If you're ever going to go into a game blind, without any research or hints as to what you're in for, then don't choose M.U.L.E. like I did. Not that I chose it, I'm just following a list, but I did go into it blind. At the very least I should have read the article in the 1001 book, but no, I just had my list, fired up the NES version, sat down and said 'whaaaaat?' a lot.
So let's head to the internet for a crash course first...
|Damn right we're too smart. How else would we get 1 extra feat and 4 extra skill points at 1st level?|
You are a creature of your choosing dropped off onto the barren lands of Irata, and tasked with establishing not only a stable colony, but vast reserves of personal wealth after having manipulated the economy through smart buying and selling. At least that's the gist of things. You're a team, but, you know... look after number one.
After getting an initial plot of land, you'll have to think fairly quickly with regards to how you're going to use it. The land might be best served to mine for Smithore, a valuable commodity by the end of the game, or as a place to grow your own food so that you don't have to rely on other players to feed your workers for you.
But first, you'll have to fit out some Multiple Use Labor Elements, or (and you really should have figured this out by now) M.U.L.E.s, machines that allow you to turn a plot of land into something useful for you and the rest of the colony.
Serves me right for not reading anything first, but couldn't all that have been hinted at on screen at some point? When I went into M.U.L.E. blind I was bumbling around with a robodonkey for some time before deciding that food sounded like a good idea (both then and now - don't review on an empty stomach). I guess there were a few 'Farming for Dummies' books in that garage for it to read, because once it was lead back to the plot of land I needed it on, I had myself a farm.
Come the end of the turn, and the three computer controlled players made their choices, we all had the opportunity to buy and sell whatever it is we had and needed. I don't remember what I did first time around, but it would not surprise me to find out that I - a farmer with my one plot of farmland remember - had bought food I didn't need rather than sell excess food I had.
Attempt Two - after finding out that M.U.L.E. is perhaps better thought of as a board game than a video game - went more along the lines of the video above (you don't have to watch it all, shorter videos are available).
Each round you choose some land, and when you're able to act on it you decide what to do with it. If you're in good standing you'll be able to go about your business with no problems, but if you're short on food for example, the time you have available to you is limited. A shortage in energy will lead to decreased production from your mines but you know that you don't necessarily have to turn a plot of land into what you need, because right after the round is the option to buy and sell.
While the ideal goal is for your colony to not be reduced to a pile of rubble, everyone wants to be well off and comfortable with what they have. You ultimately want to be rich, and it's in the buying and selling phase that you find out just how well skilled you are at resource management.
If you're the only person selling something, then you'll need to decide whether to sell something at the store price, or to undercut the store to get rid of whatever it is you want to sell. If you're selling against other players then, be they human or computer controlled, you'll have to decide just how much you're willing to trade with others. Maybe you'll stockpile food for another turn. Maybe you'll actually think about the good of the people and will give what others need. You want a successful colony after all.
Whatever you do though, you can't necessarily game the system, because come the next round you might be hit with pests that destroy your crops or pirates that run off with your goods. Your luck is actually based on your standing amongst the colony, in that the wealthiest player won't see any favourable events affect them, in the same way the player with nothing to show for his efforts won't be faced with any random event that squashes them yet further into the dirt. The rich get richer only if they're smart with their money, not because of a random number generator. It smooths out the players' standings such that an early lead doesn't mean an automatic victory.
Many reviews of M.U.L.E. upon its release claimed that it was as good as game as it was an education tool, and once you bother to look into what the game is all about (ahem) you can easily see why. It doesn't have to look flashy, it just has to be a concept that you can grab onto, with gaming elements - gambling elements, even. Playing against humans gives a different feeling entirely because you're not dealing with cold hard statistics any more, but a competitor or a co-operator - both, if you're good.
It does feel a bit more suited to the world of board games, but thanks to its impact at the time, M.U.L.E. has stood the test of time to not only influence the likes of The Sims creator Will Wright, but of long time fans who made an updated, internet ready PC version, Planet M.U.L.E., as well as an actual board game.
My initial failure with it was all my own fault. So are my subsequent failures, as I learn which strategies work and which don't. The game is better with other players, but the computer will fill in the gaps for a colony like no other. Do yourself a favour and play M.U.L.E. when you can - on the Internet Archive, if you'd like.
Inspirations and influences for M.U.L.E. include Monopoly, the sci-fi novels of Robert A. Heinlein and - perhaps the most obvious - an AT-AT shaped M.U.L.E. Maybe that was just the graphics on the Atari though...
M.U.L.E., developed by Ozark Softscape, first released in 1983.
Version played: NES, 1990, via emulation.