As interest in board games continues to rise, so too does the interest in exploring new ways of playing those games. One such way is through digital ‘ports’ of those games – translating them PCs, consoles, phones, and tablets.
While digital versions may not exactly replace the feeling of a physical board game, many add subtle tweaks that such as for solo play, campaign modes, online competition, or simply as a more portable way to enjoy the game. This is new territory to explore. Welcome, to the Pixel Provinces.
Fans of Morels didn’t need to search hard to find the fun in the strategy card game, but what will we find in its recent digital adaptation?
The mushroom-centered strategy card game Morels was designed by Brent Povis, and despite it being a perennially overlooked game, its slow-burn reputation has nevertheless earned multiple it awards since its debut in 2012. In Morels, you and one other player are competing to collect sets of different mushrooms from a center row with the goal of deliciously cooking up large batches of them in your frying pans to gain the most points. Along with mushrooms like the Hen of the Woods and Chanterelles, Moon cards can also be collected to gain higher value mushrooms, while Butter and Cider cards can be used to increase the point value of your card sets. Balancing when to take cards from the center row and when to cook mushrooms is tricky, however, as you must decide which cards to use for cooking and which to sell for foraging sticks, allowing you to take mushroom cards from farther up in the center row. Between each turn, mushrooms in the center row decay, acting as the game’s timer as you both rush to cook up as many mushrooms as you can. Once the Day Deck runs out, you both tally up your points to see who’s foraging trip was the most successful.
The tutorial is the first option offered to you after beginning your first game, and while it is successful in covering the basics, it also leaves players feeling as though it was a bit rushed – especially if this is your first exposure to Morels. Fortunately, you are given the option of playing completely through the tutorial game, giving you a better firsthand learning experience all the way through to the end. If you’re already familiar with Morels, however, you can skip the initial walkthrough. The user interface in the app is clean and highly intuitive, and the board layout is identical to the physical game. For those who may seek clarity at any later point, this too is readily provided; the tutorial may be revisited through the Local Game tab, and a full digital rulebook of the game is included in the Options section.
Morels comes equipped with both Local and Online play options, each offering different speeds and difficulty levels. Local games give you the choice between playing against an AI player or a friend in pass and play mode. The AI comes in easy, medium, and hard difficulty levels, and while the easy and medium AI are fairly similar in their performance and final scoring abilities, the hard AI aptly proves to be much more of a challenge. Local games also come with six gameplay variants that alter the distribution of cards within the decks, the effects of which introduce a host of strategic challenges that help shake up the normal flow of the game and increases the app’s overall replayability.
Online games may be played against friends by sending invitations with your ‘Friend ID’ or against random players waiting to be matched. Online play is free and unrestricted, letting you play as often as you wish, but the online community of the game is rather sparsely populated. Although this may change the longer the game is in circulation, don’t be surprised at present if you find it difficult to match with more than one or two other players at a time.
Once matched with another player, gameplay is turn-based and asynchronous, with players given up to 24 hours to take their turns. On the one hand, this keeps gameplay accessible to those who are time-limited and ties into Morel’s more casual nature overall. On the other, this can pose a problem for those seeking quick online playthroughs. On average, expect to wait at least an hour between each turn against random opponents. (Playing multiple online games simultaneously can make the wait between turns can seem a little less tiresome, however.)
The mechanics of the physical version of Morels are wonderfully adapted in this digital port, and the seamless translation shines through in its intuitiveness and simplicity. The digital game’s drag and drop card system compliments the physical game’s card-based mechanics, while its layout design leaves the screen feeling open and easy to maneuver. The graphics are simple yet effective at conveying the forest-centered spirit of Morels, and the calming background music provides a pleasant natural ambiance while playing.
One enticing addition to the game’s focus on foraging and collecting is the inclusion of an achievement system. Morels includes a trophy system through which you can earn XP and collect achievements by completing various in-game challenges. Attempting to collect achievements is entirely optional, though having those extra goals in the back of your mind while playing adds an extra level of depth to an already engaging strategy game.
It’s almost hard to talk at length about Morels because of how faithful of a port this game is to the digital realm. Fans already familiar with Morels will find this digital adaptation warmly reminiscent of the physical game, while new players will discover a new, engaging experience that is beautiful in its simplicity. Its tutorial is a little on the abrupt side for newcomers, but the game’s overall intuitive interface and easy-to-grasp mechanics make learning how to play a breeze all the same. Matching up and playing against online players may be less than desirable at present due to its somewhat quiet community, but a mixture of concurrent online and local games easily keeps you playing as you wait between turns. With plenty of replayability from game variants and beautifully ported mechanics from the physical game, the digital adaptation of Morels promises a tasty experience highly reminiscent of the one provided by the much-loved physical game whose appeal won’t wither away anytime soon.
Morels is available on these platforms:
Sara Perry is a contributing writer and aspiring game designer with a love for games both physical and digital. Also cats. She can be best reached via Twitter.
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