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How To Play Cascadia

Cascadia HTP

Cascadia N Chill

Do you like games where your brain simultaneously relaxes and works at the same time? I most certainly do and Cascadia is definitely one of those games for me. If you haven’t read the full review or the solo review , check those out first. I’m in no rush as I get to indulge my passion for it all over again by showing you how to play!

Set It Up, Randy

Setting up Cascadia is a cool breeze.

First shuffle the hex Habitat Tiles and stack them up face down – the number of tiles in the game depends on player count (43/63/83 for a 1-2/3/4 player game). It works out to 20 per player plus an extra 3. Then place the Wildlife Tokens in the cloth bag and give them a jiggle. Randomly pick 4 Habitat Tiles and 4 Wildlife Tokens and pair them up in a row – this is your common pool.

Then select your Wildlife Scoring Cards. There are 4 sets marked A, B, C, and D. Each one includes the 5 animals in the game: Bears, Elk, Salmon, Hawk, and Fox. They are spatially based, placement optimisation goals and you can play with a single set or mix and match (so long as you have one of each species). A is the simplest set which is good for your first few games. There’s also a Family variant Wildlife Scoring Card which replaces all 5 individual animal goals with a single objective which is great for younger or less experienced gamers.

Finally set the Nature Tokens (pine cones) off to one side but within easy reach and give everybody a 3 hex Habitat Starter tile. This is a combo tile 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 hex ready to buddy up or keep its distance from other indigenous species!

Take A Turn

So, on your turn of Cascadia, you are going to pick one Habitat Tile and the associated Wildlife Token from the 4 randomly paired choices on offer. Be aware that if that if all 4 Wildlife Tokens in the pool are the same animal type, this is known as “overpopulation”. When that happens, they are discarded from the game 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 as to whether those 3 are discarded or replaced.

Okay, so once picked, you must place your tile next to an existing hex in your region so that at least one side is touching another tile. No overlapping or stacking either, cheeky! Unlike games like Carcassonne and Isle of Skye, adjacent terrains don’t have to match, but you’ll get more points and bonuses at end game if you are able to create large “corridors” of a single terrain type. Choose wisely as you cannot move it again!

The accompanying Wildlife Token can be placed on any tile (new or existing) in your environment showing that animal. But only one Wildlife Token can be placed on each tile (even if it shows more than one), and once it has settled there, no uprooting it to somewhere else! If you can’t place the Wildlife Token on your turn, you must put it back in the bag.

Now, 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” because in the real world that species actually helps define that particular ecosystem!), you get a nature token. And these are cool because you can use that little bonus pinecone on a later turn 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.

When you have placed your tile and token, you replace the missing Habitat Tile and Wildlife Token from the stack and bag respectively. There is no need to move any of the existing ones – just fill in the gaps. Then it is the next player’s turn to pick and place! (Note that the game play is slightly different in solo mode but it is explained in full in the solo review).

The game ends when the Habitat Tile stack runs out (which is, rather satisfyingly, exactly 20 turns per player), and then it is on to scoring.

Scoring High like An Eagle

This is the time when you suddenly realise you should have been paying attention to those Wildlife Cards! And that is because each one is now going to give (or deny!) you points based on where you placed your Wildlife Tokens throughout the game. And they’re super thematic. So whichever set you’re using, each animal scores in a similar albeit slightly varied way. Bears always like to be in little groups, Hawks like to keep their eye on other birds (but never getting too close), Salmon like to swim in an orderly fashion, Foxes are the social butterflies, and Elk stand (and score!) best in formations. If you get stuck, the rulebook has an excellent description of each one, and the cards themselves have icons and a little bit of text to help.

If you haven’t quite hit the scoring objectives, there’s still hope! Remember those corridors I mentioned? Well, each player scores each of their largest group of contiguous matching terrain types. Plus, whoever has the largest gets a boost in the form of a 2/3 point bonus (depending on 2 or 2-4 player count). Again solo scoring is slightly different so check out the full solo review for details.

Ultimately, whoever scores the most Cascadia points (don’t forget unused Nature Tokens score 1 point too!) is the winner. But whenever I play Cascadia, it always feels like a win because it is such a wonderfully chilled but crunchy experience. And I am not the only one who thinks so – Spiel des Jahres Game of the Year 2021 winner is an epic achievement and thoroughly well deserved in my humble habitat loving opinion!

What An Achievement

And if the regular game is just not enough Cascadia for you, there is the epic Achievements section at the back of the rulebook for even more chillaxed crunchiness! (NB: I was a little confused by the shapes in this section, but they are just markers each player can use to track their progress).

Scenarios (for solo or multiplayer) – these set which specific Wildlife Goals to use each game as well as any score/additional criteria you must fulfil in order to achieve them.

Normal Game (multiplayer but I solo these too)– 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 (again designed for (multiplayer but I solo these too) - these can be tricky but fortunately you only play one restriction per game!

I hope this helps with your first few games of Cascadia! The rule book has lots of helpful diagrams too though so if you get stuck, it’s always there for reference!