Friday, March 15, 2013

Game Review: Morels

Morels designed by Brent Povis, published by Two Lanterns Games

Morels is a two-player card game with the unique theme of mushroom hunting on a walk through the woods. Players collect various mushrooms, cooking sets of them to earn points. A trail of eight cards is laid out, ending in two draw piles, one for daytime cards, one for night cards.

A typical game set up, the mushroom trail goes left to right in the photo

Each player takes turns either collecting a mushroom or other item (the first two cards in the trail are at their feet and can be taken for free; other items include baskets, frying pans, butter, cider, and the moon), or cooking up some mushrooms, or trading in mushrooms for walking sticks. Why trade for walking sticks? Because that allows a player to take mushrooms or other items further down the trail, ones they need to score more points. So the cards (which are gorgeous) list values for cooking the mushrooms and for trading them in.

The totally awesome artwork on the cards (click to enlarge)

Thus the morels in the bottom left corner of the picture above are worth six points when cooked or four walking sticks when traded. The trick is a player needs at least three matching mushrooms and an empty frying pan to cook the mushrooms; a player needs at least two matching mushrooms to get the walking sticks. Points and sticks are awarded per mushroom. You'll notice in the top row the nighttime versions of the lawyer's wig and the fairy ring mushrooms. Some of the cards on the walk are moons, which if drawn allows the player to take the top card from the nighttime deck. The card is a mystery but is the equivalent of two daytime mushroom cards. So there's a bit of a risk but a pretty good reward for the nighttime mushrooms.

After a player's turn, the first card on the path is put in "The Decay," a small pile at the end. If the pile has four cards, those are discarded and a new pile is started. Players have the option of taking the cards in the decay rather than one on the path. It seems like players should always take the decay, but the player can't exceed their hand limit and there might be poisonous mushrooms with big penalties in the decay.

Each player's initial hand limit is eight cards, which can be expanded if they play or acquire basket cards. The only way to get cards out of their hands is to cook some mushrooms, sell some for walking sticks, or get hit with the poisonous mushroom and have to discard.

We've played this several times and really enjoy it. The strategy isn't immediately obvious. The more valuable mushrooms are more rare, which means a player could wait a long while to acquire and play them. Cooking with cider (which requires at least five matching mushrooms) or butter (which requires at least three, which is the minimum anyway) can increase the points for the less valuable but more available mushrooms. The game ends when the cards run out, so cooking the last mushrooms in your hand may take more moves than are available. I've been caught by that a few times. The game has good variety and matches its theme well. It is only for two players and is easily under an hour.

Zombie Apocalypse Appropriateness: Morels is a fairly small two-player game, meaning it is easy to carry and only requires one other survivor to play. Solitaire play is not possible with the hidden hands. As far as giving practical skills, while it does not teach which mushrooms are poisonous, it does show several edible ones (though what a lawyer's wig really looks like is not obvious) so it provides some foraging guidance for when you are actually walking through the woods, avoiding zombies and looking for sustenance. At least, I assume the game is accurate! I guess dying from eating a poison mushroom wouldn't be as bad as being eaten by zombies.

The game is not available at Amazon but you can order it here.

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