The rainforest is one of the most diverse areas of our planet, hosting thousands of species of plants, insects, and animals, all in a complex dance to attain ecological equilibrium. This all happens under the protective canopy of enormous trees that can grow hundreds of feet into the sky. Suffice to say, managing a rainforest ecosystem is tough, what with anticipating disasters, compensating for under-populations or over-populations of insects, and even trying to balance predator and prey populations to create a level of harmony and balance. Set-building card game Canopy from Weird City Games gives 1-4 players a chance to create their own rainforest and try to balance everything for the optimal final score. Yes, it’s fun!
I decided to try Canopy’s solo mode, which plays quite similar to the basic two-player game with the exception that the automaton, known in solo mode as the Forest Spirit, has some simple rules for determining its move at any point. The game is played through three seasons during which time you’re taking turns picking one or more cards from one of the New Growth piles and deploying them into your own forest area. Each player seeks to grow their trees, collect plants and animals, mitigate disasters, and plant seeds that offer additional bonuses at the end of each season. The design is bright and cheerful and while the rules are somewhat complicated, the fundamental idea is that you want to collect cards beneficial to you and, occasionally, that block your opponent, while keeping in mind that at the end of each season you’ll reap those bonus seed cards, then score and discard all plants and threats.
CANOPY: MAN VERSUS AUTOMATON
Here’s the starting solitaire setup:
The player starts with an empty forest, while the Forest Spirit automaton gets a single tree trunk, shown top center. The Rainforest deck is split into three even stacks, with the current season approximately centered, while Seasons 2 and 3 are off to a side until needed. The yellow-backed deck is the Seed deck; those are the cards you draw if you gain a seed card during play. The New Growth area starts with 1, 2, and 3 card stacks and has a very interesting mechanism: You can take the cards from stack 1, but if you want to skip and check out 2, you add a card to the New Growth 1 pile. Skip #2 and you add a card to it too. Skip #3 and you get a single unknown card from the Rainforest deck, but only after you’ve added another to the New Growth 3 pile. The automaton automatically picks the biggest deck each turn, so it tends to get more cards, though whether it gets more sets is something else entirely.
On the right in the above photo are the scoring chits. At the end of each season, the tallest tree is worth 3, then 4, then 5 points, and the largest forest at the end of the game is worth 10 points. Otherwise, cards are scored as per their noted value. The creatures on the top right live on trees and mark those trees in your forest that have been scored in a previous season (since you only count them once).
A few rounds into season one and my hand illustrates the key concepts of Canopy:
The tree trunk I have will be worth 2 points (as noted), except can’t be scored until a canopy (tree top) card is drawn and played. End the game with tree trunks that don’t have canopies and they’re worth zero points. There are three types of plants, each demonstrating different approaches to scoring: The Monstera is worth zero points by itself or with a pair, but three or more of this plant are worth 8 points. The Fern by itself is worth 1 point, two is worth zero, three ferns are worth 6, four are worth zero, but five or more ferns are worth a whopping 10 points. I have three Monstera so that’ll be worth 8 points at the end of this season (assuming I don’t lose any of them to a disaster), while my two ferns are worth zero; I either need to dump one or gain another for that to be valuable.
Much of the strategy of Canopy is in picking the optimal stack of cards, which is particularly tricky when you realize that if you eschew New Growth stack 1 to peek at stack 2, you can’t go back and choose 1 after all. A bit of push-your-luck in that regard, and the more stacks you skip, the more cards are added to them. This is true for the automaton too, by the way; if its biggest stack is #3 then it adds a card to #1 and #2, along with replacing the cards taken with a new card.
And so the Forest Spirit ends up with a more random set of cards, but also more cards. In this game, it got a number of threats and special collection cards early in this first season:
By itself, the Disease card doesn’t do anything but get two of them and you’re forced to discard two animal cards. Get a third, and both players end up losing an animal. The Forest Spirit will seek to build the highest tree, so when it got a second tree trunk card, it automatically placed it behind its starting trunk. Fire? Two of those will cause the loss of any two cards, three of those causes both players to lose a card. Rain is worth nothing by itself, but get a Sun card too and they combine to serve up 5 points. Finally, it has 1 monstera (worth 0 points) and 1 fern (worth 2 points).
NOT QUITE THE END OF SEASON ONE
Just before the last few cards are taken, here’s my position:
Those two Seed cards are very helpful; a Seed card lets you draw three from the seed deck and keep the best one, two Seed cards let you keep two from that draw. Very handy to complete a set – as you can see I have a terrible number of Ferns, four, but worth zero points. My Bromelia is worth 7 (get any more and it’s -3 points!), I have a Rain but no Sun, and a tree I’m growing, but as of now, it’s worth zero (because it doesn’t have a canopy on top). Finally, a single Fire card has no effect.
How about that Forest Spirit? She’s looking very good as we wrap up season one:
Two completed trees, one of which is three trunks high, two Fire cards that will force the discard of two other cards to remove, two Ferns, three Bromelia, three Monstera, a Sun & Rain pair, a spare Rain, and a Poison Dart Frog! This is a great example of where the Fire cards are a huge benefit; by discarding one Bromelia and one Fern, the automaton gains 12 points (7 points instead of -3 for the Bromelia and 2 instead of 0 for the fern.
When season one finishes, the Forest Spirit also gets the tallest tree award, 3 bonus points. At this point it felt a bit like I was unable to compete with the huge benefit that the automaton had with always picking the largest stack of New Growth coupled with its free tree trunk at the beginning of each season. But as the game proceeded, tactics become more and more fruitful…
Finally, here’s the end of season two after scoring. Remember that trees and animals stay, while everything else is scored and discarded:
My four-trunk-tall tree is a huge win, and rewards me with the 4-point tallest tree bonus and, in the end count after season 3, the 5-point tallest tree award too. How can this happen? Because if you draw a canopy card you must play it to cap a growing tree whether you want to grow it taller or not. I have fewer trees than the Forst Spirit, but my main tree is taller. In fact, since the automaton gets a free trunk at the beginning of each season, it seems almost impossible to have a larger forest and get that 10-point bonus at the very end, so in solo mode, tall tree might just be a key strategic goal.
Notice how close the game is at the end of season 2: 44 points for the Forest Spirit versus my 48 points.
Finally, at the end of the game, tallest tree and being able to strategically collect plants and animals pays off. My forest is pretty sparse with only three trees, but it’s enough to get me 9 points for two tallest tree awards. In total, I have 93 points:
The Forest Spirit, who was way ahead after season one, ends up with 83 points, still an impressive showing, but not enough to beat me at Canopy. Phew!
FINAL THOUGHTS AND COMMENTS
I really like Canopy quite a lot. It’s complex enough to be interesting with its many different combinations and variations on card collecting, but simple enough that it’s easy to pick up and play, either solo or with other players. It’s also small and fits into an easily transportable box. The game includes 28 advanced Rainforest cards along with 11 Shifting Season cards, offering a variety of more advanced challenges to keep the game fresh. The artwork is terrific and the underlying logic of the game is satisfying for people with knowledge of rainforest ecology.
The two complaints I have are almost trivial. First, it’s a bit confusing how to score a tree once you add the canopy atop, but you add up all the point values of the trunk cards, then add to that the number of trunks times the multiple on the canopy card. The leftmost tree in the above photo is worth 6 points. Second, I am happy to find a game that fits easily into its box once punched out, but why didn’t Weird City Games include a bag or two to keep the tokens organized once they’re punched? I know, most games have a stack of spares, but it’s such an easy addition to the box…
I continue to play Canopy in solo mode. It’s fun, relaxing, and there’s a satisfying sense of completing an animal group or ensuring that your forest has just the right number of a particular plant, while growing your trees and managing your ecosystem. This is also a very family-friendly and pleasantly non-violent theme making it suitable for every gamer, from the most casual to a hardcore strategy analyst. Strongly recommended.
Disclosure: Weird City Games sent me a copy of Canopy for the purposes of this review. Thanks, chaps!