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Cascadia

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Cascadia is a beautiful strategy board game in which players compete to create the most harmonious ecosystem. Match rivers, prairies, wetlands, forests, and mountains and populate them with different wildlife species. Each species has its own unique traits to consider, such as its ecosystem, its spatial requirements, and its connections to other animals. Simple to learn, but hard to…
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Cascadia is a beautiful strategy board game in which players compete to create the most harmonious ecosystem. Match rivers, prairies, wetlands, forests, and mountains and populate them with different wildlife species. Each species has its own unique traits to consider, such as its ecosystem, its spatial requirements, and its connections to other animals.

Simple to learn, but hard to master – Cascadia is a dual-layer puzzle. There are a variety of goals that you can mix and match, creating a brand-new experience every time you play. Explore hundreds of unique puzzles and build beautiful terrain maps in competitive, solo, and family modes.

The solo mode of Cascadia elegantly replicates the 2-player experience, taking the drafting mechanics and turning them into a cascading market. Choose your pieces carefully, as the available options will change each turn. Solo mode plays quickly, and succeeds in being a relaxing, easy to learn experience. It presents suitably challenging puzzles for the player to overcome without the need to score for any AI players.

If you are playing with children, or you wish to simplify the gameplay for yourself or other players, the game includes variant scoring. There are two extra options, presented as an easy mode and an intermediate mode. The easy mode makes each animal score in a similar way, reducing the number of scoring conditions the player must learn. Intermediate mode increases the challenge of the spatial puzzle, without adding complex scoring conditions.

Cascadia is an accessible game that offers challenges suitable for all gamers, with approachable gameplay and strategic depth. It’s a great choice whether you’re searching for gateway games or in-depth strategy. You will find a great mix of long-term strategy and short-term tactics available as you work to solve each new puzzle. The team behind Cascadia knows that gamers love sharing their hobby and have worked hard to make Cascadia the perfect game to do just that.

Player Count: 1-4
Time: 30-45 minutes
Age: 10+

Awards

Spiel de jahres
Golden Geek
Dice Tower
Golden Pear

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • A dual-layered puzzle
  • Working on your own little ecosystem
  • Beautiful artwork
  • Nice components

Might Not Like

  • Mild hate-drafting at times
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Description

Cascadia is a beautiful strategy board game in which players compete to create the most harmonious ecosystem. Match rivers, prairies, wetlands, forests, and mountains and populate them with different wildlife species. Each species has its own unique traits to consider, such as its ecosystem, its spatial requirements, and its connections to other animals.

Simple to learn, but hard to master – Cascadia is a dual-layer puzzle. There are a variety of goals that you can mix and match, creating a brand-new experience every time you play. Explore hundreds of unique puzzles and build beautiful terrain maps in competitive, solo, and family modes.

The solo mode of Cascadia elegantly replicates the 2-player experience, taking the drafting mechanics and turning them into a cascading market. Choose your pieces carefully, as the available options will change each turn. Solo mode plays quickly, and succeeds in being a relaxing, easy to learn experience. It presents suitably challenging puzzles for the player to overcome without the need to score for any AI players.

If you are playing with children, or you wish to simplify the gameplay for yourself or other players, the game includes variant scoring. There are two extra options, presented as an easy mode and an intermediate mode. The easy mode makes each animal score in a similar way, reducing the number of scoring conditions the player must learn. Intermediate mode increases the challenge of the spatial puzzle, without adding complex scoring conditions.

Cascadia is an accessible game that offers challenges suitable for all gamers, with approachable gameplay and strategic depth. It’s a great choice whether you’re searching for gateway games or in-depth strategy. You will find a great mix of long-term strategy and short-term tactics available as you work to solve each new puzzle. The team behind Cascadia knows that gamers love sharing their hobby and have worked hard to make Cascadia the perfect game to do just that.

Player Count: 1-4
Time: 30-45 minutes
Age: 10+

Cascadia review

Do you like tile-laying? Do you like puzzles? How about animals? Well, this is your lucky day. Cascadia is like a cake, bear with me one minute while I explain. Cascadia has a base of Carcassonne-esque tile-laying topped with a layer of animal-arranging icing. Managing these two elements together will decide whether your cake is light, fluffy and full of points or burnt and full of pointless elk.

Gameplay

Points, Biomes, Animals And Patterns.

At the start of a game of Cascadia, you will randomly select a scoring card for each of the games five animals. Each animal has a set of cards with different ways they can score and for your first game, the 'A' cards are recommended. It is nice to be able to have slightly different scoring conditions each time you play. I also got a set of Kickstarter scoring cards too from Zatu which was nice.

After that stuff is sorted everyone playing gets a starter tile, made up of three normal tiles and you are just about ready to go. Cascadia, on the surface, feels and plays very simply, however, bubbling underneath is a puzzle that could be pondered for hours upon end. As I mentioned earlier, it's two puzzles in one that must be navigated in conjunction, like a tandem being ridden in two separate directions.

Cascadia components

Choices And Mitigation

Above your play area, there is a 'shop' of sorts made up of biome tiles and animal tokens. On your turn, you simply select one pair of tile and token and go about fitting it into your little ecosystem trying to fulfil as many of the animal requirements as you can. You will not only score for each of the five animal cards but also for your largest area of each type. The tiles you choose are a mixture of all one terrain type or a mixture of two. Picking a tile and animal combo that is right for you is a very juicy decision indeed, every single turn.

You do have a bit of mitigation here too. If you place an animal on what is called a Key tile, which is noted by the fact it is all one terrain, has an arrow on top and has a Nature Token symbol on it, you will get a Nature Token. You can use these tokens at any time to take any combination of tile and token available, instead of the pairs laid out or wipe any number of animal discs back into the bag. Also, if three identical animal discs are in the shop the active player can wipe them for free. I feel there is just enough choice and ways to mitigate randomness to make every turn feel worthwhile and important.

Components

Beauty In Simplicity.

In Cascadia, there are not many components to talk about really, what is there is very functional, beautiful and needed. There is no fluff, over-elaborate nonsense or massive miniatures anywhere to be seen. You have cards, tiles, tokens and animal discs. Everything is well designed, looks lovely and made to a very high standard. The cards feel quality, the tiles are thick and the printed animal discs are a nice weight.

The graphic design on the tiles, cards and discs is very attractive. The animal photos are gorgeous, the terrain tiles are bright, bold and very clear and the animal discs are also very bold and clean looking. Cascadia leaves no option for confusion in the components with very little symbology, clear, precise art and high-quality design. It's all rather elegant, in a classically simple way.

Cascadia counters

Final Thoughts

We really enjoyed the puzzle that Cascadia offers. While it will not be everyone's cup of tea, if you like tile-laying and puzzles it is definitely worth your time. While you are working single-handedly on your ecosystem, there is a small amount player interaction when selecting what to take on your turn. There is a little hate-drafting now and again, I'm looking at you Brian, nicking all the salmon! I personally don't mind that at all, it gets people around the table talking and laughing.

There is a decent single-player mode, achievements to unlock, scenarios to try and for the price you pay, you get a lot of game and variety for your money. You can mix up the scoring using different cards and every game does feel slightly different depending on what comes out of the bag. When I need a little game that allows me to ponder, look at nice components and stunning animal art, Cascadia is up there with the best of them.

Editors note: This post was originally published on November 11th, 2021. Updated on July 27th, 2022 to improve the information available.

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.

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!

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • A dual-layered puzzle
  • Working on your own little ecosystem
  • Beautiful artwork
  • Nice components

Might not like

  • Mild hate-drafting at times