Pip: CHRIS! You know how I’ve always wanted to go mushrooming but was afraid I would kill us all by accident? Well, GOOD NEWS! With Fungi we can now do this from the safety of the living room table and no-one needs to die at all.
Chris: Nobody needs to die, but somebody needs to win. This is because mushrooming is an intensely passive-aggressive competitive exercise, obviously.
Pip: Only when someone decides to take all of the frying pans. Well, the joke’s on you this time because I brought my own frying pan which I found in the kitchen. There is literally nothing in the rules that says I can’t.
Chris: This is because everybody starts with a pan. One pan. On a card. You can sub in your (my, actually) real pan if you like, but that would be purely an act of roleplay. And this is no time for roleplay, Pip. This is time for passive-aggressive competitive mushroom maths.
Pip: If it’s not time for forest card game roleplay then why am I wearing my Red Riding Hood cape?
Chris: … Fungi is a two-player set collecting game, of a sort, with a woodland ramble theme. A stream of cards representing various tasty (or deadly) mushrooms emerge from the deck in a long line. The end furthest away from the deck represents the mushrooms within picking distance, while those deeper in represent mushrooms yet to come – a little bit like a gameshow conveyor belt.
In the first instance, you take it in turns to take mushrooms from the path into your hand. Mushrooms that aren’t picked enter the decay pile, which can also be picked up in its entirety. You can also snatch baskets to increase your hand size, and pans for cookin’.
Three or more mushrooms of the same type can be cooked in a pan, earning you a certain amount of points based on the quality of the mushroom. You can also enhance your dish with butter or cider and with sexy night mushrooms, which are essentially regular mushrooms but doubly so.
When the deck is done, your walk is over and the winner is whoever has cooked the most valuable stack of mushrooms. Just like real camping!
Pip: You forgot about the sticks! You can sell collections of two or more mushrooms to gain sticks.
I hadn’t realised how important sticks were when we first played but you use them to fish mushroom cards out from deeper in the forest. I imagine it’s like the camping equivalent of how when you’re a kid and your parents give you a TV they got second-hand but there’s no remote, just buttons on the side of the TV for each channel so you go to a charity shop and buy the longest walking stick they have in their display and then spend your evenings practicing how to hit tiny buttons with a long stick while hanging off your bed rather than get up and change the channel. Or something.
Anyway, you discovered the power of sticks and suddenly became an overpowered forest jerk, reaching ahead on the conveyor belt and scooping up all the pans as they became available. It was so infuriating. It did come back to bite you, though. I think you spent your more valuable mushrooms accruing sticks whereas I cooked mine so, despite your abundance of pans, you only had gross mushrooms to put in them. Mine were DELICIOUS. Max flavour points.
Chris: As in real mushrooming, there’s a definite tension between reaching for the tastiest morsels and trying to undermine your partner. Each card has a number on the top denoting how many of that card are in the deck. There’s a bit of maths-fu to be employed figuring out what your opponent might be trying to set up and stopping them from doing it. For example, the delicious Morchella esculenta is worth a whopping 6 flavour points, the highest in the game, but there are only three of them in the deck. In our last game, there were two of them in the starting line. Pip took one, and I took the other to prevent her from ever getting three, because I’m a prick. Later I got a second one, which I sold for FAT STACKS. Sticks. Fat sticks.
Pip: Did you really do that? I hadn’t seen the second one in that starting lineup so I thought we were just honourably striving for rare mushrooms. I feel so betrayed! And this time around I didn’t even have my collection of baskets to save me by letting me pick up so many mushrooms, hoping some of them would come in useful. I just languished in mid-tier flavour town for most of the game, choking on Armillaria mellea. You even stole the butter card from under my feet so I couldn’t artificially amp up the deliciousness of that fry-up.
Speaking of which, I get that the procession of mushrooms is meant to represent you walking deeper into the forest but what do you think the cider and the butter and the pans are about? Is that where previous explorers have abandoned their kit having poisoned themselves with fly agaric by accident? Or does this forest grow pan-trees? Or is there some creepy fairytale monster laying a trail of pans and baskets, luring us in so it can eat us after we’ve feasted on delicious forest fare and fallen asleep?
Chris: Fungi’s fiction crumbles pretty quickly under scrutiny. If we’re walking together – which we clearly are, given that we’re both represented by the same pair of shoes – then why are we rivals? Why do I feel so strongly compelled to ruin your day out? Who is buying mushrooms in return for sticks? The game makes much more sense if you imagine that we’re being shadowed by a reality TV crew and this is an episode of Britain’s Next Top Rambler, or something.
In any case, the theme definitely didn’t hold up for very long for me. Mushrooms may as well have been playing card suits. I know you were drawn to it by the promise of gentle outdoorsy adventure: did it deliver in that regard?
Pip: Hmm. Well, I am fairly sure I would be booted off Britain’s Next Top Rambler because my first question while reading through the rules was “Can I poison my opponent by sticking bad mushrooms into his frying pans while he’s looking away?” You can’t. The poison one only forces you to discard down to four cards and you can’t accidentally cook with them or anything.
On the woodland front, I’m in two minds. I did really appreciate the mushroom conceit to dress up the actual mechanics. The cards are lovely and I like contrasting the mathsiness of the game with the idea of having little cooking competitions.But the way the default card layout works, you end up feeling more like you’re on a supermarket checkout watching mushrooms sail past, or maybe on an episode of The Generation Game with that conveyor belt of electrical goods and cuddly toys drifting past as you try to focus on them and keep what’s gone past in your head.
Overall I did really like it – it’s so cute and simple. I guess I would have liked a bit more mushroom information on the cards themselves because I had time to idly read between turns so it would have been cool to learn a bit more, but I guess just having the Latin names means the game can be region-free as far as the decks go. There’s more info in the rules as well as the common names for each mushroom – did you see that? Those Morchella esculenta you were so smug about are morels, while my plague of Armillaria mellea was honey fungus. Apparently the latter are poisonous raw but edible when cooked.
There’s also Coprinus comatus (lawyer’s wig) which the booklet tells me has to be cooked very soon after it’s gathered otherwise it dissolves and becomes inedible. Reading through that stuff I started to imagine variations on the ruleset where you couldn’t have any uncooked honey fungus in your hand at the end of a game or you’d incur a poison penalty, or that you had to cook lawyer’s wig within a certain number of turns or sell it for sticks or something before it lost its value. Obviously that would massively complicate things, but I liked reading the little mushroom glossary and seeing how real mushrooming might translate to game rules.
How about you?
Chris: I think the thing I like best about Fungi is that it’s relatively quick and lightweight to set up once you both understand the rules and, while it’s consistently challenging, it’s never fraught – y’know? The travel theme suits it best in the sense that I can imagine whipping it out for a game on a train or during a break on a hike. Quick recreational mushroom-maths for two.
The downside is that it can feel a little random: you can make sound strategic choices based on the probability of the card draw delivering the mushroom you want, but that’s ultimately down to chance. And because it’s a two player game, whole matches can swing based on a single lucky break – like in our last game, which I didn’t deserve to win but clinched with a quintuple buttery Cantharellus cibarius combo worth a whopping 23 points. I’m not sure what you could have done to stop me from pulling that together.
A third (or fourth, or fifth) player would add an element of social strategy that’d help offset the chance element somewhat (The Bloody Inn, from what I’ve played of it, is a similar game that takes advantage of exactly this.) That would make Fungi a heavier proposition than perhaps it aspires to be, but I think it’d give it a bit more longevity too.
Pip: Maybe if I could sometimes take cards from your hand or something as well? Maybe if the poison mushroom effect was that I could take some of your cards rather than them just going into the discard pile? Although actually we just seemed to totally avoid those poison mushroom cards. They were more about preventing the other player from picking up the decay pile.
But – and I can’t stress this enough – my criterion for successful mushrooming expeditions is that no-one dies and this game definitely delivered on that.
Chris: My expectation of a day out in the countryside is that I will somehow win at being in the countryside. Fungi accurately reflects that mindset, but I only won 50% of our games so I can only like it half. Bye!
Pip: This is why nature gave you hayfever.