M.U.L.E. is a multiplayer economic strategy game designed by Dan Bunten in 1983 for the Atari 400/800, and later ported to the Commodore 64, IBM PC Jr., and NES. The game allows the 4 players to select a color and alien race, and then take turns controlling plots of land on the planet Irata, dedicating these plots to a certain resource, and then trading their resources at the end of the turn before repeating the process.
At the beginning of the game, players will in turn select their color and alien race. Up to four players can participate in the game, and if one is missing, a computer will fill in for the empty spots. Each alien race has their own advantages and disadvantages, such as greater mining skill, greater farming skill, etc. Once all the players have chosen their race and color, players will arrive on the planet Irata, where the process of selecting real estate begins. A box will move around the map grid, and the players must press a button to claim a plot when the box arrives on the desired land. Whoever presses first gets the land, and any players who come after must try for another piece of real estate. The terrain comes into play when selecting land, as well. In general, landing closer to the initial colony is best, as it saves time for the player. Mountains are better for mining, water is best for farming, and dry land is best for energy production. When a player chooses their plot, they then must decide what to do with it. This is where the Multiple Use Labor Elements, or M.U.L.E.'s, come in. The player will purchase a M.U.L.E., and then designate where it will work, and what kind of work it will be outfitted to do.
The three resources that players will gather are Smithore, energy, and food. Players must strategically allocate M.U.L.E.s to each plot of land, and tell them what to do there. Smithore is necessary for the construction of the M.U.L.E., energy is required for activity and production to take place, and food to feed the colonists and give the player more time for their turn. Players balance their supply of each resource by buying when they have a deficit, and selling when they have a surplus. Players who hold the most resources can exploit any shortages as well, by holding their excess resources, pushing up the price for the next turn, and depriving their fellow players. When in the trading screens, a trade is shown when two players march their characters together. The screen will indicate their stores, and show the trade taking place. When one player is done trading, they can back off. The higher the buying player marches, the more they will pay, and the lower the selling player marches, the cheaper their goods. If no player is selling or buying, players can buy or sell to the store.
Throughout each game, a number of random events will take place. M.U.L.E.s will run away, forcing the player to re-allocate their labor, solar flares will effect the landscape, and space pirates will invade Irata. The game will balance these events so that good things never happen to the player in the lead, and bad things never happen to the loser. Whenever there is a tie in a trade, the player
who is doing worse always takes precedent.
To win a game, players must cooperate and compete. If the planet Irata is in bad shape when the mothership, arrives, everyone loses. The player who wins will be the one who has amassed the most wealth on a healthy planet.
The StarCraft II Terran unit of the same name is a reference to this game.