(This is part of my journey going checking out Master of Magic. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)
In doing retro gaming playthroughs on this site, I encounter three types of experiences. The first is the retro game I never played before and am experiencing in the here-and-now for the first time. The second is a game that I might have lightly played but I didn’t get far and/or don’t remember much at all. And the third is when I revisit an old favorite of mine to see how it holds up today.
Playing Master of Magic will definitely reside in the third category for me. During college, my friends and I were hooked on all sorts of city- and empire-builders such as Colonization, Caesar III, and Master of Orion. A computer center colleague of mine gave me a copy of Master of Magic one day, and I got totally hooked for months afterward.
It was a really interesting twist on the 4X formula that traded in a historical or space opera setting for one of high fantasy and magic. The choice of which wizard you played had an immense impact on how you went about the game and lended a different feel than a traditional 4X. Plus, it was a Microprose game, and those people were my heroes back in the day.
So with great excitement I’m heading back into Master of Magic nearly 20 years later to see if I still have the Gandalf stuff to rule a magical empire!
Skipping the badly voiced intro cutscene, I go into choosing my game conditions. Normal difficulty, four opponents, normal-sized map, normal-strength magic. Call me Norm.
Past that is the choice of wizard. No Harry Potter or Dumbledore on here? Oh, this is 1995. My bad. Anyway, there’s a pick of preset wizards (each with a specialty or a mix of magic schools) as well as the ability to create your own character from scratch.
I don’t remember what any of these are, of course, so I go with the default option to play Merlin. Why not, the dude lives backward in time. Maybe he’ll start out at the end of the game and you play back to the beginning!
Following that is a choice of races and banner color. I pick “halfling” although I’m charmed to see Master of Orion’s Klackons in the mix too. Less charmed to see elves. Will this game let me kill elves? Let us hope!
Two quick annoyances during this process: One, the music is atrocious and I can’t seem to shut it off yet. Two, there’s no visible way to go back a step if you mis-click something.
As is my tradition with these sorts of games, I’m going to be pulling city names from whoever is yakking up my Twitter feed at the moment. Thus my hometown of Ranni is founded. Aw, isn’t that screen so downright charming?
Went into the settings and turned the sound off. Ahh. This game is not winning any soundtrack awards.
I spend the first turn poking around the various menu options, trying to get my footing. The spellbook has several available abilities I can cast, although I don’t have any mana points at the moment. But you can be assured that when the time comes, I will be casting lots of war bears. War bears up the wazoo. This may be the only spell I ever cast, in fact. I will rule the planet with nothing but BEARS.
Speaking of bears, my small surveying army stumbles into a fortress teeming with them. Bears, get on my side already!
Here’s the battle screen, which can be tackled manually or on auto. Either way, my halflings are toast. Because war bears obviously > halflings. Reload!
As I learned the hard way (several times), my meager starting army is good for exploring and not so much fighting. As standard 4X strategy, I need to scout the surrounding area to suss out where the other factions are and where might be a good place to establish a second city.
As I’m exploring, I’m also pursuing two other goals: researching new spells and building a settler. Here Merlin and his pet snake (Snakey?) revel in the discovery of a healing spell. Huzzah! Also, that snake is totally gonna bite that wizard.
Oh, random nice detail: Since this is a mid-90s era game, it’s entirely mouse-driven. That’s a nice change of pace from my recent stint in Pool of Radiance.
Soon enough, my empire doubles in size as I found the town of Weakness. Hm. Probably not the best name for a future metropolis but MOVING ON.
Hero for hire? I totally do not remember this, but I’m not about to turn him down, either. I need a bit more firepower on my side, especially as a raider attack left my one and only army weak as kittens.
One more town is founded before I save and log out: Whiteberry. I send my hero down there to protect this hamlet since an enemy city is nearby. Long live Merlintopia!