The elephant in the room
Mother Lode is inspired by, and shares many rules with, the classic Parker Brothers board game called Survive. At one point I was going to play down or avoid talking about the similarities between the games. I wanted Mother Lode to stand on its own. Internet users are a savvy bunch, though, and soon after I started talking online about the game people recognized the link between the games.
Not that I wanted to hide it, but I certainly wanted to avoid being accused of ripping off another game. For that reason I took many steps to distance Mother Lode from its roots. Here then is a list of aspects about Mother Lode that I feel differentiates it from Survive. These are roughly in order of importance (in my opinion).
The mining mechanic. In Survive it is a mad dash to move your pieces to safety as quickly as possible. I wanted to add a risk/reward mechanic that would entice players to linger a bit longer. I also feel that the mining adds another level of strategy – making players think beyond just the current turn.
Larger game board. Because I want players to keep their miners on the planet’s surface I needed to allow players more time to escape. The number of turns in the game is directly controlled by the number of land tiles. So I simply increased the planet size to allow players more time to mine.
Different tile actions. Some tiles have direct counterparts in Survive (place escape pod, place creature). Some are unique to Mother Lode (quake). Most share aspects with Survive, but have a twist. Rather than the normal “move <creature> to any vacant space” I devised different schemes to move each creature. So while worms can warp to any vacant space, pirates are restricted to warp via wormhole. Squid are really different in that their movement action is a persistent effect. When they stalk an escape pod they keep going every turn until it is destroyed (or empty). Wormholes are similar to whirlpools from Survive, but after their initial suck-in-everything-around-them effect, they stay on the board and allow fast travel between two points. The actions to move miners and escape pods are also similar to, but not exactly the same as their counterparts in Survive.
Reduced killing & giving the miners a point. The sharks in Survive simply remove a piece from the game, eliminating their points. By contrast, the worms in Mother Lode steal all of a miner’s ore (points), but leave the miner in play. I did this partially to reduce the gruesomeness of the original. Sharks eating people is easy to abstract away in the physical game where you merely remove a piece from a board. In the digital realm I didn’t want violent animations, especially as I wanted to keep this game open to young kids. I also didn’t want to cop out and just make the miner disappear. The result is that the miner stays, but loses its points. However, in doing so it then becomes a question of what is the use of a miner with no points? That is why I award one point for every miner saved, regardless of how much ore they are carrying. (Pirate’s still remove miners from the game, but it looks more like they are captured rather than destroyed.)
Moving all creatures every turn. Rather than only moving one creature on every player’s turn, I felt that it would be more fun and dynamic if they all moved. This was something I debated throughout development whether to include. In fact there is still a flag in the code that enables it – the flag is just permanently set to true. Having all creatures move every turn does a few things. It presents more danger to the player because a creature further away might still be a threat. It prevents creatures from camping in one spot and blocking the way. Mostly, it just made more sense to me that the creatures wouldn’t sit still.
Speeding up 2- and 3-player games. When playing Mother Lode you’ll notice that additional tiles are automatically removed from the board when playing with fewer than four players. This tries to address one of the (few) issues I have with Survive. I recently played Survive with my son and, due to the higher number of turns afforded by the tile-to-player ratio in a two-player game, we both had ample opportunity to get all of our pieces safely off the island. It was only due to a run-in with a shark that I lost one of pieces and ultimately the game. Removing extra land tiles speeds up the game and keeps the pressure on players to make tough decisions. However, I didn’t want the random tile removal to change how many creatures are in play. That is why tiles removed automatically still take effect if it means putting an item on the board (creature or escape pod).
Looking at miner point values any time. After placing your pieces on the island in Survive you are no longer allowed to look at their point value. I have a general dislike for games that penalize bad memories. In Mother Lode you are allowed to look at your miner’s point values at any time. That said, there is still one aspect that relies on a player’s memory. When a worm steals ore from a miner it is up to opponents to remember this and know not to bother attacking it again. Maybe I’ll change that behavior in an update. <shrug>
Tile arrangement. In Survive the three types of land tiles are shuffled and placed randomly to form the island. I wanted the planet in Mother Lode to feel more like it was comprised of layers. So the land types are placed in a more organized fashion. Incidentally, this is also how my friends and I would play Survive. It was years later when I reread the rules and realized we were playing wrong the whole time. I should note, however, that if I do get a chance to keep working on Mother Lode and expand the game that I will add some form of randomization to the land tile placement.
Number of pieces. This is minor, but worth mentioning. Mother Lodes gives each player nine miners rather than ten. This is purely due to the UI constraint that a 3-by-3 grid of pieces looks nicer when displayed in the given space. I also chose a slightly different default point distribution.
This is all based on the first release of the game. Any future updates would distance Mother Lode even more from Survive. If, by some miracle, sales pick up to the point that I can justify continuing work on it, I have many ideas to build on the core gameplay established here.