• Number of Plays: 14
  • Number of Players: 2 – 4
  • Game Length: 60 – 90 minutes
  • Mechanics: Deck building, tunnel digging
  • Release Year: 2015
  • Designer: Gavan Brown, Matt Tolman
  • Artist: Gavan Brown, Scott Carmichael, Lina Cossette, David Forest

It Always Goes Back to Games With Me

I have a confession to make. I love games. I know, shocker. I’ll wait as you all pick up your collective jaws off the floor. One of the things I love most is discovery. I’m always searching for a new game to play, a new experience to …experience. It doesn’t matter that I have half-finished games on my Nintendo Switch, or 300+ games that I’ve barely touched in my Steam library (30 minutes or less played time); I’m always looking forward to starting a new game.

In addition to the thirst for discovery, I’m also super cheap. This combination of insatiability and thriftiness leads me to some interesting places. I’ve played many Flash (RIP) games you can play for ‘free’ in your web browser. A long time ago I played a game called Motherload. The goal of the game was to dig and dig and dig until you found the centre of the planet.

Imagine my surprise when I gathered with my family in Saskatoon and my cousin pulled out a small square board game box titled “Super Motherload”. The connection to the Flash game didn’t connect at first, but once we set up the game and began playing, the memories came back.

The Mechanics of Digging through Mars

Super Motherload is a light deck builder about digging into Mars and collecting valuable minerals to purchase better pilots, all in a race to accrue the most prestigious mining company? I’ll admit the goal of the game doesn’t quite match the theme, gathering a surplus of minerals that will languish in your vaults. The winner isn’t necessarily the player who earned the most money (but it helps), but the player who accrues the most victory points at the end of the game.

Each player deck has unique art, and has slightly asymmetric powers

Super Motherload does it’s very best to emulate the experience of a side scrolling (or in this case a vertical scrolling) video game. The first two double sided Mars boards are placed on the board and each player gets a unique starter deck, each one slightly varying from the other. Each player starts with a 7-card base deck, plus 16 more cards laid in groups of 4 in front of them, forming a personal shop. As the game progresses, players may purchase cards from their shop to add to their deck. The last person who dug a hole gets to take the first turn, and the game is underway. A turn consists of 2 actions. You may draw 2 cards, play cards of the same colour for their drills, or cause an explosion by playing a bomb token and a red card. You may perform the same action twice in a row.

As you chew through the dirt you’ll inevitably uncover minerals that you can use to purchase more cards from your shop. If you meet or exceed the value of the card, you remove all minerals you’ve allocated to that card and place it into your discard (and get a one time bonus for buying the card). Be warned that the economy on Mars isn’t like Earth – if you overpay, too bad so sad.

Various obstacles will prevent you from beelining to the core of the planet. For instance, rocks and metal plates require you to use different tools to progress. Metal plates can only be dug though using drills of the matching colour, and rocks must be bombed. You do still get the minerals if you bomb through them, though, because on Mars there are special bombs that only destroy worthless rocks, leaving the valuable stones untouched for your capitalist needs (the theme is falling apart again).

One of the best features of Super Motherload is that you can always dig starting from any of the tunnel pieces that have already been placed on the board. As you go further down into Mars, the quality and quantity of goods begins to increase. This causes every player to take as much as they can on their turn, while trying not to give the next player immediate access to whatever treasures lie beyond your current reach. I love the trade off – biding your time and building up your hand while waiting for someone to make a move that allows you to strike out at a particularly rich ore vein. Your tunnel may then be used by someone else to reach even further and gather more resources. This cycle is incredibly satisfying and is what keeps me bringing this game back to the table for more.

As the game progresses, diggers will come across artifact tokens (pictured above). Each token has a hidden bonus on the back that players can choose to use at their discretion. If all the artifact spaces are uncovered on a board, the top board is removed from play and a new board is placed at the bottom, introducing a whole new realm full of valuable goodies and mounds of dirt just waiting for your drills to penetrate it (ahem) recover the goods.

The majority of victory points will come from buying the increasingly expensive pilot cards in your personal shop, which consists of four different decks. Each deck has pilots who are trained for different specialities. For instance, the red deck pilots specialize in bombing. As you purchase pilot cards, the following card in the deck is more expensive, but it is worth an increasing number of victory points. The challenge is to balance buying pilots of different specialties while accruing the most victory points.

To make matters more interesting, Super Motherload also has Major and Minor achievements that may influence how you play each turn. The Major achievements are earned by fulfilling the ‘recipe’ of having purchased the required number and type of cards from your personal shop. Only the first player who satisfies the requirement of each achievement can claim it, and once the major achievements have been claimed, they’re gone from the game.

The minor achievements are a little more fun, asking you to accomplish seemingly random tasks, such as drilling 4 spaces in a single action, or simply having three bomb tokens in your supply. Chasing these goals may have you putting your long term plans on hold, but I’ve seen players earn enough points to swing the whole game by just earning enough minor achievements. Once a player collects a minor achievement, a new minor achievement card is drawn. Once again, you have a choice – do you use your turn to further your progress on a major achievement, or do you take a detour to collect a minor achievement? You may only collect one achievement per turn.

The game ends after the final artifact is obtained on the 4th board. As the communal tunnel inches ever closer to the final artifact, each player scrambles to scratch out their final few points without giving anyone else the opportunity to end the game. When that last artifact is claimed, the game ends immediately, irrespective of who was the first player. All the points on the player cards and any major and minor achievements are added together, along with any points that may be on some of the artifacts. The player with the highest score has created the best intergalactic mining company. I think? I told you, the theme gets thinner and thinner the more I think about it. My solution? Don’t think, just play!

Final Thoughts

Super Motherload offers a a unique spin on the deck building genre. By not requiring players to discard unused cards and draw a whole new hand each turn evokes a feeling of momentum. You can build up steam, gathering a handful of cards then blast off, reaching that high value gem that everyone thought was out of reach. If you have a big turn, spending all your cards digging massive new tunnels, you’ll find your next turn lighter as you recuperate from the aggressive activity. That’s not a bad thing however, I feel it evokes the feeling of someone who rushed out too far, too fast, and broke their little digging machine. The players who take their time, making slower moves never hit a big payday, but are never left out in the cold.

While most deck building games reward players who focus their decks to a specific synergy (Hardback, Star Realms), building a slim, uber functional deck is not the core of the game here. The crux of Super Motherload revolves around the spacial element of burrowing for resources on the board, seeing the best time to lay down 4 drills to just barely get that extra valuable gem, and racing for the low hanging fruit of the easy to achieve achievements. The double sided boards offer a nice variety of obstacles, and if you’re desperate for more, fans have posted some of their own creations.

What does add to the replayability is the asymetric nature of each player deck. Each deck’s purchasable pilots are unique and exciting to play repeatedly, mastering the different combos each one offers. It’s refreshing to swap to a different deck to try a different strategy. Each deck is unique enough to add it’s own flavour to the game, but not so wildly different that you’re railroaded into a specific strategy that may or may not pair well with the minor achievements.

Now this is a well sized box

I do wish Super Motherload had a expansion. More map tiles, more asymmetric player decks, different minerals and so on. Nothing that changes the game drastically (I’m looking at you, Isle of Skye), as the core gameplay of Super Motherload is absolutely fantastic. I just want more of it.

I think that’s probably the highest praise I could give a game. I simply crave more of it. Honestly, owning Super Motherload turns you into missionary; it’s the kind of game that you want to introduce to everyone, especially those who love deck builders, as it has the deck building elements that you love from other games, but a very satisfying board element to go along with it