[Edit from 25 February 2013: Almost three years after I posted this, I gave this game a longer review, won it, and scored it on the GIMLET scale. I recommend that you just jump to that one.]
We needn't spend a lot of time on Wizard's Castle (1980), even though it shows enough promise to be slightly addictive if I gave it a chance. It is an entirely text-based game, similar to the earliest versions of Rogue. As Matt Barton says in Dungeons & Desktops (2008), it is notable less for what it is and more for how it was released: it was printed as 5000 lines of BASIC code in the magazine Recreational Computing. I'm not really sure who I have to thank for the DOS executable version I'm playing.
I don't know if you can read the screenshot above, but the setup is that:
Many cycles ago, in the kingdom of N'Dic [yes, really], the gnomic wizard Zot forged his great ORB OF POWER. He soon vanished, leaving behind his vast subterranean castle filled with esurient monsters, fabulous treasures, and the increadible ORB OF ZOT. From that time hence, many a bold youth has ventured into the wizard's castle, as of now NONE has ever emerged victoriously! Beware!!
In the following character creation screens, you can choose from an elf, a dwarf, a man, or a hobbit and then choose your sex. You start off with points allocated to strength, intelligence, and dexterity (based on sex and class) and a pot of 8 additional points you can distribute as you wish. You then buy some starting equipment with a limited pool of gold pieces.
You control your character through a series of text commands, primarily moving one of the four cardinal directions through the game map. The (M)ap command brings up a "map" of the level, which is an 8x8 grid. Each of the "squares" in the grid contains either nothing (represented by a period) or an encounter (represented by a letter). The encounters are varied, including (M)onsters, (V)endors, (T)reasure, (B)ooks, and stairs (U)p or (D)own.
In combat, you have three options: (A)ttack, (R)etreat, or (B)ribe. I'm not sure what the mathematics are behind the attack. I dispatched a bear and a troll handily enough but then was slain by a balrog--quite a challenge for the first level! Oddly, you don't seem to have any hit points; getting hit depletes your strength.
An interesting game, and one that again shows some influence on Rogue (the character creation process is frankly more advanced in Wizard's Castle), but not one I'll be playing until the wee hours of the morning.
Barton praises the game for its coding efficiency but concedes that it is "a fairly simple game, with no graphics and only a meager story." Keep in mind that Richard Garriott was selling Akalabeth the same year, which featured actual graphics in two different perspectives. In that context, we might view Wizard's Castle as the last gasp of the pre-commercial CRPG.