Reviewed by: Bill Cranston

          Computer        Graphics        Memory          Disk Space
Minimum   386/sx16        320x200x256     581k conv.         26M
					  2.7mb EMS
Max/Rec.  386dx33 or higher

Control: keyboard, mouse
  Sound: Adlib, Roland, Sound Blaster, Pro Audio Spectrum

   Reviewed version: v1.2
Reviewed version on: 486dx2/66, 8mb RAM, SoundBlaster Pro.
Reviewer recommends: 386dx33 or higher, 1mb+ disk cache.


Master of Magic (MOM) is an introductory-level strategy game that takes place in a fantasy milieu. The plot is quite familiar: you begin as a humble leader of a small village and, over time, your megalomaniacal aspirations of world-dominance grow as you expand the territory and number of villages under your control. Of course, there are several other like-minded individuals that are involved in this story who will be competing against you for a place in the arcane hall of fame. Brought to you by Simtex, the group responsible for Master of Orion (MOO), MOM bears several similarities with its predecessor. While in some ways this is good, overall the result is a decidedly-deficient product, as will be explained below.

Mixing the Reagents - Initial Options

The options the player has to choose from before playing MOM are quite familiar. Among them are difficulty level (there are 5), number of opponents (a maximum of 4), land size (3 settings, from small islands to large continents), and strength of magic (more on this later, but suffice it to say that this determines how much magic power can be derived from various sources).

After setting the general game parameters, you are then presented with a choice of wizard to play. A nice touch here is the ability to customize your own wizard. There are 14 stock wizards from which to choose, each with their own mix of magic types and abilities. Customizing your own wizard is more fun, however, as you can combine abilities not present among the 14 pre-made wizards. The following screenshots illustrate the options the user has to choose from before each game.

There are five types of magic in MOM that a wizard can specialize in. The five types categorize the spell types found within each. Life and Death magic suggest quite plainly what types of spells the player can expect to learn if these types of magic are chosen. Chaos magic controls fire, lightning, and generally things that are destructive. Therefore spells from this category tend to involve fireballs and other flame-oriented enchantments. Nature magic controls the elements, and therefore spells from this group allow the player to manipulate the terra firma around him to his benefit or others deteriment. Finally, Sorcery magic controls the element of air and illusions. Spells from this magic type involve invisibility, flight, and the like. Each of the types of magic have their own summoning spells (eg. a Nature type summoning spell could summon an Earth Elemental or Stone Giant, whereas a Death type summoning spell could summon Wraiths and the like).

The number of spellbooks the player selects from each magic type determines the number and rarity of spells from each of the types chosen. Choosing a large number of books from one type ensures a highly-specialized wizard that will start off with a lot of spells in the chosen type of magic. In the screenshots above, Merlin is a bit of a generalist, and will therefore start off knowing a few of the more common chaos, nature, and sorcery spells. Fortunately, his skill as a Sagemaster will allow Merlin to research new spells more quickly.

As I just alluded to, you can also pick from various special abilities for your wizard. The number of abilities and spellbooks cannot exceed 11. Some abilities are more powerful than others, and thus count as 2 or 3 picks towards the maximum of 11. Abilities tend to make certain game functions easier to perform. For instance, Alchemy allows the player to turn gold into mana more easily.

The last option to select involves selecting the race of beings your wizard will initially control. Each race has their own special characteristics and restrictions. Orcs are a good choice since they are not prevented from constructing anything (other races are not allowed to build various structures) and have a decent selection of military units that can be built. If the Myrran special ability was chosen for Merlin, above, then additional races would be available to choose from. Myrror is an alternate plane that a wizard can start the game on where magic is more plentiful and the monsters more lethal. Otherwise it is identical to the "normal" plane.

Casting the Spell - Gameplay

After making all your selections before the game, the world is generated and your are brought to the main screen where most of the action takes place.

You start off with one small village under your control in a game of MOM. A village in MOM serves the same function as a village in games like Colonization or Civilization. Simply put, it's a production centre. And production in MOM is handled exactly the same way as in games like Civ or Colonization, that is, by building every structure you can to make your village larger and more efficient at making the military units you will need later. A city's borders in MOM is defined by the immediate squares around it (with a radius of 2, like in Civ). Unlike Civ or Colonization, you cannot make improvements to the terrain around your city unless you have the appropriate spells. This is a small point, however, and optimizing the terrain around a city is not essential (though it is helpful) to winning the game.

Of course, you're not going to get very far with just one city, so the time will soon come when you are going to have to build some settlers and have them found new places for you to expand your fledgling empire. In MOM the terrain you found a city on will influence the maximum population that the city will be able to achieve, with rivers usually providing the highest population levels and deserts the least. In addition, cities cannot be built within 3 squares of any other habitation. The purpose of this rule is unclear, since other games similar to MOM do not have such restrictions and don't necesarily suffer from it.

As you build your cities, you will also be researching spell after spell, adding them to the list of spells that you can cast. The spells you choose to research become increasingly more rare, and thus take longer to research. The spells you can research are limited by the types and amount of spellbooks you chose for your wizard initially. The speed at which you research spells is determined by how many mana points you allocate to spell research (as opposed to improving your spell casting skill or increasing your reserves of mana) and whether your wizard started off with the Sage Master special ability. The last spell you will likely research is called the Spell of Mastery, which is basically the be-all-and-end-all of spellcraft. Researching and casting this spell takes a while, but you win the game after finishing casting it.

While there are a large number of spells available to research in MOM, the variety of spells is not that great. Many spells are merely duplicates of spells of another magic type (ie: the Fire and Ice Bolt spells), more powerful versions of easier spells (ie: Iron Skin over Stone Skin, or Herb Mastery over Healing or Mass Healing), or spells that counter the effects of other spells (ie: Healing of course, or Raise Dead). There are also a number of summoning spells that allow the wizard to call forth magical creatures of increasing powers. There are a decent variety of spells, despite the repetition, but it only takes a few games to see the bulk of spells that MOM has to offer.

Researching new magical spells aren't your only concern, you'll also have to build some war units to defend your cities as well as take over other cities and places of interest (placing of interest being things like temples, towers, and the like where usually gold or treasure awaits). Building units is again quite similar to the other games I've mentioned earlier, and the types of structures you have in a city will determine what units can be built there. For instance, a Wizard's Guild can build spell-casting magicians - one of the more popular units to build, a stable allows you to build mounted units such as cavalry, and building a War College results in all units built in that city starting off at the Veteran level of experience. Other units not intended for combat include engineers (road builders primarily, and not terribly useful), priests (mainly to clear terrain from corruption, a nasty effect of a particular spell), and settlers.

Rapidly establishing several new cities and building the needed structures in each as quickly as you can is pretty much the golden rule in MOM, as it is in other games of this type. Your ultimate goal is to rule the world, and in MOM you do so either by casting the mother-of-all spells, or by capturing the home city of each of your opponents. A game turn typically involves picking what new spell to research, deciding what - if any - spell needs to be cast, deciding what city should produce what building or unit next, moving what units you may have on the map, and determining how best to allocate you mana. Repeat this a few hundred times and the end of the game is near. This sounds quite repetitive and, unfortunately, it is.

One of the problems with MOM is that there really isn't that much to keep you busy. Honest. It sounds like a lot: building cities; researching and casting spells; building units; and engaging in combat. However, for most turns the only thing you'll be doing is clicking the Next Turn button. You do not need to build a large number of cities in MOM - about 6 or so is all you need. Building the various structures in a city is a process you duplicate indentically from city to city. It gets to the point where you don't even stop to think what structure to build next, as they tend to follow a natural order. In would have been nice if there were more elements involved in the design of cities, and if the construction of some buildings were dependent on certain spells being cast. In Civ there seemed to be an endless number of structures you were able to build and improve on, and new units able to be built with the advent of more advanced technology. Building a city up to its productive maximum took a while in Civ, and was not automatically duplicated in each city. This sense of city growth is sadly missing in MOM, since just about everything you can build is available immediately and automatically, or within a few short turns.

The magical element is what makes MOM a potentially-interesting game, but it too isn't terribly gripping. The player selects from a short list of spells which spell to research next, and waits until the research is complete before the next choice can be made. In the meantime various spells can be cast from the list of spells already researched by the player. What is missing here is a sense of urgency. You never really find yourself thinking "I gotta get that next spell", since no spell is essential to winning a game of MOM. Spell research in MOM lacks any sense of being an integral part of the game. What I mean by this is that it is not interwoven with the economic model of the game - you can build a city up to its maximum potential without knowing a single spell, whereas in Civ you needed to develop technology in order to develop your cities further. In addition, the perception of having to develop your cities quickly in Civ was very prevalent because you knew that the computer was doing the same thing. The last thing you wanted to see were Russian tanks landing on your shores when you were still putzing around in chariots. This sense of urgency in Civ drove players to maximize the use of their resources in order to build up their cities and in turn develop newer technology. This is absent in MOM, in which researching spells is much like shopping for groceries, when it should have been more like shopping for a new car - exciting and important at the same time.

MOM lacks decent gameplay. It is very linear, with little variety from game to game irrespective of what options you choose at the beginning. This might have been forgivable, were it not for a dormant AI. In the following sections I'll describe how the AI makes a boring game a bad game.

Eldritch Missives - Diplomatic Relations

The diplomatic overtures you can undertake in MOM are exactly as were seen in MOO, except that instead of technology you now trade or offer spells. Every other option replicates the options in MOO. This is fine but, as in MOO, the computer does not pursue the options available aggressively enough. I have only seen computer players request that I trade for a particular spell. They never request alliances, attempt to bribe you, or request your aid against their enemies. Relations are also hampered by the fact that if you have any units within 2 squares of another player's city, this serves to seriously deteriorate relations between you and the other wizard. Why other wizards are so xenophobic is beyond me, since getting around can be severely constrained with this restriction in effect.

As in other aspects of MOM, diplomatic relations exist as a tool used ONLY by the human player. The computer just doesn't use it save to declare war on you. The only thing that can be said about this aspect of the game is that at least the computer players get mad at you when they should - in previous versions, no amount of hostility seemed to agitate the computer players.

Arcane Armies - Combat in MOM

Like other strategy games of this type, combat figures prominently in MOM. Though not explained very clearly in the manual, combat basically involves pitting the strength of one unit (be it missile or melee strength) against the defense of another unit. The number of attack icons (swords or bows) determines the strength or intensity of attack, whereas the number of defense icons (shields) determines how well the unit can defend against an attack. While I'm sure the exact details of any confrontation can be micro-managed ad nauseum, I prefer to keep things simple by trying to pit units with higher attack values against units with lower defense values. The combat algorithms aren't complicated and, as I'll explain below, conflict quickly becomes a routine affair.

Some units (magicians, for example) have magical ranged attacks, denoted by fireball icons. The number of crosses a unit has denotes how well it is able to resist magical attacks or spells cast at them. A group of invisible (thanks to an invisibility spell) magicians romping the countryside is a force to be feared.

Normal (non-magical) units gain experience points in MOM, which basically increases their attack, defense, and resistance levels by one for each level of experience. Units gain experience just by passing the time, and by engaging in combat.

Units can also have various abilities, be they natural (a wraith's life stealing ability, for example) or imbued via enchantments (a Halbadier unit enchanted with a Resist Elements spell). You will quite often optimize a stack of units with various enchantments so that they become the main part of your army.

Combat is initiated simply enough - just move a stack of units belonging to you onto a space occupied by another player's units. You will then be brought to the battle screen. In MOM the defender gets to make the first move, and one killer spell cast by an enemy wizard can quickly set awry your plans of conquest. Unfortunately, this is more the exception than the rule.

When it is the player's turn to move, each unit in the player's army is prompted for orders. A unit's movement points determines how much it can perform in a given turn, be it movement or combat. You simply point to where you want your unit to move to and click. Attacking is just as easy - just point to an enemy unit and click. A red 'X' will appear for every invalid action you request. Spells can be easily cast by clicking the spell button, and an automatic combat resolution mode can be initiated by the click of a button. Winning battles can earn you fame, and losing battles may result in you losing fame. Fame is an important element to consider since it influences the frequency that heroes offer their services to you, not to mention that it increases your final score.

Unfortunately, combat is far too easy and simplistic in MOM, for a number of reasons. As you can see from the screen shot above, every engagement starts off with the attacking and defending units packed closely together. Why this is imposed on the player is beyond me, since you'd think the defender, at least, would be able to set up his units as he saw fit before the battle takes place. With the over-the-shoulder viewpoint that the combat routine employs, packing the units closely together can make it very difficult to determine which units you are pointing at or clicking on, especially when this involves units within city walls and you have a fair number of units in combat.

I wish that I could say that this imposed combat formation had any tactical consequence in MOM, but it doesn't. Basically, combat entails lining up and firing away. The AI is so lacking that the computer will just sit back and take what punishment you give, with little retaliation. This is why ranged units such as magicians are so powerful in MOM. To its credit, the computer does seem to know enough to engage any magicians first. However, it will do so even if the magicians have run out of their spell allotment and become next to useless.

The AI also chokes when the computer attacks your forces in a walled city. Units with no ranged attack capability will remain motionless, as if to wait for your units to step out from behind the protection of the city wall. Clicking the AUTO button will result in nothing except endless combat turns looping by with not a single unit making a move. To fix this, you have to bring some of your units out into the open in order to intice the computer to fight like it intended to. Maybe this "feature" is Simtex's idea of a siege option in the combat routine. But most will view it as another indication of a dormant AI.

The AUTO button I mentioned earlier speeds up combat nicely, but I'd only use it when you have a huge advantage over the opposing force. A deficient AI is again the cause, discouraging you from using this option in all but the most lopsided of encounters. If you dare risk clicking this button in less-than-certain encounters, be prepared to see useless spells being cast ("What!? - I already cast an Iron Skin on that unit!"), units firing ranged weapons at units immune to their attacks, and in general a profound display of why you shouldn't trust the computer do to anything for you that you can do for yourself.

There is also no element of racial strife evidenced in the game. With so many races of beings in MOM, you'd think there'd be some routine to handle how well units of different races got along. Oh sure, if you take over a town of elves and your starting race were orcs, the elven town will be a bit testy (much like in Civ where you rushed to build a temple). But then why doesn't racial strife exist within an army? This would have made selecting units much more interesting. No more could you mix dark elf warlocks with orc halbadiers for example, unless you wanted to suffer a loss of effectiveness in each unit. This would have at least made the composition of your armies more important to consider, and the game that little bit more interesting.

The biggest gripe I have about the combat system in MOM, aside from the dismal AI, is that it deals with terrain in a half-hearted fashion. Terrain inhibits movement - that's it. You'll see little trees and rocks in the battle screen and, basically, if it's not flat, move around it. Anything that's bumpy will cost you extra movement points. That's the extent to which terrain is handled in MOM. This was fine in MOO, where outerspace is a pretty empty place, but isn't acceptable in MOM.

To be a half-way decent strategic game, MOM should have a detailed combat system where the player can set up troops ahead of time. For example, I'd like to be able to set up my elite unit of archers among a group of trees, a group of magicians behind an outcropping of rocks, and instruct both to provide cover for a line of paladins that will charge across the field to engage the opposing demons. Unfortunately, this is all meaningless in MOM. A decent mix of ranged and melee units (with the emphasis on ranged units) will quickly dispatch most opposing forces, especially since you can determine what you will be facing before engaging in combat just by right clicking on an enemy stack of units on the map screen. If the enemy force is too great, summon or build the appropriate units or enchant the current units to even the odds. There is rarely any tension during combat in MOM.

Confounded Casters - The AI

So far I've harped on the dismal AI as it pertains to combat, but there's more - much more. Keep in mind that the AI in MOM is actually much better in v1.2 than it was in previous versions, but this only indicates what a dismal job was done initially than how challenging the computer opponent is now.

As in MOO, you will find that the computer builds an excessive number of units in MOM. Up to 9 units can be stacked together in one square in MOM, making up a large army. Yet the computer doesn't seem to mind building weak units and leaving them on their own. The AI will often leave a unit or stack of units sitting around unproductively for large periods of time, all the while paying for its upkeep. Another throwback to MOO is that weak units will continue to assault a vastly-superior enemy repeatedly, so that the player is forced to go through needless combat sequences endlessly. This is a good time to use that AUTO feature I mentioned earlier.

The AI seems to have a heavy leaning towards the building of vessels. Every computer player has swarms of triremes and galleys hugging the coastline and not serving any purpose whatsoever. How useful is a stack of 9 empty triremes? If the computer player had no ability to cross water and were using these triremes to link landmasses together, that would be fine, but we can only wish the computer was smart enough to do that. Unfortunately, the computer is only smart enough to build them and proceed forget about them.

The biggest failing of the AI is not in how it handles its own forces, nor even in how it reacts to your actions. The biggest letdown of MOM is that the AI is near-nonexistent concerning computer reaction to OTHER computer players. In MOM there are really only 2 players, yourself and the computer. It doesn't matter how many computer opponents you choose, since they all act identically so as to make each indistinguishable from the other. Want examples? Okay. If a computer player should cast Meteor Storm (a spell that results in all units on the map that are not in a city taking damage every turn), other computer players will not react to it. YOU would get your armies into your cities until YOU could get the spell broken. Do the computer players bother? Nope. They'll blindly keep their units parked wherever they happened to be and build new ones to replace the ones that have died off thanks to the spell. And no computer player would even think of trying to break this spell that is causing them so much trouble. They would rather leave that to the human they know is playing this game. There are other examples of this sort, such as when a spell is cast that causes land squares to become corrupted and become less productive.

Matters don't improve any if you should happen to bribe a computer player into being your ally, as they will continue to be just as obstinate as always. Even when computer players are at war with each other, it is difficult to determine just what is going on. You never see a stack of computer player A's units marching towards a city of computer player B. You never see destructive spells being targeted by one computer player against another. You as the human player will be doing this all the time, but the computer players seem to march to a different drummer, only attacking each other if their units happen to bump into each other by chance.

Magical Mastery - Winning the Game

As mentioned before, MOM can be won by conquering the home cities of each of the opponent wizards, or by casting the doomsday Spell of Mastery. The latter option is logistically easier, since you don't have to be concerned about moving units around and newly-conquered cities to protect (you can raze cities, though this results in less fame and ultimately a lower score). Casting the Spell of Mastery also gives you more points. However, the former option may be preferable since you can finish a game much more quickly.

In Civ and Colonization the player was able to discover the location of all enemy cities through either a Wonder of the World or a Founding Father. In MOM this ability manifests itself in the Awareness spell, which becomes available to every wizard soon enough. Once this spell is cast by the player, the game is as good as over. Build up a decent stack of units, move to each enemy home city, and conquer the computer players one by one. It really is that easy. The computer doesn't take any emergency measures to avoid certain doom. In fact, you can park a superior army next to an enemy city for a number of turns and watch as the computer does nothing to beef up its units within the city.

Casting the Spell of Mastery is the other way to achieve stardom in MOM. Researching this spell takes a fair number of turns (depends on your research level really, but for me it has always been at least 100 turns), and casting it takes about 20 more. The manual states that the computer players will all unite against you in a bid to stop your bid at ultimate power. Sounds good, but every time I've cast this spell the computer players continue along their bumbling way, never even showing a glimpse of organized effort to stop me. Their relations towards me don't change much either, since diplomatic relations in MOM never stray far from hate.

Winning a game of MOM is a certainty, irrespective of level of difficulty or number of opponents. All a game of MOM involves is building a handful of cities to generate enough magical power to research the Spell of Mastery in a reasonable number of turns (assuming this is the route you take). You'll build a few units to defend each of your cities with, a few more to use as your conquering army, all the while researching what spells you want until you are able to research the big one. That's it. Game over.

Illusory Images - The Graphics

The graphics in MOM are pretty good, for what you'd expect to see nowadays in VGA. Its hard to keep dumping on a game like this, but even in the graphical department MOM could have been improved. This game is large at 26megs on your hard drive, due in most part to the numerous animations associated with spells being cast and combat. The number of spells and unit types present in MOM results in a game that commands a lot of disk space. But why VGA? With a few exceptions, the depiction of the various units in MOM are blocky and uninspiring. Many units look indistinguishable from others. Can we not program these games in SVGA? A much larger game would have been the result, but that's what CD-ROM is for. I would have liked to see a much bigger piece of the overland map when moving units that looked sharp enough so as to convey to me exactly what they are. Clicking on a unit to read what exactly it is defeats the purpose of a graphical representation of it. SVGA graphics would have at least alleviated the cramped look of the units during combat and make possible the graphical representation of more than one enchantment on a given unit. Though marginally better than Colonization, the graphics in MOM are still only functional.

Humming the Mantra - The Sound

I'm not terribly fussy about great sound, owning an 8bit sound card and a $20 pair of speakers. Fortunately, strategy games don't need to have great sound, and most people will find that MOM has numerous interesting and appropriate sound effects associated with various spells. The background music is also pretty good. However it would have been nice to have more variety for, as with the graphical animations, many of the sound effects are repeated for several spells.

Grinning Gremlings - The Bugs

There are still a few bugs in MOM, even after 3 revisions. From what I've uncovered and read over the Net, the following is a short list: Overall MOM is doesn't have many crippling bugs. Just make sure you get your hands on the v1.2 update before trying to play it.


MOM, like Colonization, attempts to be a successful follow-up to Civilization. Many of the game elements are identical or very similar to elements we first saw in Sid's classic. However, MOM (and Colonization, for that matter) lacks the tension and sense of urgency to achieve that next level of advancement that was so apparent in Civ.

MOM is not much of a strategy game, period. It is slow, plodding, and clumsy. Even at its hardest setting with the maximum number of opponents, you will never be pressed to make maximal use of your resources - the AI just isn't clever enough. Your only challenge will be to build enough units at the beginning of the game to defend your initial group of cities from the hordes of units the computer can build early on thanks to a huge production cheat at higher levels. If you are able to achieve this, MOM becomes a foregone conclusion.

This review is Copyright (C) 1994 by Bill Cranston for GameBytes Magazine. All rights reserved.