Sopophoria

The Cascades sure are pretty.

Multiplayer solitaire gets a bad rap. Some folks use the phrase as an insult. But the truth is that sometimes I want to interact with my friends directly and other times I want to sit alongside them, maybe chatting, maybe sharing snacks, while playing in parallel without the pressures of competition.

Cascadia, designed by Randy Flynn and beautifully illustrated by Beth Sobel, is multiplayer solitaire to its core. So much so that its best descriptor is “sleepy.” And not necessarily in a bad way.

Designed for optimal soothing? Eh, who knows. Pink is like a fingernail across the sclera.

Pretty colors.

Cascadia does many things we’ve seen before. A cynic might point out that it doesn’t have a novel bone in its body. Run down the checklist of modern multiplayer solitaire design and it ticks all the boxes. Hexes arranged to create a landscape, check. Light drafting, check. Discs drawn from a bag, check. Scoring criteria aplenty, check. Individual scores that break one hundred, check. The absence of negative interaction, or even positive interaction, check.

But such a description belies what Cascadia does so well. It’s true that nothing here could be classified as new. The systems themselves are so straightforward that they hardly need explanation. On two occasions, when I sat down to teach Cascadia, my audience waved their hands to illustrate that they got it. Does it need to be explained that you’re drafting a landscape/animal pairing? Not really. Seeing the pairs on the table is enough for anybody who’s been playing games for more than a year or two. The only necessary clarification is that the animals printed on the landscape tiles are possibilities, not presences. They represent where you can place your animals, not where animals are already positioned. Ambiguity dispelled. The same goes for the five scoring categories. Apart from contiguous territories, where do points come from? Well, they’re right there. Each animal has four scoring cards. Sometimes bears travel in clusters of three. Sometimes hawks want to see each other. Salmon make lines across your growing biome, but the precise manner of those lines may differ from play to play.

In other words, Cascadia is built from the ground up to be intuitive. You draft some stuff and then put it together. You think about those scoring cards in a mathy but not too-mathy way. You cuss at your sister-in-law when she takes the bear you wanted. That’s the sum of it. You could probably play this thing sleepwalking.

"Replayability"!

Victory conditions.

It’s pleasant, in a drowsy sort of way, like lounging on the couch when the sun butters you through the window, or when a long drive along an empty highway sends you edging toward the rumble strips. Also like those dueling scenarios, its reliability hinges entirely on whether sleep seems desirable right now. One of my plays was perfectly relaxing, blunting the edge of a long and strenuous week, similar to the easing pleasure my mother finds in repetitive tasks like stitching or puzzling. Another play was almost the exact opposite. We came to the table looking to think, to vie, to take in steam. The sluggishness made a poor companion, leaving us listless and constantly inquiring whose turn it was.

Mood can be a strange thing. How’s that for a dullard’s aphorism? But there it is. Cascadia is a river tour boat of a game. Depending on the day leading up to boarding, it can spell a much-needed reprieve for one’s soles or yet another obstacle standing in the way of the next destination. In my case, it proved both. Although I must confess it tended more toward the latter.

Catan?

My own slice of the Cascades.

Cascadia would be easy to go hard on. To do so, I think, misses its raison d’être. This isn’t an exemplar of the experience I go looking for in a board game, absent as it is of message or competition or even the manner of assessment that forces me to think about problems in fresh ways. Put another way, this is a game designed for someone other than Dan.

That’s all right. As much as I suspect I’ll never play it again, I don’t mind having gotten out of my head for a minute. Whether tranquil or tranquilizer, there’s something to appreciate in the occasional calmative.

 

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Posted on February 3, 2022, in Board Game and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I haven’t played this one yet, but you’re one of the first ones I’ve seen who didn’t rave about it.

    Don’t know if I’ll get the chance to play it, but it may be a one and done for me too. Thanks for the review!

  2. Stephen Thompson

    I purchased Cascadia because my wife and I are big fans of Calico. Both games have the same drafting mechanism, although Calico only has you drafting the equivalent of a land tiles in Cascadia. Calico does not have the equivalent of the animal tiles you find in Cascadia.

    Both games have you creating a landscape of hexes to score points in various patterns. The addition of the animal tokens provides some different scoring opportunities, but where Cascadia land tiles are single dimensioned (e.g. water, desert, etc), Calico hexes have both a color and a pattern that can each contribute to different scoring opportunities.

    In the late game, Calico gives you fewer choices to place tiles, and it becomes harder and less likely you’ll complete all of your scoring goals. Your game board is limited and you have a certain number of spaces to fill. Once they’re all filled, the game ends. This means things can get really “crunchy” at the end of a game of Calico when you’re hoping and praying for that ONE color/pattern combination that will be critical to achieving your advanced scoring goals.

    Cascadia does not have limits in where you can place tiles, and you can always scoop up a few extra points at the end of the game, no matter what you draw. This makes Cascadia less crunchy in its end game, Because of this, I had initially thought Cascadia’s ever expanding game board would provide a more satisfying end game experience. Don’t get me wrong; I like the crunchiness of Calico, but it can be frustrating if you are not able to draft that one tile you need to meet both your pattern and color scoring objectives.

    I thought Cascadia would provide more scoring options, but this isn’t really the case. While you don’t have the space restrictions in Cascadia, you still are trying to draft tiles and animals to meet goals, and it still gets harder and harder to do this in a way that will help you achieve your big scoring objectives. Sure, I can give up on a large high scoring goal to accomplish some smaller goals, but so can my opponent, so there’s no real edge or difference here. Calico and Cascadia are variations on a theme. Both play a little differently, but both provide very similar game experiences.

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