Friday, May 3, 2024

Cascadia - Board Game Review

 As someone who loves to play board games, but is surrounded by people who mostly don't, I am always desperate to find anything that will encourage them to want to play with me. So when my 10 yo looks over my shoulders while I am on a board game hunt and says Cascadia "looks like a fun game", the small chance of having found a board game he'd want to play was all the excuse I needed to buy it. He is an extremely picky board game player.

He is really into animals of all kinds, so I can see what caught his interest. In Cascadia you are tasked to build a park, or biome if you prefer, and meet certain requirements to make your animals thrive. In reality you can place your wildlife tokes any way you like as long as you respect the limitations on the habitat token. A bear can only go on a token with a bear on it. But if you want the big-bomba-points you want to place your tokens very carefully and thoughtfully indeed, to meet your animals needs. Bears might only want to live in pairs and hawks don't want to be near any other hawks, for instance. It all translates to having to place your tokens according to certain patterns depending on which animal it is.

The habitat tokens in turn represent different areas of nature - river, forest, mountain and so on. Each token can represent one or more such areas. The more of these areas you connect together, the more points you score at the end, of course, and is yet another variable to factor in as you expand your park.

Cascadia is a drafting game, as such a certain amount of wildlife and habitat tokens are put up on the table for the players to draft in turn. This simple system has been twisted and turned around in loads of games by now, in Cascadia the trick is that habitat tokens and wildlife tokens are put into the pool together and you need to choose one combination. The habitat token might not come with the animal token you need, but that's how it goes and adds to the strategic thinking. The draft pool gets refreshed with each draft meaning there is no "last" person left with the bottom of the barrel, a game design choice I like for this game. 

Certain habitat tokens will reward you a pine cone token if you place an animal on top of them. The pine cones can be traded in for benefits during your drafting, such as altering your options - which often comes in handy when there is yet another fox in the draft pool and you really need that last salmon to finish your run.

And that is pretty much it. The easy set up and concept lends it well for playing it even with younger children. My 5 yo can play this, with some strategic help, since the basic idea is just to put the corresponding animal on the right picture on the habitat tokens. As such it is very easy to get into while there is a lot of strategizing to do if you really want to get the big points. As with most drafting games there is tactic in choosing between whatever you need next or whatever your opponent needs next. 

Overall however I find drafting games like Cascadia to be far less antagonistic than classic games like Monopoly or Ludo. While you can try to outmaneuver your co-players by drafting what they seem to need, it is difficult to completely prevent them from making any sort of progress. For better or worse the game is more about building your biomes individually and see whoever planned it out better, and less about sticking a wrench in someone else's works. This just makes it yet another reason why it works well to play with children, in my book.

Cascadia won Adult Game of the Year 2023 award here in Sweden and I can see why. It's easy get into, it's adaptable to play with people less experienced and you can easily dig deep trenches of strategy if you are so inclined. And who doesn't enjoy building parks? Apparently my 10 yo, as it turns out he doesn't like this game either (I really do though).