Cascadia is an abstract strategy game themed around the wildlife and habitats of the Pacific Northwest. In this game players draft and place habitat tiles & wildlife tokens to build a harmonious environment.
Gameplay is simple – on their turn, a player chooses a tile and token from 4 possible sets in a draft pool. Wildlife tokens may be placed on any tile that has a matching symbol – Roosevelt Elk, Chinook Salmon, Red Tailed Hawk, Grizzly Bear, or Red Fox. The tile placement rules are not restrictive, however players should strive to make terrain matches when possible and work on building patterns that will score points with the wildlife endgame goals.
Points are scored based on the largest habitat corridors, wildlife token patterns, and nature tokens that are collected for placing keystone species.
- Gameplay: Good. There is nothing innovative about these mechanics; however, they are well-integrated into an accessible, smooth puzzle experience. The turns go quickly and the game does not overstay its welcome. It scales well, too. I have tried it as a solo game on the web demo and have played it at 2, 3 and 4 player counts since the arrival of the physical copy and I feel the experience has not changed other than game length. Part of the reason for this is that there is very little player interaction in Cascadia. It is important to keep an eye on what your opponents are up to, however. Players should be looking at other maps to see if they can secure the lead on some of the habitat corridors and possibly remove a tile/token combination that would be very beneficial to an opponent.
- Art & Style: Good. The artwork is lovely – Beth Sobel does a wonderful job capturing the beauty of the Pacific Northwest in her illustrations. As far as theme integration, the wildlife pattern objectives tend to emulate the creatures’ behaviors (solitary hawks, salmon in runs, etc.) and I love that the rulebook has a lot of educational information on the animals and habitats of the Cascadia area. Ultimately this is an abstract puzzle so theme is a bit thin. Cascadia will not make you feel like you’re scaling Mt. Rainier or hiking in the Columbia River Gorge, but it’s pretty to look at while you play.
- Components: Excellent. The game includes 85 thick habitat tiles and 100 wooden wildlife tokens. The wildlife tokens are drawn from a cloth bag, so the wood is a nice upgrade from cardboard for longevity-sake. The landscapes & tokens are bright and distinctive in both color & design. The game also includes a simple, functional insert that makes storage easy.
- Accessibility: Excellent. The turns are simple and easy to understand, and the rulebook is well laid-out with simple explanations. Cascadia can be taught quickly to people with nearly any level of gaming experience. My 6 year old daughter was able to grasp the rules quickly, and there are variants included to make the game more simple for younger and more inexperienced players.
- Replay-ability: Excellent. The endgame goal cards can be changed each game – mixing and matching to create different pattern objectives. This causes me to change my strategy each time. Different tile/animal ratios are pulled each game, and players can choose to build in any direction. No two games should look alike, so the replay-ability is quite high.
Tabletop Mom’s Opinion
This game has and will continue to draw comparisons to another Flatout-AEG collaboration, Calico. Both games are in my collection and although there are many similarities I find them unique enough to warrant keeping both in my collection. The major difference between the two games is restriction: Calico has a very restrictive board and pattern-goals while Cascadia is wide-open and can be built in any direction. I would say Calico is a much less forgiving game – mistakes early on may haunt you later. Cascadia, on the other hand, allows players to pivot their strategy when things don’t go their way..
There is something very satisfying about the freedom this game offers its players – they may build their world however they choose. They may also choose how they wish to balance the animals in that world. Often the choices in the drafting pool aren’t ideal. Some of the fun comes in the form of trying to make the best choice out of what is available. Cascadia does offer a bit of flexibility in the form of Nature Tokens that can be earned and spent in order to remove wildlife from the drafting pool and re-draw new tokens.
Although habitat tiles may be placed next to mis-matched terrain, players should strive to make matches when possible. In addition, careful attention must be paid to building wildlife patterns. The best scores I’ve seen in this game come from players who are able to balance habitat growth with smart pattern-building.
If you don’t mind an abstract game that is beautiful to look at, simple in design & rules overhead, and puzzly, this is a wonderful option. The price point is also more than fair considering the components, and this game is fun with children, and adults of all levels of gaming backgrounds.
Tabletop Mom Recommends this for families and those who enjoy light, puzzly games. Fans of Azul and Sagrada should look into it. Also, residents and fans of the Pacific Northwest region might really enjoy the theme, despite the game being so abstract.