Board GamesReviews

Cascadia: Landmarks Review

Cascadia: Landmarks
Tile Placement, Set Collection
Flatout Games, AEG
Randy Flynn, Molly Johnson, Robert Melvin, Shawn Stankewich
Beth Sobel

Cascadia: Landmarks is one of those rare 'always in' expansions that simply amplifies the best things about the original, adding longevity and depth without complication.

In 2022, game designer Randy Flynn and publisher Flatout Games took home the coveted Spiel des Jahres award for Cascadia, a beautiful, engaging tile-laying puzzle that we loved from the very first prototype plays we tried.  Combining a serene theme, easy-to-play mechanics, and the sense that no turn was truly wasted, we weren’t the slightest bit surprised that Cascadia took Game of the Year, and it has remained a part of our permanent collection ever since.

Now, Flatout Games (with publishing partner AEG) is poised to release Cascadia: Landmarks, the first expansion to the award-winning original.  Have Randy Flynn and his fellow designers Molly Johnson, Robert Melvin, & Shawn Stankewich managed to meet the excellence of the original design?  Let’s find out as we take a look at Cascadia: Landmarks!

The additions present in Cascadia: Landmarks come in a few modules.  Some of these modules are just additional rules and options for existing gameplay features, while others are completely new.  In this way, Landmarks is an expansion in the truest sense – the components and mechanics that it adds to the base game expand on concepts already present, adding a few novel twists while not sacrificing the accessibility and playability of the base game.  And for fans of the original, this ends up as a huge positive – Cascadia was already fun and engaging, and cluttering it with too many new mechanisms would only erode some of the strongest aspects of the game’s design.  Fortunately (and unsurprisingly, given the design talent on display), Landmarks neatly avoids this all-too-common pitfall.

The first and easiest to summarize module is the inclusion of 15 new Wildlife scoring cards.  These 3 new scoring rules for each animal type just add more variety to the gameplay strategies each time Landmarks hits the table, since you’ll only use one of each type of Wildlife card when you play, bringing the total to 7 cards of each type for tons of variety in scoring strategies.

Also added are 45 new habitat tiles, 5 new starter tiles, and 35 wildlife tokens.  Like the Wildlife cards, these components can be permanently added to the base game, as they can be used regardless of whether one is playing with any of the other modules in Landmarks.  Some of these new tiles, including the starters, feature 3 animal symbols rather than 1 or 2, making them ideal for a variety of scoring & placement strategies.

Another ‘module’, though this is simply a new rules set, changes the setup of the game so that players start with a bank of tile/token combos that they are free to place between their turns.  This means all players will take fewer turns overall while still placing the same number of tiles into their personal displays.  This can certainly be a boon when playing with 5-6 players, which, thanks to the greater number of tiles and tokens, Landmarks now easily supports.

Though these rules promise to keep the game moving faster, they also have the effect of giving players additional strategic agency, since players can plan around always having access to those tiles and can play them any time.  This is particularly significant because it adds depth to the game without sacrificing brevity, since placement of these personal tiles happens between your turns, thus not slow down anyone else’s gameplay.  Best of all, these rules can also be used at any player count, so even smaller games of Landmarks can benefit from the subtle but significant shift in strategic gameplay they add.

Finally, the titular Landmarks represent additional scoring goals around which players can plan.  At the beginning of play, a number of Landmark cards per habitat equal to the number of players will be dealt out.  Once a player places their fifth habitat tile in a given corridor (group of same-type habitats), they have the option of adding a Landmark token to the just-placed tile and selecting one of the matching Landmark cards as their own.

Time to make a choice – add another salmon, or snag one of the Landmark cards for that 5th tile

These cards represent end-game scoring opportunities, and savvy players will snag the Landmark that best suits their strategy (or undercuts that of an opponent, if one is so inclined…).  But Landmarks do have a single downside – by placing a Landmark token to claim a card, you will be unable to place an animal token on that space, which ever-so-slightly limits your scoring strategy.  With 12 unique Landmark cards per terrain, just as with Wildlife cards, there will be plenty of variety on display each time you set up for a new game.

There are a few additional features in Landmarks – the inclusion of scenarios and achievements – that didn’t engage us with quite the same excitement as the rest.  Scenarios are simply pre-set combinations of Wildlife cards and the occasional rules restriction about animal placement, and Achievements are just that, milestones you can pat yourself on the back for having attained during the course of a game.  These may add some interest to solo play or make for a slightly more engaging chain of games for those who feel like they want some semblance of ‘progression’, but ultimately we felt they didn’t add much, though they detracted absolutely not at all.  The fact is we remain happy enough to just play Cascadia: Landmarks exactly as it lands, randomly spilled out from the box.

New scoring options mean bigger scorepads!

Which is, ultimately, why we consider Cascadia: Landmarks an absolute no-brainer expansion to the already-excellent base game.  To be clear, outside of some very specific, very particular objections, Landmarks isn’t going to change anyone’s mind about Cascadia.  What it adds does not change the game in any seismic way, but as we said at the beginning, this ends up being a strong mark in the expansion’s favor.

It also remains a gorgeous game, retaining splashes of Beth Sobel’s typically stunning art, which is good because once you add the Landmarks, a fifth or sixth player, and the optional ‘accelerated’ rules, Cascadia: Landmarks is going to take up a lot of table real-estate.  But even that is well-earned; for anyone who enjoyed the original, Cascadia: Landmarks is one of those rare ‘always in’ expansions that simply amplifies the best things about the original, adding longevity and depth without complication.

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