Calvin’s Commentaries: Who would have expected collecting ‘shrooms to be so much fun

Once in a while in the role of reviewers, we are afforded what is essentially a sneak peek at a new game, which is rather cool.

That was the case when a prototype version of Mycology arrived for a look.

To start with for a game that might see a few tweaks before mass production, this was a highly polished prototype.

The box top is eye-catching, and Adam was quick to point out the mushroom art would be enough to have him grab the game off a store shelf if the price point was around $40. Of course, he has a bit of an interest in mushrooms, which I understand as my granddad and father would go collecting ‘shrooms for the frying pan after a summer rain.

Inside the box were high-quality player boards, lots of wooden ‘meeples; and a rule set on only four pages.

You have to love rules that are easily shared on four pages, but they might want to add a page or two with a sample round-to-speed gameplay pick-up.
In the end, though the game was quick to hit the table, and a solid play, understanding that changes are likely, including having the mushroom deck increase to 126 mushroom cards; and player actions per turn likely increasing to three.

More cards are always good, although ‘magic mushrooms’ are so limited in the deck they rarely pop, so that is one card type that should be punched up a bit.
Three actions sound great, but as it is it’s hard to force a win on one turn with two actions. Three will change that and maybe not for the good.
It should be noted having art and the actual ‘unpronounceable’ names of different mushrooms on the cards is aesthetically great although I wish there was some indication of where the various mushrooms grow in the world.

It’s also cool the game is Canadian-created.

Designer James Scott was born and raised in southern Ontario in a town called Simcoe, near Lake Erie. He went on to get an undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto in Phytopathology (1990), and later a PhD in Mycology (2001), the latter reflected in the new game.

“Since 2002 I’ve been a professor at the University of Toronto (in the School of Public Health). Most of my mycological work has dealt with microfungi — including medically important ones and environmental ones — but I have also done some research work with poison mushrooms,” he explained via email. “I’ve also been a mycology consultant (mushroom poisoning) to the Ontario Poison Centre for 20 years.”

Scott is also a casual gamer.

“I’ve always liked board games but I am by no means a hard-core board gamer,” he said. “Like many people my age, Monopoly was my entry point into tabletop games and then I rapidly progressed to Dungeons and Dragons! My current go-to games are Azul, Sushi Go!, Settler of Catan, etc.”

Interestingly a pandemic and another recent game fired Scott’s interest in creating Mycology.

“Just before the pandemic I bought Elizabeth Hargrave’s luxurious game, Wingspan, and at the time I thought that somebody should do this type of game with fungi that integrates biology and doesn’t shy away from science — and Latin names,” he said. “During the very early days of COVID just before the lockdown, I decided to take a shot at it and developed an initial version of Mycology. That was February 2020. Now here we are 11 versions later with a much more streamlined game.”

So what was Scott trying to achieve with the game?

“My main objective with the game was to create something fun that could be played by people with little or no experience with mushrooms so that they could come away having learned something about their biology and perhaps a few of their names,” he said. “An earlier version of the game contained a pronunciation guide, and I may try to add it back in along with a small booklet on mushroom ecology — perhaps as a Kickstarter stretch goal.”

Scott said of course the game should appeal to mushroom hunters.

“I designed the game mainly for the amateur mushroom enthusiast audience and because of this, I deliberately wanted to keep a lightweight game mechanic,” he said.

The art mentioned earlier was by design, said Scott, who suggested he decided to adapt classical illustrations for the mushrooms instead of new artwork for a couple of reasons.

*It allowed me to focus my art and design budget on great thematic art;
*Many classical illustrations (particularly Sowerby’s) are superb, and cannot be much improved upon;
*He wanted the game to have a bit of a Victorian feel by linking it to actual, historical scientific literature (we tried to visually reference that by illustrating the mushrooms as though on old sheets of paper viewed in perspective);
*And lastly, he wanted to focus the game on mushroom biology rather than just showcasing pretty pictures of mushrooms (there are already lots of mushroom books with pretty pictures!).

Now basically complete what does Scott see as the best element of the game?

“Having play-tested it with many non-scientific friends — many with no knowledge or interest in mushrooms — I’m happy that they have mostly come away with some knowledge of mushrooms,” offered Scott. “I’m a big fan of creating opportunities for incidental learning. For people who are already enthusiastic about mushrooms, I’m confident they will be able to use the game as a way to dig deeper, learn names and habitats, and hone their foray skills.

“For the board game community, I would hope that the thematic scientific focus might have some interest and that it may make up for the light game mechanic. I’ve also tried to construct some room for playing strategy that might be of greater interest to more adept board game people.”

In the process, Scott said he hopes the game ‘feels adult’.

“I think it brings a more grown-up feel to the tiny, but growing, genre of mushroom games,” he said. “I also think it is very playable for people with no pre-existing knowledge of mushrooms while still offering lots to those who are moderate or advanced amateur enthusiasts.”

And yet the rules are all pretty straightforward.

“Possibly the most interesting piece here is the poison mushroom rule. In early versions of the game, the poison mushrooms scored negative points and needed to be played in other players’ baskets — creating a hot-potato scenario,” said Scott. “After much consideration, we decided this was a bit too punitive — though it made for some very fun early games — and we compromised by making the poison species double-edged by being low cost but potentially high value. This change worked because the whole game premise is that you are a mycologist on a collecting foray rather than a mushroom lover collecting for the plate.”

A game that is accessible and with just enough strategy to be table-worthy when looking for a lighter game in the collection.

You can follow the game on Facebook (Mycology: The Board Game), and expect it on Kickstarter soon.

About Author