Genre: Set Collection/Hand Management
Player Count: 2
Play Count as of Review: 10
- Morels is a two-player only card game based around my partners favorite gaming mechanic: “pick up the cards you do want and get rid of the cards you don’t want”. Players are competing to create sets of mushrooms (cards) that they can cook (with a specific card) for points throughout the game. The game ends when the entire deck has been played through. Once players get the grove of the gameplay, games should clock in under thirty minutes and we routinely play games in the fifteen to twenty minute length.
- Morels is incredibly lightweight in its rules comprehension and actions available to a player but under the whimsical art and allure of fungi comes a game with calculating decisions that need to be made. Every turn matters in Morels and players will immediately conclude their first game with the thought of “I can do that better if we play again.” And they may or may not! That’s the beauty of Morels. The randomness of the card draws and like heavier games that get better with repeated plays where players know what to expect, Morels rewards and punishes those players that do what they can to prepare for the following rounds. Once I drew two Morels in my opening hand only to later find out that the third was the last card in the deck, all but making my decision to hold them for the entire game a gamble that ruined every other chance I had at making the game competitive. Was I angry? No! I wanted to play again immediately.
- The bread and butter of Morels is the hand limit of eight cards. There are ways to expand a players hand limit (by playing basket cards) but players will be burdened with balancing their hand limit based upon this eight card rule. In addition to mushrooms, there are scoring bonuses (butter and cider), pans (needed to cook your sets of mushrooms) and night cards, (which are more valuable versions of the normal mushrooms) which can be a difficult line to manage as players agonize over what they have and have not seen come through the central market yet. Stocking up on a certain mushroom to score the most points sounds like a solid plan…but what happens if they don’t come out to the central market in a timely fashion? What if a pan isn’t available? Do you spend a turn cooking these mushrooms to get them out of your hand knowing that the mushroom you want from the market will end up in the decay or discard pile?
- The decay is the last refuge for players to grab that card they need before it is gone forever.. Each turn, at least one mushroom card from the market will move from the market to the decay pile. The decay pile is limited to four cards before being discarded permanently and more importantly, if a player wants a card from the decay, they must take them all. There is no discarding so if you have six cards in your hand and there are three cards in the decay, you cannot take from the decay as doing so would exceed your hand limit. It’s a wonderful conundrum that players will face each and every time they play Morels. It may sound simple to just grab some baskets to increase your hand limit and then raid the decay when you can, but you still have to play those cards to score them and turns are a valuable commodity that there are simply not enough of.
- Morels isn’t all just grabbing mushrooms and cooking them with cider in pans. There are also Destroying Angel mushrooms that will make players discard a portion of their hand and possibly limit their hand size for several turns. There is nothing worse in Morels than the card(s) you absolutely need sliding into the decay to only have the Destroying Angel slot in right on top of it. There is an agonizing decision where players may hemorrhage the future (and possibly the game) to finish the set they have spent so much time desperately collecting.
- Morels gives players the risk/reward option of possibly adding additional points to their foraged mushroom through the task of adding butter or cider to certain sets of mushrooms but this comes with a high risk: without attaching these cards to the correctly numbered sets, they’re absolutely worthless in your hand and there is no way to get rid of them. Grab a cider and plan to attach it to a set of five mushrooms only to see your opponent grab the items you need the turn before you from the decay pile? You are doomed to have that cider occupy an ever so valuable spot in your hand of eight cards.
- Is Morels perfect? No but my issues are less in the mechanics and more in the upkeep. There is a constant need to move cards along the market. Whether you are taking a card from the forest or not, the front-most card of the market will be moving to the decay pile. On every single turn, you will have to touch and move every single card in the market. There is a circular layout that helps slightly mitigate this bookkeeping but my copy of the game came with no way to track this new layout.
- While on the subject of cards, I also have a bone to pick with the decay pile. The limit of four and constant cycling of the pile adds more fiddlyness to the book keeping of the game. My partner and I breeze through turns of this game minus the aspect of resetting the market and resetting the decay pile. It feels like a streamlined game slows to a momentary halt for these two actions.
- Besides the constant handling of cards, there is also the mental math that is imposed by the hand limits, basket cards and destroying angel fungi. The changing hand limits is a large part of the strategy that Morels presents to its players but having to do the mental calculations constantly seems out of place with how smoothly the rest of the game processes (even the constant card shuffling of the market). The other issue with this is that it is hard to see where your opponent sits in regards to the hand limit. Not that you think your opponent is cheating, but it is a nuanced rule that may require some reminding and it can be a lot to ask of one player to be on top of everything.
- While I have been critical of Morels, make no mistake that this is one of the best strictly two-player games I have ever had the pleasure of playing. Morels succeeds where many games fail by providing an easy to grasp game with deep and meaningful actions. This won’t be for everyone. Some people will see the cute fungi cards with fairies prancing about and be utterly heartbroken when they learn that making a blunder on one turn can ruin the entire game for them but that is why I hold Morels so dear to my heart. I get the depth and strategy of a much heavier and longer game in a package that can be played in around twenty minutes anywhere that has room for a deck of cards.