A Review of Canvas

Canvas was a Kickstarter that funded in May 2020. It’s a very light competitive game for 1-5 players about creating some paintings with cards. It’s a victory point game where the player with the highest number of victory points wins! I actually received this game sometime ago, but I haven’t had a chance to get it to the table until just this week! I also discovered that the game has a solo mode when I opened it up (so I really should have gotten to it sooner).

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So, why are we discussing a competitive game in a cooperative game blog? A number of reasons:

  1. Canvas has several(!) solo modes
  2. There’s an implied cooperative mode (we’ll discuss the Saunders’ Law Converse)
  3. (Spoiler) It’s a really great game!

Let’s take a look at this wonderful game!

Unboxing and Components

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This game is, frankly, just gorgeous. The cover is a piece of art meant to hang on the wall … seriously! The back of the game even has a little place for a hook! (See below) So, if you run out of space for all your games, you can hang this game on the wall. Really.

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Since I was a Kickstarter backer, the game came with some Kickstarter exclusives. This is a victory point game, so one the of the extras was extra scoring cards for the end game.

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Other Kickstarter bonuses consisted of wooden tokens for the ribbons and wooden easels for the mini-paintings the game (shown below). There were also a few more clear painting cards (not shown) which got shuffled into the deck.

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Although the wooden token are really nice, the punch out cardboard tokens are really nice too (see below).  This lead to a funny moment in the unboxing where my friends had zealously punched out ALL the cardboard, and then realized we didn’t need them … so they then proceeded to UNPUNCH the tokens!  (That’s why there a few discontinuities below).  Honestly, you don’t NEED the wooden tokens (because the cardboard tokens are VERY THINK and VERY NICE), but they are nice to have.

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The main component of this game, and the main reason I got the game, was the clear cards (Remember how much I loved the clear cards in Kingdom Rush?). The game comes with a whole pile of clear cards called Art Cards:

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Take a look at just one in isolation: It’s so nice!

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You can see several of these cards (below) laid out on the nice little cloth mat. This cloth mat is really nice and notates clearly where everything goes. The fact that the spaces are WHITE makes it really easy to see what these clear cards look like. The clear cards just beautiful!

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Each player gets some inspiration tokens (the little palettes, see below) these are used to help you select which Art cards you want. You can go as deep as you want into the line of cards (left-to-right), but you have to put an inspiration token on every card you skip. This mechanism might feel very familiar to people who have played Century Spice Road or Century Golem.

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There’s really not too many more components. There’s the background cards (below): Notice that they are sleeved? The sleeves actually come with the game! Each background card must be sleeved!

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Why are the background cards sleeved? Because that’s how you build a painting! You put three clear painting cards (Art Cards) into the background sleeve to form a painting! The painting below uses the far right background above. And then the easels are for “displaying” your painting!

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There’s some cards for the scoring criteria (at the top of the cloth mat below). And the rulebook. And that’s about it for components!

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This game is just beautiful and has some of the nicest little components I have ever seen. It’s gorgeous!

The Rulebook

The rulebook is well done.  This sounds weird to say, but the rulebook feels good!  It has a”texture” to it, so when you start handling it, it feels kind of nice.  I know, that’s weird to say.  Look at the picture above, and you can almost see the texture.

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The rulebook starts with a quick overview of what’s in the game and the art cards. Interestingly, they chose not have a components page up first. I think this still works because the components are covered by the bottom of the box and the back of the box.

The next page shows a nice set-up:

This set-up was super clear and we just jumped right in!  The rest of the rules are pretty straight-forward.

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The scoring is a little confusing the first time you play, but the rulebook goes through some examples of how to score (see above) and does a real nice job explaining the finer details.  We discuss that more below. 

The last page of the rulebook shows off not one but two solo variants!  We’ll discuss those too!

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This was a good rulebook.  It was easy to jump right in. And did I mention that the rulebook feels good too?  Oh, I did? Oh ok. I’ll stop.

How to Play!

My first plays usually involve me doing a solo play and then teaching my friends. Since this was a competitive game, I figured I had to wait until I had a small group together. So, this game languished on my shelves for a few weeks until some friends came over … and then I found out the game had not one but two solo modes! D’oh! I could have been playing all along! Ah well. The game is very simple: on your turn, you do one of tho things: (1) Take a Card or (2) Build a Painting. And that’s it!

If you (1) Take a Card, you take one of the clear painting cards (Art Cards) from the tableau below:

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Once you take an Art Card, all the other cards slide left and you add a new one to the end.

You can take any Art Card you want, but it may cost you. If you take the first card (the leftmost card) , you can just take it for free! If you take ANY OTHER card, you have to put an “inspiration” token (the little palettes) on every card to the left of the card you want! So, you can usually get the card you want, but it costs you more “inspiration”! Note that you only start with 4 “inspiration” tokens! In the picture above, the two leftmost cards have inspiration tokens … if you took one of those cards, you also get the inspiration tokens as well.

You can usually build a painting whenever you want, but when you have 5 Art Cards, you MUST build a painting on your next turn. Having 5 Art Cards “forces” you to build.

Once all players have built 3 paintings, the game is over.

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We mentioned earlier that this is a victory point game: you get victory point by meeting certain “criteria” for your paintings and getting little awards (see the colorful award tokens below each picture above). At the start of the game, you place out 4 scoring criteria at the top of the cloth mat: these are your criteria!

Up close, the scoring criteria tells you two things: (1) What’s the criteria for getting a ribbon (2) At the end of the game, how many victory points do you get for your ribbons.

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For example, the “Proximity” criteria above tells you that you will get a ribbon (green ribbon, because it’s on the green space) if you have the two symbols next to each other on your painting. (There are actual names for the symbols, but none of my players ever cared: they just looked at the symbols themselves). So, how many green ribbons would the picture below get?

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We would get 2 green ribbons for the painting above because we have two pairs of those symbols adjacent!

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At the end of the game, you collect all the “like” ribbons (see above) and add up the corresponding numbers! For example: since I had 3 green ribbons, I would get 8 points for proximity criteria.

Whomever has the most points wins!

First Play

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My gaming group ADORED this game! We had so much fun playing! It was easy to set-up, easy to play, and relatively easy to score. (It took a second to get the scoring down, but the rulebook had examples that explained it really well). We totally hammed it up when played too!

Today I am unveiling a new MASTERPIECE from the mind of genius of Terrrrezzzza.  Behold my brilliance! Today the art world shudders!

Sara said immediately after we played: “I want to get a copy!  This game is awesome!”  This game was an immediate hit for my group!  We all loved the components and  the look-and-feel of the game! We loved the simplicity of play!  We loved unveiling our art!  This is a gateway game almost anyone would enjoy.

Solo Play

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For such a simple game, it’s surprising Canvas has two solo modes! The first solo mode (Painting with Vincent) is a good intro solo mode with more randomness. The second mode (Solo Puzzle) is a little more like a solo puzzle. In both cases, you try to get the best score you can, and compare it to the scoring criteria at the bottom (see picture above).

The first solo mode is a more “random” game, as you play against Vincent (Vincent is just you as a second player). Vincent, however, just eats up random cards on the Art Card tableau between your turns. As a solo player, you throw Vincent’s inspiration tokens and spends them to take cards like a normal player: all face-up inspiration tokens get spent left-to-right to take the one remaining. If Vincent has no inspiration left, he simply takes the leftmost card. Basically, you play Vincent like another player, but he randomly chooses cards.

The second solo more is a little more puzzly, as you play by yourself. The major difference is that any cards that you SKIP when taking an Art Card are REMOVED FROM THE GAME. Thus, your act of choosing cards further to the right will cause all cards to the left to go away, so you must be careful.

All in all, both modes were fine. The first solo mode is probably a good way to learn the game. The second solo mode has more “meat” and will probably be the way to play the game solo once you know it better.

Saunders’ Law Converse

You have heard us mention Saunders’ Law many times in this blog. See here for original post. Essentially, it says “If you have a game with a cooperative mode, designers should really should put a viable solo mode in“. Usually it’s easy to add a solo mode to a cooperative game by just having the solo player play two characters, but in the presence of hidden information, this can be hard (see discussions of Changing Perspective and How to Play a Cooperative Game Solo). But what about the converse?

The converse of Saunders’ Law would say “If a game has a solo mode, designers should really put in a viable cooperative mode“. Does this seem plausible? If we have a game with a solo mode, can we play it cooperatively? It seems like most of the time, you probably can! For example, Nemo’s War (which we reviewed here) essentially adds a cooperative mode by having each player take turns playing the captain and going around the table. It’s a simple idea. Can we apply this to Canvas?

Absolutely!  If we play the solo “Puzzle Mode”, we can simply go around the table with each player taking a turn in the solo game.  The players are all talking together and collaborating, but instead of just one player taking all the turns, the players alternate!  Of course, if there are any disagreements about which cards to play, it’s always up the player whose turn it is.   (Heh, I can imagine the “current painter” token being a little paintbrush)

Thematically, I would liken this to a group art project, where everyone is contributing to creating the art piece together.

EDIT: A more common term for playing a solo game with multiple people is “Solo Multiplayer”.

A Few Minor Problems

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The easels are cool for showing off your painting, but sometimes they have trouble standing up.  My friend Sara said you can probably get much better little easels a Micheal’s or you favorite craft store.  Since they were a Kickstarter extra, you may not get them anyways.   If you just get the retail version, maybe go to Micheal’s: having the little easels was VERY THEMATIC and it was fun having a place to show your paintings!  (Also, the easels don’t fit in the box)

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As cool and awesome and amazing as the clear cards were, they seemed to scratch VERY EASILY. I’ve only played a smallish number of times now, and the clear cards are already starting to get a little scratched (see above). I think what this means is: be careful when you handle the cards. Don’t scrape, and be very careful when shuffling. I worry the cards will look crummy and scratched after too many plays. Just be careful. EDIT: Also be aware that EVERY CLEAR CARD has a little plastic wrap on it to protect it!! You may or may not want to take those off … they offer extras protection, but make the cards less clear.

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One final worry: the criteria cards can be confusing. It would have been nice if the rulebook listed all the criteria cards and had a longer “English” explanation rather than just one sentence. We usually puzzled them out, but some of the criteria are confusing. EDIT: Upon looking at the back of the criteria cards, I found my “English” explanation … worry for this withdrawn!

These are all just minor issues and don’t hold the game back.

Conclusion

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Holy Cow, this game is awesome! Everyone loves it, the components are amazing, and it is fun. The theme is well-executed and the game flows so well. And it looks beautiful on the table. There’s even two solo modes (one to learn the game and the other for a challenging puzzle)! These solo modes can be reimagined to run as a cooperative mode, and I think the presence of a cooperative mode extends Canvas‘ age range! I can imagine young children wanting to play this game, and the cooperative mode (Saunders’ Law Converse), would make it easy for parents could play Canvas cooperatively with their kids.

This is an amazing gateway game that’s beautiful and fun. The gameplay maybe too simple for hardcore gamers, but the game is charming and will entice most people of all ages, even non-gamers!

This game was a huge surprise that’s it’s as good as it is.

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