Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

Get in touch by emailing thegameshelfblog@gmail.com

Monday 14 September 2020

The Game Shelf Previews:- Cascadia

Game: Cascadia

Publisher: Flatout Games

Designer: Randy Flynn

Year: 2021

Flatout Games are perhaps best known for their fantastic card game Point Salad. But, with Calico just fulfilling and Dollars to Donuts recently funded on Kickstarter, what we know them for is their puzzly tile laying games. Tile laying games with a spatial puzzle and lots of interesting scoring mechanisms really level the playing field for Amy and I in two-player games. Amy tends to have an advantage in abstract games, but I love a good puzzle.

Cascadia brings an abstract game to life, with lovely artwork from Beth Sobel, as well as colours that do a great job of evoking the landscape of the Pacific Northwest of the USA. If you're enticed by a world of creating landscapes and populating them with wildlife, then Cascadia will be on Kickstarter in September 2020.

Cascadia is a tile laying game of building out a terrain and populating it with animals. The game has a market of terrain tiles paired randomly with animal tokens available to select from each round. On your turn you will take a single pair of animal token and terrain tile from the market and add it to your growing landscape. Tiles can be placed however you would like regardless of terrain types or animals on them, but animals can only be placed on terrain that shows their picture. Additionally, you are limited to one animal per tile, but a tile with a fox and a fish pictured on it can accept either a fox or a fish, but not both. In fact if a tile can only accept one type of animal then you will get a nature token after placing an animal on it, this token is worth a point, but can also be used to take any combination of animal token and tile, rather than the fixed pairs in a future round.
You'll be doing this to score as many points as possible when you come to scoring at the end of the game. Every species has three different scoring mechanisms to choose from, though there are common trends to the type of scoring of each animal. Foxes care about their neighboring animals, Bears want to be in small groups, Eagles want to be spread out but able to see each other, Deer want to be in large groups and Salmon want to be in long lines. In addition to the points from animals you will score points for any leftover nature tokens and for the largest area of each terrain type you have in your landmass, with bonus points for having the largest area among all players.

Amy's Final Thoughts

Cascadia is a deliciously simple tile-laying game to play. Each turn you are taking one of the three available pairs and adding both components to your growing collection. The nuance comes from what you take and why. Adding a new tile to your board gives you so much to consider. Do you focus on the terrain type and increasing your largest area, or do you focus on the potential animals to maximize their points? At any one time you only have a couple of open spaces for animals so there is never a chance to relax knowing you are set up for the future. It's also perfectly possible to limit the type of animals you can take so much that you have to throw an animal away rather than place it which is mortifying. (Side note: we need to get out of the habit of calling refreshing the market 'burn the animals'!)
The inclusion of the nature tokens helps a lot with these decisions, at the cost of having had less choice in the past you get to each more choice in the future. Either disassociating the animals from the tiles, or even refreshing the animals and drawing new ones if they are all bad choices for you. It's always worth having a couple of nature tokens spare for when you are desperate to get that last eagle and it just won't come out of the bag.
Cascadia manages a great amount of replay-ability from the three sets of animal cards. Each set brings a different spatial puzzle to try and solve, and once you get the hang of those you can always mix and match. You never get so many tiles that you can capitalize on every animal, so choosing a strategy early and sticking with it tends to be the way to do well with animals often scoring exponentially as you get more of them.
Ultimately Cascadia provides a brilliant tile-laying experience. There's nothing completely groundbreaking in the box, but it's an incredibly robust game. The art is simple, but looks good in practice and is fantastically user friendly. It was an absolute pleasure to play and had me wanting to come back for more time and time again.

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Puzzly, point scoring tile-laying games are one of my favourite board game experiences. I liked puzzles long before I knew board games were a hobby and I often find that I'm quite good at them. Those who know me might not be surprised to hear that winning games is sometimes important to me, or at least not being completely destroyed by other players, however, I have lost every game we've played of Cascadia and loved every moment of it. 

Cascadia presents me with a puzzle that doesn't have an obvious solution. Whether you pick one of the standard sets of animal cards, or shuffle them and pick randomly, I can't figure out which strategy is going to be best by looking at the options available. You have two choices. You can either pick a strategy and see if it works, for example, you might just try to maximise elks in a single game, or you can try to adapt. There's a very large bag of animal tokens and in a two player game you perhaps won't even see half, so sticking to your guns on a strategy for animals that just aren't being drawn might not work out so well. At some point though you've got to go heavily after one or two things - I haven't done well in games where I've ended up with mediocre scores across the board.

However, scoring points from animals is not your only path to victory and that's where I love the multiple layers to this puzzle. Your terrain is just as important, and is where I find myself more aware of other players in the game. Making the largest group of terrain of each type is rewarded highly, as is the value for the terrain itself, so creating a really well matched terrain can't be ignored. These two scoring aspects are then delightfully intertwined with the fact that each terrain only shows certain animals that can live there. Trying to optimise matching terrain while also trying to create the right habitats to place animals in the perfect place to hit scoring objectives, is a convoluted sentence that really quite well represents the way that your brain has to work to play well in Cascadia.

Cascadia creates a layered puzzle that I want to explore more and more, and maybe one day I'll win a game of it too!

You Might Like...
  • You're optimising three puzzles every time you play - giving rise to lots of different strategies.
  • Having to choose a pair - an animal and a terrain tile - makes for a really tricky decision on every turn, with the opportunity to overcome it only if you have a nature token.
  • The three different scoring mechanisms for each animal surprise us with their balance in every game.
You Might Not Like...
  • It's often hard to figure out which animal is likely to offer you the best scoring opportunities, so you just need to jump in with your early games.
  • The animal habitat matching could perhaps be a little more thematic, so that salmon don't live in the desert.

The Verdict
The Flatout Games team seem to have a knack for bringing together amazing tile-laying games. Cascadia is an addictive game to play that gives you so many different options to explore. There's just three simple things to optimise, but they create such great choices on every turn. Cascadia is eye-catching, addictive and clever and we can't wait to add it to our shelves.

Cascadia was a prototype kindly provided to us by Flatout Games.

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