Cascadia has garnered a ton of accolades as an award-winning 2022 game of the year. The game by Randy Flynn was published by the publisher Kosmos in a German-language localized version in this country - and it obviously struck a chord with fans and critics alike. Right? Absolutely. Cascadia is a highlight, but presents itself as an unobtrusive board game for everyone.

Randy Flynn, illustrator Beth Sobel and that Conglomerate Flatout Games Cascadia originally crowdfunded via Kickstarter and raised around 9.000 US dollars from over 275.000 supporters - only 8.000 US dollars were planned. In any case, there was advance praise for Flatout Games at the start of the campaign, which was not least due to the predecessor project Calico - this board game was also a crowdfunding hit. The Ravensburger title was snapped up and prepared for the German market – Kosmos had the right nose for Calico. One of the messages: Even comparatively small Kickstarter projects can serve the mass market.

Cascadia: Wilderness Excursion

Cascadia is a game like a trip into nature. It goes to Cascadia in the Pacific Northwest of North America - where salmon and bear say good things. At around 35 euros, the trip into the wilderness is cheap, but you can only experience the natural spectacle on small cardboard tokens. There are many of them: landscapes and animals, playing cards complete the material. It all looks great, fits the topic, and given the well-known work by Beth Sobel and the quality it offers, it's no surprise. The illustrator can do nature, as she has already proven several times: with Calico, with Wingbeat and also with Viticulture.

Cascadia review game of the year 2022
No two bears are the same: the cards keep changing the scoring situation. Photo: Volkman

Far less obvious was Cascadia's playful situation. But here, too, you could give the all-clear in a positive sense with the former $29 Kickstarter board game. Randy Flynn made a debut that couldn't be bettered. Cascadia is a board game for everyone - calm, easy to learn, with enough tactical elements to keep coming back to the table.

The theme of flora and fauna is central, but not intrusive: different animal species should be provided with a habitat. To do this, hex tokens are puzzled together and wooden animal tokens are placed on top of them. Scoring cards determine how many points are awarded for what. That's it! Cascadia starts playing without a big thunderstorm - it is probably the greatest strength of this board game. Sure, the topic wouldn't be needed - you could also use robots in a dystopian metropolis or superheroes in Gotham City as anchor points for the hunt for points. Yet somehow the nature theme is touching because it's one that can appeal to all players. Everyone knows animals and plants and everyone likes them, so you like to play with them.

Commendably simple ground rules

The gameplay is simple, but much less interchangeable than the setting. When it is your turn, you take one of the four combinations of landscape tiles and animal tokens that are available in the display. Then the game is placed according to clearly defined rules. The game board grows round by round. When the draw pile runs out, the game ends. Then it will be settled.

Board game test Cascadia game of the year 2022
The wildlife tokens are also wood, which upgrades them. The printed animals are of central importance in terms of play - they represent the second laying level. Photo: Volkmann

But what is so special about Randy Flynn's idea? At least Cascadia does not reinvent the genre as a placement game. However, it takes the classic concept of a Carcassonne to a new level by doubling the levels of laying - that's where the innovation is found. With Cascadia, Flynn has created a sort of double laying game in which levels do not run side by side, but rather interlock perfectly. Because each animal has its own scoring scheme, you can and must do clever puzzles in order to achieve a score close to the optimum. This also closes the circle on the subject: every animal has its own preferences. It is primarily this trick that makes the adventure in nature so atmospheric. Of course, Cascadia cannot do without the element of luck, but that can at least be mitigated a little with the pinecone trick. Experts will see weaknesses in this, because not everything can be predicted and planned. Ambitious family gamers won't care, they benefit from maximum gaming fun.

Cascadia's simple set of rules shouldn't hide the fact that there's nothing to give away: Every single move is relevant, because their number is limited. This is sometimes a nuisance. If there are few attractive combinations and you can't improve them with the cones, you have to be content with the best possible result per action. So many a move ripples along, but is never pointless. The reward factor for the player's action is always present. The wilderness is not a sandbox in which you can make the world as you like it.

Cascadia can be challenging but is never maliciously difficult. You have to think, but not until it gets annoying. You won't find a knot in your brain when you play Cascadia, you might miss it - that depends on your individual taste in the game. The game offers strategic possibilities per move, or at least enough per game. The will is there to always get the best possible result from your options. Despite the simple rules, this is by no means easy: it is important to keep an overview on the gaming table. The growing landscapes and their five animal species are not only colourful, but also sometimes deliberately confusing.

Board game review Cascadia game of the year 2022
The games of Cascadia are fun because every move is rewarded - although not always in full. Photo: Volkman

In addition, there is something very pragmatic about Cascadia - something that sounds almost irrelevant, but is not: all the material is conducive to the fun of the game. There are no added frills to add weight to the box; there are no pseudo rule variants that offer no added value, there are no masses of material lying around unused at the edge of the field. Anything that comes with the board game will do. And it makes sense. Even more: what applies to the material also applies to the detailed rules – every trick has its purpose.

Infobox

Number of players: 1 to 4
Age: from 10 years
Playing time: 30 to 60 minutes
Difficulty: easy
Long-term motivation: good
Genre: family game
Core Mechanisms: Laying, patterns, collecting points

Author: Randy Flynn
Illustrations: Beth Sobel
Publisher: Kosmos/Flatout Games/AEG
Official Website: Link
Year of publication: 2021
Language: German
Cost: 35 Euro

Summary

Conceptually, Cascadia does an incredible amount right: The rules are simple, the board game is set up as quickly as you started, the playing time is at least partially predetermined - after 20 rounds it's over. Added to this is the "puzzle" process, which always leaves active players with a selection of options. They are not always balanced due to the luck factor, but in the case of Cascadia you can live with that. The game is calm and perfectly suited for relaxed rounds of play - also by yourself. Cascadia's solo mode is not an added mandatory feature, but a central component. The laying game also works excellently on its own. How not? In the multiplayer games, players finally puzzle and lay out nature and animals in front of them with complete peace of mind.

Cascadia is not recommended for the same level of entertainment in every setup. More players – up to four – initially only means longer playing time. In addition, the display changes more frequently, which can be frustrating and joyful at the same time. Cascadia is excellent on its own, as well as a two-player board game. After that it sometimes becomes a matter of taste. Yes, the board game works in all settings and there are also short moments of interaction, but they don't really come into their own. The small shortcoming is still forgivable, because Randy Flynn's board game is always fun despite the occasional balancing problems. This is mainly due to the changing evaluation requirements.

The imbalance that exists in terms of the number of players is balanced by Randy Flynn's concept: Cascadia takes an extremely entertaining middle ground between simple layout rules and the need for foresighted planning, it is demanding but not overwhelming due to the level of difficulty being set too high. And Cascadia is abstract but still leverages its theme.

Now it might sound a lot like Cascadia is an average placement game with nice material. Not at all - you have to experience the game concept to feel the magic. The board game unfolds an enormous pull through the combination of simplicity and complexity in the right places. A large number of rule variants ensures long-term motivation and a sustained learning curve on the one hand - and at the same time ensures that different target groups are addressed with Cascadia. On top of that there is an optional campaign. For the investment of around 35 euros, there is also good material. Hats off cosmos.

Even without an award as the highlight of the current board game year, Cascadia is a success. The game was temporarily out of stock. Just in time for the award ceremony, however, Kosmos has replenished the stock properly - after all, thanks to the Game of the Year 2022 Pöppel, the title should (continue to) sell like freshly smoked salmon.

Incidentally, the jury of the association Spiel des Jahres put it aptly in one sentence: "Cascadia is a real feel-good game".

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Last updated on 3.08.2022/XNUMX/XNUMX / Affiliate Links / Images from the Amazon Product Advertising API. * = Affiliate links. Images from Amazon PA API