Build the most harmonious landscape in this beautiful game.
AEG Games/Flatout Games
Note: AEG Games sent us a copy of Cascadia so that we could write this unbiased review
Cascadia is a region in North West America, stretching through Canada and the United States, containing an extremely diverse landscape of mountains, rivers, forests, prairies and wetlands. No landscape would be complete without wildlife and Cascadia is no different. Powerful bears, majestic elk and wily foxes are among some of the creatures to roam this vast environment.
In this beautiful game, players must create their own version of Cascadia by drafting landscape tiles and wildlife tokens and placing them in their biodiverse world. Whoever has the most harmonious landscape (Jess) and best satisfies the wildlife objectives (Jess) will win the game (Jess) after 20 rounds.
Spoiler alert: we both love this game. I love it even though I always lose…
How the game works
Your aims in Cascadia are twofold. You want to create areas of matching terrain types as this will turn into points at the end of the game and also to satisfy as many of the 5 wildlife objectives as possible. Your score at the end is the two of these things combined, so how do you make it happen?
On your turn, you pick one land tile and one wildlife token from the 4 pairs available in the centre of the table. You place the land tile so that it joins onto your landscape and place the wildlife token on any unoccupied spot (as long as that spot can support that animal!). Then replace the tile and token so there are 4 pairs again and play passes to the next player. There are 20 rounds so your final landscape will consist of 23 tiles (your starting tile is 3 connected tiles) and 20 wildlife tokens.
There are five terrain types (river, forest, desert, mountain and wetland) and at the end you score 1 point for each tile in your biggest continuous area of each terrain (so if you had two forests, one stretching 7 tiles, the other stretching only 2, your forest scores 7). There is also a bonus for each terrain type depending on which player has the biggest area. I always lose to Jess because she ends up grabbing these bonuses!
There are five species of wildlife (hawks, salmon, elk, bears and foxes), and each will have a different way of scoring points depending on their distribution within your landscape. These objectives change each game and each species’ objectives will work in similar ways. Salmon score points for being in a “run” (e.g. one consecutive line of salmon), bears like to be in groups not adjacent to other bears, hawks like to be on their own not adjacent to other hawks, foxes like to be surrounded by other species and elk tend to have objectives favouring big groups in various formations. Because each species can only be placed on certain landscape tiles and there are only four tiles on offer at the same time, it can be quite tricky to get the animals you need where you need them.
Some landscape tiles only have one land type and specify only one animal type that can live there, making it trickier to fit into your plans and less beneficial to you scoring for each terrain type (since the other tiles have two different terrain types on). Placing wildlife on these tiles rewards you with a nature token, which can be spent to give you a more favourable pick during a future round, or saved up for points at the end.
The game ends when the 20 rounds are up, after which you work out your score for each animal’s objective, each of your terrain types (including the bonuses for who had the biggest for each) and any nature tokens you have left over.
Being a massive fan of Calico (if you haven’t checked that out, do yourself a favour and set that right here) and having done a bit of research into the mechanics of Cascadia, I sort of already knew I was going to love this game. Drafting tiles and creating a landscape filled with wildlife which score points in a variety of ways is right up my street and since the game arrived a week ago we’ve played it twice a day since.
I love the variety of the objectives. There are four different objectives for each animal type, giving you a large number of possible combinations so plenty of replayability. The rulebook also gives you a set of achievements and challenges to tick off which are very cool too and I’m looking forward to giving these a go.
It’s a fantastic thinky puzzle trying to select the tiles and wildlife tokens in an attempt to create the best cocktail of points based on what is available. It’s almost impossible to have a consistent strategy because the wildlife choices are so limited, there’s only 4 on offer and often there are duplicates. If you’ve focused too much on salmon & elk and there’s none to pick from, you’re going to have to find other ways of scoring points. Keeping an eye on how big each of your opponents terrains are is important too as the bonuses are worth grabbing and are often what differentiates the winner from everyone else.
There’s also a very simple solo variant to play against and a family friendly variant which simplifies the objectives for younger players. I always like it when games cater for less experienced and more experienced gamers alike and this is no exception, I am looking forward to introducing Cascadia to a wide range of our friends and family.
At only 30-45 minute play time it is the perfect length for this type of game, a short sharp puzzle that’s easy to pick up and learn but engages you throughout. There’s no real down time (unless someone is majorly stuck analysing their options), because you are invested in every one’s turns. If certain players around the table are favouring certain terrains or wildlife, that may effect your choices too. If the player to your left was trying to complete a set of bears, you might decide to take the one available bear to stop them, likewise the player to your right may do the same to you…
I can’t really think of a downside to Cascadia other than the theme is a bit thin (the landscape tokens don’t relate to the animals that sit on them), but it ticks all the other boxes. It looks great, is easy to learn but difficult to master (although with 5 wins in 6 – I won the first game on a tiebreaker – Jess seems to have achieved this), plenty of replayability, a whole lot of head-scratching and heaps of fun along the way. Really really recommend you pick this up – it would work perfectly as part of a games night of smaller games.
If you made me pick one of Cascadia or Calico I would probably pick Cascadia. Although Calico looks even better on the table than Cascadia, there are more options for replaying Cascadia and because you’re drafting a landscape tile and a wildlife token (and can place them anywhere – you aren’t restricted by the bounds of a player board as in Calico), it feels like your destiny is more in your own hands. That said they’re both fantastic games.
Check this game out on Board Game Geek