Super Motherload: Mars needs miners

motherload

Board games are very much an international hobby. Your biggest games — Settlers of Catan, 7 Wonders, Ticket to Ride — all hail from overseas, and North American designers are only starting to catch up. So it’s nice to be able to start the year by recommending a local creation. Awarded the Canadian Game Design Award in 2014 (although the packaging only modestly announces that it was a finalist), Super Motherload hits shelves this month, and it has plenty to offer beyond the local connection.

Inspired by the video game of the same name, Super Motherload bills itself as a deck-building game, but that’s an oversimplification. Most deck-building games follow loosely in the footsteps of the genre’s grandfather, Dominion, where you use your cards to purchase other cards with special abilities that help you purchase further, different cards that are worth points. It’s a nifty mechanic in itself, and a very popular one over the last few years — not least because it makes lucrative expansion packs very easy to produce.

Here, you are technically building a deck, but you’re using it to mine for precious minerals on Mars, using your collection of multicoloured miners to dig through a series of boards representing different depths. The players build off of each other’s tunnels, but only the first player to dig gets to claim the valuable resources, which you use to recruit more powerful miners.

Tunnelling takes careful planning, since certain spaces can only be blown up by bombs, while others take certain colour combinations; if you don’t watch out, you’ll set up your opponent to strip-mine an area, leaving yourself with nothing but dirt. The board also acts as a focal point for all the players, which is something that often feels missing in deck-based games. You never feel lost in your cards, since you always have to watch for where your opponents may be headed.

Co-designed by Calgarians Gavan Brown (who made the interesting, stressful Jab: Realtime Boxing) and Matt Tolman (of the similarly themed Undermining), it’s easy to see how Super Motherload snagged the CGDA. It isn’t for board game neophytes, but for more experienced gamers it provides a novel spin on some familiar mechanics. It’s also exceedingly handsome, with some nicely whimsical touches — the faction with the grizzled space pigeon is sure to be a household favourite.

The local connection is a bonus, but even without it, Super Motherload would make a fine addition to any collection.

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