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Subject: Canoe: Should be counted among the finest classic games rss

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Dave Rossi
United States
Blacklick
Ohio
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Nearly two years ago, my brother told me about a man he met in Seattle, a game inventor named Bruce Alsip, who’d invented a game called Canoe. He said the game was a blast and so addictive that he couldn’t wait to get a board of his own. The board, it turns out, is made of mahogany veneer and the cubes are heirloom-quality. The game cost $79 – a steep price for a guy like me who’d just had a baby.

My brother got it for Christmas, but couldn’t wait to open it, so he opened the gift a week early. He taught me the game and I found it so addictive that I told my wife to return whatever she’d bought for me for Christmas and buy me the game. While she wasn’t happy about that, she acceded to my request.

It was one of the finest decisions of my game-playing life.

Canoe combines the “war game” strategy of chess – albeit at a lighter level, and the chance of Backgammon in d6 dice rolls and rules on pinching and bearing off. The beautifully crafted board and pieces give the game an heirloom quality. The rules are simple enough that learning the ropes is simple, but the strategy and chance involved make it something that even advanced gamers should enjoy. In other words, even advanced strategy gamers are not guaranteed a victory; at the same time failure to strategize may result in a huge loss (I once lost a game 296 to 0).

The goal of the game is to move your cubes from your bank to the grid, form sets or pinch opponents cubes, then bear your sets off. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins. Starter players usually play a single game in about 1/2 hour. More advanced players can play a game in 10-15 minutes. The quickness it plays at more advanced levels, though, is not a bad thing. Indeed, it allows you to play more rounds. It is a game that can be played over coffee, over tea, over beer, smoking stogies, in a coffee shop, in a park. Players can wager on games if they wish. It truly should be a classic game.

The Board:
My board is one made from mahogany veneer. Bruce has recently created a smaller, more light-weight cherry board of equal quality, but slightly cheaper. There are four main areas on the board: The Grid, where the strategy is fulfilled, sets are formed, opponents’ cubes are pinched, and your cubes are vulnerable; the Player Banks (one bank for each player), and The Leather – a square leather patch where rolled dice are placed and where sets are borne off.

The Grid is a 5x5 area. Each player sits next to each other, versus across from each other – a nice mechanic change. Each player has a Bank that is 2 squares deep by 5 squares long. Between the banks is The Leather. On the far side of the board in each players Bank is The Pin – the area where sets are moved from the Grid to the Bank and lined up to score. On the back line of the Bank, next to the Leather is the Back Stripe. This is the line you have to bear your sets off through.

The Cubes:
Each player has 2 regular d6 dice and 7 cubes. Each player rolls a d6 dice at the beginning of the game and the player with the higher die roll chooses whether to be Black of Ivory. Each cube is 6-sided cube the numbers 1, 8, 16, 24, 32, and 40.

Playing the Game:
Each player rolls 6 of their 7 cubes on the board. (Little nicks and bumps and dents will eventually form on the board. This is how the board was designed. Bruce wants to see boards that looked used. But due to the high quality of the board, such dents and bumps only enhance its antique aesthetics – it does not look bad at all.) They proceed to place the 6 cubes in the middle three columns of their own Player Banks. Strategy starts right here. Since the goal will be to form sets (described later), you want to set your cubes in such a way that will speed your ability to form sets. Once both banks are placed, each player rolls the 7th cube and places it in the middle square opposite their bank. The player with the higher 7th cube value goes first.

You roll the two regular d6 dice on the board. Whatever is rolled is placed on the Leather so both players can see the result. The player assigns each die to a single cube. Each die does two things to the cube it is assigned to. First, the value of the cube is changed according to what is rolled. If the value of the d6 die is odd, the value of the cube is decreased (a 40 becomes a 32 becomes a 24, etc.; since there is no lower “value” than a 1, a 1 is “decreased” to a 40). If the value of the d6 die is even, the value is increased (a 24 becomes a 32 becomes a 40; since there is no higher value than a 40, a 40 cube is “increased” to 1). Second, the cube is moved an equal number of spaces as what value the d6 die shows.

Once on the Grid cubes of like numbers (two 40s, for example) and like colors that land on the same space are stacked to form sets. Additionally, cubes of like numbers but different colors that land on the same space, the active player “pinches” the opponent’s cube and puts that cube in his/her score pile. Sets cannot be pinched and may jump any other cube or set on the board. Jumps do not count as spaces.

Once a set is formed, a single die or both dice can be assigned to the set for it’s movement. It’s value does not change, however. The goal is to move the set through the Pin on the Player’s Bank and bear the set off through the Back Stripe.

The first player to bear his/her set off scores both cubes in the score pile. Only one cube of each set is scored for all sets scored thereafter.

The first player to bear all his/her sets off, including the 7th cube (below) is called the “outplayer” and sweeps the remaining cubes of the opponent and places them into his/her score pile. The person with the highest point total at the end of the game wins.

7th Cube, Outplayer, and Endgame Strategy
Since the game is designed with 7 cubes and sets of 2 stacked cubes are made to bear off, often the 7th cube remains on the Grid. The 7th cube may not reenter the Player Bank until all of that player’s sets have been completely borne off. This sets up an interesting situation:

In order to be the outplayer, thus sweeping all of your opponent’s remaining cubes, you must bear off the 7th cube. However, the 7th cube has all the restrictions of a regular cube. It is bound to the rules of changing value (although you may combine both dice to move the cube, you must change the value and move, then change the value and move again), and to the rules of being vulnerable to getting pinched. It also cannot jump and it may be trapped.

If your 7th cube gets pinched, your opponent may bear off his/her cubes with impunity. Your opponent may also block your entrance to your player bank by placing one of his/her cubes at the pin. Though this rarely happens, it is frustrating when it happens.

So endgame strategy for the 7th cube is important. Each player will play it a little differently, but it is lots of fun.

Scoring, Running Tabs, etc.
There are several ways to tally the score at the end of the game. While many just total up the score, I find it is easiest to consolidate scores at the end. For example, instead of one player scoring 2-40s and the other player scoring 1-40, consolidate so the player with 2 ends with 40 points and the other player has no points.

Since this game plays quickly and is based on real numbers, it is really fun to keep running tabs on games. For example, another brother of mine have played roughly 50 games on my board. I am beating him 2,800 to 2,400, while the 20 games we played on his board, he is beating me by 390 points. So while you may have the “hot cubes” one night, you might still be playing from behind. It’s a fun thing to keep tabs on, especially if you’re wagering on the games.

Overall Review:
Well, it should come as no surprise that I am outrageously pleased with this game. I’ve had my board for nearly 2 years and have played about 100 games on it so far. It is many less than I would have liked, though overall I’ve played the game probably 200 times at least. Yet it doesn’t get boring. Even as a gumshoe I loved the game. It has all the hallmarks of a classic game, including the physical board and pieces.

I have a bunch of great games – some easier to play than others. This of course includes the true classics Chess and Backgammon. I love Chess, but the heavy-duty strategy involved sometimes makes it too heavy for me to take, especially if I’ve had a bad day at work. Backgammon is a lot of fun, but ultimately unfulfilling – but it is a lot of fun especially after those bad days of work.

Canoe, however, I am always in the mood to play. It has a lot of great strategy aspects to it, so you have to think and pay attention, not only to your own pieces and projects moves, but to your opponent’s, too. It has all the chance of Backgammon, and frequently comes out and bites you when you really need a roll to go your way. It is a game you can play when you’ve had a good day at work, a bad day at work, or just a day at work. You can play it so many places (it isn’t bad to carry anywhere). All-in-all, it is, simply, my favorite game to play.

Is it worth $79? (Or $62 if you buy the cherry version)
Absolutely. I’m actually thinking of buying a second board so that I can keep one at home and one in my car. Two boards at $79, though, may be a little steep.

Negatives
For me, there are none. But here is who the game will not likely appeal to:

Hardcore strategists. If you’re one of these, a game that adds the element of chance probably isn’t appealing to you. Adding in the cost of the game, you might be better served sticking with Chess.

Card gamers/tile-laying gamers.
(What I call “concrete gamers.” Someone who doesn’t enjoy abstract games.) If these are the only games you are interested in, you might want to stay away. In other words, if you do not enjoy games like Chess or Backgammon because they are too abstract, this game probably won’t appeal to you.

Who will the game appeal to?
People like me – people who enjoy all kinds of games. Also, the occasional gamer (the Monopoly/Parcheesi/Trivial Pursuit players who sometimes pick up a chess board) will enjoy the game.
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Robert
Malaysia
Seattle
Washington
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Agreed. Canoe is one of the best balanced two player abstract games I have ever seen or played. I also own a copy (as well as a leather board) and have played many MANY games while enjoying fine cigars with my best bud Tye.

There used to be a group of us that would meet at a pub in the University District in Seattle - The Ram Cafe I think, and we'd have about four or five games going at once. And there was also "Canoe Thursdays" at the Starbucks on Fifth Avenue across from Nordstrom's...

Truly a fantastic game.

-Robert "Escher"
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Joe Wyka
United States
Walnut Creek
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Robert, your opinion is far more valuable to me than the original poster's, who obviously joined BBG just to shill this game and has never returned....
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Andrew Roy
United Kingdom
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joewyka wrote:
Robert, your opinion is far more valuable to me than the original poster's, who obviously joined BBG just to shill this game and has never returned....

Shame, but I can't help but agree with you based on the evidence.
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Gabe Brunelle
United States
BURLINGTON
Vermont
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Oh, how could I stay anything but MAD over you, Cthu-ly, woo-ly, woo-woo!
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Hi! I just ordered a copy of the mahogany board with the leather case-- and it was over half off! I played my first seven games today and had to have a copy. Yes-- Canoe has the randomness and combination dice movement of backgammon while incorporating chess and Go!-like characteristics, in my opinion. I love it that you don't have to take your turn if you don't want to! I love this game already. It's already a classic in my mind. If this game catches on like it should, some big gaming company is going to drop a boatload of cash for the copyright and mass produce plastic and cardboard sets for the masses to enjoy. In any event, I recommend it. Pick up a copy while the mahogany and walnut boards are still around!
 
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Robert
Malaysia
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To be fair to the original poster, Dan Rossi... he honestly IS that much in love with the game. I've met him and played many games with him.

It is very likely that he was not familiar with the BGG posting "rules" or community standards and that's why his post came off so "shill - like".

That said, Canoe is one of those games I'll always play when I can.

-Robert
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