Canvas is a beautiful game in every sense of the word. Starting with the gorgeous box, the beautiful clear Art cards and the vibrant colours used on the components. Canvas is a game that beckons you to play.
Before fawning over the game, I would be remiss if I didn’t start this review with a set-up guide but be forewarned, it will be short.
Unroll the canvas board and place it centrally, and choose four scoring options from the pool. If this is the first game it suggested you use Variety, Unity, Composition and Repetition. In future games you can mix things up as much as you like, the replayability is therefore seemingly endless.
Separate and place the scoring tokens in piles near the board and then shuffle and place the clear Art cards in their location on the right of the board.
Deal cards from the Art deck into each open location on its left. Finally, each player takes three sleeved background cards and three paint palette tokens, play now begins with the last player painting a picture taking the first turn.
Gameplay in Canvas is simple but the various combinations are based on the scoring options you have chosen, I will talk more about scoring later, adding a layer of deep complexity to each game.
There are two options on your turn you either take an Art card from the board or you turn in a painting.
To take an Art card you can either take the Art card on the far left of the board for free or you can take an Art card from further to the right by placing one of your palette tokens on each Art card you skip. You then move the cards along to the left and add new Art cards on the right to complete the row.
To turn in a painting, you add 3 cards to a background by placing them in the sleeve against the background. The complexity comes from the multiple choices you have in how you arrange the cards.
Each art card has several colours and icons at the bottom and just above it will have a word on the left or right, when combined with another painting that has the word on the opposite side your painting will be named.
Combining the cards in a multitude of ways will give your painting an overall score. Having only 5 cards in your hand at any one time means you have to think very carefully about your Art card choices and even more so about their placement.
I have never played a game where I was willing for other people to just stop thinking. Canvas appears to be a simple, casual game even but I am always surprised at how quickly non-gamers get their first brain freeze.
The complexity comes from choice. Whilst you may only be able to place 3 Art cards into your Canvas and you only have 5 cards to choose from there are a bewildering number of combinations of scoring options in the box, a total of 47,686,234,160.
Please don’t think this makes the game complicated, it’s just a number, the simplicity of the concept means you can teach canvas in about a minute and explain the scoring easily.
When you turn in a painting you score it based on the criteria of the 4 scoring cards you chose from the 12 available, and you take the corresponding number of ribbons.
The scoring cards have different requirements and conditions that the players need to meet in order to earn ribbons for their paintings.
For example, the Unity scoring card might require the paintings to have at least two of the same shape, while the Repetition card might require a specific shape to be repeated a certain number of times while the Variety card might require each painting to have a certain number of different shapes and there are lots of different scoring cards as I have mentioned previously.
The others are Emphasis, Hierarchy, Style, Movement, Space, Proximity, Symmetry, and Proportion which means that combined in different ways there are a possible 495 ways to score your games.
Overall, the scoring system in Canvas adds a layer of complexity to the game without detracting from its simplicity. It allows for a lot of diversity in the way you combine your paintings whilst simultaneously remaining simple enough to provide a clear path to victory.
Canvas is a joy to play
Canvas is such a simple game that you can take a new player, set up and be playing within a few minutes.
The simplicity belies a deeply strategic game. Devolving and breaking the game down into numbers detracts from the joy of playing.
It is a mathematical exercise when you consider the scoring alone but which Art cards you should take is also often influenced by “what you like”.
There is also the fear of loss to consider in that, you might like two cards but can only take one and the “other” card will probably be gone by your next turn so you also have a little battle with yourself while you try and consider what you like vs what the best thing to do is.
Should you use your palette tokens to get the card on the far right or do you think it might be there later if you take a card that will cost you nothing? There are lots of critical decisions because you can only hold 5 cards in your hand before you have to turn in a painting.
Canvas is Beautiful
The thing that will have probably drawn you to Canvas as a game in the first place is the way it looks.
There is no denying that Canvas is gorgeous but there is something else, that for me at least, adds to that beauty.
The quality of the components. Is fabulous, the board or more correctly the canvas playmat fits the theme perfectly in its simplicity and aesthetic.
The Art cards are made of .5 mm, incredibly good-looking transparent plastic and the game is made by PandaGM who have some impressive Eco credentials.
In fact, Canvas’s box and punch board are made of 30% recycled material and the cards come from an FSC-certified source. They use eco-friendly water-based ink and varnish and PandaGM looks after their staff too which is always nice to hear.
Canvas is fun
Each card can be placed into a sleeve in one of three positions, front, middle or back, and depending on its position front to back it will either show or hide different symbols and colours. As I said before there are a possible 47.6 Billion combinations of games in the box.
The choices you have to make are simple, but the number of options, the points you could take from each card, and the best move to make are so fun that you will certainly never think about the reality of the options.
Canvas is a great weight for playing with children. My daughter loves it and will often play it with her friends. She is almost 10 and they will not only play the game but have little art exhibits where they create artwork and display it for each other to see in their “Gallery”.
It’s not just the way it looks
Canvas was launched on Kickstarter with a goal of $14,000. It was quite successful and over 600,000 people backed the campaign raising a total of $713,171 from Kickstarter.
It’s more than just the aesthetic then, Canvas was designed by people that appear to care about people and the environment so had it produced by a factory with the same values.
There is something wonderful about that that only adds to the joy I get from Canvas.
The ups and downs
Canvas is a simple, clean and potentially challenging game that is also a lightweight and fun gateway game.
Seriously people love this game. We have not had a single person we have played with say anything other than it was a great game.
Another bonus is that there are two solo modes, one is more like a tutorial, but the second one is a pretty good puzzle game.
I say pretty good, I have sort of played it once to see how it worked and it was good but I really wanted to play Marvel Champions solo so the challenge game was over pretty quickly.
Whilst I really enjoy playing Canvas with my family and our relatives who don’t regularly game, I have not brought Canvas to a game night with (please excuse the condescension) hardcore gamers.
Canvas is a great game that should be on the table far more often. I purchased it several months ago and, mostly because Superclub is so good, we have only played about 12-15 games.
My daughter and wife have played far more games and both consider it one of their favourite games. I have to agree, it’s great.
When we have played Canvas we have always had a great time and everything from the gameplay, the look of the cards and the tactility of the materials used lends to the overall impression you get from Canvas. That is a great board game for your collection.