Developer: Comma 8 Studios
Price: $4.99
Version Reviewed: 1.1.0
Device Reviewed On: iPad Mini Retina

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★½☆
Controls Rating: ★★★½☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★½
Replay Value Rating: ★★★½☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

MULE Returns is basically an economic simulation presented in game form. A remake of a classic Atari game, players set out to colonize a new planet with three other participants. Players take 6-12 turns to claim land, farm resources, and make the money necessary to not just be top dog among the colonists, but to also help the colony be successful overall at the end of the game.

MULE_Returns-2Each ‘turn’ takes place in real time. With their starting cadre of cash and resources, players claim a square of land for themselves, with different land types more conducive to different resource production – like rivers generating more food. After land is claimed, players consume food to fuel their action meter, and can then buy a MULE and a resource type to harvest on a square of land. MULEs can eventually be swapped out – if, for example, a player wants to claim a high mountain early instead of a river spot to produce more smithore, they can plant food there initially, then on the next turn claim a river land plot, buy the smithore, and swap out MULEs.

An element of chaos factors in as random events will cause production to spike, or resources to suddenly be lost. These play a role in the auction portion of each turn: here players can buy additional needed resources or sell their surplus. The colony store will be stocked with what players sell back but buys low and sells high, so players can use this to profit more from players needing resources by selling below store prices; in the case of a shortage in the store, a lucky player who is the only one with a surplus could become quite wealthy.

MULE_Returns-4This game would make for an interesting teaching tool on supply-and-demand economics, and how outside factors can cause surpluses and scarcities that can affect the costs and prices of resources. Success might not be entirely dependent on one’s own skill, but smart players will have a better chance at winning. The game can feel a bit overwhelming at first, but once players get into the swing of things it all works out pretty well.

Sadly, the lack of multiplayer in some form at launch means that something is missing. Taking on the computer is interesting, but this definitely seems like the kind of game that would be more interesting if other players could get involved. An asynchronous online mode could work for resource buying and collection with some changes to things like runaway MULEs, though the auction system would have to be redone. Still, it doesn’t seem impossible. It would be interesting to play with and I look forward to when it’s available.

MULE Returns is sorely missing multiplayer, but the idea at the heart of the game is a ton of strategic fun, even 30 years later.


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