Once in a while, a game comes along that is inspired by art and beauty. For me, I haven’t been excited about an art game since I played Sagrada, which I still play regularly and enjoy immensely. But recently, I backed a game on Kickstarter called Canvas, which will ship to supporters in early 2021. I’ve been playing it on Tabletop Simulator while I wait for my physical copy. Canvas is a light, card-collection game that asks players to sleeve transparent cards, creating lovely, unique paintings.
In Canvas, each player has 3 sleeves in which to build 3 different paintings over the course of the game. They must spend their turn either collecting a face-up art card from the central display or sleeving 3 art cards from those collected on previous rounds, scoring the painting for points. Why not just stock up on all the art cards and make a masterpiece? Well, a player may only collect 5 art cards before they must sleeve. This art card limit creates just the right amount of tension to keep players from hoarding cards and to incentivize clever art card selection.
When a player wants to take an art card from the face-up display area, they can take the left-most card for free, but they must pay an inspiration token for each card to the right of the first card that they pass up. Players only start with 4 of these tokens and can only receive them when they take an art card with 1 or more tokens on it. Of course—and frustratingly so—players aren’t allowed to take a card if they cannot place the right amount of inspiration tokens on the passed-up art cards.
When a player decides (or is forced) to sleeve 3 art cards they’ve collected, they simply do that. But players need to be careful about the order in which they sleeve their painting elements. They will want certain symbols and scoring opportunities to be visible as they sleeve the transparent art cards because the icons and colors can be covered by other art cards and players might miss an opportunity to score. There are 3 things to consider:
All of these icons can be covered by other art cards if they duplicate the swatch at the bottom of each art card, so players should take care that art cards are efficiently layered in their masterpiece to maximize their scoring.
The bonus icons on certain art cards give players a unique opportunity to earn more victory points that apply to only that painting. When I played, my opponent surpassed me in points because he was able to snatch up the art cards with bonus icons in the display area and then score them (or keep me from scoring them). And scoring bonus icons is in addition to scoring the 4 goal cards for each completed painting.
At the start of the game, players will choose or randomly select 4 goal cards that will apply to that game. The revealed goal cards reward certain combinations of elements with ribbons. This gives players the chance to plan ahead for painting bonuses and to know what cards to gain on their turn to make the most valuable paintings. Essentially, players get victory points if they meet the requirements on the game’s goal cards.
For example, at the start of my game, we chose these four goals: Variety, Repetition, Emphasis, and Composition. Each goal has a different requirement that can be met on a finished masterpiece to earn a ribbon. Variety wants players to have at least 1 symbol of each element (hue, shape, texture, and tone) on their painting. If a player’s painting accomplishes this task, they receive 1 ribbon. Another goal, Repetition, rewards players who have a pairing of 2 shape (triangle) elements in their painting (and it can be done twice for another ribbon!).
At the end of the game, the ribbons are counted, and each player receives victory points based on how well they designed their 3 paintings based on the desired specifications. This gives players an obvious and competitive goal every time they select art cards or sleeve their paintings. Each game, the goals change so players aren’t always trying to accomplish the same thing every time.
I imagine this game will be a great gateway game for gamers as well as an inspired entry-level game for families who like playing on the lighter side of board games. Canvas uses a card selection and set collection system that is easy enough to understand, but it also has enough juiciness for gamers to sink their teeth into. If you’re not careful, you’ll get yourself in a pickle when there are no cards with the purple swatch to complete your masterpiece! Be sure to watch your competitors: what art cards have they collected? how many inspiration tokens do they have at their disposal? are they going to sleeve next turn? I can’t wait to get my physical copy so I can share it with my friends face-to-face. And when they are busy, I’ll be sure to play both solo-variant modes that the designers have graciously included in the rulebook. The designers initially created a very strong solo variant, but then during the Kickstarter campaign, they developed another style of solo play for Canvas. I’m excited to try both because they have such a different approach to experience the game. In the meantime, I’ll keep playing Canvas on Tabletop Simulator (it’s really easy and fun there), appreciating the beautiful artwork and unique paintings I create. You can also print-and-play if 2021 feels too far away to play the actual game!