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Published on July 3rd, 2003 | by Matt Haberfeld

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Master of Magic

Developer: Simtex
Genre: Turn Based Strategy
Platform: PC
Publisher: Microprose
Release Date: 1994

What is Master of Magic?

Microprose put out some of the best games of the 90s, and Master of Magic is high on that list. It is basically the fantasy version of Civilization, and the game is an excellent combination of role playing and turn based strategy. As far as I can tell, Master of Magic is abandonware, meaning that no company supports, sells, or acknowledges the existence this game.

What does this game do well?

Before you start the game there is a detailed character creation process in which you can choose the type(s) of magic that you want to specialize in, and also pick retorts that distinguish you from other wizards. There are 5 spheres of magic (chaos, nature, sorcery, life and death) and you must decide whether you would like to try and master a single type of magic or diversify your character. The system is very well balanced, such that the player who chooses all blue spell books is very powerful, but has significant gaps in his spell arsenal.

Also, instead of choosing spellbooks you may choose a retort instead. Retorts include things like “alchemist” or “warlord” and can greatly enhance your character’s power. For instance the Warlord trait allows all your units to start with a higher experience level, and unlocks a new level of experience that is only available to warlords. In effect, your units are significantly more powerful than non-warlord players. There is no single ‘best’ character setup, so players are free to make choices based on their personal preference.

Arguably the most fun in Civilization is in the beginning when your scouts get all the “goodie huts” and you get free units, or maybe even a settler. Master of Magic is like goodie hut heaven. The whole map is littered with dungeons, towers, and caves for your units and heroes to explore. Defeating these dungeons grants you gold, mana crystals, items for your heros, and sometimes even more powerful rewards. Unconquered dungeons become more difficult over time, and late game dungeons might allow you to recruit a captured hero, or can even grant you a spellbook or retort.

Master of Magic was one of the first games in which you cared about your units. They gain tangible experience and grow much more powerful at the higher levels. Combat is resolved on a grid and is tactical in nature, so your units aren’t going to get rolled by the random number generator like in Civilization. Your heroes are also a very important part of the strategy, and since you can only have 6 it is important to choose good heroes that you would want to carry with you for the rest of the game.

Spellcasting is another great element of the game. You can summon monsters that have a magical upkeep rather than a gold upkeep, you can cast important personal spells like Change Terrain to improve your cities, and there are also global enchantments and spells that can be cast against other players. Even if you aren’t at war, you can harass and significantly damage your enemies through spells.

What new and innovative ideas are implemented in this game?

Master of Magic’s game map is twice the size of Civilization’s. There is the regular world of Arcanum, and another plane of existence called Myrror. Players that choose the Myrran retort start on this other plane of existence, and it usually means you have an entire continent or maybe even half the game world to yourself. It takes a long time before players break the planar seals and start encroaching on your territory, so it’s an interesting way to start the game. Even if you decide to start on the regular world of Arcanum, you can continue to expand your kingdom on the other world even after you bump against your neighbor’s borders.

There are two spells in the game that let you create your own artifact, which can be used by your heroes. More powerful items cost more to make, but there isn’t much in the way of restrictions, so you can really make some amazing stuff. You may also create your own items outside of the game with an artifact editor. These items are added to the game database and then can be found in the game.

What could this game have done better?

The only thing this game is really lacking is multiplayer support. If you search the internet, you can find a program written by a devoted player that allows you to play with two human players and two computer players, but I have not tried it out personally.

Should I buy this game?

Master of Magic borrows from Civilization in only the most cursory fashion, and from there creates a unique experience that no game has come close to duplicating. Technically no you should not buy this game, but only because it’s free. You should definitely play this game, although if you are looking for something with more modern graphics then Age of Wonders will provide a similar experience. There is so much more to this game that cannot all be documented in a simple review. It is obvious to me that games like Heroes of Might and Magic and Age of Wonders definitely drew heavily upon Master of Magic for their ideas, and all modern games in the genre are that much better because designers played this game.

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