Saturday, June 21, 2014

Game 149: King's Bounty (1990)

Never have I started a game, seen the words "New World Computing Presents," and been disappointed.

King's Bounty
United Stats
New World Computing (developer and publisher)
Released 1990 for DOS, Apple II, and Commodore 64; 1991 for Amiga, Macintosh, and Sega Genesis; 1994 for FM Towns and PC-98
Date Started: 18 June 2014
Date Ended: 19 June 2014
Total Hours: 6
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: 35
Ranking at Time of Posting: 96/147 (65%)
Ranking at Game #456: 337/456 (74%)
King's Bounty is completely not what I expected. Then again, I'm not sure where those expectations came from. It's often called Heroes of Might and Magic 0, or the "spiritual ancestor" of the Heroes series. I've never played Heroes, but I always assumed it was something like Warlords, where you picked a side, created armies, developed resources, fortified and defended cities, and so forth. Expecting to encounter a classic strategy game, I was thus surprised to find something much more akin to Sword of Aragon, with strategic combat used as a means to accomplish an RPG-style quest.

The exploration window. My armies are on the ship in the center. To the northeast, a party of monsters waits to attack me. To the southeast is a treasure of some sort. South of me is a city, and right next door is a castle that I can besiege. The icons on the right show me my current bounty target, the fact I have a siege engine, the fact I can cast spells, the map pieces I've uncovered, and the amount of money I have. The top status bar indicates there are 583 days remaining in my quest.

The game takes place in a world called the Four Continents, ruled by King Maximus, who maintains peace and order via an artifact called the Sceptre of Order. He is opposed by a motley crew of evil powers led by a dragon named Arech Dragonbreath. (Side note: isn't that kind of a lame sobriquet for a dragon? You would think that "dragon breath" would be a given for a dragon. It would be like calling a human warrior "Chester Two-Arms.") Through the discovery of an ancient tome, Arech learns that to conquer Maximums, he'll need to ally with a demon king and steal the Sceptre. His mage ally, Magus Deathspell, summons King Urthrax Killspite from the netherworld. Urthrax uses his magic to open a portal so that Arech can enter the king's throne room, grab the Sceptre, and teleport away.

As per the prophecy, the evil powers sit back to wait for King Maximus to sicken and die, at which point Arech plans to place Urthrax on the throne. But Maximus has at his disposal a Hero, "recently returned from the conquest of a ferocious, evil dungeon," who he has tasked with the recovery of the Sceptre. In anticipation of this, Arech has buried it and divided the map into 25 pieces, trusting 17 to his followers and 8 with "artifacts of power." The player's quest is to use the map pieces to find the Sceptre within a time limit, defeating as many of Arech’s minions as he can, and amassing the highest score that he can, along the way.

Recovering one of the game's artifacts--and a map piece.

The game is built to be replayed. During character creation, you choose your class from four options: knight, barbarian, paladin, and sorceress. Each offers various strengths and weaknesses in terms of magic power, leadership skill (which determines how large an army you can control at any given time), and rapidity of character advancement. You also choose a difficulty level from "easy" to "impossible," which affects both the number of days you have to beat the game and your final score.

Character class, name, and difficulty level are the only character creation options.

The Four Continents have a fixed geography in terms of terrain and the locations of cities and castles, but each new game randomizes the placement and composition of treasures, artifacts, allies, and enemies. Arech’s minions are scattered randomly throughout the castles on their respective continents. There are some parameters to this randomization; for instance, each continent always has the same two artifacts (only their specific placements vary), and each continent always has the same four minions (only their specific castles vary). But in general, the class type, the difficulty level, and the randomization ensures that you face a slightly different challenge every time you play.

Early in the game, you have somewhat cheap, pitiful allies.

Late in the game, you find powerful, expensive ones that cost a lot to maintain.

At the outset, you can only explore the first continent: Continentia. Eventually, you find a map allowing you to travel to the second, Forestria. Explorations there produce a map to Archipelia, and from there to Saharia. The continents feature increasingly difficult encounters, rewarding treasures, and powerful allies. Each is 64 x 64 squares, of which you can see 5 x 5 at a time in the main game window. Each continent has some variety of water, grass, desert, mountains, and forest, the latter two of which are impassable and serve to create small mazes and hidden areas. An automap keeps track of where you've explored.

The basic dynamic is to explore each continent, collect allies for your army, defeat monsters, earn gold, find the "artifact" treasures, and besiege castles and capture Arech's minions. Each artifact and defeated minion gives you a map piece. Once you have enough pieces to make a guess where the Sceptre lies--which will almost certainly be long before you defeat every minion--you go to the area, "search" the appropriate grass square, and retrieve the Sceptre. At this point, the game automatically ends.

In this game, I defeated all but the top two enemies. Their pieces of the  map are obscured when I look at it.

But I hardly needed those two pieces to figure out where the Sceptre was.

To defeat the minions, you can’t just besiege castles randomly. You have to receive a “bounty” for that minion from one of the cities. You always get Murray the Miser (a turncoat who opened the castle’s gate for the enemies) first, followed by Hack the Rogue,  Princess Aimola, Baron Johnno Makahl, and so forth, all of whom are mentioned (if only briefly) in the back story. Defeating them in combat results in a significant reward in gold, a map piece, and a step towards promotion to a higher rank (the rapidity of which varies by class), which in turn brings more leadership skill and income.

Receiving a bounty for a minion.

And collecting one.

Each day comprises 40 moves over regular terrain or water but only 1 move over desert. Five days equal a week. With every week that passes, you get a fixed income depending on your class, level, number of castles you’ve captured, and other small game events such as finding mines. This income is used to buy spells, rent a boat for each week, make a couple of one-time purchases like siege equipment or the ability to cast spells (if you don’t start as a sorceress), and most importantly, hire and maintain your army. Each unit has an associated weekly maintenance cost. One of the reasons that the “easy” level is so easy is that you could theoretically burn week after week just sitting in place and collecting income.

Random treasure locations might offer any number of rewards, including gold, which you can keep or distribute to peasants for an increase in leadership skill; I found the boost in leadership was always more valuable than the gold itself. You also can find mines, which increase your weekly commission, and special encounters that result in boosts to magic ability or deliver copies of spells.

Monsters in the wilderness are mostly avoidable unless you get caught in a dead-end, but fighting them gives financial rewards and contributes to your overall score. Occasionally, groups of monsters will offer to join you rather than fighting you.

Hell, yeah!

Building a powerful army is the key element of gameplay. You can recruit soldiers of various types (depending on your rank) from Maximus's castle, and you find various monster types in various villages, caves, tombs, and hollows. The number of units you can recruit is limited by both funds and your overall “leadership” skill. It is possible to accidentally enlist more units than you have the skill to control, which can result in the unit going “out of control” and attacking your own people.

Each unit has associated skill levels, hit points, movement points, damage, and special abilities such as shooting arrows or spells from afar, or quickly flying to any location on the combat map. Ghosts can convert slain enemies into more ghosts; demons have a chance of automatically destroying half of the soldiers in a unit; dragons are immune to magic. Each unit also has an associated "morale group" and mixing units of varying groups lowers everyone's morale. For instance, knights don't fight well alongside demons. You can only have five units at any given time, so it's generally better to spend money on very large stacks of a few units rather than small stacks of many units.

My dragons and barbarians (lower right) take on the enemy's giants. His trolls (upper right) are advancing on my party, and his stack of 6 demons (upper left) flew directly over to engage my forces, but my 114 knights, 30 vampires, and 17 trolls are essentially unstoppable.

They're also very expensive. At $20,725 per week, they exceed my weekly income by about $7,000. I need to start winnowing them down. Note that the knights aren't very happy being in the same army with vampires and dragons.

Combat takes place on a tactical map that varies depending on terrain. When besieging castles, it's always an empty castle courtyard. As in most strategy games, units move until adjacent to each other, then begin pounding away. Unique to this game is a system in which the first time a unit is attacked in battle, it "retaliates" against the attacker.

To me, a good strategy game takes a middle path when it comes to logistical complexity. I don't care for games like Spirit of Excalibur in which there are essentially no tactical options, but neither do I like games where each unit has 17 different statistics, all changing depending on terrain and time of day, and where I have to micromanage the cultivation of two dozen resources. I suspect true strategy game addicts prefer things a lot more complex than I do. Sword of Aragon was just about perfect for me.

King's Bounty falls a tad--just a tad--on the uncomplicated side. There are tactics associated with spellcasting, the use of ranged attacks, creative use of terrain, the morale system, which enemy units to target first, which unit should attack first and thus absorb the “retaliation” damage, and so on, but I felt that I mastered it all pretty quickly. Moreover, most of these tactical concerns pale in consideration of raw power, and it isn’t hard to amass enough money to simply hire huge stacks of powerful friends like trolls, knights, or even dragons, and have them just plow through your foes. If money was just a bit less plentiful, players would have to pay a lot more attention to other tactics.

My party of vampires prepares to fly over to the enemy's druids so they can engage them in melee combat.

The game's approach to magic is reasonably blunt but effective. There are 14 spells in the game—7 combat and 7 non-combat--which characters find or buy during their adventures. You can own multiple "copies" of each spell, but your total spells in inventory is capped by a maximum, which starts at varying levels for different classes and grows from special encounters. A separate “spell power” statistic also starts at different levels depending on class and grows from special encounters and promotions.

Non-combat spells include useful navigation spells like “Bridge” (creates a bridge over a body of water), “Castle Gate,” “Town Gate,” and “Raise Control,” which temporarily improves your leadership skill and allows you to control more units in combat. Some unique combat spells include “Clone” (makes extra copies of soldiers in a unit) and “Resurrect” (restores lost individuals in a unit) as well as common spells like “Fireball” and “Turn Undead.” You can cast one spell per combat round as long as you still have some copies.

My available spells. I need some more combat options.

When you first encounter an enemy in the wilderness, the game gives you some sense of how many you're facing, and of what type. You have the option to attack or flee. Fleeing always works, which is good, since there’s no fleeing once combat starts, no surrendering, and no quick combat option. This means some side ends up having to fight a hopeless battle to the bitter end, and when things are too one-sided, they get a little boring. But I had a lot of fun with battles late in the game, when I had lots of available spells and was fielding powerful units. Pitting six score knights and 200 elf archers against stacks of demons, dragons, and vampires, disrupting things every round with lightning bolts and fireballs, felt suitably epic.

"A few" usually means less than 10 and "some" usually means less than 25.
When you arrive at a castle, on the other hand, you get no sense of what enemies await you in the courtyard. You have to collect that intelligence from various cities in the area before making a educated decision about whether your armies can defeat the enemy.

Collecting intelligence from a town.
There are a few things that make Sword of Aragon an RPG where King’s Bounty is not. First, Aragon featured more attributes, experience, and leveling for the hero. More important, the hero actually appeared on the combat screens and participated in combat, while in King’s Bounty, you never see the protagonist. He can’t even die. If all the armies are defeated, you just end up back at the castle with a scolding from the king but all of your funds intact.

The consequences of failure.

The game really doesn’t have any “inventory,” either. Technically, the artifacts are a kind of “inventory,” and as you find each one, you increase in some ability. The “Crown of Command” doubles leadership ability; the “Sword of Power” increases every unit’s damage; and the “Shield of Protection” increases every unit’s defense. But they’re not inventory items in a classic RPG sense, where you can equip, unequip, trade, drop, or sell them.

Since so many elements of the game are randomized, you have to take notes as you play so that you remember the locations of key ally camps, cities that sell specific spells, and of course which minion is in which castle. The manual came with a couple of grids that it encouraged players to photocopy and use for each new game.

I just used Excel.

As I played, I found that a  decent early strategy was to rent a boat immediately and explore the perimeters of the landmasses, avoiding monsters (who never come out to sea), darting in to collect treasures and artifacts, collecting intelligence on who’s occupying what castles, and noting the locations of potential recruits. Especially if you can find the artifacts early in the game, the battles become much easier, though sometimes the randomization places them in locations not easily accessible by the sea.

You can get a lot of these "treasure" encounters without ever having to fight anything.

After a number of weeks, your weekly income has probably given you enough money to hire decent units, which allows you to explore the interiors, defeat wandering monsters for profit, and start collecting bounties. This process essentially repeats for the first three continents. The fourth, Saharia, is a special case. Most of it is desert, and exploring the interior means burning weeks and weeks unless all your units are capable of flight.

However, even visiting the last continent is essentially optional. As I mentioned, you can usually find the Sceptre well before you finish defeating all of Arech’s minions. The bounties culminate in Arech himself, and his piece (the center of the map) is always the last one, but when I tried to defeat Arech, I found myself against absurdly large stacks of dragons and demons, and I’m not sure exactly how I would have defeated them with my available armies. I’m sure it’s possible with more practice, but you’d have to be an idiot to actually need that last map piece. I found that I could usually identify the location of the Sceptre (always in the center of the treasure map; always on a grass square) after seven or eight pieces, sometimes a lot fewer depending on what the early pieces revealed.

Even my buff party was no match for Arech's 159 dragons, 106 demons, and 112 vampires.

In the first game I won, with a knight (according to the manual, the easiest class) on the “easy” difficulty level, after just a few pieces, I knew I was looking for a grass avenue in between some mountains to the northwest and forest to the southeast. There were only a few places that qualified, and pretty soon, I found the exact location in Forestria. I won with a score of 3,310.

In this game, the presence of the tomb helped me identify the Sceptre location after I'd only found a few pieces.

The next time I played, I chose a sorceress (supposedly the highest difficulty level) on “impossible” mode. I immediately bought a boat and prioritized coast exploration and collection of artifacts over battle. I avoided every step of desert. I got very lucky in the reveal of map pieces when one of them showed a tomb (where I could recruit some kind of undead ally) with a bit of forest around it. As I continued to explore, I kept watching for tombs, and I found the right one in Archipelia with about 80 days (out of an initial 200) to go. I kept defeating minions and other armies until I was down about a dozen days and then grabbed the Sceptre, earning a final score of 24,080—much higher than the knight, mostly because the “impossible” level earns points at 8 times the multiplier of the “easy” level.

My best game so far.

I suppose the ultimate way to win would be to find the Sceptre on the “impossible” level after defeating every minion, including Arech, but I’ll leave that for another time or a better player.

There were a couple of things I didn’t care for. The first is the copy protection scheme, which requires you to type a word from a specific page, line, and word count in the manual. I kept getting it wrong, probably because I was mis-counting a couple dozen lines. The game gives you only one chance before dumping you to the DOS prompt. I suppose if nothing else, this limits “save scumming.” Although the game allows you to save anywhere, there’s no reload option in the game itself; you have to quit and go through the copy protection mechanic again.

I found the sound effects a little sparse—no satisfying crunches or howls in combat, for instance. The icons on the side of the screen are entirely unnecessary. Everything they tell you—your current bounty, whether you have a siege weapon, whether you’re capable of casting spells, the number of maps you’ve found, and how much money you have—are all instantly retrievable with the “View” or “Info” commands. I wouldn’t care about superfluous icons except that the developers felt the need to keep them in a state of constant animation, which was a little distracting.

I don't need to be reminded so constantly that I have a siege engine and spellcasting ability.

On the plus side, movement was through very easy-to-master keyboard commands that can be referenced with a quick look at the “options” menu. I thought the overall difficulty was a bit on the easy side—especially since I won on the “hardest” level on my second try—but overall I think it’s a fun game with just enough tactics to be slightly interesting, and at about 2–4 hours per campaign, it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

In a GIMLET, I give it:

  • 4 points for the game world. It’s got an interesting novella, and I like how the bounties in the game are referenced in the novella, so you understand every minion’s contribution to the back story.
  • 3 points for character creation and development. There isn’t much in the way of creation—just class and name—but I like that different classes face different challenges, and that the characters steadily improve throughout the game from exploration, combat, treasure hunting, artifact collection, and bounties.

The character status screen about mid-game. The leadership and spell scores are really the only "attributes." The artifacts found on the bottom are the only "inventory."

  • 0 points for no NPC interaction.
  • 3 points for encounters and foes. There are no special encounters in the game. The foes are well-described in the game manual. While typical D&D fare, they do have special attacks and defenses that make a difference in how you approach combat.
  • 5 points for magic and combat. The magic system is a bit basic, but the combat system is satisfyingly tactical, creating more interesting scenarios than a typical RPG but probably less exciting than a typical strategy game.

Reviewing options in combat.

  • 1 point for equipment. I nearly gave it 0, but I suppose I’ll regard the artifacts as “equipment” of a sort.

Gideon, late in the game, with all the artifacts collected and god-like levels of leadership.

  • 6 points for economy. Your fortunes wax and wane throughout the game as you purchase spells and armies. Given the difficulty of some of the battles (which aren’t necessary to win), money never becomes superfluous.

This would be a less-obvious choice if the money was greater or the leadership increase was smaller.

  • 3 points for quests. There’s a clear main quest with multiple steps along the way.  You can kind-of regard some of the bounties as “side quests,” as you don’t need every map piece to figure out the Sceptre location and win the game.

This is what you get if time runs out.

  • 5 points for graphics, sound, and inputs. Nothing special for sound, but the graphics are attractive enough and the keyboard interface was easy to learn.
  • 5 points for gameplay. Fun, quick, with a little bit of challenge. I like that you have a lot of freedom in how you explore and how you prioritize combat. Maybe a little too easy, but that’s only if you regard getting the Sceptre alone as winning the game.

That produces a final score of 35, not bad for a game that isn’t an RPG being ranked on an RPG scale. (If the RPG-specific categories were removed and everything was re-scaled, it would score about a 50; less than 10% of games I've played have reached that level.) It obviously fails most in some classic RPG categories, but for what it intended, it does it quite well. I would regard it as a fun “lite” strategy game for people who aren’t really that into strategy games.

This would be the scene if you fulfilled the "bounty" on Arech, I guess.

Alan Emrich’s review of the game in the November 1990 Computer Gaming World is interesting because it also approaches the game from an adventure/RPG perspective and also makes comparisons with Sword of Aragon:

King’s Bounty is an army game of large battles and sweeping continents, not a six-characters-hit-the-dungeon variety of role-playing game. If [adventure gamers] feel cheated by games which are of a more introductory caliber (e.g., if they thought SSI’s Sword of Aragon was too simple), they should avoid this one. If, however, quicker, cleaner, and simpler fantasy/strategy games are one’s forte, there is a feast of fun at the King’s Bounty.

"Quick, clean, and simple" describes King's Bounty reasonably well.
This is the fourth or fifth game from New World Computing, after the first two Might and Magics (1986 and 1988), a 1989 strategy game called Nuclear War, and perhaps Tunnels & Trolls: Crusaders of Khazan (which came out the same year and which I will eventually finish). When I blogged about Might and Magic I and II, it was early in my career and I didn’t do a good job talking about companies and developers, so I never offered the praise for the company and its founder, Jon Van Caneghem, that I should have.

King's Bounty had this brief thematic connection to the Might and Magic series. I suppose that means the Four Continents are just another VARN.

Van Caneghem is perhaps second only to Richard Garriott in nurturing my CRPG addiction, and I think the Might and Magic series is perhaps the best overall series in the history of RPGs. Yes, individual titles in the Ultima series and the Gold Box series are, in my opinion, better games, but Might and Magic is the only series that for eight consecutive titles never really hit a wrong note. Might and Magic VI and VII would appear on my list of the best RPGs I’ve ever played (I’ve won them each at least 12 times), and the entire series really perfected the first-person multi-character RPG that began with Wizardry. For years, I’ve wanted to know if the Heroes of Might and Magic series did for strategy games what its namesake did for RPGs, so I’m pleased to finally have the chance to find out, starting with this predecessor.

When JVC plays Ultima IV, I bet he has the hardest time with "humility."

New World lasted as an independent company from 1983 to 1996, when Van Caneghem sold it to 3DO, but he remained as president of 3DO until 2003, when the company went bankrupt and the New World division died. Fortunately, the Might and Magic series (including Heroes) lives on at Ubisoft (see my quick initial review of X). Following the collapse of 3DO, Van Caneghem started Trion World Network, which made the MMORPG Rift. He moved to Electronic Arts in 2009, then left that company earlier this year. I’m having trouble verifying, but his LinkedIn profile indicates he’s the CEO of a new company, currently starting up in “stealth mode.”

Heroes of Might and Magic is the “spiritual” descendent of King’s Bounty, but there are a couple of literal ones. In 1992, an independent Russian developer created King’s Bounty 2; it exists only in Russian. In 2007, the Russian developer 1C Company purchased the rights to the name and released King’s Bounty: The Legend, followed by King’s Bounty: Armored Princess (2008) and King’s Bounty: War of the North (2012). There was also a 1991 board game by Task Force Games that has the same cover as the computer version, but no one seems to know if it was made with New World’s cooperation and assistance or not.

I won’t be playing any of these sequels, of course, but as with King’s Bounty, I’ll check out Heroes of Might and Magic in 1995 so I can explore its thematic connections with the Might and Magic series. [Later edit: I don't know why I said I wouldn't play them. I guess I assumed they were strategy games like this one. Apparently, they're RPG hybrids and will, in fact, appear on my list.] Next up, I'm simultaneously continuing Dragonflight and exploring Maze Master


  1. If memory serves, the Heroes of Might and Magic series proper leans a bit more heavily on RPG mechanics than King's Bounty. There's more equipment, and your heroes' leveling up is a bit more RPG-ish with increasing attributes and such.

    1. Yep, and the RPG elements arguably grow more prominent at least throughout the first four games.

      From Heroes 2 you even get to choose various skills for your heroes to learn. Perhaps lessening the "RPG feeling" is that you as a player are more of an abstract entity controlling your side, with multiple heroes on the map.

    2. And in Heroes 4, you finally get to control individual Heroes as singular units.

  2. Strange names, indeed. Although I would add that "Two-Arms" doesn't capture the fact that the "Dragon" is being used to describe, well, a dragon. Strange.

    And those other names are similarly uninspired. (You didn't make them up, right?)

    1. No, I didn't make any of them up. The full list is:

      -Caneghor the Mystic
      -Hack the Rogue
      -Arech Dragonbreath
      -Baron Johnno Makahl
      -Bargash Eyesore
      -Magus Deathspell
      -Prince Barrowpine
      -Auric Whiteskin
      -Rinaldus Drybone
      -Czar Nickolai
      -Sir Moradon the Cruel
      -Princess Aimola
      -Dread Pirate Rob
      -Mahk Bellowspeak
      -Murray the Miser
      -Uthrax Killspite

    2. "Bargash Eyesore" - Is he a sight for sore eyes?

    3. I can't help throwing in the names of the default party members for the original Might & Magic CRPG:

      Crag the Hack (knight)
      Sir Galahad (paladin)
      Zenon III (archer)
      Swifty Sarg (robber)
      Serena (cleric)
      Wizz Bane (wizard)

      ...yeah. Someone was having way too much fun with this.

    4. In the list for KB, "Caneghor" is obviously a play on "Caneghem." I assumed "Hack the Rogue" was after the games of those names. I figured some of the others were named after other members of the team.

      I love that in the MM list, they're all a bit odd except for "Sir Galahad" and "Serena." Don't want to be assigning any silly names to paladins and clerics, apparently. Might upset the gods.

    5. Hmm... I remember Crag Hack was a Human Barbarian while Sir Maximus was the Half-Orc Knight.

    6. I'm surprised no one has caught the "Princess Bride" reference - "Dread Pirate Rob(erts)" - in all these years. I even missed it the first time I read these comments!

    7. It hurts me all these years later so hear someone calling those names uninspired, considering a couple of them were definitely foundational in my own stylistic creation of made-up fantasy names at least for a bit. I definitely played a couple of variations of "Johnno Makalh" and "Mahk Bellowspeak" in other CRPGs as a kid. I suppose in addition to some of the others already mentioned that "Czar Nickolai" is not terribly original itself though, huh

  3. As someone who never played King's Bounty, but considers Heroes of Might & Magic 2 to be my all time favorite game I really appreciate this little look at the game. It's neat to see how many elements carried over into the HoMM series completely intact when I was under the impression that it was more like Wizardry is to Might & Magic. All sorts of little things like the morale rating based on the mix of unit types, and the ghost/dragon/etc abilities are exactly the same. Gathering map pieces to search for ultimate artifacts also sticks around as a quest type (although it is usually a side-quest.) The big difference seems to be how the HoMM series adds much more personality and rpg elements to the titular heroes of the series. In a few years when you start getting to the Heroes games I'd love to see your thoughts.

  4. Yeah this is basically HOMM 0. The Akalabeth of the Heroes of Might and Magic series, if you will. You can also see they used the same font and design style of Might and Magic 2 when they made this game.

  5. I find it surprising that you're not planning to play the newer King's Bounty games, since they have a lot more RPG trappings than the original game did.

    1. I'm guessing it's because they were made in 2007 and we will all be senile pensioners by the time Chet gets that far!

    2. That was a hasty statement, written with the assumption that the later games had no more RPG elements than this game. I see now that I was wrong.

  6. This certainly does contain almost all of the base elements that go into the HOMM series. HOMM3 I rate as my best game of all time, so it was great to see you do this posting on where it all started, even if it is not really an RPG!

  7. Quoting the creator of Acid Cave web - Acid Dragon. One of the largest Polish sites dedicated series of Might and Magic and Heroes (mostly from the storyline):

    In reference to the sign that says "CORAK was here."

    "Well - considering the story, it Corak, as android Ancients with the mission of saving the world and stuff, probably not stoop to writing a silly subtitle style graffiti on the sign :P.

    But somehow it is proof (if it is not a sign by the fan created) that simply JVC made ​​both KB and MM saga and a little 'eye blink';) to us to remind you :).

    Personally, I think it is completely safe to assume that the world of KB and those of MM are located in one and the same universe - if only because of what I know - there act the same rules (eg in KB, there is no real ;) gods. With this reasoning, it may even Corak, as a traveler, ever actually visited the world with KB :P"

    It is just a piece of a long discussion on the search for links between Kings Bounty and a series of MM and HMM.

    Greetings from a great fan of Might and Magic and Heroes series.

    1. I didn't imagine that the sign was any more than a nod to the other series that NWC was known for, but the MM series is set up in such a way that you could envision any number of other fantasy worlds as one of its VARNs.

    2. In this way, it sometimes tries to connect the universe of the old series with the new one from Ubisoft. But in that particular case the world of Ashan is a little of misunderstanding. In my opinion, we rather should say that new universe is just a spin-off to main JVC series than it is another VARN or CRON or else..

      It is only digressions. My preferences is that I would like to not see games from new univers, even if it would mean no new games at all to this days.

      I know I can simply avoid them. But if the new universe was created for the brand Might & Magic is it possible that the old one will be ever rborn (to be continued)?

      I now that I strongly differs from the merits of this entry.

  8. Nitpick: The 2012 King's Bounty game is Warriors of the North, not War of the North.

    Also, I know that getting to 2007 is likely out of reach, but I will note that the newer KB games (from The Legend onward) satisfy your three core RPG criteria. If you ever skip ahead to play some modern games, then I hope you'll check out The Legend.

    1. Yeah, I'm not sure why I said that. The newer games are even tagged as RPGs in MobyGames. Of course they're on my list.

  9. "Following the collapse of 3DO, Van Caengehem started Trion World Network, which made the MMORPG Rift."

    (Caneghem's name is misspelled above, just FYI).

    Wow, thank you for the extra effort to reconstruct CRPG history. I never knew Caneghem had a hand in creating Rift. It's one of the most successful MMO challengers to World of Warcraft to date, although it had to transition from a subscription model to free-to-play.

    For good or ill, Rift is well-known for being closer to "old-school" World of Warcraft - the type of gameplay that people who started playing WoW 7 or 8 years ago remember, rather than the current evolution of WoW.

    Caneghem didn't invent the old-school, first-person perspective dungeon crawler/RPG, but he's deservedly beloved for his contributions to the genre.

    I wonder what his next project will be...

    1. I just wish all these classic RPG developers didn't feel like they had to get sucked into the MMO genre. I guess that's where the money is these days, but a lot of players still prefer single-player RPGs.

    2. I'm one of those "a lot of players". F*** MMORPGs.

    3. I think the move to MMORPGs is due to weighing development time investment against potential profits. That's just my throwaway opinion, and I have no sources to cite.

    4. I totally agree with you though.

      MMORPGs are just the devs saying, "F*ck the plot! Hello, Obscene Piles Of Money!"

  10. You might want to consider adding Hammer of the Gods ( ) to your list, as the game is extremely similar the first Heroes of Might & Magic.

    1. Does it have all my RPG elements? Character development? Flexible inventories?

    2. You get a choice of four characters at start: Human, Elf, Troll, Dwarf. The whole game is a series of quests to gain favor from the gods. Historical map (Medeival Europe) or random map (it's the same one from Merchant Prince so it's good enough for what it does). The combat screen is great, like King's Bounty but larger. Diplomacy with the computer players (you have to love any game that has a button labeled "KILL HOSTAGE AND DECLARE WAR". There are Magic Items you get for completing quests (sample: the Black Cauldron raises zombie warriors from your own fallen troops) but nothing like a shop. I guess its RPG credentials are like King's Bounty: they're there but they're not the first emphasis of the game. Eh, throw it on the list, you can think about it later when it comes up.

  11. You can turn off the cycling animation in the settings. :D Yeah, the treasures are basically "increase leadership" boxes. I don't think I've ever taken the cash. Yeah, it is a bit easy to find the Sceptre if you put your mind to it - didn't want to say anything about it. It's the game's great weak point. But just keep defeating villians, that's the fun part anyway.

    I'm pleased that these older games are so confounding. Lotta fun, eh! Back before people knew what to expect, and knew to be disappointed if it didn't happen. The game could just be anything, and if it was well done, then it was worth playing. I know this blog is concerned with RPGs but it's nice to see respect accorded to these other oddballs of gaming that usually get dismissed.

    1. Pretty sure when I first played I found the scepter without going to another continent (or maybe it was only after the second one). If you want a quick laugh though check out the TAS (tool-assisted speedrun). It's about 10 seconds.

    2. I don't get that TAS. Did they just keep starting new games until they got lucky enough to start one with the Sceptre in the starting square?

    3. They manipulated the random number generator somehow. Lame.

    4. Exactly what they did. Either they used a script to run through commands multiple times until it hit, or they watched the RNG value in memory and started the game at just the right time to get the scepter on the starting square. A bit lame yes, but the goal was to get the fastest win condition. Much like the Clue speedrun where the runner continued to guess the easiest answer set by mashing until it was correct. Eventually you'll hit on the correct random number.

  12. "I found that a decent early strategy was to rent a boat immediately and explore the perimeters of the landmasses, avoiding monsters (who never come out to sea), darting in to collect treasures and artifacts, collecting intelligence on who’s occupying what castles, and noting the locations of potential recruits."

    And it remains a decent strategy for every incarnation of the game that follows.

    Crag Hack the Barbarian becomes one of the main characters of the HoMM series. It won't be the last time you hear the name 'Maximus' either.

    The games titled 'King's Bounty' have you play as a character (albeit one who never appears in combat), the HoMM games generally have you play as an invisible ruler (ala Civ). Some HoMM campaign levels (from HoMM III onwards) change this somewhat: Losing a particular hero might be a loss condition, and certain heroes might carry over their skills to the next scenario.

  13. Replies
    1. He played on "hard" difficulty, which gives a x2 modifier to points; I played on "impossible," which gives a x4 modifier. Basically, I earned half the points he did. Though I guess his strategy of waiting weeks and weeks for gold to accumulate wouldn't have worked on "impossible."

  14. The full story starts here, six minutes before the events above.

  15. It's not that hard to beat the last villain. There are two challenges here: 1) one needs a lot of units (hence one should buy many king's units, as other types are quite limited); 2) to support a huge army, one needs a lot of money. The way to deal with the second problem is to use time stop/town teleporting spells, and also to keep accumulating the troops in a castle on the last continent before going for the last villain. The army in a castle doesn't require money once it is placed there.

  16. This post solves a 25-year mystery for me. I spent a happy day watching my cousin play this game, but then forgot what it was called. I spent years looking for it and eventually latched on to the HOMM series as being close but not quite the same. That series has always been one of my favorites, but I've still wondered about this one. Between this post and rediscovering Dark Heart of Uukrul, this blog continues to be a real treasure trove.

  17. The Genesis version of this game is surprisingly close to the computer version, and may well be more polished than it, plus has music and smooth scrolling.

  18. If anyone wants to try this, it is free at the Internet Archive. Downside: You can only play online, and can't save.

    1. The game is freely available from a number of abandonware sites, so why advertise this DRM infected version?

    2. It is *illegally* available from a number of sketchy abandonware sites. actually has a special exemption for educational and archival purposes. Also, I'm pretty sure it is just a technical limitation of the DOSBOX frontend they use, rather then a deliberate choice not to let you save: If you look at most of the games they have up, they are single-sitting type games.

    3. We can thank those "sketchy abandonware sites" that many old and obscure games are still available and have not totally faded into oblivion.

    4. Hallelujah to that. Many Kickstarted games can thank every abandonware site available for keeping the memories of their predecessors alive. Else, I'd doubt many can even recall or come into contact of those classics to support the cause.

    5. They did a good job of that, but I feel we should use them less as sites like GoG make us able to pay for them, and as legal methods become available. Also, I prefer sites that make my antivirus pop up a ton of warnings.

    6. I agree you should buy legit, non-crippled versions from GOG *if* the game is available there, but the original King's Bounty is not. The game is bundled with some versions of HoMM 1, but not the one GOG sells

    7. I admire, but no serious game can be played entirely in a browser, both for the saving issue and for other miscellaneous corruptions and crashes that will ruin a perfectly good adventure. The Virtual Apple site has the ability to download images of all of the games; I didn't see a similar option on the Archive site.

      Abandonware sites are a necessary evil. My own personal ethics are something akin to:

      Paying for a game > Downloading a truly abandoned game from an abandonware site > Not playing the game at all > Pirating a non-abandoned game.

    8. I'd have to agree with your order Chet, though I'd say there are many games you can pay via streaming: Just not CRPGs. Oregon Trail is one sitting, so is Galaga.

      Mostly I linked to it so people could click on it, have some fun and see what it is like without having to set up DOSbox, filddle with config files and virtual drives and whatnot.

      They don't have a download option as the limits on their copyright exemption are pretty tight. The US has a special law for them to preserve old games for future generations. Most of the old games they have are stuff like galaxion that don't HAVE saved games, so they didn't really worry about that.

    9. Thanks for the link to Internet Archive. I rushed off and tried it and ... it saves. It saves just fine. I played a couple of complete games over multiple sessions. (Set the first one to Impossible and lost.) Set the next one to 400 days, and won it in 185 days. ;)

      What sort of problem did you have with saving?

  19. I felt like the radical change in perspective and the toggleable real-time/turn-based modes (has this ever worked in the history of gaming? There's not a single game that does this that I'm aware of that wouldn't have been better off picking one and sticking to it.) were pretty major missteps on the part of M&M VI. Certainly they were enough to immediately turn me off it and I've never gone back. I hear VI and VII in particular were great but I just have trouble believing it.

    1. They were the greatest! You have lived the last couple decades in vain!

    2. Better than the World of Xeen duo? I'm not buying it.

    3. No, I was just f*cking with you. M&M 6 was novel. 7 was fun. 8 was passable. 9 was just a terribly bugged piece of trash.

    4. I always played 6+7+8+9 in turn based mode.

    5. That's almost certainly the way to go, but it still feels pretty compromised compared to the pure, step-based turn-based play of M&M IV and V.

    6. Oh, god, I totally disagree about MM6-8. I loved the dual systems. Turn-based when you needed to be tactical, real-time when you just wanted to blow through some lower-level creatures. I thought it was akin to the CTRL-A option in the earlier games.

      MM6 and 7 remain two of my favorite games, and I really look forward to getting to them again. I thought MM8 had a worse plot, but I never stopped liking the engine, combat system, inventory, or skill system.

    7. See, quoting from a guy I know who plays CRPGs to curb his addiction, "there's always a fan for any game, no matter how bad it is".

      That said, I personally like the dual systems myself. It was the plot that got worse. I think it's because the devs had to tie their stories in with HoMM series that got their creativity all constricted and shit.

  20. I'm not claiming to have given them a fair shot (maybe one of these days), but that initial impression was really negative. And it's certainly not a mix that's worked well for me in other games that used it, like Fallout Tactics or Arcanum. (I did manage to complete Arcanum even so. Fallout Tactics, not so much.)

  21. high score on Impossible (could've gotten higher if damn demons would've halved dragonbreath's dragons).

    1. Well done. Did you defeat every minion?

    2. I did ove 45k yesterday. I am thinking about Mix Maxing this. I spent last 3 days in this 28 years old game :D, crazy. Sorceress is definitively the easiest class.
      Now score does not seem to be influenced by time which I focused, so I lost a lot there. If I checked correctly it only cares about difficulty, castles (4x100 each), villains (I could not calculate precisely, but quite a lot), artifacts (4x250) and loses (a lot, but could not calculate...sadly I realized too late)

    3. The exact score is 500 points per villain, 100 per castle garrisoned, 250 per artifact, minus 1 per follower killed. Take the sum, and multiply by 0.5 for easy, 1 for normal, 2 for hard, and 4 for impossible. The maximum possible score therefore would be 52,400 if no one was lost.

      That is probably impossible, as that would require decimating Arech's massive dragon army in a single turn. There's a guide at GameFAQs for the Genesis version that explains how to get 52,392-6 by using a huge cloned army with two single-unit stacks to absorb the 100+ dragon unit's damage.

    4. Well, I decided to go for broke, played on Impossible, garrisoned all castles, caught all villains, collected all artifacts and my final score with 1058 dead followers was 48,168. I messed up very early in the game, had to give up a battle and return in disgrace to the King, and though I didn't lose any followers, I don't know if that affected my final score.

      And, ironically, the scepter was hidden on Contintentia at 10,4, literally two steps from the starting position and practically in the King's driveway.

    5. So I finally came back and got a perfect score... took a lot of save scumming to work out my method for each villain once I reached Saharia though. Stayed as Mage, used a lot of Instant Army and Raise control to get 3K elves to support me against Ureth. Then cycled instant army, shoot once with elves, give up and repeat.

      This is such a stupid, pointless achievement but as someone who has played this game since 1990 it feels me with joy.

      @Bryan: Giving up doesn't affect your score but losing followers does.
      @Zardas Instant army elves are the key. I was getting 20 for 1k. A 3k stack cost 150k and killed 25 dragons at a time.
      @CRPG Addict thanks for your reply... eight years ago. Sorry I didn't check back and reply at the time

    6. If you have the gold and you've already used Raise Control a bunch of times, you might speed up the process by recruiting a butt-ton of Archers in addition to using Instant Army to rack up a load of Elves. As soon as you give up, you're returned to the main castle anyway, so you can recruit more. I'll give it a shot, as it were, see how it goes.

  22. I remember that great game from my early 90-th childhood, distributed on 5.25 inch floppy disc.
    To defeat main boss, Arech, you had to be well-prepared. Exploring 4th map is much easier, when you left part of your army in the castle with only 'flying' units left. Pressing 'F' turn your horse into a dragon, and you can fly above the desert and obstacles with no wasting weeks of game time.
    Also, to kill final boss, 'mad knights' tactics can be used. Buy max number of knights', left them in the castle, do it again (a lot of money needed). Then join whole group in your army (they will be 'out of control' as their number exceed your authority). At beginning, teleport them near enemy dragons and enjoy (you need to have some cavalry or other 'faster than knight' units, strong enough to deal with the rest of enemy dragons). I think, about 300-400 knights needed, to destroy dragons and to become controllable at the end. Otherwise, if they still out of control after enemy defeat, they will turn into enemy and destroy your army.

  23. Someone has gone to the board game page and updated it with the full story. Enjoy!

    "Released in 1991 by Task Force Games, this game is like its computer game counterpart: the players are rival bounty hunters, each riding through the kingdom, hunting down monsters and miscreants upon whose heads the king has put a prize.

    The King's Bounty was designed prior to the like-named turn-based fantasy computer and video game designed by Jon Van Caneghem of New World Computing in 1990. The computer game version is notably considered the forerunner of the Heroes of Might and Magic series of computer and video games. A sequel to the original computer game, called King's Bounty: The Legend was released in 2008.

    The computer game's origin began with fighting mechanics that were meant to have a similar flavor to that of the Avalon Hill board game Titan, but the computer game lacked a story-line or theme. At the same time as this computer development, the author of the King's Bounty board game was wrapping up the development of the board game, which at the time had a working title of "Bounty Hunter." New World Computing decided to adopt a storyline and theme similar to that of the board game being prepared for production by Task Force Games, which New World Computing owned.

    New World Computing shut down development at Task Force Games and transferred ownership of the company prior to the board game production completing, which delayed its release. The major remaining component that had to be completed prior to release was final production and layout of the rule book, which is why interior artwork changed from that produced for other components. The cover graphic, already completed and originally contracted for the board game and then adopted by the computer game, remained unchanged. This answers the question implied by the earlier writer of this game entry, "Interestingly, the cover of both the computer game version and the boardgame version are the same, implying some connection between the two."

    1. Thanks for updating us. So based on this account, the board game and the computer game share the same cover and story but different game mechanics, since they were developed independently.

    2. To complement this, there is also an article by Jimmy Maher ("The Digital Antiquarian", also linked on this blog) on the genesis of KB:
      @Chet: the second part of it and the comments might also be interesting to look into once you get to HoMM.

  24. I love the Heroes of Might and Magic series but those games really are more strategy than RPG.

  25. i fire this particular game up every couple of years and noodle around in it. it's low-stress fun that you can knock out in a couple of play sessions if you're just taking your time.

    i'm glad you tried it. even if it doesn't fit your definition of a rpg, i think it's at least important to see the roots of where heroes of might and magic came from [which then, of course, feeds into the might and magic games, themselves.]

    while i understand this was an aside for you, and too many of those will slow you down, i'm at least glad you made time for /this/ aside.


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