Expand the terrain of the Pacific Northwest and create the best habitats for wildlife in Cascadia.
In “Reaping the Rewards,” I take a look at the finished product from a crowdfunding campaign. Cascadia was originally funded on Kickstarter in October 2020 and was delivered to backers this fall. It’s now available for purchase. This review is modified from my original Kickstarter Tabletop Alert to reflect finished components and the final ruleset.
What Is Cascadia?
Cascadia is a tile-laying game for 1 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, and takes about 30 to 45 minutes to play. It retails for $39.99 and is available in stores today (October 1) and directly from AEG starting October 15. I noticed that the age recommendation was dropped from 14+ during the Kickstarter campaign to 10+ on the box; my 7-year-old was able to learn it and really enjoyed it. Some of the wildlife scoring cards may be a bit trickier than others, but the game rules themselves aren’t too difficult. There’s also a family variant scoring option for those who prefer a little less complexity.
Cascadia was designed by Randy Flynn and published by Flatout Games and AEG, with illustrations by Beth Sobel. These aren’t included in the retail edition, so I’m not sure if they will be available for purchase separately in the future.
Here’s what comes in the box:
- 85 Habitat tiles
- 5 Starter Habitat tiles
- 100 Wildlife tokens (20 each Hawk, Bear, Elk, Salmon, Fox)
- 21 Wildlife Scoring cards (4 per animal, plus Family/Intermediate scoring card)
- 25 Nature tokens
- Cloth Bag for Wildlife tokens
The habitat tiles are hexagonal tiles with various types of terrain on them—forest, river, wetland, prairie, and mountain—each with a distinctive color and pattern. Most tiles are a mix of two terrains with two or three wildlife icons on them, but there are also a few “keystone” tiles that have a single terrain type and a single wildlife icon. The keystone tiles also have a pinecone icon on them to remind you to get a nature token when you place an animal there. All of the various possible combinations of habitats and animals are represented, which leads to some amusing situations like the rare “prairie salmon.”
The starter habitat tiles are made of three attached hexes, and ensure that each player has at least one of each wildlife and one of each terrain type, along with one keystone.
The wildlife tokens are wooden discs that match the icons, with the animal illustration on a solid colored background. The tokens are just large enough to cover up the icons on the habitat tiles, even the groups of three icons. The nature tokens are cardboard tokens with pinecones on them.
The cloth bag is a nice canvas material, printed with the logo and the topographical map seen on the back of the habitat tiles. It has a ribbon drawstring that cinches the bag tightly shut, so you can easily keep the wildlife tokens in it for storage as well.
The illustrations in the game—which also include the scoring cards—are by Beth Sobel, who does an excellent job as always. The animals look realistic on the cards, and the terrain has some nice details but is stylized for ease of gameplay. The scoring cards are tarot-sized, giving room to showcase Sobel’s artwork and still provide illustrations of the scoring examples. There are two different illustrations for each animal (and then mirrored versions of each), so each card looks a little different at a glance.
The box has a simple cardboard insert with two wells—one is sized to hold all of the habitat tiles, and the rest of the materials fit into the other well. It’s nothing fancy, but the game doesn’t have so many components to really need a more differentiated organizer.
Kickstarter backers also received a set of bonus scoring cards (one per animal) with more complex scoring requirements.
How to Play Cascadia
You can download the rules here.
The goal of the game is to score the most points by building large contiguous habitats and arranging wildlife in them.
Randomly select one wildlife scoring card for each animal type, and return the rest to the box. The cards are marked A, B, C, D—the A cards are the simplest and are recommended for first-time players. Place the scoring cards within view of all the players.
Shuffle the habitat tiles face-down, and make a supply of tiles based on the number of players (20 per player plus 3). Put the wildlife tokens in the bag and mix them up. Place the nature tokens nearby in a supply.
Reveal 4 habitat tiles in a row, and draw 4 wildlife tokens from the bag, placing one next to each of the habitat tiles.
Give each player a starter habitat tile at random. Each player will build their own map, so allow room to add tiles in all directions. The player who most recently saw wildlife goes first.
If all 4 of the wildlife tokens in the row are the same, they overpopulate. Set them aside and draw 4 new wildlife tokens from the bag. (If they’re the same, they overpopulate again.) If 3 of the tokens are the same, you may optionally choose to wipe the matching tokens, but only once per turn. After resolving overpopulation, put all of the wiped tokens back into the bag.
On your turn, you take a habitat tile and the wildlife token next to it, and place those into your environment. The habitat tiles may be placed anywhere as long as it’s attached to your existing map, but you will get bonuses for having contiguous regions of the same terrain type. Then, you place the wildlife token onto an empty habitat tile that has a matching wildlife icon. If you don’t have any available wildlife icons or you decide you don’t want it, you discard the token back into the bag. If the wildlife token is placed on a keystone tile, then you also take a nature token from the supply.
After you’ve placed your tile and wildlife token, refill the row by drawing a new habitat tile and wildlife token.
Nature tokens have three benefits:
- You may spend a nature token to take any habitat tile and any wildlife token on your turn, instead of a matching pair.
- You may spend a nature token to wipe any number of wildlife tokens and replace them on your turn.
- At the end of the game, unspent nature tokens are worth 1 point each.
When there aren’t enough habitat tiles to refill the row, the game ends. (This will happen when every player has had 20 turns.)
Players will score points for wildlife, nature tokens, habitat tiles, and habitat tile majorities.
Each animal scores differently. The salmon score for runs of a certain length. Elk score for large groups, though there are sometimes restrictions on the shape of the group. Hawks don’t like to be next to other hawks. Bears will score for a particular group size. Foxes score based on what is adjacent to them. However, the specific scoring rules for each animal also vary from card to card.
Unspent nature tokens are 1 point each.
Each player scores for their largest contiguous habitat of each terrain type, 1 point per tile. Note that a group is connected if it shares a matching edge, not if it only touches on a corner.
Habitat Tile Majorities
For each terrain type, the player with the largest habitat gets bonus points. In a 3 or 4 player game, the largest group gets 3 points and the second-largest gets 1 point. In a 2 player game, the largest group gets 2 points. (There are additional rules for how to score for ties.)
The player with the highest score wins, with ties going to the player with the most nature tokens.
Instead of using five wildlife cards during setup, use the Family/Intermediate Variant scoring card. In the family variant, all animals score the same way, giving you points for groups of 1, 2, or 3 or more of that animal. The intermediate variant is similar, but scores for groups of 2, 3, or 4 or more. You also may decide whether or not to score for habitat tile majorities—omitting that would let players focus on their own habitats and not worry as much about what other players are doing.
The solo mode is set up like a 2-player game, but the second player does not get a starter tile.
On your turn, before you refill the market, discard the rightmost tile and token, and then slide all of the tiles and tokens to the right and draw two more of each. You can compare your final score to the scoring chart to see how you did.
There’s also a section in the rulebook for achievements, which can be used for multiplayer games or solo games. The rulebook has room for up to 5 players to record their achievements on a scoring track, making progress from “river study” to “Cascadian biologist.” There are three options for achievements:
- Scenarios (multiplayer or solo): Use the listed set of scoring cards, and try to accomplish each of the requirements listed.
- Normal Game (multiplayer only): If you win a game, you can gain one applicable achievement from the list.
- Rules Restrictions (multiplayer only): Pick one rules restriction from the list of 10; the winner gets to score the achievement.
Each time you score an achievement, you get to make progress on your track.
The scenario requirements include things like a minimum total score, restrictions on what animals may be placed next to each other, or having a minimum score for a particular type of animal or habitat. The normal game achievements include some for the total score, but also things like “have no foxes” or “end the game with 5+ nature tokens.” The rules restrictions can change the setup, make nature token actions more expensive, or introducing some new options for scoring cards.
Cascadia is GeekDad Approved!
Why You Should Play Cascadia
Flatout Games is a small publisher based in Seattle, and they’re a name that you’ll want to watch. One of their first games, Point Salad, is a GeekDad favorite and was picked up by AEG, as was their quilt-puzzle game Calico (which was one of our Game of the Year finalists for 2020). Dollars to Donuts, designed by the Flatout Games team and published by Crafty Games, also had a successful Kickstarter campaign last year. Although not all of their games have the same designers, I’m starting to see some similarities in the types of games they choose, and they tend to line up with a lot of the things I like in games, too: games that have a puzzly feel to them, easy-to-learn rules, and some brain-burning choices.
Cascadia fits that description pretty well. It’s another tile-laying game (like Calico and Dollars to Donuts), this time about building out your own little version of the Pacific Northwest. Flatout Games (and the artist, Beth Sobel) are all from this area, and as a Portlander, I’m pretty pleased with the theme, too. This one may be the most family-friendly of their tile-laying games so far, because the rules—take a tile and a token, place them in your map—are very simple, but the different options for scoring cards can still present some challenging choices to make. I do like the inclusion of the family/intermediate variant, which is a good way to dive into the game while removing a bit of the mathy overhead, but the different wildlife scoring cards are definitely part of that puzzle, so I do recommend progressing to those for a bigger challenge.
My youngest daughter (7 at the time) took to it quickly last year when I had the prototype, and requested it frequently (particularly because she beat me at her first time playing it). The gameplay is intuitive: you’re not required to match up terrain types, but you’ll score more points for making large regions, and it’s a natural tendency to match up the terrain anyway. The habitat tiles are clearly marked for which animals can be placed on each one, then the tokens cover up the icons when you no longer need to see them. I really like the fact that it’s a game that I can play with my daughter and my adult friends together (though admittedly it’s a little harder for her to compete in terms of maximizing the scoring on all of the animals).
So, what’s the challenge? Well, the first one is simply choosing a set from the row. You might get lucky and grab a keystone tile with the matching wildlife, but quite often you’re going to have to choose between a habitat tile that works really well for your map and a wildlife token that you really want. There’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to (or even want to) place your token on the habitat tile that you just drew. At other times, you’ll find that the habitat tile that connects two terrains just perfectly has the wrong wildlife icons on it, and will block your chance to score the maximum points for an animal.
Depending on the wildlife scoring cards, some of the animals may compete with each other. For instance, the salmon and elk tend to want large contiguous groups. But what happens if you have the fox that wants to be next to as many different animals as possible? Arranging your map so that the fox is at the nexus of all four other animals can be incredibly tricky and may take a bit of luck. I like the variety in the wildlife scoring cards—they mix things up just a little, without changing the game drastically, so that each animal still has its own “personality” but the details vary from game to game.
The keystone tiles are an interesting feature. They have only one terrain type, so they can be good for building out a terrain type but they block all the other habitat types. Since you’ll score points per tile for your biggest regions, a keystone tile could actually cost you a point for a neighboring terrain type. But they’re also the only way to get nature tokens, if you can acquire the matching wildlife (and assuming you actually want to place it there). The nature tokens, aside from being worth a point, can be extremely useful in the right situation. I particularly like the ability to choose a habitat tile and a wildlife token that aren’t paired in the row, because it opens up a lot more options. The trick is to make sure that whatever you’re spending it on will get you at least 1 more point than you would have had otherwise.
Cascadia reminded me a little bit of another game about matching up terrains and making habitats for animals: Planet. Planet also used some similar colors and terrain types, and you’re also trying to match up terrains while keeping an eye on how big your opponent’s mountains and forests are. It also involves drafting the terrain tiles that you add to your own maps. The way that you get animals is completely different, but in both games, you’re trying to set up your environments for specific animals to live in.
If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you know that I’m a fan of tile-laying games. I like the puzzle of figuring out the best place to add pieces. The terrain-wildlife combinations of Cascadia make for a nice puzzle that works in two separate layers, a little like Overlord, so that you’re forced to make trade-offs and can’t always optimize both at the same time. However, one of the things that makes Cascadia a little friendlier is that you can add new tiles anywhere, unlike Flatout’s Calico or the current Kickstarter Verdant, both of which require you to fit everything within a particular boundary. If you like these sorts of spatial reasoning games, you should consider a trip to Cascadia.
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.