Morels is normally a head to head two player game where players travel through a forest and try to gather mushrooms and cook them as efficiently as possible. It features mechanics like set collection and hand management.
While looking for variants to games I owned, I stumbled across this variant that allows you to play Morels solo! This variant is the type that changes a few rules and manages to remove the need for another player yet retain some purpose and flavor of the original.
The first thing that changes is that the game now uses a circular setup instead of the linear one. This is critical for two reasons.
One, the variant instructions use references like counter-clockwise and those can be confusing to interpret when the cards are setup in a line. Secondly, the variant has rules for a mechanic where the player can actually choose to move where the draw deck to a different spot in the circle. This would be like moving the draw deck to a different spot in the line if using the regular setup(you can’t do this in the two player game). I will discuss later why I never did this.
The crux of the variant is you are trying to manage the outflow of cards from the game and which cards they are in order to obtain the cards you need and give yourself enough time to collect and score as much as possible. The variant achieves this by adding rules that make it important what card is ‘decayed'(removed from the game).
If the decayed card is a mushroom then you just decay it like normal.
If it is a basket then it will destroy other cards in the circle. If it is a pan it will cook the mushroom next to it(and possibly more if they are the same type).
If the card is one of those nasty destroying angels it will, well, destroy stuff.
This is the essence of the game. You, as the player, have to balance buying cards you want with buying cards that will cause less card removal from the game. Sometimes you have to decide between two not so great choices and pick the lesser evil. Sometimes you have to decide between scoring more points and having 4 cards removed from the game.
The victory conditions are if you cook 3 morels or the deck runs out then you ‘win’ and check your score. You lose if you cannot make a valid move on a turn. The most common way this can happen is if your hand is full but have no sets of mushrooms that can be played.
The rules give you some scoring criteria to tell you how you did. You will see the scores from my first 3 plays below.
How did I fare?
1st game: 15 stick start -> score of 73(!!!). 73 is considered “A perfect Morel victory”. Awesome right? I am master of all mushrooms, bow to me you fungi amateurs! Uhhh, no. Not so fast.
Turns out I messed up. So at the start of the game you pick how many walking sticks you want to start with. You have to spend these sticks or they penalize you at the end of the game. Mathematically I couldn’t have got the score I did only starting with only 15. Red flag #1!
So it turns out I cooked 3 Morels very early in the game and just kept on motoring along whistling Dixie as I went. You will remember that the game is supposed to END IMMEDIATELY if you do that. I probably would have scored like -100. Ok. It happens.
2nd game: 15 stick start -> score of 33. That seems more appropriate. Actually, the rules say that under 40 is a loss. Boo! This time I think I got most of the rules right but played poorly.
3rd game: 20 stick start-> score of 12(!!). Ouch. Tried the 20 stick start this time just to see how it plays. I had a ton of mushrooms left over at the end of the game which really hurt. I could have fed a small village with all those ‘shrooms! Also didn’t spend all my dang sticks. Looks like my scores are going the opposite of where they should be, time to stop. On to final thoughts.
I have played this variant more than 3 times but those are the only ones I recorded for this post. My scores have gotten better though, slightly, so have no fear. Overall this variant is excellent. If you don’t mind a few rule changes that are needed to keep the spirit of Morels intact, you will be a happy camper.
The strategy and depth of play that the creator is able to achieve is just outstanding. I have tried many variants that only last a play or two and are boring or need reworking after that. I can see myself playing this 20 times or more easy. It is that good.
I mentioned above that I never moved the deck when buying a card as the rules allow you to do. I did this mainly just because I didn’t want to. It is isn’t in the original game and I just didn’t like it. I understand it can be advantageous but it just seemed more pure without it. I like looking down the whole row(circle) of cards and planning out my moves in advance and moving the draw deck just creates too many scenarios to plan for. This is probably a personal taste so feel free to play as written.
One of the great things about board games is that there is no computer or nun with a ruler slapping your wrist every time you try to do something that isn’t allowed. It is pure gaming freedom folks, and I love it.
I would not recommend buying morels if you are ONLY planning on using this variant to play it. If you are like me, however, and you mostly play 2 player games with your spouse in addition to solo, then Morels is a solid choice. We have played it at coffee shops which works well as long as the table isn’t sticky–you have to slide the cards a bunch. Morels would also be a great game for a picnic if it wasn’t too windy.
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