Review: Morels10 Dec 2018 0
Released 29 Nov 2018
Every time we visit our local supermarket my wife always bemoans the limited choice of mushrooms. If we are especially lucky, lurking at the back of the shelf there may be a sweaty packet of shitakes but that is usually as good as it gets. I guess that you could always buy a kit and attempt to cultivate your own crop or you could go out foraging.
Unfortunately, the first option requires patience and the latter one is not without risks. Munch on the wrong mushroom and you could either find yourself tripping out of your head or on the mortician’s slab. It seems a lot more prudent to stick to playing a game or two of Morels.
Morels is a pretty straightforward card game in which the aim is to collect sets of mushrooms. There are two decks of cards, a large deck of day cards and a much smaller deck of night cards. The beautifully illustrated day cards depict the various types of mushrooms that you can collect. These range from the fairly common honey fungus to the ultra-rare and highly sought after morel. Be warned, because also lurking in this pack is the deadly Destroying Angel, which you obviously want to steer well clear of.
Also in the day deck are some items that will help you cook your fungi, these include frying pans and butter. Finally, there are eight moon cards; take one of these and you will be able to draw a card from the night deck. This introduces a push your luck element. The night cards consist of an extra copy of all eight types of edible mushrooms but you have no idea which one you will draw. The big advantage is that each night card counts as two mushrooms.
At the beginning of the game, each player is dealt three cards from the deck of day cards and a further eight cards are placed in a line. These cards represent the forest trail where you will commence your foraging. The most basic action is to take one of the two cards at the start of the trail. There is a limit to how many cards can be held at once but playing a basket card can permanently extend this.
After each turn, the card left at the start of the trail is removed and placed in the decay pile. Think of it as the bargain section of your local supermarket, for all those products about to pass their sell-by dates, which are often surrounded by a gaggle of old ladies with sharp elbows. This decay pile can hold up to four cards, after which the pile is emptied and the cards removed from the game. Instead of taking a card from the trail players can instead take all of the cards in the decay pile.
This is a good way of filling your hand, although the choice of cards on offer may not always be ideal. If neither the cards at the start of the trail or those in the decay pile are of interest to you, then you may wish to consider making preparations to delve deeper into the forest. You can trade in two or more matching mushrooms for some foraging sticks. On a later turn, you can use these sticks to take cards from further along the trail.
Gathering mushrooms is only half the fun. Next, comes the most important part where you actually sample the fruits of your labour and earn some points into the bargain. To commence cooking you need at least three mushrooms of the same type and a frying pan. You can enhance the flavour and points scored by adding some butter or a splash of cider. However, you are not a very adventurous cook and can never mix mushrooms of different types. Throw your chosen ingredients into the pan and with a delicious sizzling sound, your dish will be complete. Yum.
Instead of taking inspiration from a dusty Victorian botanical textbook, the artist has taken an altogether more whimsical approach. Hence, the cards are illustrated with some old-fashioned and quirky artwork in keeping with the weird and wonderful names of the mushrooms in the game. I doubt whether you will find a packet of Hen of the woods or Lawyers wig in your local Tesco’s. It is just a shame that the cards aren’t bigger. There seems to be a lot of dead space and I’m fairly certain that the screen could have been used more effectively. Furthermore, the background graphics are really basic and sit uneasily alongside the beautiful cards.
There are the usual options; you can take part in an online match or play offline against a computer opponent or a fellow human. It is a nice touch that the developers have bothered to add a range of different game variants. You can ditch the baskets in exchange for a larger hand limit, remove the moon cards or even add a load of extra morels to the deck. The chief advantage of playing this digital version is that you do not have to constantly shift cards around to refresh the trail.
Morels is a rather laid back and relaxing pastime. This probably explains why the original card game proved to be very popular with couples. The only things to beware of are those poisonous mushrooms. Thankfully, Destroying Angels do not kill you, but they do temporarily reduce your hand limit, which may also force you to discard cards. They are pretty easy to avoid, which means that their presence is only a minor inconvenience.
Overall, Morels is a fast-playing light game with a unique theme. In spite of its simplicity, there are still enough interesting decisions to keep players involved. It doesn’t attempt to introduce anything groundbreaking, but it does feel nicely balanced, requiring a satisfying mix of timing and luck.
Yes, I made it to the end of the review without a single fungus or mushroom related joke (congratulations -ED).