One of my goals this year is to play more games and extract some tips on good game design along the way. This is my second review in this series called “50 games”.

Heroes of Might and Magic: A Strategic Quest is a turn-based strategy game for DOS from 1995. I spent a lot of time with this game and its sequels in my teens.

The game is fairly unique in that it combines exploring the overworld while gathering resources with tactical turn-based combat against monsters and heroes leading monsters in battle.

As the game series went on, the graphics and gameplay improved, more units and bigger maps were added - but I think the first game is still a pretty solid game in itself (note that it is actually a follow-up to King’s Bounty, which has similar but not identical gameplay).

Thus, when this game was announced as January’s game for the DOS game club, I knew I had to revisit it. So how does it feel now, many years after its debut?

The game is still very charming, and I think, fairly unique. There’s quite a few 4A strategy games and plenty of turn-based strategy games out there, but I think HOMM combines the two beautifully. Sure, it’s got its quirks, and sometimes you are given a hard hand by the RNG generator, but I think that just adds to its charm.

Good things include different races and heroes with different abilities, lots of artifacts to find, and being able to assemble your own selection of monsters. It’s a lot of fun to explore, and the game is surprisingly deep, with lots of different spells and even a find-the-supreme-artifact meta-game in most maps.

I’m pretty impressed at how different the races’ stats and abilities are - a lot of work must have gone into trying to make them fair.

The AI is fairly good if a bit predictable. It does some clever stuff like throw heroes with armageddon-type spells in kamikaze attacks when you arrive with your best hero. The resource control/gathering aspect of the game is key, even if it’s agonizingly hard to control and defend everything. The game’s campaign is fun, but the replay value is with the many maps and scenarios the game offers - and of course the multiplayer option!

So what lessons can I take from this game from a gamedev and game design point of view?

  • Different genres can be successfully combined into something unique
  • Giving the player the ability to customise things adds replay value and feeling of creating your own style
  • Adding smaller gameplay elements make the game seem quite deep and enables other game modes (one map’s single goal is to find the supreme artifact)
  • It’s super frustrating to have enemy heroes appear out of nowhere and take your castle. Also, if a hero is storming towards your castle there is no way to catch up. Ideas that came up during games:
    • Make travelling in explored lands slightly faster
    • Make the immediate positions around heroes auto-attack if visited by other heroes (just like what monsters have)
    • Design the maps with the movement limits in mind (perhaps this was done and I’m just grumpy!)