Developed by Stephen Barcia (whose credits also include Master of Orion, Master of Orion II: Battle at Antares, and Metroid Prime), Master of Magic was released with a variety of bugs and an inconsistent AI. Version 1.31 was released in March 1995, fixing many of these bugs and generating a much more positive evaluation. The game has come to be considered a classic of the fantasy strategy genre. On April 27, 2010, Good Old Games released Master of Magic for Windows XP and Vista operating systems.
In Master of Magic, the player takes on the role of a powerful wizard attempting to dominate the twin worlds of Arcanus and Myrror. While much of the core gameplay is similar to Civilization and other classic turn-based strategy games, Master of Magic contains a number of notable deviations.
Master of Magic is set in a fantasy environment rather than a historical world. The base world, Arcanus (where all players except one start) is similar to Earth, with lakes, oceans, forests, grasslands, and mountains. The mirror plane, Myrror, is a more barren, desolate world with a darker landscape and a different set of races populating the environment.
The player takes the role of a wizard rather than as the leader of a civilization. The player is initially assigned or selects a set of spell books delineating which spell trees may be used during the course of the game. Different spells may be used inside or outside of battle.
There are a variety of races throughout the two worlds. While different races in cities have different abilities (including different buildings, different troops, etc.), no race is definitively tied to any particular wizard. So a wizard will likely end up ruling a heterogeneous population including many different types of races.
One notable innovation utilized in Master of Magic allows the player to recruit heroes to lead his armies. The developers included 35 distinct heroes, with several higher level heroes not available until the player has progressed deeply into the game. Heroes can gain experience points and abilities through battle, and can equip a limited number of items found or bought through the course of the game.
Master of Magic deals with combat both indirectly through a world map, and on a more in-depth basis through a separate screen. Much like combat in Heroes of Might and Magic, upon initiation of combat, the player zooms in to a battle screen showing the two armies laid out on a grid. Combat proceeds unit by unit, with each unit being allowed to move, attack, or cast a spell (if it had such capacity). With sufficient mana reserves the player wizard, while not shown as a unit in the battle, is always available to cast a spell.
In order to win, the player must develop a base of power, establish new cities or expand existing cities, wage war, and engage in diplomacy. The player must also advance his magical knowledge, researching new and more powerful spells. The game ends when the player has captured all other wizards’ towns or casts the Spell of Mastery, effectively banishing all other wizards.
Magic spells are divided into six different categories:
- Chaos, largely offensive attack spells. Their elemental nodes are volcanoes.
- Nature, enhancing troop performance and affecting the environment. Their elemental nodes are forests.
- Sorcery, focused on magic itself, including illusions. Their elemental nodes are lakes.
- Life, to aid troops and cities.
- Death, used to bring death and pestilence to enemies.
- Arcane, base level spells available to all schools of magic. The useful "Create Artifact" spells are Arcane.
Players can control units of a variety of different races, including:
- High Men - Civilized humans. Unique Units: Paladins.
- High Elves - City-dwelling elves. Unique Units: Elven Lords, Longbowmen, Pegasi.
- Nomads - Itinerant humans. Unique Units: Griffins, Horsebowmen, Rangers.
- Barbarians - Wild humans. Unique Units: Berserkers.
- Gnolls - Hyena-like humanoids. Unique Units: Wolf Riders.
- Lizardmen - Reptilian humanoids. Unique Units: Dragon Turtles.
- Klackon - Insect-like humanoids. Unique Units: Giant Stag Beetles.
- Orcs - Green-skinned humanoids. Unique Units: Wyvern Riders.
- Dark Elves - Dark-skinned elves. Unique Units: Nightblades, Nightmares, Warlocks. Myrror-only.
- Dwarves - Stocky humanoids. Unique Units: Golems, Hammerhands, Steam Cannons. Myrror-only.
- Beastmen - Animal-like humanoids. Unique Units: Centaurs, Manticores, Minotaurs. Myrror-only.
- Draconian - Dragon-like humanoids. Unique Units: Air Ships, Doom Drakes. Myrror-only.
- Trolls - Large, burly humanoids. Unique Units: War Trolls, War Mammoths. Myrror-only.
The game comes with 14 pre-designed wizards for the player to select:
- Ariel - Life magic
- Freya - Nature magic
- Horus - Sorcery and Life magic
- Jafar - Sorcery magic
- Kali - Death and Sorcery magic
- Lo Pan - Chaos and Sorcery magic
- Merlin - Nature and Life magic
- Oberic - Chaos and Nature magic
- Raven - Nature and Sorcery magic
- Rjak - Death magic
- Sharee - Chaos and Death magic
- Sss'ra - Chaos and Life magic, also starts on Myrror
- Tauron - Chaos magic
- Tlaloc - Nature and Death magic