Cascadia game overview
Cascadia recently won the prestigious Spiel des Jahres (game of the year) award for the best family game of 2022. Before receiving this award, Cascadia had already caught my attention for being set in the region where I live, the Pacific Northwest. As a result of both the award and thematic setting, I was very interested in playing it. Not long ago, I played Cascadia for the first time and instantly knew it would be an excellent fit for my Peaceful Game Series.
If you already know how to play Cascadia and want to skip to my thoughts, scroll down to the “Why Cascadia is a peaceful game” section.
Setting up the game
Designed by Randy Flynn and published by Flatout Games, Cascadia is a tile-laying drafting game where you create patterns of animals on hexagon-shaped habitat tiles to score points. To begin, you randomly select a scoring card for each animal. These scoring cards determine the animal patterns you need to match to score points. For example, you might need to have solitary hawks, pairs of bears, and lines of elk to score points in your game. There are four different scoring cards for each animal.
Next, you receive a three-hexagon starting habitat tile that you will build off of for the remainder of the game. A specific number of habitat tiles depending on player count are then randomly selected and placed facedown in the play area. Four tiles are revealed, and an animal token is drawn and placed next to each tile. You are now ready to begin!
Drafting habitat tiles and animal tokens
On your turn, you will draft a habitat tile and the animal token next to it. Drafting two things at once is one of the key mechanisms of the game. Sometimes, you may really want a particular habitat tile or animal token, but you have to take the pair, even if one-half of the pair is not exactly what you want.
After drafting, you then place your habitat tile and animal token in your environment. The only requirement for connecting a habitat tile to your environment is that it must connect (it can’t be off in space somewhere). Otherwise, you can connect it to any other type of habitat. However, you benefit from connecting it to the same habitat type because you get points at the end of the game for your largest habitat of each type.
In addition, each habitat tile has animal icons that indicate which animal tokens can be placed on it. You can only place animal tokens on habitats where they have a matching icon. Otherwise, you must discard the animal token if there is no eligible spot for it; you can’t save it for later. Placing animal tokens is important because the patterns you make with them are how you will get most of your points.
Sometimes animals will become overpopulated in Cascadia. Overpopulation happens when three or four animal tokens of the same type are available. If three animals of the same kind are available, the active player has the choice of wiping them and drawing new animals. However, if all four animals are the same, you must wipe them and draw new ones.
Nature tokens are used to break the normal rules of the game. You get nature tokens when you place an animal token on a keystone habitat in your environment. Keystone habitats are indicated by an arrow and a pine cone symbol and can only accept one type of animal.
You can use nature tokens to draft a habitat tile and an animal token that are not paired together. Alternatively, you can use a nature token to wipe the currently available animal tokens and draw new ones. Lastly, unused nature tokens are worth one point at the end of the game.
End of the game
Cascadia ends when you run out of habitat tiles, and one of the four revealed tiles can’t be replaced. You will then tally up points for your animal patterns and your largest habitats. One more thing you should know about scoring is that bonus points are awarded to players for the largest habitat of each type. Whoever has the most points wins!
Player count: 1 to 4 players
Playing time: 30 to 45 minutes
Price: $39.99 MSRP
Why Cascadia is a peaceful game
The gameplay of Cascadia has a smooth and easy-going feeling to it. I’ve heard reviewers describe it as “expansive,” and I think that descriptor fits perfectly. You are never backed into a corner in the game since you can always do something useful on your turn. This gives the game a relaxed feeling because even if you don’t optimally place a habitat or animal in your environment, it’s usually pretty easy to readjust your strategy. In addition, the gameplay is intuitive and easy to learn, making Cascadia a fantastic game to show to new gamers.
Beautiful nature artwork
The artwork by Beth Sobel wonderfully captures the beauty of nature. As someone who lives in the Pacific Northwest, the aesthetic of Cascadia feels familiar and appropriate. All of the scoring cards have authentic and natural depictions of animals from the region. The habitat tiles are pleasant to look at, and it is satisfying to connect like habitats together.
A sense of completion
Regularly throughout a game of Cascadia, you get a sense of fulfillment and completion. Shortly after beginning a game, you are already creating patterns of animals to satisfy the scoring requirements. You then continue to expand on these patterns by adding more and more animals to your environment. It’s also rewarding to see habitats of the same type connected together as you progress.
I’m delighted that wood was chosen for the animal tokens instead of plastic. Wood matches the organic and natural feeling of the game, making everything feel congruent. It’s very satisfying to reach into the cloth bag of wooden animal tokens and pull one out each turn.
I’m so pleased that Cascadia has gained the acclaim that it has. I couldn’t have asked for a better game about the region where I live. Cascadia is welcoming to new gamers while still providing a lot of interesting decisions to people that have been in the hobby longer.
This post is part of my Peaceful Game Series, where I discuss tabletop games that I believe have a noteworthy amount of peaceful qualities. Click here to read my previous entry in this series: Viticulture World.