Cascadia Strategies & Tips

With the release of Cascadia in 2021 and its subsequent victory in claiming the prestigious Spiel de Jahres award in 2022, the game has proven its ability to entertain families and offer loads of Cascadia strategies to consider when playing. The breezy game, which has you creating habitats in the Pacific Northwest for wildlife, is a pleasant, light experience.

But light experience or no, you’re interested in winning when you play Cascadia, right? Otherwise you wouldn’t be here looking at a Cascadia strategy guide to begin with. Thankfully, there are some guidelines to improve your Cascadia score and give you a better chance at winning. Follow these Cascadia strategies and tips and you should be able to earn over 100 points regularly.

The foundation of Cascadia strategies

The primary thing to understand with Cascadia is that points come from four different sources:

  • Wildlife tokens
  • Long stretches of matching habitat
  • Nature tokens
  • Bonus points from having longer stretches of a matching habitat type than your opponents.

To do well, you’ll have to think about how to potentially maximize your score from each of these different sources.

Scoring well with wildlife tokens

During the course of a game of Cascadia, you’ll be placing 20 animal tiles onto your board. A typical animal placement will get you about 2 points, but it can be as high as 3+ points. Because of that, you should score 40 points at a minimum from animals. However, getting closer to 60 points from animals is achievable.

The ability to do so will require you to look at what scoring cards are present. Some of the cards like Foxes B will net you 7 points for each fox. Hawks, for all the trouble they present, get you close to 6 points per hawk if you play the tokens right. This is especially true if the Hawks C scoring card is in play because a triangular hawk formation can get you lots of points.

A good wildlife placement strategy in Cascadia
In this example, the fox scores 5 points per fox, the hawks score almost 4 points per hawk, and the salmon score over 3 points per salmon.

Above all, don’t think you need to score with every animal type. The animal scoring cards are merely guidelines. It will be up to you to determine which animal scoring cards offer the best payoff. And if you’ve found one that’s promising, it’s ok to lean into a particular animal while forsaking the others if you get a higher score as a result.

Foundation for scoring well from habitats

At the start of Cascadia, you get a starting tile containing one of each of the 5 different habitat features. Furthermore, you score 1 point for your longest corridor in each different habitat. In the beginning, that makes each of the 5 habitat features you have in front of you, by default, the longest. That means you’ll have already started the game with 5 points!

When you’re looking at the remaining tiles you can add to your board, they’ll either have two habitat features or just one. And if they only have one habitat feature, they’ll yield a nature token if you place an animal on it.

The implication here is that placing a tile can potentially give you two points. For tiles that have two different habitat features, those points will come from making each of those habitat features’ corridors longer. For tiles that only have one habitat feature, the two points will come from increasing the length of one habitat feature’s corridor and another one from when you’re able to obtain the nature token.

Since you’re placing 20 tiles onto your board, you should be able to score 40 additional points from tiles for a total of 45 points. Granted, that’s from the most ideal scenario. But if you can get more than 35 points, you’re already doing pretty well! Read on to understand how!

Cascadia strategies for tile placement

To maximize your score from habitats requires you to look at what tile you’ve started with. Let’s look at the example below:

From looking at this starting tile, we see the following corridor pairs based on their adjacencies:

  • Mountain and river
  • River and prairie
  • Prairie and wetland
  • Wetland and forest
  • and Forest and mountain

Because of this layout, try to grab any available tile that has those feature pairings on them if you can. Only by placing a tile with those feature pairings will you be guaranteed to lengthen the corridors for two habitat types. Doing so will help you earn the end-of-game bonuses for having the longest of a particular habitat type.

For this tile, you may want to grab the prairie/river tile since it can potentially grow the dual prairie/river in the lower right.

There will be times when getting a tile with a single habitat type will be helpful because these contain animal spaces that will yield a nature token when you place that animal there. In fact, you should think about prioritizing nature tiles in the early game to avoid bad turns later on.

Other Cascadia tips for playing

But that’s not all you have to do! There are other factors you’ll have to keep in mind to maximize your chances of winning. Here are some other factors to help you find the winning Cascadia strategy.

Understand the priorities in each phase of the game

One helpful Cascadia tip is in figuring out what your priorities are in each phase of the game. This will help you decide what you should focus on, what tiles to pick, and benchmark yourself to make sure you’re not falling behind. Here’s how I would structure your turns in the various game phases:

Early game (Turns 1-5) – Get nature tokens to maximize your flexibility. This will give you a buffer and prevent you from having to deal with bad turns later on in the game.

Mid-game (Turns 5-15) – This is where you spring into action and grow your corridors. For much of the mid-game, try to have every tile you add grow your corridor so you’re getting 2 points from each tile. Furthermore, because your animal placement isn’t firmly tied down, take advantage of this flexibility to maximize your scoring potential from animals. You should aim for 3 points per animal or at least build a setup that would net you that many points later on.

End game (Turns 16-20) – Once you reach the end game, your Cascadia strategy should focus on winning the longest corridor for any habitat types in which you’re competitive. To do so, pay attention to the other players’ boards. Then, keep a mental count in your head to make sure you’re still ahead for the habitat features you think you can win. If you’re playing well, you should be able to get at least 4-5 bonus points from longest habitat corridors.

Managing Nature Tokens in Cascadia

As I stated above, nature tokens are valuable. Sure, they’re worth points, but equally importantly, they prevent you from having a bad turn during the course of the game. That is why in the early game, when you start out and nothing’s quite set in stone, you should focus on getting nature tokens.

At the end of the game, nature tokens are worth 1 point. That means you should not hesitate to spend nature tokens in the end game if the marginal benefit of doing so exceeds 1 point. Key point is marginal benefit. So if an OK option would net you 1 point, but a great option gets you 3 points total, it’s totally worth it to spend a nature token to take the great option.

Actively deny your opponents tiles they need

One factor that will determine success or failure with habitats is how well you deny your opponents of tiles they need. What you should do is to look over at the opponent who will be going next and see if there are any habitat pairings that player shares with you. If there is, you should prioritize taking those tiles on your turn.

Doing so will not only benefit you because you’ll be able to maintain a longer habitat corridor, it will keep them from efficiently making their corridors longer.

Denying your opponents tiles based on their needs.
In this instance, you might want to take any tiles of the wetlands/prairie variety because you have the same ones as well.

The highest score you can get in single-player Cascadia

According to @babado over on BGG, the highest score you can get (so far) in Cascadia is 149. Granted, getting to that high of a score requires a very specific setup.

First of all, you need the following wildlife scoring cards in play:

  • Hawks C is required since its points per animal value is unparalleled. With perfect placement, you can get 57 points for 10 animals, averaging nearly 6 points per animal.
  • Foxes B is also strong since you can get about 5 points per fox.
  • Elk D is going to be helpful since it gets you the hexagon in the middle area where you can maximize the score from elk while contributing to the fox score.

Then, once you put it together and maximize points from the habitat corridors, your layout will look something like this:

Cascadia strategies involving hawks can get you lots of points

The breakdown in scoring is:

  • Animals – 98 points
    • Elk – 21 points
    • Foxes – 20 points
    • Hawks – 57 points
  • Habitat Corridors – 35 points
    • Mountains – 8 points
    • Forests – 9 points
    • Prairie – 3 points
    • Wetlands – 8 points
    • Rivers – 7 points
  • Nature tokens – 8 points
  • Bonus points – 8 points. This is based on scoring for the solo game.

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