Designer: Ben Bronstein, Jade Shames & Kat Thek
Publisher: Pillbox Games
MUD (Money Undermining Democracy) is a new set collecting ‘take-that’ card game with a clever risk/reward mechanic from Pillbox Games the creators of Side Effects.
We were super excited when Pillbox reached out to us to ask if we wanted to play and review their latest creation! They were kind enough to send us the files to put together a print and play of MUD ahead of the Kickstarter campaign which will be launching on the 6th October 2020.
So far we have only been able to play the two player duel version of MUD (due to Covid-19 restrictions) so while we haven't been able to play the game to its full potential yet, we think we have a good enough feel for the game and have really enjoyed it! Let’s get down to details.
An overview of the gameplay...
In MUD, players take on the role of wealthy moguls who are trying to interfere in the next presidential election, using their influence to ‘buy’ voters across regions of the USA whilst digging up dirt on their opponents and trying to avoid their own damaging scandals!
The Cards in MUD are split into 3 Major categories, Voter Cards, Rat cards and Scandal Cards. The Voter and Rat cards are shuffled together to form the main deck and 7 cards are dealt to each player. The Scandal cards are shuffled in their own separate deck and kept to the side for now.
Voter cards form bulk of the main deck with each of these cards representing one million voters. Voter cards have 3 key pieces of information on them:
Which region the voters are from: South, Northeast Midwest, and West.
The voter's income bracket: Working Class, Middle class, and Upper Class.
The voter’s political leaning: Liberal, Conservative or Undecided (undecided act as wild cards).
In a regular game of MUD, players aim to gather at least 3 million voters of the same political alignment across four different regions of the USA to win the game. The number of voters needed in each region differs depending on the player count in each game; in a 2 player duel, you need to get 4 voters in all 4 regions whereas in a 5 to 6 player game, you only need 3 voters in 3 regions.
A Player can play up to 3 Voter cards on their turn into their ‘Voter Map’ on the table face up in front of them. These are stacked so the iconography is visible at the top of the card showing the income brackets of the voters and their political alignment.
If a player has a scandal card in front of them, one of their opponents can play the "dig" Rat card against them and dig into their background to reveal one of their face down scandals. Some scandals have devastating effect, and make players lose voters from their map, while others may not have any affect at all. The catch here is that, by digging into an opponent's past, that player in turn must also take a scandal card which exposes them to a similar fate. Any revealed scandal cards are returned to the discard pile and when the deck runs out, they are re-shuffled, and the scandal deck is reformed.
Amusingly, if the Scandal deck is ever depleted because all the cards are already in front of players, with none of these revealed, all players can play Rat cards on their turn without any repercussions, this is referred to in the rules as ‘Absolute Immunity’. This immunity will only end when a Scandal card is revealed and then discarded to form a new, although very small draw pile.
At the end of a players turn, they draw back up to the 7-card hand limit ready for their next turn. If they forget to draw cards at the end of their turn, tough luck! They will need to play the next turn with the remaining cards that they have.
A mechanic that we were not able to utilize in our play throughs is that players are highly encouraged to make deals with one another by trading cards and forming alliances to try and achieve victory; most uniquely, players can agree to share the ability of a single played Rat card. For example, a player might want to use a Steal card to take 2 voters from another players voter map and if a different player wanted to do the same thing to the same player, they could form a pact and only play one card to both of their benefit. The condition of this, however, is that they both then share one scandal card. This card is laid facedown sideways between both players, so it remains distinct from the players own scandals. If this card is then revealed, both players must bear the brunt of the scandal.
So, what do we think of the game?
Another absolute hit, we love it! The perfect successor to its sibling Side Effects, MUD is a game with plenty of fun opportunities to betray and backstab other players, a theme that packs one hell of a punch, more incredible artwork and a sprinkling of satirical humour to boot! The game is quick to pick up and easy to play but has a really refined gameplay experience with heaps of strategy lurking behind its jokey exterior.
There are number of elements that make MUD completely unique, players can be either as vindictive and corrupt or as honest and strait-laced as they want to! The Power and subsequent Scandal cards strike a really nice balance in the game, if players choose to play the part of a dishonourable power-abusing politician and double cross their opponents, they leave themselves open to the risk of having scandals in their past exposed, causing them to lose the votes of their precious constituents. It is entirely plausible for a player to win the game without getting involved in any political mudslinging, the game nicely protects those who want to avoid getting involved in the ‘take that’ game mechanics. By keeping their noses clean and refraining from using power cards, players will avoid having any scandal cards forced upon them that opponents can use against them.
The Voter cards give a nod to dollar bills, all the information is nicely laid out and the iconography is easy to understand (one of the pledge levels in the Kickstarter campaign will offer backers the opportunity to become immortalised in the game and have their face on one of the voter cards!)
There are so many intricate references throughout the artwork and no detail is overlooked! It is clear that once again this game is a real labour of love for Pillbox Games.
The timing of this release could not be more apt with the USA running up to the next presidential election in November. MUD perfectly reflects the feeling of a political campaign and the way in which presidential candidates are willing to do whatever it takes to dish the dirt on their opponents to secure voters regardless of their current political alignments or beliefs. As long as they are able to make up the numbers to win the election, that is all that matters.
It worth noting that a comprehensive knowledge of Politics or geography isn't necessary when it comes to playing MUD. The gameplay is simple, easy to learn and easy to teach. It offers a solid amount of strategy, great competitive tactics and replay-ability that will keep players coming back again and again!
Based on our plays of MUD, we highly recommend the game! We can’t wait to get our hands on the real deal ourselves and will definitely be backing the game as soon the Kickstarter campaign goes live!
The artwork in MUD is wonderfully executed and has a fantastic sense of humour.
The Rat cards (which are our personal favourites) are adorned with dastardly looking Rat characters up to nefarious business, with the Washington D.C skyline sprawled across the background.
These characters are often based on actual political figures so keep your eyes peeled to see if you recognise anyone...!
Many of the scandal cards are also based on actual political scandals in history, while the back of these are based on old voter ballots.