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Yellow & Yangtze designer’s next pair of board games claims to be more than European design fads

“Pure strategy” titles Cascadero and smaller companion Cascadito meld Eurogame sensibilities with attractive art and short runtimes.

BGG art for Cascadero board game
Image credit: Reiner Knizia/Ian O'Toole/Bitewing Games

Reiner Knizia’s name alone can sell a board game to a certain section of the hobby, but those who haven’t ventured deep into the Eurogame section of their local game store - you know, the place with all those train and industry-themed boxes chock-full of tiny components? - the storied designer might be a bit of a mystery.

Knizia’s two newly announced board games - Cascadero and its smaller sibling, Cascadito - could bridge the gap between the German designer’s die-hard fans and the broader audience. At least, that’s what a recent thread on BoardGameGeek from publisher Bitewing Games believes. While the company previously responsible for Knizia’s Zoo Vadis and the upcoming hiking-themed Trailblazer characterised Cascadero as “one of [his] heaviest new releases in years”, what we currently know paints a slightly more manageable picture, not the least comes from a purported 45-minute session length.

Cascadero and Cascadito take place in what’s most likely a vaguely Middle Ages Spain (the exact historical period doesn’t matter much), and El Cascadero wants to unite the land following a period of strife and unrest. Players, representing different ministers, must either send envoys or royal messengers to the towns strewn across the board’s map, reconnecting them to the kingdom’s line of resources and taxation - and raising your own competency in your boss’ eyes. Envoys aren’t especially potent on their own - towns remain distrustful of El Cascadero’s promises unless a royal messenger arrives first to butter up the campasinos and campasinas.

Watch Matt and Wheels play one a Knizia classic: Lost Cities.Watch on YouTube

Thus, two dominant strategies emerge: range far afield and connect a line envoys that make up for their inefficiency with sheer numbers, or concentrate on a smaller area and engender a tight core of trust and loyalty to El Cascadero’s leadership. Both will award victory points and further the real goal of this board game: success tracks. Different types of towns correspond to different tracks in the Book of Success representing their export - mining, textiles, farming, scholarship or trade - and those tracks award bonuses such as free movement of envoys, more victory points, official seals and extra turns.

The key to winning Cascadero will be timing the triggering of these bonuses to - as the name implies - cascade victory point scoring from a solid splash into a runaway deluge. Players must reach the end of their success track to even qualify for victory once the game ends, and then the player with the most victory points earns the right to serve at El Cascadero’s right hand.

Cascadito distils this experience into a roll 'n' write dice drafting experience that maintains the five town types and overall goal of earning more victory points than your competing ministers. You will take turns drafting the rolled dice results onto your specific sheet, marking results next to towns that correspond to the dice colours and aiming to maximise points along a route planned throughout the course of the game. Packaged in a smaller box and including a solo mode for each of its four different map sheets, Cascadito wants to be a beginner and travel-friendly version that doesn’t ditch the combo-heavy, complex design.

BGG art for Cascadero board game
Image credit: Reiner Knizia/Ian O'Toole/Bitewing Games

Nick Murray of Bitewing Games admitted that success tracks often feel “generally boring, solitaire, themeless [and] overused” but that Cascadero takes great efforts to keep them clean and competitive. “Where many board games toss in one or more tracks that feel like an awkward afterthought, Cascadero’s tracks are 100% intentional. They are the beating heart of this tile placement strategy game,” he wrote.

Murray also confirmed that Cascadito was a separate consideration between the team and Knizia - Cascadero was not designed with a smaller companion game in mind, but the studio “knew that both of these games would be launching together” as soon as they incepted the idea for a smaller box.

“Our central focus and biggest priority with Reiner was to make Cascadito a worthwhile companion game to Cascadero. This was accomplished by preserving the core spirit of Cascadero yet drastically differentiating Cascadito in every way possible,” Murray said. “We wanted to make sure that folks who pick up both games absolutely get their money’s worth.”

The best board games you should play in 2023.Watch on YouTube

While not a new idea, using smaller boxes with more digestible design as a method of introducing its more complicated Eurogame sibling should be something more studios with the resources attempt. While you might argue that the intentionally knotty and complex genre deserves its sour reputation, Cascadero and Cascadito’s gorgeous graphic design - courtesy of Ian O'Toole - intriguing concept, and shockingly small runtime shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. Anything that tempts prospective players further into the stacks of their local game store is a win in my book.

Cascadero and Cascadito’s joint Kickstarter campaign launches on October 10th, and Bitewing expects to start fulfilment to backers by the second half of 2024. Dates on a wider retail release aren’t yet available.

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