Master of Magic was the very first CD-ROM game I bought. It was before I even had a CD-ROM. This tells you something about how badly I wanted to play this game. I read the manual and the spell book from cover to cover and looked at the back of the box dreaming about playing it. That sounds pathetic now and I guess it was back then as well. Still by the time I finally did have a CD-ROM equipped computer the game did not disappoint. I played it for months over and over again and was completely enthralled with it and now so many years on I am sure you will be as well. Here are the reasons why.
Master of Magic plays like a cross between civilization and Heroes of Might and Magic. As a Wizard of one of a number of races you must build towns cities and raise armies in an attempt to defeat up to three other wizards in a battle to control the both the planes of the world. Each race has its own selection of units and may or may not be able to build all the different buildings available. You may have as many different races in your empire at any given time but you start with only one race. The choice of which race to take should depend on your style of play. Some races have good units quickly but are very restricted in which buildings they can build and are never able to build the truly awesome units (like the Gnoll). Others are slow starters with very generic and weak units early on but once their cities have had a chance to build themselves up their units will rule the battlefield (like the Humans or the Elves).
The Civilization aspect of the game is what you start with. You have only a single hamlet with two armies as you start the game and from there you must explore the world and build your empire. Your city must grow and fore that to happen you need to produce food. Buildings can be build to increase the food production or industrial production, shrines, temples and Parthenon’s help to keep your population from revolting. Sounds familiar? Of course it does, this is all standard civilization fare. In the overland map you can lay roads to speed up your armies and settlers set out for your cities to found new outposts. But Master of Magic is more then just a civilization clone.
Instead of researching new technologies you research new spells and these spells give a whole new dimension to the experience. The spells you can cast affect all kinds of aspects in the game. It can make your ships move faster, your troops fight better, raise whole mountains and even stop time itself. Of course you can also summon a whole host of magical creatures to fight in your armies. The amount of spells you can cast is limited by two elements. First you need to have enough Mana to cast a given spell. You can think of Mana as magical money that you receive from temples and from magic nodes you have opened. The second is your ability. This ability dictates how much Mana you are allowed to use each turn. Both of these grow as times passes, which means that the further you progress the more important magic becomes to your efforts.
Battle is resolved in a tactical map. The players take turns moving their units and casting spells. This is a vast improvement over the win or lose all approach found in Civilization. Units can be damaged and still survive combat. You can even withdraw when things start to look ugly but you might still lose your units and lose some prestige.
Another aspect you will not find in Civilization (but you will find in Heroes of Might and Magic) are heroes. Heroes will occasionally come to you offering their services. These heroes range from pathetic sword waving morons to absolute champions that can wipe out an entire enemy army single handedly. As your reputation increases better heroes will offer you their services. Even the most powerful hero needs to be careful early on though. Heroes gain levels as they become more experienced. With gaining levels their abilities as well as hit points and damage increase. Some heroes can casts spells of their own while others focus more on melee combat. Magical items you will find in your exploration of the world can enhance your heroes even further. Late in the game heroes become very powerful indeed, to the point that no army can stand up to even one of them.
This brings me to the one of the weak points of the game, balance. Not only heroes can become insanely powerful. This could even be argued as being a legitimate part of the game. Also one unit in particular is far too powerful. The Paladins are a human unit that can mop the floor with just about anything even heroes. It takes a long time for the human player to build them and the other units the humans have are not spectacular but once they are in play the owner will win almost every fight easily.
The other weak point is poor AI. Being as complicated as it is the computer players do a poor job of managing their countries and armies. Often a single well prepared army can destroy an entire empire. Luckily there is a multiplayer mode that offers more challenge if you can find someone that is willing to play this game with you so many years after the release.
Graphics are better then can be found in Civilization but they are still not as good as found in other games. Water animation and animated units are about as good as it gets. The various statistical screens found under the F buttons give out marginally interesting information but neither do they get in the way. They can be safely ignored. Overall the layout of the screen is conservative but nothing is missing.
All in all Master of Magic is a classic of the gaming industry. Solid game-play as well as no competition saw to that. The fan base of Master of Magic survives to this day and many still regularly call for a sequel. During development of Master of Orion 3 this call was particularly loud and quicksilver (the developers of Master of Orion 3) said that if MoO3 was a success there might very well be enough credit to start making Master of Magic 2. If only MoO3 had not been such a dismal failure.
You can find a patch to version 1.31 in the extras section! We urge you to apply it as that will fix quite a few gameplay issues and make your gaming experience even more pleasurable! We have also now added ver. 04 of the patch and the in-game help test expansion to the extras section.