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Updated: Sep 7, 2023

We tend to group mushrooms in with vegetables and think of them as plants but fungi actually form a separate and distinct taxonomic kingdom to plants: a mushroom is as different from an onion as it from a human; indeed, genetically fungi have more in common with animals than they do with plants. Still, the shorthand of lumping fungi in with flora persists, not least in board game design; as, for example, in the recent hit game Earth (Inside Up). Mycelia, however, celebrates fungi for their biological distinctiveness.

Split Stone Games' Mycelia is a 2-4 player tactical game built around the life cycle of mushrooms. The game is played on a modular board made up of coloured triangles and which players can add to as an Explore action: one of the two actions they take on their turn. Each player starts off with a permanent 'mother mushroom' piece on the board. This is the only piece that you can Move around the board. Mushrooms can Spore as an action, with spores being placed out on its own and adjacent triangles, tho' the direction that the spores are placed out will depend, as in real life, on wind direction. This is determined by a custom six-sided die.

The reason for sporing is that this gives you the opportunity to Fruit (ie: grow a new mushroom). This means playing a card from your hand (you initially have a starting hand of three cards but you can Discover more cards from a central display or draw blind). To Fruit, you need to have spores on triangles that match the specific requirement of the mushroom card you are activating. Spores are removed from the board to meet the cost. Once a fruited mushroom is placed out on the board, it too can spore, but it can only spore twice. After that, you'll want to Decay the mushroom (tuck it under your board) so that it shows its Decay power, which could be an immediate one-off or a continuous ability (for example, increasing the Move range of your 'mother mushroom'). Decayed mushroom cards will still of course count towards your end-game scoring.

Mushrooms create a mycelium network that connects them together and the replication of this is at the heart of Mycelia as a game. If you were just placing spore tokens out on adjacent triangles, this would just be a simple set collection game. In Mycelia, however, you only maintain domain over your spores while they are all connected. If a spore shares its triangle with a mushroom of another player, that player takes domain over it and can use the spore towards meeting the cost of one its Fruit actions. If the loss of domain means other spores are isolated, then they hare considered to be a separate network unless and until they are connected. It's this core element of Mycelia that turns it into a highly competitive area control game where players will be constantly jockeying for position.

You can expect any game of Mycelia to involve quite a lot of 'take that' actions, even if these aren't always deliberate: that wind direction die can, after all, spread your spores, and therefore your fruited mushrooms, in unplanned-for directions. If you neglect to take regular Explore actions, you risk making your Spore actions dangerously subject to chance: on an unfortunate die roll, a mushroom that spores while on the edge of the board risks having nowhere to spore - so wasting an action.

The basic rules of Jack Neville's game are straightforward, so they can be quickly assimilated. The subtleties of play tho' may only become apparent as competing players' mycelium networks come into 'conflict'. And Mycelia is a game that you're bound to find a learning experience: unless you're already a mycologist, you'll learn from as well as admire the beautiful illustrations of the dozens of different mushrooms featured on the cards.

Mycelia has already spored on Kickstarter. Click here to check out the campaign.

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