We tested a new mushroom board game with pro fungus farmers

Who better to help us review Mycelia, the new mushroom-themed deck building game from Ravensburger, than organic mushroom farmers?

Mycelia review - a game card depicting an anthropomorphic tiered tooth fungus, resting on a bed of lionsmane mushrooms

Our Verdict

With beautiful mushroom artwork and bright, appealing components, Mycelia is a great family-friendly take on the deck building genre, which goes beyond the engine-building default for this type of game.

Reasons to buy
  • Simple to learn.
  • Plenty of variety and depth.
  • Gorgeous card art.
  • Innovates on deck building scoring systems.
Reasons to avoid
  • Player interaction can be superficial.
  • Art may be a bit twee for some players.

My partner works in the ecology sector, meaning she often meets and makes friends with people who grow stuff. And for some reason, those people are often also dead keen on board games. Which is why this Mycelia review, testing Ravensburger’s recently released mushroom-themed board game, was conducted with the owners and operators of an organic fungus farm.

Hayley Ward and Paul Thornton run Wyreside Mushrooms, growing and selling mushrooms to independent restaurants and cafes, workers co-operatives, and directly to the public. When my partner invited them to dinner they were all too happy to test a new board game, without any more sales pitch than “it’s kind of about mushrooms”. So they became honorary board game reviewers for an evening.

review - Black Pearl mushrooms beside a card depicting a King Oyster riding a snail

First player in Mycelia goes to whoever likes mushrooms the most. At most tables that would lead to a fight between me and my partner, but Ward and Thornton have been selling mushrooms since September 2022, and cultivating them far longer.

Thornton has grown mushrooms as a hobby for over twenty years: “He’s really passionate about growing all sorts of weird and wonderful things”, Ward says. Unsurprisingly, we all decided that he got the first turn.

Mycelia is a very approachable deck building game, in which players use mushroom hero cards to clear the dewdrops from their personal section of forest floor.

Mycelia review - mushroom hero cards

Each player starts with a deck of cards representing a few basic mushroom helpers, and over the course of a game they hire new mushroom folk and add them to their deck, playing through and reshuffling that growing deck several times over the course of the game.

Thornton and Ward had never played a deck builder game before: Mycelia proved to be a great introduction. The game wisely separates out a key deck builder concept – removing cards from your deck to improve the deck’s average quality – into a set of advanced cards, which we brought in for our second game.

The cards are charmingly illustrated, and both farmers were able to relate the Latin names given for the mushroom folk back to their common names. “That’s an ink cap”, Thornton said, pointing to one droopy looking mushroom fellow. “They drip spores that look like ink. It’s incredibly messy – they’re terrible for farming, they’re really just for hobbyists”.

Mycelia review - a game card depicting an anthropomorphic tiered tooth fungus, resting on a bed of lionsmane mushrooms

We spent some time poring through the deck, looking for fungus that Wyreside Mushrooms cultivates. The common names for many ‘shrooms are wonderful: “We are currently growing lionsmane, grey oysters and king oysters”, Ward explained. “We’ll introduce gold, phoenix and pink oyster when the weather warms up a bit.”

The cards in Mycelia only list the Latin names, which seems like a small shame when the common names are so rich, but we did find one of Ward’s favorites to eat: King oyster. “They have a really meaty texture”, she said.

What do you do with all your mushroom cards? Some generate leaves, the game’s currency, which allow you to buy new cards and place them on top of your deck. Others help to sweep the dew off your forest floor board, either removing it entirely or shunting it away via your swirly blue portal.

Mycelia review - a game board representing a forest floor covered with 'dewdrop' crystals

Each player’s board is a grid of different kinds of terrain: water, soil, grass, and leaf litter. Many mushrooms can shift dewdrops around the board, or remove them entirely, but only under certain conditions: removing a single dewdrop from each of the four tiles around a pile of leaf litter; or moving three dewdrops out of water spaces; or targeting a space that has exactly two dewdrops, moving one and removing the other.

A player’s turn will see them play their cards, perhaps take some leaves, perhaps buy a new mushroom card, and scootch a few drops of dew around the board, maybe removing some and placing them onto the magic treestump.

Mycelia review - the treestump, which collects blue dewdrops tokens

This particularly OTT bit of cardboard fills up with dewdrops, eventually overflowing and triggering a smattering of rain that places a few dewdrops back into random locations on everyone’s board.

That may sound twee, but everyone got into it: if you’re too old to enjoy turning a cardboard dial and triggering a cascade of shiny plastic crystals, you’re too old for life. The whole forest floor board is also a rather neat innovation in how deck building games handle scoring.

In the archetypical deck builder, Dominion, and many games inspired by it, you win the game by having the most victory points in your deck. Generally speaking, cards with victory points on them have no other abilities: the decision to start stuffing your deck with them is an important strategic concern.

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Mycelia has no victory points, just a winner: the person with the most leaves and a clear board at the end of the final round. Your dewdrop shifting cards can bring you closer to victory, but there’s a layer of strategy in actually deploying them, and there are synergies to be found between different cards. The most efficient cards can remove multiple dewdrops simultaneously, but require you to rearrange your board just so to make them work.

It’s concrete, which I think was helpful for players new to the genre: there was no question about who was closest to victory, just a lot of finger pointing at the player with the clearest board. “Are you sure you’ve not played this kind of game before?” I asked Thornton, as he scooped yet more dewdrops onto the tree stump. “No”, he replied, “But I do have about 9,000 hours in DoTA 2”.

Mycelia review - four green leaf tokens, the game's currency

As with other deck builders, Mycelia defaults to being a fairly solitary experience, as your turn is spent glowering at cards and your board.

Some cards grant a bonus for every other player when you play them, maybe a free leaf or moving a dewdrop, leading to a little hubbub of social chatter as you announce the bonus everyone else gets and they make appreciative noises – not quite player interaction, but enough to make the table feel convivial.

Mycelia review - mushroom hero cards

At lower player counts, Mycelia has the scope to be absolutely cut-throat. Players have two special abilities that they can activate once per turn for a cost in leaves (in the advanced game, certain mushrooms may grant you more powerful versions). It costs just a single leaf to wipe and replace the entire array of cards on sale.

Since every player’s forest floor is public information, it’s obvious if a card in the array will benefit them, and very easy to remove it from the game.

I sent Mycelia away with Thornton and Ward, in part so they could take some of the photos for this article; Thornton is keen to point out that the cards are posed with mushrooms that are close relatives, not perfect matches. But it also just felt right to send Mycelia to live on a mushroom farm. We’d all had a great time.

If you live in the north of the UK, and think Wyreside’s mushrooms look tasty, check out their website to learn how to get some.

Mycelia review - game components, a mixture of cards, leaf tokens, a board, and a cardboard treestump

Mycelia is marketed as a family board game, and it’s a slam dunk in that category – a deck building game with lovely components, a whimsical, upbeat theme, and a great on-ramp to the genre that offers a fun introductory game before introducing advanced cards and more depth.

If you’re an experienced deck building fan with every Dominion expansion, this is worth considering: the forest floor board is a concrete, strategically interesting alternative to victory points as the game’s win condition, which uses spatial reasoning and planning rather than economic juggling.