Games Gazette Logo


Designer:  Markku HeljakkaPetter IlanderRichard HeayesJussi Wallenius  
Artist:       Raphael SultanovJussi Wallenius        
Best Online UK Price found on Zatu:  
CANAL KING  NOW £20.77  RRP £29.99


This is a tile laying game in the genre of most tile laying games. Paths, in this case Canals, have to join together with open ends beginning from one of the Ports (clearly marked on the board) and then joining previously laid open ends. The idea, at first, is to lay links of Canals that create a course to the four Ports on your Route card (which, of course, you have to keep secret from the other players).

You are allowed to place tiles on any free space on the board, you are not obliged to continually build from tiles you have previously laid. Once on the board the Canals become public property and can be a part of any and all player's routes. Tiles are placed using commonsense. 

You may never place an open end of a Canal against any Land terrain (tile or adjacent to a Port etc). You have 5 tiles as a hand and after playing one you draw back to 5 from the pool. You may replace a previously laid tile as long as the replacement keeps the original routes, hopefully adding to them - just remove the laid tile and replace it with yours.

Players each have a 'special' tile - a thick wooden hexagonal with a coloured background (remember the straight blue line on it is the Canal not the player colour - of course I wasn't thinking on my first game and thought I was playing Blue, at least until it suddenly dawned on me. Luckily it doesn't matter what colour you are until the second part of the game kicks in. This is not a defined second-phase which all players start at the same time, but the Race phase where a player or players reveal their route and begin to move their, now known coloured Ship, along it. Tiles remaining in your hand after you complete your route are placed face up and other players can now use them.

The Special tiles cannot be replaced or re-routed but once played they reveal the colour of the player, not that this means a lot as the colour of your Ship has nothing to do with the Route you are building. You place your character token on your Special tile to show who owns it, but as it already has your colour on it . . . .  One other rule on Special tiles is that they may not be placed on the deeper water (the darker blue tiles).

I would have preferred each player having three character tokens each so that when their Ship has reached a Port they place one of their tokens on it to show they have visited there. It's unlikely you will forget stopping over at a Port but a visitor token makes double-sure, and it's better than showing ownership of a special tile that already has your colour on it.

Once you declare your route you can start moving your Ship along it. Ships move as far as they can following the arrows that show the direction of the water flow until they reach a tile with a flag of their colour on it, then they must stop. Tactically it is good to place tiles with the same colour flags next to each other, as long as the flags are not your colour, as this slows the Ships down. All tiles show the way the water flows and although they may have other canals leading into them (think of a motorway and a junction joining it) you can only move with the water, never against it.

The multi-language rules booklet shows the correct and incorrect placement of tiles. It is clearly shown that you can place a tile with a water arrow going one way can be butted up to a tile with a water arrow going the opposite way. This would create an impasse. Placing tiles with tight inner circles next to each other can create a whirlpool effect where there is no possible exit for the Ship. This isn't shown in the booklet but we managed it on several occasions in every game we played. It is covered by the rule that allows you to relinquish your Turn and return your Ship to its Home (Starter) Port.


Declaring your completed route early gets your Ship out on the Canals and on the route to winning, but it also gives the other players, who are still laying tiles, the opportunity to sabotage your journey. As a home rule, after this occurred a number of times during our sessions, we allow the blocked player to lay tiles again, but only so that they reopen their route again; they cannot play tiles to block other players (unless freeing up their Ship's route does this at the same time). Naturally they can also accept the game rules and start their Ship again from its Home Port. At no time can they place a tile and move in the same turn.

CANAL KING: BRUGGE is a good looking game. It is nicely presented, has strong components and attractive illustrations. The game includes a multi-language booklet that shows the characters and their Shipping Lines. Each character has a brief background story, but what they don't have is any special ability, thus rendering the booklet an expense TACTIC needn't have incurred, and which could have paid for the extra character tokens I mentioned above.

CANAL KING: BRUGGE is a great introduction to tile placement games. It is one of those games that is in the limbo area between being a family game and a gamer's game. Families and gamers, even those used to Carcassonne etc, should enjoy the tile laying mechanic, and in particular the adding the rece aspect to it. This style of mechanic has been used before but that doesn't matter, most game mechanics aren't unique, and if they are, they don't stay that way for too long.

This is a good game in which you can have fun by laying tiles to build your own course or/and screw up your opponents routes. It's naughty and somewhat childish, but we can't help giggling a lot when all other players team up to create a whirlpool that sends another player's route into a spin, even if doing this means those players waster their turn.

The Winner is the first player to move their Ship from one Port, through two others, and landing on the fourth Port. 

© Chris Baylis 2011-2021