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Subject: MeepleTown Reviews: Morels rss

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Derek Thompson
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It’s a quest of every married gamer to find games that play well with the spouse.German publisher KOSMOS has an entire line of two-player games that primarily fit this category. Designer Brent Povis liked those games so much that he’s gone and self-published his own design of this style, Morels, under the company name Two Lanterns Games. Morels is a two-player card game based around set collection, with the theme being that two players are walking in the woods, foraging for mushrooms. It’s worth noting at this point that this game has a lot of similarities to the game Jaipur by GameWorks, so I will be comparing the two frequently in this review. (It bears some similarity to GameWorks’ Sobek as well, but Jaipur is a more well-known and well-loved game). Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:


Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine the setting described in the game?
Fun - Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?



Components: Morels comes in the classic KOSMOS size box, which you’re most likely to recognize from Lost Cities. Inside you’ll just find the rules, two reminder cards, some tokens and cards. If you were fortunate enough to get one of the early editions like me, in lieu of cardboard tokens you’ll get little hand-crafted wooden foraging sticks and frying pans. Brent told me at GenCon that he carved over 12,000 sticks, which is just insane (no offense, Brent!). The artwork is very good, with lots of detail and clear functionality. The cardstock was good and really there aren’t any complaints to make about the components. $25 MSRP is priced right, although until the game gets out to distributors and deep discounters, you’re paying the full price and shipping.



Accessibility: The game is pretty straightforward. There is a tableau of cards laid out, and you may take one of the first few. After you pick one (or even if you don’t and do something else on your turn), cards “decay” and new ones are laid out. Alternatively, you can spend your turn cooking mushrooms for points, or you can also sell them for sticks, which lets you choose cards farther down the row. There are also a bunch of extra little things, and I’m reminded of the interview I did with Reiner Knizia where he talks about using extra rules to create theme. Morels does a lot of that, taking a core system and adding little rules that make thematic sense but may take a bit of extra work to remember. However, I feel like the game gets the balance right, creating a pretty thematic experience for a simple card game without any confusing rules.

One thing about this game that’s quite different from Jaipur is that you have to have at least two of a kind to do anything at all with your mushrooms, and at least three and a pan to actually score points. That, combined with the many different types of mushrooms and other cards that can clog your hand (Apple Cider, Butter, Pans) means that the hand management here can be really punishing. There’s no equivalent to Jaipur’s “exchange” action and so you’re often just stuck with clutter if you let it accumulate in your hand. It’s even possible (through particularly bad play) to end up having to pass for several turns with no play – and even though it’s rare, that seems like an awful big no-no for a spouse game. It also seems indicative that the system could have been somehow more elegant. That all being said, the game is really pretty easy to learn and you should be able to get going in only a few minutes.



Depth: Morels has a lot of interesting decisions to make, and it certainly has a wider decision tree than similar games. You’ve always got at least eight cards laid out in front of you, and depending on how many foraging sticks you have, you may have a lot of cards available to you. Although the game has a fairly large deck that’s randomly shuffled, with that much advance information, skill should play a big role in the game.

However, what I don’t like about the game is that a lot of it seems like the deck is fighting against you instead of the other player. The “decaying” of a card each turn, and the end-game being based around the evaporation of the deck, both can feel frustrating, even though you can sometimes use these things against your opponent. It seems like it’s also rare to go for the same mushrooms, because you are simply stuck with the mushrooms that you “hate draft”, wearing down your maximum hand size. There’s also little incentive to “hate draft” because the decay mechanic means it won’t be very long before more reappear anyway. The simple difference that in Jaipur, the rewards are best when you are the first to play one of the fewer types of sets, makes for stronger interaction.

Then again, it’s more in with the theme to play a bit more against the deck than the other person (are you really going to ninja that mushroom from the only other person within earshot?), and it’s not necessarily a better or worse style of play. Some prefer it, but for me personally, I think that I prefer Jaipur when we are talking about the distilled game mechanics in and of themselves. However, Morels definitely has a strong skill element, and the long row of cards allows for a lot of advance planning.



Theme: This game is meant to feel like a walk in the woods, and the game does a lot right to get that accomplished. The decay mechanic makes a lot of sense within the setting, and even though sliding the cards down every turn is kind of a pain, it really does help the theme shine through. The card artwork also does quite a bit, and there are some amazing little touches on the Night version of the mushrooms. The company’s website even has a long post about the card artwork. Not only does this game have a great, unique theme, it is really well-realized within the game. This is one of the most thematic games I’ve played of this type, and that’s the main reason I would suggest someone pick up Morels.



Fun: Morels is a gorgeous game with a really cool theme that plays quickly. It has a lot going for it. Probably the worst thing it has against it is that it is too similar to Jaipur which is a highly regarded, beautiful, well-selling game. Some people aren’t going to see the point in owning both. Jaipur is more interactive and tense, while Morels has a unique, strongly intertwined theme. For me, personally, I think that Jaipur is a game that I enjoy more, but I wouldn’t begrudge someone who felt differently and I’d never turn down a game of Morels.



Morels is a fast-playing, fun, thematic game that is good for couples. The only real strike against it is its similarity to Jaipur - and if that’s not a concern for you, then give this game a look.


Originally posted on http://meepletown.com
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Brad McKenzie
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Re: Review: Morels
I'm hoping it's similarity to Jaipur will be a strength and not a weakness, as my wife loves that game... Thanks for the review!
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David Oldster
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Re: Review: Morels
Nice review. I think the rules state passing your turn is not allowed, although I could see where your hand could be in a state where that is your only option. Something for the FAQ...
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Elizabeth Freiheit
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Re: Review: Morels
Nice review, from an interesting point of view. I had a few comments.

aldaryn wrote:
even though sliding the cards down every turn is kind of a pain


We also didn't like this, so we switched to a circular layout where you have a walking stick indicating where the hikers are and which direction we are going. No more sliding. This method is described in detail in the forums. Some have even pointed out some really nice hiker models that can be used in this layout.

alderyn wrote:
adding little rules that make thematic sense but may take a bit of extra work to remember


With the player aids this game provides, we find Morels to be one of the few games we have where we DON'T need to confer with the rules each time we play, even if we only play once every two weeks.

bradandmary wrote:
I think the rules state passing your turn is not allowed


According to the rules it is allowed. In addition, according to the rules, you fully deserve any ridicule you receive if you really played so badly that you are in that situation. I've played many times, and I never saw this happen to anybody. The worst its ever been, I had to use my turn to play a pan.

alderyn wrote:
It’s even possible (through particularly bad play) to end up having to pass for several turns with no play – and even though it’s rare, that seems like an awful big no-no for a spouse game


If you are suggesting that someone's spouse would so badly as to repeatedly get into this situation, and that this would be a reason for it NOT to be a good spouse game in general, I think that is more of a spouse issue, not a game issue. I feel the typical spouse games, are 2-player games, interactive but not heavily confrontational that play in about 30 minutes. I absolutely do not mind that they require both players to be a little bit intelligent. The hand limit is part of why this is a good strategic game, forcing interesting decisions, in my opinion.
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Derek Thompson
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Re: Review: Morels
SookySunky wrote:
Nice review, from an interesting point of view. I had a few comments.

aldaryn wrote:
even though sliding the cards down every turn is kind of a pain


We also didn't like this, so we switched to a circular layout where you have a walking stick indicating where the hikers are and which direction we are going. No more sliding. This method is described in detail in the forums. Some have even pointed out some really nice hiker models that can be used in this layout.


Sure, there is some workaround, but decaying cards and introducing new ones is still a task you're stuck with every turn, one way or another.

SookySunky wrote:
aldaryn wrote:
adding little rules that make thematic sense but may take a bit of extra work to remember


With the player aids this game provides, we find Morels to be one of the few games we have where we DON'T need to confer with the rules each time we play, even if we only play once every two weeks.


alderyn wrote:
It’s even possible (through particularly bad play) to end up having to pass for several turns with no play – and even though it’s rare, that seems like an awful big no-no for a spouse game


If you are suggesting that someone's spouse would so badly as to repeatedly get into this situation, and that this would be a reason for it NOT to be a good spouse game in general, I think that is more of a spouse issue, not a game issue. I feel the typical spouse games, are 2-player games, interactive but not heavily confrontational that play in about 30 minutes. I absolutely do not mind that they require both players to be a little bit intelligent. The hand limit is part of why this is a good strategic game, forcing interesting decisions, in my opinion.


In the second case here, I'm not saying you get repeatedly into this situation, I'm saying that there are more and more games available every day, and a frustrating first experience like this (which happened in one of my teaching games) can make the game seem like a bummer and keep people from wanting to play again. I love the hand limit - and in fact that is one of the many similarities with Jaipur, where the hand limit is used to induce tension. The hand limit though, isn't what induces "forced passes", but the limitations on turn options (requiring 2-3 cards). In both this and the previous comment, the real problem is a lack of freedom - the inability to play just one card. You can end up with a really clogged hand even during what seems like reasonable play, and the baskets seem like a patchwork solution to an inelegant system. Jaipur at most forces you to sell two of the good cards, whereas Morels requires two or really three for anything lucrative. And Jaipur's rounds end far before it's possible for a "completely dead" card (like, the only silver left) to really affect the game, unlike Morels.


Edit: Don't get me wrong, I think that when a game cleverly forces players into rough positions or few options, room for strategy increases. If everyone had full freedom, one optimal strategy would dominate. But it seems like the high stipulations on card play in Morels go too far the other way.
 
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