First impressions

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  • brezhtnev


    I have been listening to some of the DGC podcasts (great stuff!). As a fan of Jagged Alliance 2, the one on UFO: Enemy Unknown motivated me to finally check out this classic and I’m loving it so far, also playing the 2012 XCOM (on iPad) again to see how they compare.

    While I could spend many more hours on UFO, I decided to play January’s game of the month. Since my time is limited (in contrast to when I was a kid), I looked up the average playthrough time on – some 10 hours for the main story. I can manage that! However…

    I thought UFO was quite overwhelming at first. But, oh boy, it’s nothing compared to Master of Magic! I read the first couple of chapters in the 150-page manual, but that still leaves me bewildered! I don’t remember playing any other 4X strategy games except for Civilization IV (IIRC), but I don’t think that required any manual reading at all. Nor have I played Magic: The Gathering, which Master of Magic apparently draws much inspiration from.

    Tired of reading, I just dove into the game, exploring the area around my starting city. It quickly became obvious that my initial troops are vastly underpowered to defeat any of the nearby baddies, so I’m assuming I need to focus on other things first. I guess that includes city building and spell researching?

    Looking for pointers online, I found this Reddit post: So you wanna get into Master of Magic…. I haven’t gotten around to reading all of that yet.

    Then something about the technical aspects of running the game. I got the GOG version, which runs the game through DOSBox. After changing the configuration file to use my preferred scaler (rgb3x), I’m happy with the way things look. However, I noticed the music often stutters. The default cycles set for the game seems to be very high. I have tried to tweak the core/cycles settings, but the stuttering seems to remain. Are you folks experiencing the same issue? See also Master of Magic DosBox Tweak Master Guide on the GOG forums.



    I played Master of Orion I and II before playing this, and both of them I just sort of picked up through trial and error by playing them. For this game I thought I’d try the same as you and read the manual first, but now I realise that it’s more useful just as a reference. You just have to sort of dive into the game, mess up a lot and slowly figure it out.

    You can definitely see the same DNA in this game as the two MoO games, especially number 2. And I will admit, for the first few hours I actually just found myself wishing I was playing that instead. I’ve gotten past that now and I’m enjoying the game for what it is, but I would still say I like Orion better. I think I mainly just like the sci-fi setting more!

    I can see I’m not going to really experience all this game has to offer in just one month! It’s half way through the month already, and I’m still in my first game (at least the first where I didn’t completely screw up and have to start again!). I see all the veterans here talking about OP strategies and such, and it’s all going way over my head.
    But then again, I think I’ll mainly be playing this the same way I play the Orions: I don’t go in for challenge much. I just set the skill level low, focus on building my empire, and fend off and ignore my opponents until I’m ready to steamroll them in one fell swoop! I guess I just treat these games as more of a management sim because I love that feeling of exploring a universe/world and creating an empire.

    As for Dosbox: you’re right. It does seem to be a quite picky game in that regard. The default settings were way too sluggish on my system, but with cputype=auto and cycles=max it works fine.
    (I actually wanted to play this on proper harware, but my 386 is underpowered, I’m waiting on components for my 486, and my pentium I and II are currently packed up!)


    IME diving in without any primer is very time consuming. Having young kids there isn’t time for that approach with complex games. It’s best to have a friend or brief guide to help, or just watch some expert players online while doing other things.

    So far I’ve bounced hard off this game. Hoping to retry before the month is out.


    After reading most of the “Beginning the game” and “Basic Exploration and the Hamlet” manual chapters, I eventually managed to make some progress in a game at the intro difficulty setting. On all of my attempts I chose Freya (nature magic) and the high men race.

    It quickly became obvious that I needed to exercise some patience and “wait” for a large number of turns before I had enough troops to attack some of the sites and nodes guarded by monsters. In the meantime, I could of course start building outposts, expand my home town and research spells. For the latter two, some guesswork was required because of the overwhelming amount of options.

    The automatic building choices made by the Grand Vizier didn’t seem very helpful to me, since he always seemed to be producing too many troops so that I wouldn’t have enough food for them. I personally chose to first increase food production and only then produce more troops.

    The tactical combat didn’t strike me as very interesting. But maybe that’s because I’m used to (and love) the more detailed combat in games like X-COM and Jagged Alliance. It seems the key to success is to first test the waters and gauge the strength of the enemy, retreat, and come back later with more and stronger troops and better spells (after researching). Or that may of course just be at the intro difficulty level. My towns weren’t attacked, but I can imagine that preparing for that in time might be a difficult task.

    Unfortunately, this game didn’t grab my attention like X-COM did, so I didn’t even finish a single game. Looking at my wizard’s power compared to the other two that I encountered so far, I’m pretty confident my current game should be easy to beat, though. While the sheer amount of content (buildings, troops, spells) promises a lot of depth, it’s also a bit overwhelming. Nowadays I just don’t have the amount of time required to explore all of that content, which somehow tempers the enthusiasm I’m afraid. While X-COM has perhaps similar depth, it somehow seems more manageable.

    I can’t wait to listen to the podcast on this game though. I expect there will be two camps: those that have mastered it by now and love it, and those that are overwhelmed (i.e. everyone that started playing it this month). 🙂


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