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Cascadia Solo Review

Cascadia Solo Review

Cascadia is a tile laying game set in the gorgeous Cascadia region of the Pacific Northwest USA. Each turn you pick and place hexes to create terrains that provide the correct habitats for the diverse and beautiful local wildlife. It’s a strategy game that brings in territory building, pattern matching, and hand (well, tile) management.

Whether solo or multiplayer, your starter tile is a 3 Habitat Tile hex combo showing a random selection of 3 out of 5 terrain types (Mountains, Forests, Prairies, Wetlands, and Rivers). There’s also one or more animals on each (Bears, Elk, Salmon, Hawk, and Fox). The number of Habitat Tiles in the pool depends on the number of competing conversationists around the table, but the set-up and gameplay is the same for single or multiplayer.

Take A Turn

Each turn you pick one Habitat Tile and associated Wildlife Token from the 4 randomly paired choices on offer. Your Habitat Tile must be placed next to an existing hex in your region so that at least one side is next to another tile. Unlike games like Carcassonne and Isle of Skye, adjacent terrains don’t have to match, but you’ll get more points and bonuses at the end of the game if you are able to create large “corridors” of a single terrain type.

The accompanying Wildlife Token can be placed on any tile (new or existing) showing that animal. Only one Wildlife Token can be placed on each tile, and once it has settled there, no uprooting it to somewhere else!

Usually you must take the Habitat Tile and Wildlife Token below it as a pair. But, if you place an animal on a tile with a Nature Token on it (called a “Keystone Tile”), on a later turn you can use that little bonus pinecone to either (a) pick and mix a pair that suits you better, or (b) remove the Wildlife Tokens and replace them before making your selection.

Note that if 4 Wildlife Tokens are all the same, this is known as “overpopulation”, and they are removed and replaced with 4 new randomly selected ones. It can also happen when there are 3 matching animals on offer. But in that case, it is the active player’s choice (aka yours in solo mode) as to whether those 3 are replaced or not.

When you have placed your tile and token, you discard the furthest pair in the pool and then move the remaining two pairs along. The two newly created spaces then get refreshed with randomly drawn tiles and tokens from a stack of Habitat tiles on the far left of the draw line and Wildlife Tokens from the bag.

The game ends when the pool of habitat tiles runs out (which is, rather satisfyingly, exactly 20 turns per player). There is a slight variation in the scoring of corridors for solo mode: your corridors have to have at least 7 matching adjacent terrain tiles to get a 2 point bonus. But besides that, it is a standard BYOS affair (unless you are playing the Achievement/Campaign mode – see below)

Curious Creatures

Now, that all sounds rather straightforward. So, here’s where the puzzle ramps up. Each game, there are 5 Wildlife Goals. One for each type of animal, and there are multiple sets (A, B, C, D which can be mixed and matched), such that no single game plays according to the same scoring conditions as another.

The goals are spatial and seem in keeping with each of the animals represented. So, for example, salmon score higher the more you have in an adjacent run, and Elks like to be with their buddies so score better in groups. They’re fussy though, and have to be in the precise positions shown on the card. Bears are less particular, but they do like a bit of social distancing between their sleuths!

The scoring objectives are juicy point providers, but it’s impossible to achieve them all and get the corridor bonuses in just 20 turns. On that basis, decisions have to be made. You have to choose what you are going to target, bearing in mind the luck of the Token and Tile draw. And then flip reverse your strategy when the wrong Habitats and Wildlife appear!

If that all seems a little overwhelming, fear not. There are family and intermediate variants that narrow down the scoring objectives.

Animal Achievements And Rule Restrictions

So far, I have been focussing on the standard game. But, when you feel like you have got your Cascadia wings, you can launch into campaign mode which takes you on a hike through the Cascadian landscape. In a similar vein to Calico, you will play the same game, but with progressively more difficult scoring criteria:

Scenarios – these set which Wildlife Goals to use each game as well as the score/additional criteria you must fulfil in order to achieve them.

Achievements – these are straightforward goals, and the winner of the game only gets to tick the achievement off on their hiking trail if they hit it.

Rule Restrictions – these can be tricky but fortunately you only play one restriction per game!

Note: Achievements and Rule Restrictions aren’t intended for solo play, but I can’t see why not and I use them for added crunch sometimes!

Final Thoughts

Playing Cascadia by myself is pure puzzly joy. It’s not flashy. It doesn’t take an age to set up. There’s no complicated AI to operate. It is just me, a stack of hex tiles, a bag of tokens, and 5 cards. 20 turns to make something satisfyingly synergistic. And my brain likes it. No, my brain LOVES it.

I sit and look at the row of pairs, sometimes for a really long time. And a series of trade-offs and options run through my head. A Chinook Salmon swims around my brain suggesting this tile and pondering that objective. Everything about Cascadia feels calm. Methodical. Meditative. I almost feel like I am breathing in the fresh mountain air when playing.

And although I can sometimes be left feeling like a poor relation when solo modes are a simple BYOS, the added scenarios in Cascadia offer more. They bring a wonderful selection of challenges that don’t need an opponent to bring them to life.

Like Calico solo, Cascadia is simply my brain versus the game. Mitigating luck of the draw with Nature Tokens and smart choices. This is a chilled, pace-free, hygge game that hits that sweet 20 minute solo space. One that I bring to the table whenever I need to wind down after a wild day at work. A game of choice when my brain needs a hug.

I would say that solo Cascadia encourages a slightly different strategy to regular multiplayer mode. Because you always know what combination of Habitat tile and Wildlife Token are going to be discarded at the end of your turn, you can almost stack the stack in your favour. You can bank a tile that you know will be removed, even if you don’t need it straightaway. Not wishing to make this all about Calico, but the same solo “insider information” appears there too.