So right off the bat I have to say my knowledge of drug culture falls somewhere between Cheech and Chong movies to Miley Cyrus’ love for Molly (don’t ask how I know this)? In other words, I know absolutely jack shit about drugs. I always envision when a group of people pass a doobie around, there’s much koombayah-ing, in a relaxed atmosphere filled with wafts of patchouli oil, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon playing in the background and a large bowl of snacks. So with this in mind I set about to play my first game of Blast City’s Mushroom Eaters. Foolish boy, you should have known with previous titles like After Pablo (drug smuggling cartel boss) or San Quentin Kings (prison gang boss), that BCG would take you to the dark heart of the matter at hand.
Mushroom Eaters is centered around a shaman who looking to find a worthy successor among you, the players. She gathers the group of you together, doles out cups of psychedelic mushroom-laced tea and leads you all through a journey to self-discovery and magnificent insights to the universe. I personally don’t buy that by altering your brain chemistry you will gain better insight to understanding yourself and the Universe, more so than say images from the Hubble telescope but I play boardgames as a hobby, so who am I to judge?
This is essentially a points-gathering game. Everything you will do, involves collecting or losing point markers, which at the end of the game will determine who will be the next shaman. (Markers are chits that range in value from .5 to 3 victory points (or vps) depending on the experience it was obtained from.)
There are a couple of unique elements in this game, the first being that all players share a common pawn and will take turns in playing movement cards to move the pawn along a predetermined track. Generally, when a space is landed on, all players will experience the benefit or penalty of that space. Players have a handful of movement cards, with different values, from which they will choose one to play and discard in order to move the pawn. If a zero value card is played the current space will be experienced again. Once a player has no more cards in hand, she will take all cards from her discard pile to create a freshe hand of cards. The cards also have a dual purpose in that there are special abilities that can be triggered on certain spaces that will allow you to gain more points, pick up a card from your discard or add cubes to the side mini game boards (of which there are two).
The other element that sets this game apart from other games with similar mechanics involves the Nervous System track. This track is a gauge that tracks each person’s ability to handle “Intense Moments” spaces. If a player has their marker high enough on the track when it’s tested they will gain a seemingly measly .5 vp marker but more importantly they won’t lose any vp markers. If a player fails the test, they must give up one or in some cases two vp markers regardless of the value. Upon completion of that test all players will lose one step on their tracks as a result of the effort of going through a stressful experience. Needless to say this will eventually become a battle of attrition as some players will purposely subjugate the entire group to this experience in the hope of others having to give up their valuable vp markers, which can be brutal. How well you manage this track can be vital to how well you do in the game. Adjacent to the Nervous System track is the Moving Ahead track. This allows you to spend the points here to increase movement on your movement card.
There will be opportunities for players to break away from the group and go on their own mini-board or “Personal Path” which has it’s own benefits and/or detriments. There are also various spots on the board that will allow you to engage with other players by giving them vp markers and allowing them to increase a level on the Nervous System Track or the opposite in both cases. Although there is a set path in the game there are spaces throughout the game that require random markers to be placed on them. It keeps the game from becoming totally deterministic.
The overall art and design of the game carries BCG’s tradition of illustrations that start off fairly cohesive and as the trip progresses becomes more and more surreal. The production quality of each new title released from BCG increases significantly from the last but I still love the hand crafted feeling of each game of theirs I play.
I really dig this game and I feel positively spent after each session. There is no other game like this in the board gaming market either in terms of bold subject matter or in terms of game play. Fantastic work again Nate! This is a well-designed game, my only minor critique would be I wish that two of the special decks in the game (the Share and the Environment decks) had more cards. We found in our games we could easily go through each of the ten card decks, at least two or three times per game, which got a little repetitive after a while. The game is currently being reprinted and I would highly recommend jumping on board a grabbing a copy when they are available.
If this is even close to what a drug trip would be like, then I think that I’ll be holding onto my teetotaler status for some time to come.