In Canalis, designed by Philip Dubarry and published by AEG, you play as one of many factions vying for power in the City-State of Tempest. Your goal is to build canals and trade routes to connect your buildings to all the resources they need. The game can be played by two to four people, with a suggested playing time of 45 minutes. In reality, however, there is a “select and pass” mechanic that requires players to make decisions on which cards to keep and which to hand to an opponent, and in my experience, that means the length of the game will depend entirely on the decisiveness of the members of your gaming group.
As the story goes, a recent storm has breached the natural barriers between the established city and the neighboring Fens, finally allowing the bold and the industrious the opportunity to colonize the newly available coastal land. What’s interesting about this story is that it’s not limited to just one game or even type of game. AEG has published at least four other games all set in the same world: Courrtier, Mercante, Dominare, and Love Letters. Love Letters, for example, is a fast-paced, trick-taking card game with a healthy dose of intrigue—a very different game from Canalis, but one that enhances and expands the overarching setting that helps immerse and enrich the fantasy behind all of these games.
Out of the Box
Inside you will find:
- 1 single-sided game board
- 28 1 Crown tokens
- 10 5 Crown tokens
- 18 two-sided Canal Master’s Guild seals
- 18 two-sided Church seals
- 18 two sided Atheneum seals
- 18 two-sided Artisans seals
- 18 two-sided Shadowmen seals
- 18 two-sided House Piero seals
- 12 guile markers
- 2 first player markers (you only use one)
- 6 two-sided faction boards
- 64 draft cards (half for turns 1 and 2, half for turns 3 and 4)
- 18 mission cards
- 8 resource markers
- 34 building markers of assorted sizes and shapes
- 13 garden markers of assorted sizes and shapes
- 2 lock markers
- 4 long canal markers
- 8 medium canal markers
- 11 shot canal markers
How to Play
The basics of game play are quite simple. There are four stages. In each stage players are dealt a hand of cards. Players choose one card from the hand, place it in front of them face down, then pass the rest to the next player. Players then take turns turning over their cards and executing one of two options on the card. Players work to lay down building tiles, then try to connect those tiles to key resources. Once a building has been connected to all the necessary resources, the building is scored, and the player moves his or her token along the score counter. At the end of the fourth stage specialty buildings and money are scored, and the winner is the person with the highest score.
The game board is placed in the center of the table. Along the top and left side of the board edge there are six slots for resources. Canalis comes with eight resource tiles. These tiles are shuffled and six of them are randomly placed on the game board. The last two resources and all the other tiles (canals, gardens, industrial buildings, specialty buildings, and tenements) are then placed at the top of the board to be used later.
The drafting cards are then separated into two piles. One pile has the numbers 1/2 on the back. The other has 3/4. The first pile is used for stages one and two. The second pile for stages three and four. Both piles are shuffled and placed near the board. Mission cards are also shuffled and placed face down near the board.
Each player is given five crowns (money) from the bank, and randomly selects a faction board. The faction board is like your character. There is a name, an image, and most importantly a set of skills and a mission on the card. The abilities can be very, very useful during games, and the missions both give your character a bit of, well, character, as well as allowing you to potentially score extra points if you are able to complete the stated task. Once players have selected a faction board, they take the faction tokens that match their faction board. Each player draws two mission cards from the pile, and then is dealt a hand of drafting cards: seven for two players, five for three players, and four for two players.
A starting player is selected, and the cards are dealt. Each player chooses a card from their hand, places it in front of him or her, then passes the hand to the left. Cards are revealed one player at a time, and the action taken resolved fully before the next player reveals. Once all the cards have been revealed, the “Starting Player Marker” moves one seat to the left, hands are examined, cards are chosen, and the turn is repeated. The stage ends when there are no cards left to play. New hands are dealt from the appropriate stack of cards, and the next stage kicks off.
Building or Scheming:
Each card has two options printed on it. On the top is the “Build” option. This allows a player to add a canal, garden, or building to the board. Some tiles have costs associated with them. These are marked with a big red “X” in the corner, and are easy to identify. A player must be able to pay the cost in order to play this tile. Tiles must be placed in alignment with the board grid, and cannot overlap any other tile on the board. Also, if the tile the player wants to build is not available (say you want to build a long canal, but all the long canals are already on the board), then building with this card is not an option, and the player must select the scheme option.
The bottom part of the card details the “Scheme.” These are very straight forward, usually adding money or points. A player just follows the directions as printed on the card. There will never be a scheme that is unable to be played.
Once a player plays a building onto the board, he or she puts one of his or her faction tokens on top of it, showing ownership. Faction tokens have two sides, one with the faction seal on it, and the other with a colored “X.” When a player first places a building, the faction token is laid on top with the X showing, to indicate it hasn’t been scored. It is, of course, turned over to show the seal when it does in fact score.
To score the building, a player must connect that building to all the resources shown on the title, as well as connecting it to one of the two harbors on the board, usually through canals (thus the name of the game). Resources vary depending on the type of building. Sometimes the needed resource isn’t available on the board (there are cards in later stages that allow you to add a resource not in play to the game board). And most buildings require workers.
Connecting resources and harbors requires that you can draw an unobstructed line from your building to the resource, either down a canal or because the resource touches the building tile. Resources that touch only on the corners, or course, do not count as being connected.
As soon as a tile is played, no matter who’s turn it is, the board is checked to see if any unscored buildings have scored. Points are taken, faction seals are turned over, and play then passes to the next player.
Gardens, tenements, and specialty tiles:
In addition to the canals and industrial buildings, there are several specialty tiles in the game.
Gardens cost nothing to play. They give extra points to any adjacent building that has already scored. These are good to use to block other players moves and also in the late game when space on the board is limited.
Tenements don’t need to be attached to resources in order to be scored. Instead, they provide workers as a resource. Each time you or another player connects to your tenement to score a building, you score points.
Specialty buildings don’t need to be connected to resources or harbors like other buildings. They sometimes provide immediate boons, such as drawing an extra mission card, and are scored at the end of stage four. Usually they provide extra points based on how well you scored with other buildings.
Canalis can be played by 2 to 4 players, and I’ve tried all three variations. Two player games leave quite a bit of space on the board, so most of the building tiles remain available to play throughout the game. In four player games space gets tight very quickly, and by the fourth round your options are quite limited, making the last few draws of the round feel useless. Three player is the best balance of the two. Building play options are still available in the last round, but your opponents have plenty of opportunities to screw you over the course of the game by trying to block your possible moves.
The drafting mechanic is cool, and lends an exciting element to the game. The need to connect key resources means that you are always in danger of being blocked, which adds to the anticipation and excitement. And since the game board is set up with random resources each time, and you can play multiple different faction personalities, each with two different sets of abilities, replayability is quite high.
However, there are several obvious “screw your opponents” moves that can be executed very early in the game. Experienced players will nearly always move to block off or dominate key resources—which is a good strategic move—but doing so means that the late game turns lack the excitement of those in the early game, and you are left feeling like the game should have ended with an earlier stage rather than just fizzling out, and dragging on.
I do appreciate the effort AEG makes to tie all of the games set in the city-state of Tempest together. Though the mechanics differ, the sense of immersion is pretty cool. And who doesn’t like pretending they are a merchant or petty functionary in a fictitious medieval city-state?
Thanks to Alderac Entertainment Group for providing a copy of Canalis for review.
- Draft-mechanic adds excitement
- Highly re-playable
- There are a lot of fiddly bits, so set up and clean up can be time consuming
- Competitive game groups will no doubt create similar strategic patterns despite the changing game elements
- The last stage of the game has a tendency to be anti-climatic