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Best Game Ever – Master of Magic

posted on February 27th, 2007 by chris

Back when Microprose was still making games, they came out with a bunch of ideas for similarly themed titles spanning multiple universes. Although Master of Orion, Civilization, and X-Com were all well and good (that is to say, well, very good), my favorite was always Master of Magic. Master of Magic took the best parts of Civilization and being a wizard and put them together.

You play a wizard starting with control of one city, and your goal is simply the annihilation of all other wizards. You pick a difficulty, pick which spell types and special enhancements you want, and go. A randomly generated map is created, and you get to start playing.

Red Creek. What a depressing name for a hamlet.

The elements of Civilization come into play with city management. You build improvements to enhance the city, and manage labor to make sure the city is producing enough food to keep your troops alive. Although it’s a bit simpler than Civilization, the key elements are there, and the fact that each race (of which there are around a dozen) has a unique set of buildings and units lends a greater variety than in Civ. There is no technology advancement, but there is a building tree that takes time to finish.

The wizarding elements mix it up a bit. You have the usual summon-type spells to use, but you can also cast enchantments on cities, units, or even the world. You can create powerful artifacts for your heroes to increase their power or survivability. Battle spells are available to temporarily enchant allies or damage enemies, although you are limited by your “skill” (amount of mana you can use per turn), so you can’t cast an infinite number of spells. You can even summon units for the purposes of an individual battle.

Master of Magic is the first strategy game I know of to use heroes to any effect, and they are an incredibly nice addition to the game. Heroes are semi-randomly generated with a wide variety of useful skills that make them stand out from normal units. The ability to custom-make items makes them even more fun to mess around with, and a properly decked-out hero can usually rampage through your opponents’ territory with few problems. They become even better as they gain experience and levels – more so than the normal units, which also gain experience.

The fun in Master of Magic is in its variety of strategies. You can try playing a more Civ-type game, where you focus on gaining territory and develop your cities, or you can summon a huge army of skeletons or phantom warriors to crush your opponents as early as possible. If you prefer to wait for a sure thing, you can try to be the first to research and cast the Spell of Control, which wins you the game (albeit taking a long time and large amount of mana to cast).

Serena… the Healer! An incredibly heroic epithet.

Wizard creation also deserves special mention, as it’s much of the strategy of the game. You get eleven “picks”, which can be used to gain more spellbooks of the elements, or to get special enhancements. You can use these picks to gain spellbooks in almost any of the elements, though you cannot have both Life and Death spellbooks. This way you can choose any element to specialize in, or you can choose to have a broader set of spells to choose from by picking a few from different elements. The enhancements, meanwhile, are useful for certain situations. Warlord, for example, increases all characters’ levels by one for game mechanics, and Artificer (my favorite) decreases the cost of creating artifacts for your heroes by half. All give some sort of permanent benefit to your wizard, but several cost more than one pick, so you have to choose carefully.

Unfortunately, Master of Magic does have a few flaws. Diplomacy is oversimplified, and computers will become angry at you for no apparent reason, so the computers aren’t particularly fun to play against. There’s no multiplayer, either, which could have been be incredibly fun, especially if a simultaneous-turn system were used.

Master of Magic is one of the reasons that I still keep DOSBox around. Other games may have refined the main aspects of the game – city building, heroes, and magic use – but no game has quite replicated the entertaining formula that Master of Magic creates out of the three of them. If the computer opponents were a bit smarter, or the game had proper multiplayer support, then it would be even better. As it is, though, the game more than deserves Best Game Ever status.

5 Comments

  1. Golden Jew said on June 5, 2009:

    I am casting Level 10 review necromancy.

    This game is so fucking phenomenal. I just installed dosbox and dug it up to play it to relive days past. I never played with patch 1.31 so I’m looking forward to that (I haven’t played it since… 1997 probably).

    Like MOO2 and Shadowrun, this is an example of the pinnacle of 90’s gaming, in my opinion.

  2. Spyder Mayhem said on June 9, 2009:

    What I really remember from this game is that the Volcano spell was WAY overpowered. Making a volcano underneath the tile of an enemy city just plain destroyed it, allowing for quick destruction of foes.

    Also, this was the second game I ever tried to pirate. I failed miserably, but I learned something in the process. I learned that if you want something bad enough, you probably won’t ever get it.

  3. chrisas said on January 9, 2010:

    i like this game, i would not call it the best game because its not fresh enough, because moo2 is around that time and most of the technical set up is the same. Not to mention many other things were coming out that graphically, blew master of magic away. This makes it easy to shove to the wayside. However master of magic still deserves its own a place in history.

  4. Catwalk said on June 12, 2010:

    We’re giving Master of Magic a major overhaul on the forums at dragonsword.com, through a patch project which fixes bugs and improves AI + interface and a mod which rebalances the game extensively. Come check us out, contribution is welcome.

  5. Catwalk said on October 24, 2010:

    Dragonsword has moved to the Realms Beyond community. At Realms Beyond, we’re offering the following features for die-hard MoM fans:
    – MoM v1.40, by kyrub. An ambitious patch project which is already functional and still under active development. Includes bug fixes, interface improvements and AI strengthening. The game itself is kept as close to the original as possible, with very few and very small real changes.
    – Catnip, by Catwalk. An almost as ambitious mod project under active development which aims to rebalance and revitalize MoM through a large number of balance and feature changes. Most of this is done through number tweaking, some hacking of features will also be employed. If you’d like a say in the project’s development we’re always happy to listen to feedback and help is most welcome.
    – Plight, by Psyringe. An excellent patch for the help files which corrects a large amount of wrong and misleading information as well as putting up a lot of new information and enhancing the help interface. Highly recommended, and still under active development.
    – Game editors, by Joel. A series of editors which allow you to change the game parameters for units, races, buildings and spells.
    – Various other MoM resources and links
    – Tournaments!
    – Nostalgia, strategy talk and all-round nerding

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