Disclaimer: This preview is from a prototype copy of the game that was provided by Flatout Games to Open Seat Gaming, but opinions are our own based on several plays of the game.
Description: Cascadia sees players drafting and placing habitat tiles and wildlife tokens to create a landscape that tries to meet the various scoring conditions of each type of wildlife. The game begins by mixing up the wildlife tokens via the included bag, shuffling a number of habitat tiles based on player count, and randomly selecting a scoring card for each of the 5 wildlife types. Players each receive a random starting habitat tile, then 4 random tiles and 4 wildlife random tokens are drawn and paired up to create the market (a pair is a tile and token that are in the same space of the market, with the market having 4 spaces for pairs).
Each turn consists of drafting a tile and token pair and then placing both into your tableau. They can be placed independently of each other or together. Tiles must be placed adjacent to one already in your tableau, and the wildlife token must be placed on an empty tile in your tableau which matches that wildlife or else it is discarded. Once placement is done, the habitat tile and wildlife token are replaced and the next player takes their turn.
Players can accrue nature tokens by placing wildlife tokens onto special “keystone” tiles (tiles with only 1 habitat type and marked with a white arrow). These nature tokens can then be spent to either allow a player to select any habitat tile and any wildlife token from the market (rather than a connected pair) or to wipe any number of wildlife tokens from the market and draw new ones.
The game ends once each player has completed their 20th turn (denoted by the habitat tile draw stack running out). Players tally up their scores for each animal type as well as 1 point for each unspent nature token they retained. Players then score points for the largest contiguous habitat corridor of each of the 5 types of habitats in their individual tableau, as well as bonus points for the player with the largest corridor of each type among all players. The player with the most points wins!
Review: I (Marti) have never been to the Pacific Northwest, but I’ve always wanted to. Sarah’s uncle lives out in rural Washington, and she grew up visiting her grandparents when they lived in the house that he lives in now. So, when we were given the opportunity to preview Cascadia (right on the heels of receiving the beautiful Calico), we were all in!
First off, Cascadia is the absolute definition of a gateway game. Sarah played it with Scott first (I was not feeling great that day) and she was able to bring it back to teach me and I learned it in less than 5 minutes’ time. It’s incredibly intuitive – you get more points if you make big landscapes; you get more points if you put animals in the right shape. It feels good, and it feels right.
I could see taking this to our church game night and teaching some of our less experienced friends how to play it. Heck, my stepdad (who has never played more than rummy from what I’ve ever seen) could learn it! That accessibility is going to make this an instant hit in many households.
Don’t let that fool you, though! The fact is, this game is filled with decisions and strategy, even though it looks simple in terms of execution. There were multiple instances where I was trying to figure out if it was worth my while to use a nature token or if I should just take a set and save the nature token for a future turn. This makes it one of those games that experienced gamers and casual gamers can play together with ease.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the look of this game. The art is absolutely stunning (and it’s from the amazing Beth Sobel, who is one of our favorite artists in board gaming). The wildlife looks like it could pop off the tokens and cards and into your living room, and the textures on the tiles looks really sharp. It’s very easy to distinguish where one landscape ends and another begins, but it’s not so obvious that it takes away from the look. From Sarah’s point of view, the art really evokes the landscape and wildlife of the Pacific Northwest. Especially the Chinook Salmon, Bears, and Elk. Sarah has fond memories of salmon fishing and seeing wildlife while visiting various parks while visiting the region.
The landscape expansion reminds us of what you see in Planet – and there are some tough decisions to make there, as well. Do you keep trying to make your prairie as big as you can – or is it better for you to go ahead and switch to the water? Add in the element of positioning your animals and you are constantly asking “is this what is best for my situation?”
Lastly, let’s talk about those goal cards. This is where the puzzle really takes off. The game would be lovely if they were static, but it’s more replayable because of the cards. The cards look really nice and the iconography makes it very simple for you to understand exactly what you’re going for in regards to end game scoring.
I do hope that there are more cards in the final version of the game, but that’s more because I really like having all sorts of options when it comes to new puzzles. The potential of end game scoring options can be virtually endless – so I hope we see some extra goodies as stretch goals or a mini expansion.
All in all, Cascadia is a game of elegant genius – it’s accessible and strategic, all wrapped up in a theme that is approachable and art that is breathtaking. And that’s just from the prototype – we cannot wait to see what the final product looks like!
Kickstarter Info: Cascadia hits Kickstarter on Tuesday, September 15th. Here’s the link to their Kickstarter! (before the 15th you can sign up for an alert; after the 15th, you can back it!)
Marti and Sarah