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M.U.L.E - Dastardly Review #012

Updated: Jul 2, 2018

A little wife and I were addicted to playing M.U.L.E. on the computer. I think we kept the C64 for a decade just to play M.U.L.E. So you can imagine the excitement and anticipation we had for the board game version. I secretly bought it so I could surprise my wife.

Originally released as a video game written for Atari...the game is takes place on the planet Irata. It only took me years to figure out that Irata is Atari backwards! The video game became something of a cult hit combining multi-player turns on a single keyboard with wacky graphics and a Monopoly like planet exploration and some cool sounds. M.U.L.E. was originally released in 1983 by Ozark Softscape and Electronic Arts and was designed by Dan Bunten.

Players take turns acquiring plots of land and then developing the plots to create food, energy, Smithore and Crystite. M.U.L.E.s (Multi Use Labor Element) do all of the enhancing and harvesting. Key game mechanics are the multi-player auctions of each resource each turn. So if you don’t produce enough of a resource you can always try to buy some on the open market but your competitors will use shortages to raise prices or they might just decide to hoard it all to themselves. A good introduction to economic gaming.

Also certain ‘random’ events happen like sunspot activity, pirates or a M.U.L.E. deciding to run off. The game uses these events to help level the game...good random events don’t happen to the leader and bad random events don’t happen to the player in last place. This is also a very cool mechanic.

My all time favorite computer game! Now onto the board game!

M.U.L.E. the board game faithfully reproduces the look and mechanics of the original video game. All of the components are beautifully done. So exciting to open the box.

With all of that said, the board game fell well short of our anticipation. Maybe our expectations were unrealistically high. Or maybe the board game needs some help. Mechanics such as auction accounting that were streamlined/fun on the computer are time consuming/clunky in the board game. And we found the rulebook a little hard to follow.

Maybe the board game tries too hard to exactly mimic the computer version...oh wait...instead of cute M.U.L.E.s we have wood disks with stickers on them! Of course if the board game didn’t mimic the much beloved computer hit then the cult following would get out the pitchforks and torches. Maybe a no-win scenario!

So...M.U.L.E. might just gather dust instead of Smithore!

The Good: Great art and a faithful conversion from computer to cardboard.

The Bad: The auction mechanic which is central to the game is just awkward in the board game.

The Dastardly: Skip the board game and go search garage sales for a C64 or Atari!!!


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