Full disclosure: A preview copy of Cascadia was provided by Flatout Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
Busy month for prototypes! Fire Emblem last week, two this week, another next week! A bunch in October, too, which is fun. I’ll eventually slow down on these maybe probably, but who’s to say? Either way, this new one is coming hot off the presses from Flatout Games, who gave us Dollars to Donuts and Calico recently. Not a bad pedigree; let’s see how this one shapes up!
In Cascadia, wildlife flourishes. The game aims to pay tribute to the rich flora, fauna, and landscapes of the Pacific Northwest with a quick tile-laying drafting game. Get animals to their habitats of choice to try and score, and build contiguous habitats to increase your points even further. Only one player can win, so, will you be able to land yourself a victory?
First thing to do is give each player a Starting Tile:
Assign them randomly. Now, prepare the rest of the Land Tiles:
Shuffle them all up and set out 20 per player, and then 3 more. This should come out to:
- 2 players: 43
- 3 players: 63
- 4 players: 83
Reveal four of them and place them within reach of all players. Place all the Wildlife Tokens in the bag and shake it up; pull out four and place them one below each tile (randomly) so that you’ve got a tile + token combo:
For each of the animals, choose one Wildlife Scoring Card and set the five chosen within view of all players. Put the rest back into the box:
Set aside the Nature Tokens, but make sure players can reach them:
Set aside the score sheet, as well:
You should be good to start!
Note: Additional gameplay modes are being planned. This section covers the standard game.
Your goal in Cascadia is to score the most points by creating groups of wildlife that match their scoring criteria and contiguous groups of the same tile type. Scores matter, so let’s find out how to get points!
At the start of your turn, check the tokens. If three of them are the same, you may choose to refresh them. If all four are the same, you must refresh them. To refresh them, simply remove them from the game and pull new ones out of the bag to replace them. While you must refresh every time all four tokens are the same, you may only choose to refresh (if three tokens are the same) once per turn.
Once you’ve done that, you’ll choose one pair of tile + token. The tile and token must be in the same column, but you can use a Nature Token to do one of these two things to change it up:
- Refresh any number of Wildlife Tokens.
- Take any pair of tile and token. They don’t need to be in the same column.
Now, place the tile and token into your tile area. The land tile can be placed adjacent to any tile (and it must touch at least one edge of one tile). You may rotate it as much as you’d like, but you can’t cover a land tile with another or move any already-placed land tiles, as you might expect.
You may place a Wildlife Token on any available land tile with a matching symbol (it, importantly, does not have to be the tile you took). Available land tiles are tiles with no Wildlife Token currently on them. If you cannot place the Wildlife Token (or you’d just prefer not to), you can return the token to the bag instead of placing it. Certain tiles are Keystone Tiles (they have an arrow on them and are completely one type). If you place a matching Wildlife Token on a Keystone Tile (such as the legendary prairie salmon), you can take a Nature Token from the supply.
To end your turn, replace the missing tile and token with a tile from the stack and a token from the bag.
End of Game
If there are not enough tiles to refill the center row to four at the end of a player’s turn, the game ends. You’ll get points four ways:
- Wildlife Scoring Cards: Score points based on each animal’s scoring conditions.
- Land Tiles: Score 1 point per land tile in your largest continuous group of each of the 5 land types (score Prairies, score Wetlands, score Rivers, etc). Each player scores each land type.
- Land Tile Majority: Now check each player’s score for each type of land tile. The player with the largest (meaning they have the largest continuous group of land tiles of that type) earns 3 points (2 points in a two-player game). The second place player earns 1 point (0 in a two-player game). If there’s a tie for first, give each player 2 points (1 in a two-player game). If all players are tied for first, give each player 1 point. Regardless, the player with the second-largest habitat gets 0, in those cases.
- Nature Tokens: Any leftover Nature Tokens earn you one point.
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
I think this game sings at two players. If both players are hustling the game can literally fly by as they take and turns just bounce back and forth like a tennis rally. That’s not impossible at higher player counts, but I think that two players really does have the same energy as a game of Kingdomino where players are just going rapid-fire. I love those sorts of games, honestly, and that’s what really got me excited about Cascadia. Higher player counts are still a lot of fun, but I think the two-player mode is probably my favorite, currently, just because that limited downtime and relatively small decision space makes it easy to plan your turn during your opponent’s turn, allowing you both to play quickly and strategically for a pretty intense game. Lengthier downtime doesn’t preclude that, but it does make for a different game tempo. I’d still play this at three or four, though, provided my players weren’t intense about analyzing every move they make.
- Don’t forget about your land majorities. This can be something that slips your mind if you’re focusing purely on token scoring conditions. Just remember that not only do you score a point for each tile in your largest group of each type, but you also can potentially score points for having the largest group for any given land type.
- The cards may have similar conditions between games, but they may not have the same scoring values. Keep an eye out! This is something that throws me off a bit — some of the scoring cards have different maximum values or different scoring conditions. You can’t just rely on it being the same animal as last game. Even though the animal is the same, the scoring criteria may be a completely different animal. Pun intended, emphasis mine, etc etc etc. Anyways, pay attention to it so that you don’t put down too many salmon or something.
- Also make sure you’re, to that point, not messing yourself up by taking the wrong tokens. You only have so many spots available to place tokens; make sure you don’t box yourself in and force yourself to take something that will bridge the gap between
- Using Nature Tokens to take a Keystone tile and its corresponding animal is a decent way to spend your tokens, since you immediately earn them back. I refer to it gently as the Circle of Life, since you spend a token to get a token, but it’s pretty effective. It also does a decent job of helping you expand your territory of a specific land type, since the Keystone tiles are exclusively one type of land. Just make sure that you place the Keystone tile and the token somewhere that will benefit your token scoring!
- Don’t necessarily overindex on Keystone tiles. They’re good, for sure, but having a few of the split tiles is also nice since they tend to have better options for placing tokens and they have two of a land type, which can be useful to expand multiple land types at the same time. They help you get more points when you play them than Keystone tiles do, just based on land.
- Taking something your opponent needs is an okay strategy, provided it’s actually useful for you to do so. Playing spitefully not only doesn’t help you make friends in this game, but it also may not actually be helpful. If you don’t have a Nature Token, you may be forced to take a token that really hurts you (imagine combining two groups that were scoring individually into one group that only scores the same amount as each of the two, for instance). The spite isn’t a good look, yes, but it also might be strategically a bad choice.
- I almost always choose to refresh the tokens if I have the opportunity. It’s usually foxes or salmon (harder to score with, in my opinion), and I’m almost always looking for elk / bears / hawks. I’m not sure why the math works out that way for me, but that’s certainly been my experience. I suppose if you really want a salmon, don’t refresh, but otherwise, you get first crack at a bunch of new tokens, so that’s generally helpful!
- I also recommend keeping at least one Nature Token for emergencies. You don’t want to get stuck, after all, so keeping one for flexibility’s sake can be useful. Plus, they’re worth points at the end of the game.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Honestly, the art really brings the game together. I think it’s perfect for the game, honestly. The hexes do a nice job linking up and giving a satisfying sense of progression as you build your landscape, even if you place pieces that don’t match next to each other. The tokens look great, the cards look great, and I love the box cover, as well. For me, you can have a good game that lacks theme and art, maybe even a great one, but for me to find a game that I think is truly elevated, there has to be some good art.
- It’s not too challenging to learn. The core mechanic of the game is a paired draft: you take a tile and its corresponding token. It really only adds the additional wrinkle of being able to use a Nature Token to take any tile and token pair you want. It’s a quick learn, especially because it relies on modular scoring conditions to keep plays feeling unique.
- It plays at a pretty quick pace if everyone is familiar with the game. There’s not a lot of interaction that needs to happen between turns once a player has taken their tile; as a result, the game can move pretty quickly once players take their tile / token pair.
- I feel a lot of satisfaction with my tableau after the game is done. It’s always pretty varied, just given what tiles come up, and it always looks great. It sprawls in a good way.
- The drafting of tiles and tokens is interesting, and I feel like the Nature Tokens offer a nice way to change up the pace. It’s simple enough that it can be played quickly, but it provides a good number of options with clear trade-offs. The nice thing about it is that the Nature Tokens letting you mix it up is explicitly good. It gives players an improved ability with relatively low additional complexity. That’s great.
- I love the variable scoring that’s offered by the cards each game. I think that it works perfectly here. The challenges are varied and the points that they provide are pretty varied, too. They’re also not quite mutually exclusive; you can definitely do well in each of them if you play really well, but most players will end up specializing to some degree for points.
- There’s enough complexity to the game that you can’t really track any one player’s score, but not enough that it’s overwhelming to the players. That’s an impressively delicate balance to strike. I think with the various cards and requirements it’s very challenging to try and keep track of anyone’s points, which I really appreciate. That’s another one of the benefits of modular scoring systems. This also has land majority scoring, which can do a fair amount to obfuscate who is in the lead. I think this does a great job managing all of that without being too much to learn.
- I think the market refresh rules are a lot more forgiving than what I remember of, say, Calico. I think that was my major gripe, that you could end up with a bunch of tiles you didn’t want and have no choice but to play one of them. Cascadia allows you to refresh tokens if there are 3 or more of the same (mandatory refresh with 4), which I like quite a bit.
- Even though the Market Refresh rules are more forgiving, you’re still going to get the short end of two salmon and two foxes at least once, I’d wager. It’s less common but can still be pretty annoying in certain games. It’s a bit funny, but still a tiny bit annoying. The thing that saves this from being a Con is that, as I mentioned above, the ability to spend a Nature Token to refresh the tokens helps a lot with making sure that you’re never stuck.
- Some of the scoring cards have similar conditions but different scoring values, which may mess with your expectations across multiple games. I do wish that were a smidge clearer on the card that this was a like “Run of 4 Salmon” vs. “Run of 7 Salmon” card.
- As with all games like this, there will always be a time in the game where you feel like you were particularly wronged by random chance. The cruelty of random markets is real, which is part of why they’re not my favorite, mechanically speaking. You’ll work very hard on getting Elk or something and suddenly your opponent will get the perfect combo that would have given you a ton of points. It happens! That’s random markets for you. I’m not their biggest fan, but if that’s not a problem for you, then, feel free to ignore this bit.
Overall: 9 / 10
Overall, I think Cascadia is superb. I’ve mentioned the idea of balance in this review several times, not in the sense that the game’s points are balanced, but more the idea that there’s a sweet spot where you can present a game with depth and complexity that’s still playable by a wide variety of folks, and I really think Cascadia threads that needle quite nicely. Part of the success of the game is largely due to the art and theme: you could imagine this being any number of colonization-themed games and feeling potentially generic, but going after something close to home for a lot of the Flatout crew and Randy (the designer) really seems to have allowed them to hit a really solid collaboration. There’s probably a larger anecdotal argument about their own personal relationship to the Pacific Northwest and the authenticity that allows them to lend a game like this, but I’m not embedded enough in that geography to do more than nod politely while someone else makes that argument. Either way, this is a solid title. I think it’s a bit more heady and complex than something that can land in the “classics” space like Kingdomino, but I’ll be interested to see how they approach that with their Family and Intermediate Modes that are currently planned. I’m excited to see the final result. At its core, though, it’s a solid title that keeps drafting interesting and adds a tile-laying landscape-building element to provide players with tangible artifacts at the end of the game. I’m usually quite proud of the landscape I was able to build. I really have enjoyed my time with Cascadia, and if you’re into a straightforward strategic tile-laying game with fantastic art, I imagine you might enjoy it too!