Play Time: 30-45 Min / Players: 1-4 / Complexity: Low / Age: 10+ we think 7+ / Publisher: AEG and Flatout Games / Designer: Randy Flynn
Cascadia Ratings and Summary
Kids rating from our daughters (7 &10).
Teen rating from our son (14).
Cascadia is a gorgeous game with a relaxing vibe. It’s very easy to learn and offers plenty of replay value due to the different scoring cards and playing modes. A great pick for families and nature lovers. Just be aware you won’t get a lot of player interaction here.
- Lots of gameplay variations on offer through different animal cards, solo mode, scenarios, and achievements
- Relaxing and addictive gameplay
- Very easy to learn with dedicated family scoring variant to help younger kids learn to play
- Gorgeous artwork from Beth Sobel makes the game look great on the table and the box looks amazing on the shelf!
- Not likely to cause many arguments amongst siblings as the gameplay is relaxed and there isn’t much opportunity to sabotage other players.
- A little luck involved in the random tile and wildlife token draws but this can be mitigated to an extent with nature tokens
- Not a lot in the way of player interaction which may not suit some people.
Big thanks to BoardGameRentals.co.nz for providing a copy of this game for review. As always, we provide our own unbiased perspectives on games we review.
What You Will Find in Our Cascadia Game Review
- How to Play
- Gameplay Experience
- Final Thoughts
- Other Games to Consider
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Strategy Tips
For those that don’t have the background Cascadia is an area in the Pacific North West of North America, it roughly includes the area between the Pacific Coast and the Rocky Mountains. By all accounts it’s a beautiful place and a great backdrop for designer Randy Flynn’s game by the same name.
The first thing I noticed about Cascadia was the gorgeous artwork on the box by Beth Sobel. It immediately got us interested to give this nature themed game a try. Published by Flatout Games and AEG, Cascadia is an easy to learn tile-laying game with plenty to offer beginners and experienced board gamers alike. I’m pleased to say there’s more to this game than a gorgeous box, we’ll explain why in our in-depth review.
How to Play Cascadia
Welcome to the beautiful Cascadia, settle in and relax. Your job is simple, build an ecosystem full of beautiful habitats and wildlife to create your own small slice of Cascadia. Be careful though the wildlife here is very particular about who their neighbours are!
The goal in Cascadia is to rack up the most points for your ecosystem by placing habitat tiles and wildlife discs to maximise your rewards. You will gain points for each of your largest contiguous habitat types and for placing wildlife in their preferred patterns according to the scoring cards selected.
To set up, grab 20 habitat tiles per player plus 3 extras, shuffle and create a stack of face down tiles next to the playing area to create a draw pile. Place all the wildlife tokens (wooden discs) in the provided bag and shake these up a bit. Place four habitat tiles face up in the play area along with four wildlife tokens to create pairs of wildlife tokens and habitat tiles.
Then give each player a large three hex starting tile. Shuffle the five wildlife scoring decks and draw a card from each to determine scoring patterns for the game. There are 4 scoring cards for each animal, there’s also a simplified scoring card for a family and intermediate variant. You’re now ready to build your beautiful slice of Cascadia.
I’m not sure what to say here, really all you do on a turn is select a habitat tile and wildlife token pair and place them in your ecosystem. The habitat and wildlife token are then replaced in the middle of the play area. It’s basically token drafting and tile laying to build patterns for points, that’s it. The trick is in optimising your tile layout to accommodate habitats and wildlife patterns.
Let’s start with the chunky habitat tiles. As you decide where to place your tile, you will want to connect like habitats together as often as possible to create large continuous groups of the same habitat type. The larger the groups the more points you get.
There are five different habitats on offer, mountains, forests, prairies, wetlands, and rivers. My kids get a lot of satisfaction creating large swaths of mountain ranges or wide-open plains for example and then admiring their handy work.
The wooden wildlife discs can only be placed on spaces with a matching animal icon. The trick is to plan your tile laying to ensure it accommodates an optimal wildlife pattern. The animals are finicky about where they live and will only grant you points for certain patterns that match the relevant scoring cards. The artwork is fantastic on these cards and my youngest daughter has a real soft spot for the elk, she will try to create lines of elk every game at the first opportunity.
Keystone tiles are a special type of tile that grant you a nature token if you place a wildlife disc on them. These are quite useful as they offer you some options to manipulate the display of habitats and wildlife tokens. The drawback is that while other tiles give you access to two habitat types, Keystone tiles only support one terrain type and species, narrowing your options.
It’s worth expanding on Nature tokens a bit. Spending a nature token allows you to select any habitat and wildlife token or clear any number of wildlife discs and replace them. This can come in handy when you get stuck with a display that just doesn’t fit your plans. What are the nature tokens meant to be? I call them acorns, my daughters call them pinecones and my son calls them leaves, either way we all have a good laugh and debate what they actually are.
The end game is triggered when a player is unable to refill habitat tiles from the supply, this results in 20 turns each. Players will then add points on their scoring sheet according to the patterns on the scoring cards for each animal. Points are also granted for each of your largest contiguous habitat types. For each habitat type there are bonus points on offer if you create the largest contiguous set of tiles amongst all players. You also gain a point for each Nature token you haven’t used by the end of the game.
There’s a lot of flexibility here in how you play Cascadia. There is a family and intermediate mode which is a simpler introduction to the game, ideal for younger kids. When you’re ready you can use any combination of the animal scoring cards (there are 4 for each animal) to spice things up a bit. With each different combination of scoring cards your strategy must adjust so it does really freshen up the game.
There’s also a solo mode and three different types of ‘achievement’ tables which help you track achievements across multiple games. It’s a nice touch and helps to add even more bang for buck.
Cascadia Gameplay Experience
I am a huge believer in having a broad range of options on the shelf to cater for different audiences, group sizes and situations. Cascadia is the sort of game you reach for when you want a nice, relaxed vibe. It has that thinky, puzzly type feel about it but without a lot of direct interaction or ability to sabotage other players. What it does isn’t revolutionary, but it’s executed very well.
The gameplay here is simple and my 7-year-old was able to pick up the rules quickly. We didn’t even realise there was a family mode on offer for beginners when we first played, but it’s a nice option to have if you have younger players in your house.
The really satisfying thing about Cascadia is that you can build out your own slice of nature without worrying about interference. I can build my mountain ranges, prairies, and rivers however I want and gain satisfaction when I am able to have them flow in just the right way. No-one is going to steal a tile or sabotage me. This is great if you have kids playing as there is minimal opportunity for arguments over a mean play.
The decisions here are also engaging, you must balance the rewards you get for contiguous habitats with the need to arrange wildlife for maximum reward according to the scoring cards. Sometimes you must sacrifice one to satisfy the other. When my kids can somehow fit the pieces of their nature puzzle together just so, they often admire their handy work pointing out where they have been able to snag maximum points for a certain animal group.
There is plenty on offer here to keep you engaged over multiple plays. Each game can vary depending on the scoring cards you select, and the addition of achievements means each game contributes to a satisfying bigger picture.
The solo mode is also worth mentioning, it plays almost the same as the multiplayer game and in my view is a lot of fun. It doesn’t lose much because player interaction is not a big focus in Cascadia.
That said the lack of player interaction won’t suit some people or some occasions. If you want a game that will generate a lot of banter and competitiveness, I don’t think this is the game to reach for. It’s aiming for a more relaxed vibe.
I know it’s what’s in the box that matters most, but a gorgeous box doesn’t hurt. I think the art on the box by Beth Sobel looks amazing. The quality of the artwork continues in the scoring cards which look stunning.
The habitat tiles and wooden wildlife tokens are nice and chunky. They feel like they will last nicely over time. On the table once your habitat is built out it looks quite impressive to see it coming together. All in all, a great job on the components.
At its core this is an abstract game, don’t expect a thematic experience. I think what is likely to appeal here is that the subject matter is relatable to most people. The backdrop of a beautiful natural wilderness is unlikely to put anyone off and provides a good excuse for some gorgeous artwork.
It won’t necessarily make sense thematically, the patterns of tiles and animals you are creating are purely abstract. However, if you do want a bit more context to the backdrop, the rule book has some nice background explaining the Cascadia area and wildlife.
Final Thoughts on Cascadia
My wife, daughters and I absolutely love Cascadia, but my son isn’t as keen on it as we are. The main reason is because there isn’t much in the way of player interaction or ability to influence opponents in this game. The rest of us don’t have an issue with that.
Overall Cascadia is a fun, gorgeous and accessible tile laying game that’s perfect for when you want a relaxing low-key vibe. There is plenty of variation on offer to keep this game fresh and interesting for a long time. It’s also very family friendly with an easier to learn family variant for younger kids, although the base game is simple enough to begin with.
Is Cascadia easy to learn? Very easy to learn and includes a simplified family variant, although we didn’t need it to learn how to play.
What will Cascadia teach my kids? This is quite a puzzly game and will help your kids to plan ahead to create patterns that match what’s required. Also offers some basic maths for end of game scoring. Finally, if they are interested there is some information in the rule book about the area and the wildlife represented in the game which is a nice touch.
What age is appropriate for Cascadia? The age rating is 10+ but my 7-year-old had no trouble picking up this game on the first try. I think 6-year-olds would be fine playing the family variant but might struggle a bit with the more advanced scoring cards.
Does Cascadia have good replay value? Great replay value due to the various play modes and deck of scoring cards that can be varied each game.
If you’re wondering how Cascadia compares to other popular drafting and tile placement games check out our Cascadia vs Calico vs Azul article for a full comparison of those games.
We hope you enjoyed our Cascadia review. If you have any more questions or just want to share your thoughts on this game please leave a comment below, or get in touch through our contact page.
About the Authors
We are parents who love board gaming. We have three children and have been enjoying board games as a family ever since we had our first child. We share our real unbiased experiences and opinions on board games so you can decide if they are right for your family. We also write guides and articles to help you get the most out of your family game time. If you enjoy our content and want to support us you can do that through our Ko-fi page by clicking on the button below.
Other Games to Consider
If you are looking into Cascadia you might also be interested in some other tile drafting and placement options. So here are a few other suggestions worth checking out.
- Calico (Review)– Calico is often compared to Cascadia as both were published by AEG and Flatout Games and both feature animal themed drafting and tile placement. In Calico you will draft colourful patterned patch tiles and place them to create a quilt, in the hopes of enticing cute cats to your player board. You must meet the very particular pattern requirements of each cat to successfully lure them to your quilt and earn points. Compared to Cascadia, Calico is more unforgiving and constrained. For those that like a challenge this is a great option, be warned the solo mode is a lot of fun but far more challenging than the Cascadia solo mode.
- Azul (Review) – This is the original in the Azul series and is a super simple tile drafting and placement game. Although it’s very simple to learn it has incredible depth and strategy, in shares this similarity with Cascadia. Each round will involve drafting tiles from communal factories and attempting to make sets that can be used to make patterns in a wall area. Fantastic game but can be very cut throat. The next two games in the Azul series are also very popular at our house, both are a step up in complexity but great games. Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra the adds a glazier to consider that adds additional constraints and bonus points each round for completing patterns of certain colours. Another exceptional instalment in the Azul series. Azul: Summer Pavilion the third game in the Azul series is a little less cutthroat than the previous games. It now features a separate tile placement round and the ability to earn bonus tiles.
- Sagrada (Review)– Instead of tiles like Cascadia, this game involves dice drafting and placement. The colour and number rolled matter when it comes to placement. There are multiple constraints in this game that make it feel very puzzly and challenging. Randomised window patterns, tools and scoring objectives also add some luck which isn’t present in Cascadia. Another great drafting game for families.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you play Cascadia solo?
Absolutely. In fact, the solo game only requires minor rule tweaks and plays really well.
What is the best player count for Cascadia?
Turns flow nicely in this game and there is little down time, we think it plays well at all player counts.
What is the white arrow on certain habitat tiles for?
The white arrow depicted on some habitat tiles is a Keystone sign. It’s purely there to remind you to take a nature token when you place a wildlife token on the habitat tile.
What happens if you can’t place a wildlife token?
If you cannot legally place a wildlife token on to a habitat or choose not to, you must place the wildlife token back in the token bag.
When are you able to clear wildlife tokens from the display?
If there are ever four of the same wildlife tokens in the centre of the table, you can clear these and select four new tokens to replace them. You can do this as many times as this occurs in a turn.
If there are ever three of the same wildlife tokens in the centre of the table you can clear these and replace them, once per turn.
Why are we getting an uneven number of turns in Cascadia?
The end game can trip people up a bit. If you are not getting exactly 20 turns each you may not be ending the game at the right point. As per the rules:
“If, at the end of a player’s turn, there are no face-down Habitat tiles left in the stacks to replace the one taken, the game ends immediately.”
The key here is that it is triggered at the end of a player’s turn, which means by the end of the game there will be three faceup tiles left in the display. That will result in exactly 20 turns each.
What’s the difference between Cascadia and Calico?
Cascadia and Calico are often compared due to sharing a common publisher and similar gameplay elements. Both involve tile placement, pattern building, hex grids and drafting. There are some key differences though that make the gameplay feel very different for both games:
- Calico restricts tile placement to the allocated board spaces, but Cascadia doesn’t have a player board allowing you more freedom to place your tiles in any direction you choose
- In Calico you must choose from two tiles in hand to place and then replace the tile from a central pool of three tiles. In Cascadia you have more choice as you have four tile and wildlife pairs on offer on the table that can be drafted on your turn
- In Cascadia you can manipulate the tile and wildlife pairs in the central pool by using a nature token. There are also rules for refreshing the pool of wildlife tokens if there are 3 or 4 of the same type of animal. Calico does not offer anything similar to alter the central pool of tiles on your turn
- There are a wider variety of tiles in Calico making it less likely to strike the tile you really need. In Cascadia there are only 5 habitat types and so it is more likely you will get a terrain type you need on your turn.
Overall Cascadia is a far more relaxing and less punishing game compared to Calico. Calico is sometimes described as a bit of a brain burn because of the restrictions and how challenging it is to arrange your tiles optimally.
Cascadia vs Calico which is better?
Both Cascadia and Calico are fantastic games, and we love playing both. They are different enough that they are both worth having. We think Cascadia is more likely to appeal if you want a more relaxed and accessible game.
Calico is likely to appeal to those who want a greater challenge. The drawback though is that Calico can sometimes cause frustration for younger players due to the restrictions of the board and limited tiles on offer each turn.
- Pick early tiles that maximise habitat points. Each three-tile starting habitat is different. If you can pick your first tile so it expands two of your starting habitat tiles simultaneously that provides two additional points
- Nature tokens are more valuable in use. Unused nature tokens provide one point at the end of the game. Given most animal placements can provide more than this it is generally a better idea to use your nature tokens to maximise animal pattern points than save them. The minimum points on many of the animal cards is usually two, for example one pattern ‘A’ Roosevelt Elk is worth two points
- Remember the habitat bonus. The player with the largest contiguous habitat for each type gains bonus points at the end of the game. Rarely will you be able to get all five but it is important to target at least some of these points. Make sure you place tiles wherever possible so they contribute to your habitat groups. Where you are way behind on a particular habitat don’t waste more turns chasing it, focus on the ones where you have a lead or are close
- Consider wildlife scoring objectives when placing habitat tiles. This one may be obvious but before you place a habitat ensure it doesn’t shut down scoring options. The obvious ones are for example placing two hawk pattern tiles right next to each other when scoring patterns require a space between, or placing salmon tiles that connect to other salmon tiles on multiple edges contrary to scoring requirements
- Generally, it is better to focus on fewer animal patterns. The animal patterns generally reward bigger points for higher numbers of animals. For example, scoring pattern A for salmon will give you 2 points for a single salmon, but 25 points for 7+ salmon. The latter provides almost 3.6 points per animal token while the former only provides 2. You are better off trying to target a few animal patterns with the aim of reaching the higher scoring levels than spreading your efforts across all five animal objectives
- There is a trade-off in selecting keystone tiles. Keystone tiles can provide valuable nature tokens once you place an animal disc on them. At first glance this can be a no brainer to snap these up. The downside is that they only come with one habitat type per tile, which reduces your potential habitat score by 1. Essentially this is cancelled out by the nature tokens value of 1 if it is retained for the end of the game. The part that makes this tricky is that the reduction in habitat tiles may cost you bonus points at the end of the game. Consider carefully if the benefit of the nature token is worth it considering your progress on habitat tiles so far.