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Master of Magic
Master of Magic is one of the best 4X turn based strategy games of all time! There, I said it. Seriously, the amount of strategic depth that this game has is incredible. I still play Master of Magic and the game is almost twenty years old!
So, please read on and see why this is considered one of the best fantasy turn based strategy games of all time!
The story behind this game is quite simple: You're one of twelve wizards vying for control of the world, which has two planes, or dimensions, if you will (Arcanus and Myrror). Each wizard has a different spell repertoire and skill set, which means that no two wizards play alike. That's the extent of the plot, as it's more of an excuse to go beat your opponents into submission (of which you can have up to four in any one game) than anything else.
Let's get into the real meat and bones of this game. Check the next section out!
Master of Magic's gameplay is a combination of Magic: The Gathering (yes, the trading card game), with five different spell schools that are closely related to the different colors in the aforementioned TCG, and Civilization. This strange mix works out incredibly well. You can see Civilization's influence in the town screen, with the ability to make one building or one unit at a time. Unlike many other games of this genre, you have built times for both the buildings and the units, so no making an army of 10 units the turn before you are to be sieged.
Another thing this game borrows from Civilization is upkeep. Oh, that nasty little thing. Reminds you of taxes doesn't it? Well, most units require an upkeep in food, gold and/or mana (this usually for mutated/enchanted/summoned units; normal units don't require mana). It gets worse. Your townspeople aren't just a number with no meaning. They can have an effect on your town's prosperity. If, say, you decide to raise the taxes in your kingdom (*shudder*), your citizens will get restless and unrest will increase. Allow it to increase too much and they may rebel, becoming a neutral town and at times even convincing some of your army units stationed there to defect with them as well. Talk about a double ouch!
We mentioned mana in the last paragraph, and that's where the M:tG influence shines through. As a wizard, you have the ability to cast spells in the overland map and in combat. Spells of different schools have different effects. Chaos, for example, is a school that focuses on warping and mutating effects (some of these permanent and others not so much). Life, on the other hand and as you may expect, is the school of beneficial spells, healing, and even resurrection. A wizard who studies Life cannot study Death and vice versa. You can gather mana via several routes:
- Your wizard's fortress generates 5 mana per turn by itself. 10 if it's located in Myrror.
- Some races, such as High Elves, are naturally magical and generate mana each turn (1 mana for each 2 townspeople you have of that race).
- Nodes. There are nature, sorcery and chaos nodes scattered around the overland map, guarded by tough enemies. Conquering the node and claiming it with a Magic Spirit gives you mana income each turn, which is probably how you're going to be making most of your mana in the late game.
- Religious structures (Temple, Parthenon, etc.) generate some mana each turn.
This game has, in my opinion, one of the best spell systems of all time. There are several types of spells, including overland enchantments, which are extremely strong and thus have a high upkeep to maintain each turn. There's even one spell that can STOP TIME (just try to imagine the upkeep on that beast; of course, while time is stopped, that's the only spell you have to pay for so...).
Of course, wizards in this game can be so much more than just their spells. There are a myriad of bonus skills you can pick at character creation (if you decide to go the custom route) instead of spellbooks that give different bonuses, such as increasing your unit's maximum possible experience or making you more charismatic and thus attracting better heroes.
Heroes are a special type of unit that can gain more levels than a regular unit, and usually have lots of bonus skills, as well as the ability to equip artifacts that you can create with your mana or loot in dungeons.
Combat is played out in a battlefield with a square grid. It costs a unit half of its movement points to attack, so a unit may only attack twice per turn maximum. Movement costs vary depending on the terrain (which also applies to the overland map). Each unit has several stats, among them Health, Attack and Defense. What this game does that hasn't been done too frequently in this genre is that a fair amount of units are actually stacks (usually of 6 to 8) of soldiers.
For example, if you buy one unit of Spearmen, you actually get 8 of them in one tidy stack (well, not with all races, but it's true enough that I'm using it as my central point here). As a stack loses forces, the power of that stack decreases as well. If you're thinking about Heroes of Might and Magic, well, stacks don't work the same way. Unless you lose the whole stack of soldiers, you can get them back via healing spells or just sitting them out for a few turns inside of a town, or even in the countryside (although this option is SLOW; towns are much quicker for healing once you upgrade them).
To win the game, you need to either vanquish all opposing wizards (not an easy feat, especially at the harder difficulties) or cast the Spell of Mastery. That spell costs an insane amount of mana, which will mean that you're going to spend the next 30-40 turns casting it, meaning you can't cast anything else. If you complete it, you banish all other wizards to Limbo (where defeated wizards go anyway), and claim victory.
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The truth is that I could keep writing for quite some time about this game and never near a conclusion; this game just has so much to it! So, if you're ever feeling bored, and want to play a classic gem of the global videogame library, give this one a shot, I recommend it!
Until the next time, take care and have fun! ;)