasons aren’t too long. There’s a lot to think about and consider on every turn, and I think that keeps players engaged for the full duration of the game without any problems.

Mehs

  • Given how high-utility Seed Cards are, I kind of wish there were more of them. I’m loosely surprised by how infrequently they come up! We’ve had a couple games where we’ve even gone a full Season or two without seeing any.
  • There’s just no good way to easily separate a stack of cards into three equally-sized piles, is there? This pretty regularly vexes me. Unfortunately, there aren’t any really useful ways to do that quickly, short of splitting up the piles and vaguely visually comparing them. I wouldn’t recommend dealing the cards into three separate piles, so just do what you can.

Cons

  • While the luck factor is pretty mitigated by the press-your-luck of picking stacks, it can be frustrating for a player to get a lucky Canopy Card and score a bunch of points off of one tree via a Seed Card. In the general sense, that’s kind of the risk you run into with pressing your luck. Sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it’s great. Ideally, players will be pruning stacks so that their opponents don’t manage to capitalize on a massive, ideal pile of cards, but there are still instances where a player may have a pretty aggressive and high-scoring outcome. It’s not the biggest problem, but something worth watching out for.
  • Very mild Con, since it’s optional, but I’m also not a huge fan of some of the more aggressive Advanced Cards. I don’t really like messing with other players’ tableaus in games, so, some of the Advanced Wildlife cards don’t really appeal to me. Nice thing is, since I don’t love them, I can just … not use them.

Overall: 8.25 / 10

Overall, I think Canopy is a very solid game! It’s quick, it’s punchy, and it’s a two-player game that doesn’t fundamentally rely on tug-of-war or putting your opponent down (too much) to make its point. Thankfully, the game also leverages Vincent Dutrait’s many talents to bring the rainforest to life, as any game about such a vibrant and diverse place owes it to the subject matter to really put in the work of bringing it to life. Vincent’s keen eye and fantastic use of color does just that. The game pops, from the box to the cards to even the card backs, frankly; it’s one of the prettier games I’ve seen in a hot minute. The danger of a beautiful game is that the gameplay may not be able to match the art quality, but don’t worry; Canopy’s got that, too. It’s tight and each turn makes you feel like your decisions matter for the overall season without forcing you to agonize through each step of building your tableau (or tearing it down). Naturally, there’s some of the Kickstarter extras in there, and while I don’t think everything in the box is critical, I enjoy the extra Advanced Cards and the Season modifiers. Good ways to mix it up from time to time. They’ve also put their money where their mouth is and avoided using plastic in the game itself, trying to make a sustainable experience in more ways than one. I think Canopy meets that lofty ideal, and if you’re looking for a solidly fun two-player experience, I’d recommend checking it out!


If you enjoyed this review and would like to support What’s Eric Playing? in the future, please check out my Patreon. Thanks for reading!

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