Dear Master Malstrom,
Thank you so much for recommending Master of Magic! I’ve been gaming since the mid-90s, but I had honestly never played this game before you pointed out that it was on sale; I took a chance on it and straightaway lost the first of several nights already to this game. Classic stuff. Hopefully we’ll hear more about the Five soon; if I had to guess the other 4, I’d guess Star Control 2, MOO2, Ultima Underworld 2, and Syndicate. (Unless obvious games like SC2000 or Civ 2 are eligible, of course.)
Also: do you have any plans to repost any of your old stuff? It looks like your old 50webs site has gone down, so Birdmen & The Casual Fallacy and such is no longer available online. And I’d love to finally get a chance to read all the stuff you wrote for the Wiikly.
About Master of Magic:
I have this game installed on all my computers. I’d have to crank out the Dosbox, do all the typing and all that, and all just to get it to go. Luckily, GoG takes all that work out. It’s become a tradition for me that every winter I break out Master of Magic and play the game over hot chocolate or something (we all have these traditions).
The problem with old games is that due to the dated graphics/sound/etc. that there is much less patience on new gamers getting over the learning curve (and this goes for any old game). So for anyone struggling with MoM, here are some tips:
-Play on Easy Difficulty. (Easy mode allows you to run away from battles without losing your units. This will greatly reduce frustration.)
-Get an army of magicians. (Magicians are a high tiered unit available only to certain races such as High Elves. You must build many expensive magical buildings to be able to make a Wizard’s Guild. Magicians, themselves, are very expensive and have a high upkeep. They are worth it. Make eight of them and have a ranged hero accompany them as you lay waste to everything. If your magicians run out of ammo, just retreat and return to clean up.)
-Magic Spirits are used to tap nodes. (This takes a while to figure out. When you take over a node, you get more than just treasure. If you make a Magic Spirit (which all wizards can make) and move it onto the node, it can ‘meld’ which increases your magic power.)
-The race you choose determines what you can build. (Some races aren’t that good [Orcs]. Some races can do cool stuff. In the Mirror World, there is a race whose early units can fly. Who needs boats?)
-Roads are important. Engineers build roads. (In the Mirror World, all roads automatically turn enchanted. Enchanted roads are like the railroads in Civilization. Beware! Rampaging monsters can use enchanted roads and surprise you!)
-Move your summoning circle to the front lines. (This helps a ton especially when you are melding with nodes.)
-Like Civilization, make sure your cities prioritize growth then food then revenue. (The faster your cities grow, the more stuff you can make. Increasing food and revenue allows you to make larger armies and more city improvements. If you are revenue issues, consider devoting a city to trade.)
-If you are outnumbered, you may have more options than you realize. (This isn’t Civilization. You don’t have to build ALL your units. You can summon some units and just pay the mana upkeep. This will keep some pressure off your economy. During battle, the wizard can cast spells like a Fireball or Holy Armor which evens the enemy’s advantage.)
-Always keep the city with your Wizard Tower in it guarded. (If it falls, even if a sly enemy unit walked on water and got around your front line, the game is over.)
About The Five:
How this all started was for decades I keep playing these games. I never thought about it much, it was more instinctual. It is like a food or dish you find yourself making occasionally over and over. This means there is something in that food your body craves. In a similar way, I think there is something in these games my gaming ‘appetite’ craves. There are no modern substitutes.
These are not the BEST games or the MOST ACCLAIMED games or games the gaming message forums like the best. They are simply games I keep returning to over and over and over again, and I do not understand why.
The reason why I’ve never blurted them all out is because I fear that without a proper presentation, someone would go, “Let me try Master of Magic,” have a bad initial experience and then never play the game again. I don’t want that to happen. Some of the issues have been that these games are unavailable and had to be pirated (now they are available at places like GoG), the documentation was very important to the games and I would have to provide that since I don’t want people to just start the game up without the manuals (GoG provides the manuals and other documents), and I’d want to set up a quick start way so people can get into the game fast while minimizing the ‘learning curve’. (Learning curves aren’t fun in new games and no one has the patience for them in old games.)
Your guess as to the other four isn’t bad. I struggled with games in a series. Should the original be it or one of the sequels? But since what I am consuming isn’t the individual game but, rather, the game’s “spirit” (what the games do uniquely that is not found anywhere else), I count the series as one. So I would not choose between Ultima 7 and, say, the Ultima Underworld games. It would just be ‘Ultima’. Aside from Master of Magic, only one other of the Five stands alone.
They aren’t current series games like Civilization. That’d be too easy. While a game like Master of Magic is well known, there are a great many people who have never heard of it.
I’ve been trying to come up with a Second Five. I have to be careful because this isn’t a ‘best of’ list. These are games, for whatever reason, keep summoning me back. And I have to make sure it isn’t nostalgia. While I adore the Wing Commander series and find myself having great fun if I get a cool joystick and tune the settings right, the series is not *that* unique. Since that series trailblazed the concept of high production games as movies, it is copied everywhere. (Meanwhile a game like Ultima 7 is twenty years old today and nothing today approaches its level of detail and “warmth”.)
There are a couple candidates I have already for the Second Five. Minecraft is an obvious one though the game may be too recent. The game does keep calling me back. There is something with the Unreal Tournament titles that keep calling me back as well. There are some other candidates I’ll keep trying out.
About Old Stuff:
You people really want those old articles?