HEROES OF MIGHT & MAGIC / New World / PC
Building on the ideas introduced in Kings Bounty, Heroes Of Might And Magic fuses them with the Might And Magic universe (in a cursory way.) The end result is a turn-based fantasy strategy game that's easy to learn, but has a fair amount of depth and a very addictive quality.
Players begin each game by choosing from four factions - the Knight, Sorceress, Barbarian and Warlock. Each of these has a different set of troops that they field, and their "heroes" (the unit leaders whom you move about the map) have a tendency to lean toward either using fighting skills or magic. The idea in most maps is usually just to crush your enemy and see them driven before you, but there are several alternate objectives that pop up, such as being the first to locate and dig up a hidden artifact, the first to capture a certain castle, or the first to amass a certain amount of money. Up to four-player hot-seat is available for multiple players, and solo players are given a Warcraft-like range of both single maps and story-driven campaigns to play.
The crux of the game are Castles, of which you always start with at least one. These are where you recruit Heroes to roam about the map and do your work, and resupply your army with fresh troops. If you lose all your Castles, you have seven game days to capture a new one, or you're eliminated. Of course, if all of your Heroes are killed in addition to losing your Castles, that's the end for you as well. The job of the Heroes is to roam about the map securing resources and gold with which you purchase new troops, build new structures, and fortify castle defenses. They are also your means of attacking other players Heroes and Castles. There's quite a bit of similarity to Warlords in concept, but the strength of this game is an excellent mouse-driven GUI as well as small squad combat on a grid that you actually control.
The game was originally released on floppies for MS-DOS in late 1995. About six months later, a CD-ROM version was released that offers the ability to play in Windows as well as quite a bit of add-on content. The CD version offers a map editor for creating stand-alone maps (no campaigns), a random map generator, and a package of new stand-alone maps from the designers. The music was also upgraded to very nice digital audio, and King's Bounty was included on the CD as a bonus. Though the floppy version is fine if you're looking for a quickie abandonware download, the CD version is really the preferred way to go.
This is one of those games where it's tempting to rate it down in post-facto context, since all of its sequels basically offer the same game engine plus quite a bit more, and the game has become rather obsolete. Taken on its own merits without considering the sequels, however, it's still a very good game. It doesn't quite get as high of marks that its follow-ups did, however, simply because it did need significant work at this point. The first major problem is that campaign mode is pretty thin - the story is just about nonexistent, and you simply play the same maps with different starting positions for each character rather than custom campaigns for each faction, so once you've played it through once you've really seen everything. Nothing carries over between maps - hero experience, gold, items, etc. - so campaign is really just like playing a string of solo maps with cursory little text plot updates in between, and the story is about as generic and dry as it gets. The sprite work here is really on the ugly side, and computer AI is pretty dense in terms of dividing forces effectively and using extremely predictable and repetitive tactics, making battle strategy simplistic and the game fairly easy on the whole. And while the music is pretty good, it does not have the haunting opera found in the towns of the sequel.
As mentioned, this version was made obsolete by every sequel, but if stuck on a desert island with it you'd still be pretty happy, especially with another player to add better challenge than the computer can give.
* Gameplay Video