I am honestly not sure where to start talking about Planet M.U.L.E (Multiple Use Labor Element). Maybe I could begin with an explanation of the art-style, or the simple but effective micro-economy gameplay, or perhaps even the transsexual developer. I guess I could start by explaining how I heard about all of this.
The lead effects artist at Riot Games and one of my good friends Troy brought it to my attention after reading my blog. In the past we have played Settlers of Catan and Planet Mule held many similarities so he felt I would enjoy it. After playing the game and learning a little more about it I realized he couldn’t be more right. That night before work I downloaded the game, for free, off of the official website PlanetMule.com so it would be ready for me to play the next day.
At first I only played against the computer which began as a bit of a challenge as I had to learn the game completely by trial and error. The only instructions for how to play where online and at the time I was unable to connect. That said anyone who wants to play the game for the first time will want to read over the guide online so they at least have an understanding of the general game principals.
In short the game works like this: you are a one of four colonists who aim to capitalize on various resources on an untouched planet’s surface. The game is broken up into rounds called Months, representing the time before the mother ship returns tallying the user’s scores and determining the result of the game. Each month is broken up into phases where each user will take turns performing specific tasks.
The first is the Land Grant phase where users are awarded a single portion of land for free. This is where they can build factories to produce resource, but the type of land will govern the type and amount or resources produced. The next is the Development Phase where users will build onto the land they own. This will cost the user some money but will ultimately generate money for them as resources are yielded. The third is the Production phase where the amount of resources produced by the user’s factories is revealed. The last is the Auction phase where users may buy and sell their resources with one another and with the game store.
One of the most interesting gameplay elements of the game is in the auction section where the users physically interact with one another to trade. It is a little difficult to explain, but basically users will post their bid on resources by walking toward and away from the seller. The seller may remain where they stand to force the buyer to pay the full price, or they can move closer to the buyer to reduce the cost. This becomes a big deal when multiple users are all trying to sell and buy and aim to create the most competitive prices. It is really something you should experience.
The art style and audio for Planet M.U.L.E is pretty simple and comes off as intentionally retro. This makes sense because Planet M.U.L.E is a remake of an older game that generated a large enough following to warrant one. What was really interesting about the original was its designer who began life as Daniel Bunten and ultimately became Danielle Bunten. He was a transsexual who did the full procedure from man to woman.
Just when I figured out how to play competitively against the computer I played a game with my friend Troy and was royally defeated. There were clearly lots for me to learn about the game and how to best play it. I found that there were things I didn’t even know existed because they were never mentioned in the online guide. Please people, create thorough guides or tutorials!
The game is a lot of fun and makes a lot of interesting game design decisions. I also found it to be a great example of an economy game that isn’t too daunting. I would love to see variations on the game and maybe even different skin themes. I can see why many designers hold this game in high regards.