As a family, we really enjoy animal themed tabletop games, so Cascadia was right up our street! It is the game equivalent of curling up in front of the fire with a hot chocolate- one of the cozy games you can go to after a long day and relax with.
The premise of Cascadia is simple- collect hexes of different terrain that can support different animals, and score accordingly. The foxes, eagles, elk, bears and salmon all score in a different way depending on how you place them on your board; and with four different scoring cards for each animal, Cascadia has enough variety from play to play to keep interest. In addition, you also score depending on how large an area of one terrain is, with bonus points awarded for the person with the largest and second largest of each type. Each hex, with the exception of special ‘Keystone’ tiles, has two terrains printed on it so placement is crucial to your score at endgame.
The catch is you can only choose from four ‘sets’ at a time- a set consisting of one terrain hex from stacks of facedown tiles and one animal drawn at random from a branded bag. Each animal can be placed on certain tiles, marked with their image. This means that you can draw four hexes and four tokens that don’t match at all. Luckily, you always have three empty hexes, otherwise you must discard the animal token if you cannot place it. This really limits your options, and can be quite frustrating if you only need one more salmon for your run or one more bear to score and all you can have is a fox!
You can collect special pinecone tokens by placing an animal on its own hex, called a ‘keystone’ tile, which allows you to change the sets drawn, but these aren’t common and still require a blind draw from the bag. Otherwise, if there are three or more of one animal type you can swap them. You can never change the drawn hex tiles, which can prevent you from continuing a terrain.
Cascadia runs very smoothly with little conflict as playing competitively will prevent you from scoring big. If you play only to stop someone else from getting a scoring group, you are more likely to lose as you will likely place hexes that do not add value to your own board.
Cascadia is one of the most replayable games we have as every game can be approached in a different way. Not only do the animals score differently depending on the cards drawn, the achievements printed in the rulebook add a level of complexity to the game that makes it challenging enough to play multiple games back to back without it feeling repetitive. There is also a handy place to keep track of the achievements that you have- and with 50 to go for it will take a while.
If, however, you want the most relaxing and accessible version of the game, a family variant is included which simplifies the scoring to just groups of animals. This is a great addition for young children and non-gamers playing for the first time who want a gentle introduction to Cascadia. What’s even better about this: some players can play the family rule alongside the normal game to allow people of different abilities to play together and still be complex enough for everyone to enjoy. I think this is such a good idea as it really makes the game suitable for every type of group.
Design & Components
Cascadia has a beautifully designed box that will grace any collectors shelf, easily sitting alongside games such as Parks and Everdell. The components themselves are well made, with thick cardboard hexes and printed circular wooden discs for the animal tokens, which are drawn from a branded drawstring bag. I think that it would have been nice for the pinecone tokens to be wooden as well, as they almost feel like a bit of an afterthought. I like the double sided score pad and the quality of the game cards, which are visually impactful, feel nice to hold and are simple to understand. More could have been done with the artwork on the cards as each animal only has two designs over the four cards (two of which are flipped to look different). It would have been nice to have four different images as repetitive artwork can be off putting to some people.
Having said that, Cascadia is well made and well presented; and is a beautiful addition to our shelves.
As a family, we really enjoy playing Cascadia, and feel that it is a wonderful addition to the collection. While not as cozy a game as Patchwork or Azul and not as complex-cozy a game as Wingspan or Everdell; it still exceeds expectations in both gameplay and replayability. The artwork is beautiful and Cascadia feels satisfying to play. AEG games are always good quality- Tiny Towns is another of our AEG favourites- and we weren’t disappointed by this one. We would recommend Cascadia to both new and experienced gamers and groups.