Canvas Board Game Review: Unleash Your Inner Artist

Read a review of Canvas, an innovative and captivating board game. It allows you to create a masterpiece painting of your dreams. But is it only about the looks or does it offer more depth?

Introduction to Canvas Board Game Review

I’m no painter, but I imagine creating an original, complex painting is a daunting task. Therefore I find it both interesting and original to use this process as a board game theme. Luckily, the art of painting is much faster here, although it has its own challenges.

Looks and Components

The first thing you’ll notice (and also the thing that got me interested in the game) are the components of the paintings. Each painting is made of three plastic art cards. These feature different images but are otherwise transparent. This means you can combine them as you like when you place them in a card sleeve.

The images on the cards are esthetically pleasing and they are placed in different corners of the card, ensuring you get a nice composition in the final art piece. Together with cool artistic titles on them (i.e. “Whimsical Curiosity), this really makes you feel like you created a real piece of art. If you do a bit of role-playing when describing the completed paintings, the effect will be even greater.

The only bummer is that the esthetic component of the paintings has no in-game significance whatsoever. The only things that matter are the symbols on the bottom of the mentioned art cards.

The card sleeves are provided in the box, while the main game board is made of cloth, rounding up the attractive appearance of the game.

Canvas board game review box
A copy of the game was provided by r2igames.

How to Play Canvas?

The rules of Canvas could not be simpler. Each turn you either take one card from the display or you complete a painting. The leftmost card on the display is free, while you need to place innovation tokens on the left-hand side cards if you take other cards. If there are innovation tokens on the card you take, you take these too.

This is a solid system, ensuring you can’t always take what you want, but you can if you save some tokens up. Also, you can never have more than five cards in your hand.

The goal is to collect sets of symbols of the right type, number, and position to fulfill up to four scoring criteria.

If you have between three and five cards in your hand, you can (must, if you have 5) complete a painting. You select three cards, place them in a sleeve, and then the painting is scored according to the four criteria drawn before the game.

These range from simply collecting various symbols to having the exact symbols in the exact spots and so on. Fulfill the criteria and you’ll earn ribbons of different colors – which are scored at the end game scoring. Getting these optimal for each painting is the tricky part and can be very challenging.

When you complete your third painting, your game is over and you wait for others to finish and for the final scoring. And this is all there is to the rules of Canvas. Everyone can learn it and play it in a matter of minutes, even little kids. Understanding and complying your paintings with the scoring criteria is a lot more demanding, though.

Canvas board game review overview of the table

Gameplay Impressions

All right, so we established Canvas is one of those easy-to-learn, but hard-to-master titles. While the first part comes from the simple rules, the second one comes from the scoring criteria. They are not complex in isolation, but trying to satisfy all four (or at least as many as possible) creates a complex puzzle that demands a lot of effort to solve. Luckily, you can help yourself by combining the cards in your hand.

The continuous maximizing of the score can cause analysis paralysis, which can slow the game down a bit. Luckily the entire game is rather short (normally over in 15-20 minutes), so this is normally not game-breaking. But still, I’d keep this away from a group of over-thinkers, if you want to get it done in a reasonable time.

As mentioned, the looks of the final painting do not matter for the scoring, only the positions of the symbols do. This is unfortunate, as it’s quite easy to get detached from the theme with all the hard thinking.

Still, completing a high-scoring, but also visually pleasing painting is rewarding, that’s why I suggest doing a bit of artistic role-playing, as the paintings are scored.

Although the aforementioned system with innovation tokens works fine when selecting which card to take from the display, there is an inevitable element of luck involved. That’s just the deal with card decks. Sometimes you’ll get what you want, other times you’ll be stuck with nothing but useless manure and you will have to create a painting with it.

This happens even though the cards on the display are rotated rather quickly. Perhaps even too quickly, I may add, as the process of drawing new cards can be rather fiddly, especially since the plastic cards like to stick to one another.

Finally, there’s also a bit of a “That’s it?” effect when the players complete their 3rd painting. The game is over really quickly and it can sometimes feel a bit anticlimactic.

Canvas board game review finished art paintings

On a positive note, the game works well with pretty much all player counts and there’s a solid solo mode included, which does use pretty much the same rules as multiplayer. The manual also includes recommended combinations for the scoring objectives – all broken down by difficulty, complexity, and synergy.

Indeed, it’s those different scoring objectives and the combinations they offer that give Canvas a bit of needed longevity. Although they give a different tone to each playthrough, they are not so different that you’d have to re-learn the strategy.

I’d even argue the objectives, combined with the randomness of the draw, and the overall difficulty of fulfilling them, boil the game into a mishmash, where it’s just too hard to make a high-scoring painting, so you just go with what you can do. For example, fulfilling just a goal or two per painting.

Unfortunately, this relegates the game from a thinky set-collector to a gimmicky filler game. It’s still fun, but it lacks a bit in the strategic depth department. I understand the first expansion, Reflections, tries to rectify some of these issues, particularly by offering a larger number of art cards on offer. I haven’t tried it, so I can’t claim whether it succeeds.


The above arguments put Canvas in a weird spot. On the one hand, the layered card mechanic is innovative and the game looks gorgeous. On the other hand, the scoring system is not the simplest to understand and is very challenging to fulfill.

While Canvas is not a bad game, the incentive to play is gone after four or five plays. But as an occasional filler game, particularly for demonstrating the layering mechanics to new players, it’s not a bad choice.

If you click on an affiliate link, it will take you to the Amazon store. If you then buy something, I will earn a commission – I am a member of the Amazon Associates program, as well as others.

1 thought on “Canvas Board Game Review: Unleash Your Inner Artist”

  1. A friend of mine has this game and purchased some small inexpensive wooden easels. So when we play, everyone displays their finished canvases on easels and explains their paintings. As you said, the role playing adds to the enjoyment of the game.


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