Morels began with two passions, a gift, and a coming of age. The passions are games and mushrooms...playing them before and after every meal and eating them with every meal. The gift was Antonio Carluccio's The Complete Mushroom from our friend Lauren Nelson on the occasion of my coming of age. Kaleen fittingly planned a mushroom tasting party for my 33rd birthday, knowing of my affinity for all things Tolkien and that Hobbits, who notoriously love mushrooms, come of age at 33. That was the first time I had ever tasted the hallowed (and hollowed) morel. It was a night to remember.
Soon thereafter, I began developing a game mechanic that would simulate the feel of a walk in the woods. It took shape on paper, the mushrooms filled in the cards, and then the best thing a game designer can hope for happened. Theme fueled further mechanics and, in turn, those mechanics fueled further theme. There was synergy. The game built itself.
Playtesting revealed four things:
1. Morels was fun. Unanimously fun, even among scores of blind third party tests. This was a tremendous relief.
2. Between me, Kaleen, and our good friend Ryan Keedy, new strategic nuances were still cropping up at the 10th, 20th, 30th plays. The replayability hurdle, arguably the biggest, was cleared.
3. Many styles of play could produce victory. Playtesting revealed new approaches and possibilities.
4. My phrasing of the rules needed serious work.
After working out #4 and recruiting new playtesters to give the reworded rules a whirl, it was time to take the plunge. I came across the Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators, found the absolutely ideal illustrator for Morels based on his portfolio, emailed him, and crossed my fingers that a) he would be available, b) he would be interested in the project, c) he would be affordable, and d) he would be a nice guy. Vince Dorse came through on all counts and we had lift off.
There were 25 illustrations to tackle. Each one began with a dossier from me explaining one or more ideas for the card as well as the anatomy of the mushroom, the host trees that should grow nearby, and a few elements that could change between the day and night card. A dossier looked like this (for a complete collection of dossiers and images, see the "Morels: The Cards" section):
Feel: French provencal
Idea for Setting: Three patches of 2-4 chanterelles (one patch in the foreground, two smaller in the background) growing among a continuous sheet of moss and small stones behind or beside a stone-masoned French country house. There are trees with boughs overhead, but whether individual or clustered, the trees are well spaced enough to see that there are broken skies with shafts of light passing through the clouds. We can figure that it has recently rained because the clouds are mixed grey and white, the moss is glistening richly verdant, there are droplets on the chanterelles, and drops from the boughs and the house.
Major Night change(s): During the day, the house window is open. There are a couple of apricots and a pie cooling on the sill (Chanterelles have a fragrant bouquet of apricots when you crack them open…this is one of the identification techniques. The apricot also comes through in the flavor…they are used as a sweet mushroom when cooking.) The window is being hit by sunlight. At night, the window is closed; the apricots and pie are gone. Now on the sill are chanterelles drying, illuminated by the yellowy glow from inside the house. The mossy ground is dark, but we can see that the chanterelles in the foreground have been picked, just the ½” stubs of stalks remaining above the moss. The smaller patches in the background remain.
What season for the illustration? Summer.
Where do Chanterelles grow? Mossy areas in mixed woods, often in patches of 3-4. It would be good to avoid any leaf litter in this illustration as we’re going to use leaf litter as a key element for the morels.
Then Vince would do his thing and shoot me back something like this (pan and stick values are just placeholders in the sketches):
Which would then become this:
And finally this:
Which I can only describe as magic.
We finished the game late January and then eagerly awaited "sample day" from overseas. That day arrived on March 2nd, 2012, and it was glorious.
To be continued...