Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

Get in touch by emailing thegameshelfblog@gmail.com

Wednesday 24 November 2021

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Canopy

Game: Canopy

Publisher: Weird City Games

Designer:  Tim Eisner

Year: 2021

Canopy is primarily a two-player game where players complete to grow a rainforest, filled with many tall trees, beautiful flowers and a variety of exotic animals.

The game was funded on Kickstarter and what really stood out to me was the publishers focus on the environment. For each game sold, a tree is planted, and the game itself uses no plastic beyond the two seals that hold the lid on the box in place of shrink wrap. Cards are wrapped with little paper bands, and there are no plastic baggies in site, with lovely, branded paper bags provided instead.

At the start of the game the main deck will be split equally into three separate season decks. Season 2 and 3 will be put aside, while season 1 will be used for the first of the three rounds of the game. Cards will then be drawn from the deck into three piles of cards that players will be actively choosing from. On your turn you will look at the first pile of cards and make a choice; you can choose to take it and add it to your forest before restarting the pile with a single new card from the deck. Or you can skip it, putting the pile back, adding a single new card to it, the picking up the next pile to make the same decision. Should a player skip on all three piles then instead they gain a single card from the top of the current season deck. Once all cards from a season have been collected the round ends, with a scoring. This then repeats for the next two seasons. 
The reason for this selection mechanism is that not all cards are good, or perhaps can be bad in the wrong numbers. Each round you'll be scoring points for your plants and weather cards; but sun scores only if paired with rain and ferns only score if you have an odd number of them, so getting the right cards is crucial. Then there are straight-up bad cards, get too much fire and you'll make you lose some plants at the end of the round, but get even more and your fire will spread to your opponents too! The freshly burnt ground also enhances seed cards. Disease is similar, but for animal cards and without any real bonus, while droughts are 'bad' but also a handy way of getting rid of another card you don't want. 
On top of plants and weather you'll also find animals and trees. Animals all come in pairs, with end game points for collecting the mating pair. However, one of the pair will also have an ongoing power that you can use as you play. Trees are similar to plants but you don't lose them every round. A tree can be grown with as many trunk cards as you want, but as soon as you add a canopy card the tree is completed. Trees score the round they are competed, but also have some bonuses associated to them. Each season the tallest tree will reward its owner, with more points for later seasons. Once the final season ends the player with the most complete trees will get a sizeable bonus too.

Amy's Final Thoughts

Canopy is a pretty pure push your luck game, with the slight twist that after skipping a pile you have some knowledge of what is in it (though there'll always be one new mystery card added). While this sounds great in theory, in practice it often falls apart, only really coming into play if you go all the way to pile three, your opponent grabs pile one, and then you gleefully head straight to that joyful pile two you saw last round. When it works it feels great to pull out a perfect Monstera collection out of no-where. 
Unfortunately the rest of this mechanic can feel clumsy. All you want to do is move to the next pile to investigate it, so it's easy to forget to add the new card as you go. All the constant picking up and putting back face-down can end up feeling like busywork when everyone knows pile one is two fires, a disease and a drought. 
The push your luck element also suffers from the way the game is set up. The player aid gives you a list of how many of each card you have in the entire deck, but this means absolutely squat when the deck has been shuffled and split into three different rounds. You can't go desperately searching for that last fern you need because all the rest are in the next season. Hunting for that monkey that gives you a great bonus once per season, well he's in the season three deck so don't look forward to using him too much. The theoretical solution to this is seeds. Seeds let you skim through the top few cards of the seed deck at the end of a round to help correct any mistakes made. But in practice, due to the shuffle and split, you might have a round with no seeds too! 
So perhaps Canopy is a highly luck-fueled game, but that doesn't make it a bad game. There are certainly choices to be made, you just have to be flexible and go with the flow of the game rather than trying to tame it. Ride the wave of luck all the way to victory! It's an absolutely gorgeous wave to ride too. Canopy has fantastic art of many of the exotic plants and animals found in the rainforests of Earth, with a nice mini factoid presented at the bottom of each card. As a nature lover it's hard not to be charmed by the game's presentation, even if you don't love the gameplay. Overall I thought Canopy was fine. It tried something different, which worked, but not outstandingly well. Unfortunately, I do find the game somewhat forgettable, lacking that compelling reason to keep it on the shelf. 

Fi’s Final Thoughts
Canopy is a really eye-catching game, with beautiful artwork, plus a really visual way of building out a tableau of tall trees, adorned with different rainforest creatures. If you focus on trees, you'll build something quite impressive, but those points and the bonus points that come from having tall or plentiful trees, won't be enough alone without an altogether more messy and table-hogging set collection game that happens off to the side, where you are collecting the animal cards and different plants. Here, the set collection can get kind of interesting with different types of scoring, which mean that sometimes you really, really don't want to add any more to a set which will push you towards different decisions when you select a pile of cards. Sometimes you'll get lucky and find a good pile, and other times you might get really burnt and need to hope that you get one of the very few opportunities to discard a card that you've already collected to try and maintain a positive score for the round.

The luck in this game really wore me down and after a handful of plays, so much so that I really never wanted to see it ever again. I joked to Amy that the sustainable materials of this game, even down to paper bags provided instead of plastic baggies (!), was it's greatest selling feature, and that meant I could conscientiously place the whole game into our cardboard recycling!
If the set collection here sounds interesting, but you too are apprehensive about the push your luck aspects, then we recently reviewed Tucano from Helvetiq. It's a much simpler game but has similar fun set collection options and a much more controlled method of drawing cards, leading to a little bit more player interaction too.

You Might Like...
  • There are lots of nice twists on set collection scoring that give you some very tricky choices when taking cards.
  • Canopy's artwork is wonderful and you build out an impressive looking forest as you tableau of cards.
  • Canopy is perhaps the most ecologically friendly board game we've ever seen.
You Might Not Like...
  • There can be a whole lot of  luck involved in the cards you draw and there's very few ways to overcome bad luck.
  • The rewards for most trees and tallest trees can be a very large points swing, often won by a hair.
The Verdict
5/10 Canopy feels like a push your luck game at heart, but it's one that doesn't really shine for us. Pushing your luck for a completely random outcome can be very dissatisfying, and piled on top of someone else getting particularly lucky with the way the cards fall, you can feel completely hosed. The artwork is undoubtedly the shining star here and the set collection has some interesting aspects, but it's wrapped a round a core that didn't much enjoy.

Canopy was a review copy kindly provided to us by Weird City Games.


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