Set on the fictional planet Irata (which is Atari backwards), the game is an exercise in supply and demand economics involving competition among four players, with computer opponents automatically filling in for any missing players. Players are provided with several different choices for the race of their colonist, providing different advantages and disadvantages that can be paired to their respective strategies. To win, players not only compete against each other to amass the largest amount of wealth, but must also cooperate for the survival of the colony.
Central to the game is the acquisition and use of "M.U.L.E."s (Multiple Use Labor Element) to develop and harvest resources from the player's real estate. Depending on how it is outfitted, a M.U.L.E. can be configured to harvest Energy, Food, Smithore (from which M.U.L.E.s are constructed), and Crystite (a valuable mineral available only at the "Tournament" level). Players must balance supply and demand of these elements, buying what they need, and selling what they don't. Players may also exploit or create shortages by refusing to sell to other players or to the "store," which raises the price of the resource on the following turns. Scheming between players is encouraged by allowing collusion between two players, which initiates a mode allowing a private transaction. Crystite is the one commodity that is not influenced by supply and demand considerations, being deemed to be sold 'off world,' so the strategy with this resource is somewhat different—a player may attempt to maximize production without fear of having too much supply for the demand.
Each resource is required to do certain things on each turn. For instance, if a player is short on Food, there will be less time to take one's turn. Similarly, if a player is short on Energy, some land plots won't produce any output, while a shortage of Smithore will raise the price of M.U.L.E.s in the store and prevent the store from manufacturing new M.U.L.E.s to make use of one's land.
Players must also deal with periodic random events such as run-away M.U.L.E.s, sunspot activity, theft by space pirates and a meteorite impact which is both destructive and beneficial as a meteorite destroys the M.U.L.E. on the plot but also increases the potential Crystite output of the plot in the following rounds. The players also can hunt the mountain wampus for a cash reward. The game features a balancing system for random events that impact only a single player, such that favorable events never happen to the player currently in first place, while unfavorable events never happen to the player in last place. This same "leveling of the playfield" is applied whenever a tie happens in the game (e.g. when two players want to buy a resource at the same price); the player in the losing position automatically wins the tie.
From Inside Cover
YOU HATE HIM.
It means something, M.U.L.E. Multiple Use Labor Element.
Everyone expected him to be perfect for planet pioneering.
Mining, farming, and general hauling capabilities - he could do it all.
It was the unexpected stuff, however, that made a M.U.L.E. a M.U.L.E.
He was born - if you can call it that - in an underground lab in the Pacific Northwest. A major defense contractor had gone out of its way to get the job and they were stoked.
Stoked, that is, until the detailing robots went out on strike. Costs ran over. Senators screamed. And when the dust had cleared, the job was finished by a restaurant supply firm, a maker of pre-school furniture, and the manufacturers of a popular electric toaster.
YOU NEED HIM.
No one quite knows how it is that a M.U.L.E. is able to record intergalactic phone messages. Or why he can be used to cook simple dinners. Or how he pulls in any ballgame broadcast, anywhere in the universe.
Above all, no one ever dreamed that he would go beserk and run away if treated carelessly.
No one expected any of that, to be sure.
But you've got a planet to settle. And for now, he's all you've got.
Good luck. You'll need it.