Buzzworthiness: Morels

I’m not a mushroom fan.  I don’t like them on my pizza, I don’t like them in stuff, I don’t like to eat them fried, I don’t like them in a box, I don’t like them with a fox.  But that doesn’t mean I won’t like a game about them.

image by BGG user bpovis
image by BGG user bpovis

Morels was originally published in 2012, designed by Brent Povis and published by Two Lanterns Games.  It’s a two-player only game about a lovely walk through the forest as you collect mushrooms, then cook them or sell them.

The game comes with 84 day cards, 8 night cards, 20 foraging stick tokens, 2 pan tokens, and two nice player references.  Eight cards are dealt into a line to make a forest path, and each player is dealt three cards.  If you get dealt a basket, play it in front of you.  If you get dealt a moon, discard it and draw a night card.  If you get dealt a destroying angel, discard it.  You also get a pan token.

On your turn, you can do one of five actions.

  1. Take a card from the forest.  The first two cards are considered to be at your feet, and you can take one of those for free.  If you want to take one from further down the path, you need to spend one walking stick per card past the first two.  So if you want to take the fourth card, you need to spend two walking sticks.
  2. Take the entire decay.  At the end of your turn, cards enter the decay, which will never get more than four cards (more on that later).
  3. Play a pan card in front of you.  These are necessary to cook mushrooms.
  4. Cook three or more like mushrooms.  To do this, you need an available pan.  You begin with one pan token, but others will be necessary for other cooked sets.  Only cooked mushrooms score points.
  5. Sell two or more like mushrooms.  This is how you get walking sticks – the amount is indicated on the card.

There are some special cards you’ll encounter in the deck:

  • Moons: If you collect a moon, you discard it immediately and draw a night card.  This shows a type of mushroom, and is worth two of that type of mushroom for cooking or selling purposes, but not for hand size.
  • Baskets: If you collect a basket, it is played in front of you.  This increases your maximum hand size by two (your initial max is eight cards).  You can never take more than your hand size.
  • Butter: This gives you an extra three points if cooked with a set of four or more mushrooms.
  • Apple Cider: This gives you an extra five points if cooked with a set of five or more mushrooms.
  • Destroying Angel: This is a bad mushroom.  If you collect one, it is played in front of you, and you discard down to a hand size of four (plus two for each basket).  The Destroying Angel stays in your system one turn for each cooked mushroom set you have, meaning that your hand limit is severely limited.  You can never have more than two at once.

After you have taken your action, the first card in the forest is moved to the decay.  If there are four cards in the decay when this happens, they are all discarded and the new card starts a new decay.  The other cards in the forest are slid forward into its slot, and the path is refilled to eight cards.

Once all cards are out of the forest, the game ends immediately.  The player who scored the most from their cooked mushrooms is the winner.

image by BGG user Beyond Monopoly
image by BGG user BeyondMonopoly

COMPONENTS: Two Lanterns Games is an operation that works out of Brent Povis’ basement.  The game was released in the Kickstarter era, but came out without the benefit of Kickstarter.  And the components are great – so you see, it CAN be done.  It comes in a box that is the size of the KOSMOS two-player games (Lost Cities, Balloon Cup, etc.).  The crds are all very good quality, and nicely illustrated.  The walking stick and pan tokens are good quality cardboard.  When I first played the game at GenCon 2012, Povis was selling the game with handcrafted walking sticks and pans.  I’m kind of sorry I didn’t get one then – the tokens work here, but the sticks and pans are much cooler.  They’re also a ton more work for a small operation.

The game also comes with two oversized player aids that do a great job laying out the turn sequence (in large print), as well as giving you the distribution of cards in the deck.  Since you see every card, this is helpful as you try to figure out how many mushrooms you might get before cooking.  The rules are a little oddly laid out – this is mostly because they are printed on a trifold square sheet, and you kind of have to search for relevant information.  But, overall, the game is very well-produced and beautiful to look at.  If you didn’t know it was published by an independent company, you probably would have guessed that it was published by one of the bigger ones.

(Morels was picked up by German publisher Pegasus Spiele and published as Fungi.  There are component differences if you happen to see that edition, which I have not.)

THEME: As I said in the intro, I don’t particularly care for mushrooms.  That said, I think the theme here is fantastic.  It’s very unique, for one thing, and it does a great job of simulating a walk through the woods to pick mushrooms.  You also get a sense of their temporary nature with the decay.  Not everything works thematically – why are there baskets and pans strewn along this path, as well as butter and apple cider?  How come I’m selling these mushrooms for sticks instead of cash?  Am I cooking these mushrooms right there in the middle of the forest?  These plot holes are not anything that break the game for me – just like I still enjoy Back to the Future despite the fact that his parents never recognize that Marty looks EXACTLY LIKE the kid that got them together in the first place, I thoroughly enjoy the theme of Morels.  It even almost makes me want to try some fresh picked mushrooms.  Almost.

MECHANICS: Morels is a set collection game.  You are trying to get sets of mushrooms that will score you the most points.  There’s also a significant hand management aspect as you can only hold eight cards at a time (more with baskets).  This means that you will have to make tough choices about when you need to cook or sell some sets.  You can’t discard to make room – if a card or group of cards would put you over your hand limit, you can’t take them.  But there’s usually an option – you may have to cook a set that is smaller than you would have liked, or sell a set that you were saving to cook later.  Fortunately, both have their benefits – walking sticks are really useful to get cards you want when the cards at your feet or in the decay are not desirable.

The method of choosing cards in the forest is quite unique – it’s a sort of draft in an ever-changing market, with the oldest cards disappearing regularly.  Of the complaints I’ve read in other reviews, the most common that I’ve seen is that there’s too much moving of the cards.  And sliding them down every time can get annoying.  However, a variant set-up is included in the game where you put the forest cards in a ring, adding cards and only moving the night deck to mark the end.  I personally don’t have a problem with moving the forest line.  It really helps give a sense of how fast things are moving.  Just know that this is an issue some people have.

The actual cooking of the mushrooms is how you score points, and therefore it’s not enough just to have them in your hand.  In order to cook, though, you need a pan.  You start with one, but if you want anymore, you have to collect them on your walk, and then take an entire turn to play them.  It’s odd that baskets, moons, and destroying angels are played immediately but you have to take that extra step to play a pan.  I think I much prefer being able to play the pan immediately, although that may take away some of the stress of the game.

Speaking of stress, I really like the addition of destroying angels.  It makes sense that there are poisonous mushrooms out there that you have to avoid.  Sometimes, you can’t avoid them because you really need another card in the decay, and you’ll just suffer for a couple of turns.  However, I’ve never seen anyone actually take them – mostly we just hope we can avoid them long enough to not destroy our plans.  It’s a good pain mechanism.

Overall, the mechanics in play really work well and provide for some very tense decisions.

STRATEGY LEVEL: I’ve mentioned to the decisions that need to be made while playing this game.  You have to be able to choose when to take certain cards, when to cook them, when to sell them, what cards to take, and so on.  The forest path moves VERY quickly, and the decay fills up fast.  It’s very nice that there are eight cards on the path, so you can see what’s ahead and plan accordingly.  Of course, your opponent may mess your plans up entirely, but that’s part of the fun.

ACCESSIBILITY: This is not a very difficult game, but it is tough to get your mind around some of the concepts, particularly in game flow.  I’d say it’s probably a good next step from some easier two-player games like Lost Cities.

REPLAYABILITY: Because of the ever-changing nature of the forest path, this game has a ton of replayability.  It’s never going to play out the same way, and you’re going to have to get really good at thinking on the fly.  There’s a lot of game in this box.

SCALABILITY: This is only a two-player game.  The designer has suggest a 3- or 4-player variant on the BGG forums if you want to check it out.

INTERACTION: The biggest point of interaction in this game is what you take from the forest path.  If you take directly from the path, two cards will leave the path (the one you took and the one going to the decay) and two more will enter.  If you do anything else, only one card will leave the path and one will enter.  Knowing this can help you try to make it move at the speed you want in order to get what you want.  Of course, you know what the other person has taken and might be looking for, and can try to manipulate the speed to thwart them as well.

FOOTPRINT: You need enough space for the forest path and your cooked sets, but that shouldn’t take up too much space.  I’d say a small table would be sufficient for the game.

LEGACY: The KOSMOS two-player line has come out with a lot of great games.  I think Morels easily could have stood among them.  It’s a great set collection game that plays unlike anything else I’ve tried.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  I have a great time with the game, and my wife likes it too (always a plus).  So, on my YEAH-MEH-BLEAH scale, I give Morels a

Yeah

Thanks for reading!

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