A Look at M.U.D.
Designer: Ben Bronstein, Jen Igartua, Jade Shames, Kat Thek
Artist: Ben Bronstein
Publisher: Pillbox Games
Year Kickstarted: 2020
No. of Players: 2-6
Playing Time: 20-40 Minutes
Main Mechanic / Theme: Set Collection, Take That / Polical Satire
Find more information on Board Game Geek.
This is a general blog/preview of MUD which is coming to Kickstarter in early October. I was not paid for this review and received a copy of the print and play files in order to produce this preview.
MUD is a take that set collection game which has a slightly satirical theme (MUD stands for Money Undermining Democracy), but is not particularly directed or barbed and so can probably be played reasonably peacefully whatever your opinion on American politics are.
Gameplay is very simple and is 90% explained by the phrase ‘take that set collection game’. Players lay out voter cards designated to various areas and political parties. Get enough sets of enough voters in each area from matching parties and you win. Meanwhile, there is the option to play take that style ‘power’ cards, when you play power cards you pick up scandals that can later be used against you.
The voter cards contain a fair amount of information on them, their location, class, and party however the colours are quite defuse, which may cause some difficulty for colour blind players. The components are a bit of an odd mix, the voter cards have a dollar bill style to their layout and graphics, the scandal cards are more of like share certificates (ironic since they’re negatives rather than positives) and the power cards have cartoon rats on them; all have different borders and colour pallet though they do tonally match, use the same font and have the same artist. Though the three different types of cards have interesting enough artwork in themselves it feels like they belong to three totally different games. The voter and scandal cards could possibly sit together passably well but the power cards feel totally out of place. Also, and it’s not a huge point, but the voter cards are split into classes and unfortunately the upper-class portraits are universally represented by Caucasian individuals while the middle and working classes have a spread of races.
Fundamentally though how enjoyable you find MUD is going to be based on how high your personal tolerance for basic take-that mechanics really is, and some of the take-that mechanics in MUD are quite old school and basic. For example, there are miss a turn cards, and there is absolutely no way to defend against those cards, such that getting slapped down by a series of skip and shred cards can be extremely painful in a two-player game, sufficient to feel like there is very little way to come back. I happen to enjoy take-that card games, but this can end up feeling like a lack of interesting interaction within the game.
The game’s claim to satire rests largely around the scandal cards. It's mentioned in the rules that the votes being gained are bought, but honestly, other than that single mention, it never comes up in the game. Rather the power cards earn you scandals and are the basis for the idea that the game is about nasty politics. However, scandals do nothing until they are triggered by another player using a Dig card. The issue with this is that Dig cards are themselves powers, and so earn the player using them their own scandal. The upshot is that in a two-player game triggering scandal cards amounts to a zero-sum gain since triggering a scandal gains a scandal, and its frankly slightly depressing having a game that’s close to completion only to see both players set back to zero by a Dig/Scandal/Dig exchange loop. Its not much better in multi-player where the result of Digging another player’s scandal is generally just to drag the Digging and scandalized player down and gift an advantage to the uninvolved player, meaning that a system that is central to the theme of the game often gets ignored until one player is close enough to victory that the other is willing to trigger what I think of as the MAD MUD option, the Mutually Assured Destruction of scandal slapping each other back down to zero.
That said, if you find the prospect of slapping your friends as they try to achieve something fairly simple inherently appeals to you, MUD offers a fairly basic and effective card game to achieve that goal. The betrayals aren’t generally a fireworks factory of fun and its hard to build up a head of steam to punch through them, but they are more than available.