Heroes of Might and Magic: A Strategic Quest
New World Computer, Inc. launched the Might and Magic franchise with Might and Magic Book I: The Secret of the Inner Sanctum in 1986. Released in what Dungeons and Desktops labels the Early Golden Age, Book I was the first release in what would be one of the longest-running role-playing franchises, garnering praise for its non-linear explorative model, with over 4,000 areas and 55 areas, and an emphasis on race and gender characteristics. The series would continue for a number of years before branching out into the turn-based strategy genre with the release of Heroes of Might and Magic: A Strategic Quest (HoMM), in 1995. The original series provided a foundation for its strategy counterpart, but would not directly tie into the new series for quite some time and is by no means required to understand and enjoy HoMM.
HoMM begins with the world of Enroth in turmoil. War is waging between four factions, each led by a warlord: Lord Ironfist, Lord Slayer, Queen Lamanda, and Lord Alamar. Each warlord starts with a castle that is a representation of the archetype fantasy classes that dominate their kingdoms: knight, barbarian, sorcerer, and warlock, respectively. Any warlord can command any other unit type – e.g. Lord Alamar can command an Ironfist archer – once a castle has been captured and any necessary structures built. Aside from the starting castle, encampments are sprinkled throughout the eight campaign and thirty-four scenario maps that allow you to build up your economy and unit base. Structures are then built around the castles to allow you to recruit new unit types, increase unit morale, expand the faction’s spell book, and gather information on your rivals.
Capturing the mines and structures gains a faction increased gem, gold, timber, and other resources. The resources are then used for the recruitment and upkeep of a hero and an accompanying retinue of soldiers. Units can be garrisoned in cities, but they can only travel on the map when led by a hired hero unit. Each of the four hero units – knight, barbarian, sorceress, and warlock – can be recruited by any warlord and each has the same attributes – attack, defense, spell power, and knowledge – with each class favoring some attributes over others. If you prefer to attack, then you would hire a barbarian hero to have the highest attack rating (2) while also avoiding penalties when traveling over rough terrain. A hired hero starts with a handful of units, but their squad will increase once replenished from a castle’s garrison. Each victory adds experience to the hero, which will eventually increasing their attributes once they level up. Items hidden throughout the land, sometimes protected by powerful creatures, can also increase their attributes. A particular note has to be made of the cursed artifacts, which negatively affect heroes and are stuck with them until death. Ouch.
Heroes can make or break an army. The magic-based heroes can do an incredible amount of damage with spells that range from calling lightning bolts and meteor storms from the heavens to paralyzing and confusing enemy units; of course, the computer can counter any effects with counter spells, which makes for interesting tit-for-tat matches. But those who want to hulk up and steamroll over units with a knight and a bunch of swordsmen are free to do so. It’s the strength of the heroes, either through buffing their units or increasing their morale for free second attacks, that will see an army through. If a contest gets too hot, the hero can retreat and be re-hired later, but that will cost the lives of whatever units were still alive at the command to retire.
The heroes are represented by a single character graphic on the world map, sporting a flag of their faction’s color, and a tent on the battlefield. Once two heroes engage each other on the map, the game then switches to a side view with each faction’s stacks of units squaring off on either side. If the hero has any abilities, then those are accessed via the tent to the rear of the front lines; they do not actively engage in fisticuffs. The hero unit on the map doesn’t convey too much information, which can be found easily enough by right clicking on a unit, so it always pays to do a little reconnaissance before engaging an enemy. Heroes only have a certain amount of moves per round, with their range indicated by green and red arrows leading to the destination – red arrows indicating that the hero does not have enough moves left to complete the action. Terrain can also slow movement down, and seas require access to portals, teleportation magic, or a boat. Scattered throughout the map are not only artifacts but also shrines that boost morale, treasures, units that want to join your ranks, and random creatures that can be used for practice before engaging the enemy.
As enjoyable as it is to tromp around and level up your heroes, the various soldiers and creatures available to recruit are what offer the most excitement. Match-ups vary wildly, from gryphons against genies to hydras against fairies, with long-range missile and magic units firing away as lumbering melee attackers make their way across the battlefield. The ability to recruit units from other factions from conquered castles will lead to varied armies that allow for some pretty interesting combinations, since the heroes can mix units from both factions – imagine squad composed of units from both Arthurian legend and Arabian Nights. The colorful graphics and simple, yet somehow endearing, animations still delight; however, the sound can be a smidge repetitive and fuzzy, though the effects share the same rose-tinted advantage in delighting as the animation.
After all these years, Heroes of Might and Magic: A Strategic Quest still holds up well and can – and will – still command hours of your day. I spent many an afternoon and night playing through the campaign and standalone scenarios, after quickly readjusting to the aged controls and production values. The series made some serious strides though, even with the sequel Heroes of Might and Magic II: The Succession Wars, which is also when the series formed concrete ties with the role-playing series with Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven, marking it as the proper beginning point for newcomers. Lack of detailed enemy unit information might put off newer players, as it will certainly lead to some messy encounters, and some of the game’s more rigid rules (see: cursed artifacts) won’t help, either.
This is really one for the completionist. While still a fine title, A Strategic Quest is not so timeless that it demands your time nor so integral that its predecessors will lack without the benefit of experiencing it.
 “Might and Magic series,” MobyGames, May 22 2009 Might and Magic series.
 Matt Barton, “The Early Golden Age – Might and Magic: A Brave New World,” Dungeons and Desktops, (MA: AK Peters, Ltd., 2008) 127-128.
 “Heroes of Might and Magic,” MobyGames, May 22 2009 Heroes of Might and Magic.
 “Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven,” Wikipedia, May 22 2009 Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven.