Super Motherload is a deck-building game with a board where players use their cards to drill and bomb for goodies on the surface of Mars.
Designer: Gavan Brown, Matt Tolman
Publisher: Roxley Games
Category: Tile-Laying, Deckbuilding Game
Player Count: 2-4
Price: $49.99 MSRP
At the start of our Steampunk Rally review, I lament the fact that 2015 was a terribly competitive year for Roxley Games to get things moving. Fortunately, in an era of rushed Kickstarter projects and common cult-of-the-new attitudes, Roxley took a tip from Days of Wonder, choosing to be deliberate, excellent, and infrequent in their release schedule. Both Steampunk Rally and Super Motherload reveal a serious amount of care and attention the minute you look into their boxes.
While Steampunk Rally is an incredible unique beast, an amalgamation of ideas come before it. Super Motherload is slightly different. Indeed, it is a combination of previous ideas, but the two biggest ideas in Super Motherload—deck-building and tile-laying—are inspired by two of the biggest juggernaut titles in the industry, Dominion and Carcassonne. Does Super Motherload feel fresh and unique, despite standing on the shoulders of really, really tall giants? Let’s find out!
Some of the artwork for the various characters are creepy. Players use drills and bombs to mine Mars, which I suppose has its own environmental issues to consider.
Deck-building with a board has already been attempted several times before Super Motherload (Trains, Orleans) and has been attempted several times since (Cry Havoc, Tyrants of the Underdark, Clank!). Most of these games have not come close, in my mind, to the elegant gameplay and pure fun of straight deck-building games like Dominion or Star Realms. So the first question hanging over the head of Super Motherload is whether it is finally the game that pulls off deck-building with a board in a way that justifies the board. In my opinion, it is.
There are two key things that make Super Motherload work. The first is the way the actual deckbuilding works is quite atypical, rather than a simple clone of the way Dominion or Ascension works. The biggest difference is that hands are not automatically discarded and re-drawn each turn; instead, drawing two cards is a standard action that can be taken. Additionally, each player has a unique pile of cards that only he or she can buy, and buying those cards is intimately connected to the board. Players are using cards to alternately drill and bomb on the surface of Mars, and in doing so they lay black tiles of various shapes and sizes over the map of Mars shown on the board. The spaces you cover up give particular bonuses, including extra cards, power-ups for later use, and various currencies that are assigned to future purchases. The board and card play are inseparable rather than simply related, which is Super Motherload’s second key innovation. In many other deck-builders with boards, the cards still generate money on their own, for example. A common complaint of Trains was that you could possibly win without ever interacting with the board at all, and the same could be said (although it’s very unlikely) of games like Clank! and Tyrants of the Underdark. Here, by simplifying and streamlining the gameplay, Super Motherload has found the beauty in simplicity that these other games miss. Exactly because the cards in this game don’t do anything when played except bomb and drill the board spaces, the gameplay necessitates that players interact both with the board and with the deck-building. Brilliant.
In addition to first-rate, streamlined gameplay, Super Motherload is a game that understands this style of game hinges on variety to maximize re-playability, and the game makes great effort in this area. Each player’s buy piles are unique. There are tons of possible artifact tokens to acquire. There are different boards for each level of Mars, and players who trigger the new board get to pick which side to use. The minor and major achievements (the methods for scoring points) are different each game. And of course, the deck-building and tile-laying themselves will generate new considerations for the players each game.
Yet, one of the biggest strengths of Super Motherload is also its biggest weakness. Some of the variability, upon repeated plays, doesn’t feel as strong as you think it will be the first time through. For example, the major achievements are fairly boring—they are simply about acquiring different sets of card colors in the game, and that never feels very different, regardless of which cards come out. More importantly, this game screams for expansions, and desperately needs them. The base system is brilliant, but it begs for alternate boards, new card decks and effects, new artifact tokens, and so on. Dominion‘s base set has become a yawn for me, but the game thrives because of its continued support. This is a game designed around the same need for expansion-itis, but as far as I know no expansions have been announced for the near future.
Yet, as I think back to my first games of Dominion, Super Motherload presents the same kind of awe-inspiring “wow, this is really different” feeling. The gameplay is clever and smooth, and you’ll be five or ten games in before you feel the game getting a little stale. It’s also a gorgeous game with wonderful components (though some characters look kind of unnecessarily creepy). The components are clear, functional, and well-made. It’s a really good game—that I really want to see more of.
Thank you to Roxley Games for providing a review copy of Super Motherload.
+ Best blend of deck-building and board play that I've seen
+ Clear, functional, beautiful art (except creepy characters)
+ Sensible iconography
+ Fun, interesting gameplay
+ Lots of variability
+ Appropriate game-length
+ Great tiebreaker
- Chaotic with 4, not enough going on with 2
- Variability isn't quite as high as it seems
- Needs expansions