Independently developed and distributed
Released in 1986 for DOS
Date Started: 31 October 2016
Date Ended: 31 October 2016
Date Ended: 31 October 2016
Total Hours: 2Difficulty: Easy (2/5)
Final Rating: 19
Ranking at Time of Posting: 52/231 (23%)
Joseph Power's Wizard's Castle (1980) has proven to be a surprisingly durable game, probably because it was published as code that anyone could copy. And copy they did. We saw the pathetic efforts that went into The Yendor's Castle (1986), which "improved" upon the original only by changing the name of the wizard from Zot to Yendor in the title and instructions while forgetting to change it in other game text. Leygref's Castle doesn't fare much better. When I played Mission: Mainframe (1983) years ago, I didn't think it was very good, but now I recognize it as a breathtakingly original variant of this line.
|This game also forgets that it's castle's owner is not "Zot."|
The Wizard's Castle was based on an old mainframe Star Trek game from the early 1980s in which you explored 8 x 8 maps and found various items and encounters in each cell. The Wizard's Castle moved the action from space sectors to castle rooms but otherwise maintained the same spirit. You get 8 levels of 64 rooms each, all of which are a mystery before you enter them. Each room may contain one thing: a monster, a book that raises or lowers your attributes, a pool that raises or lowers your attributes, a chest, gold, a special treasure, an orb, stairways up or down, a sinkhole, a teleporter, or a vendor. The encounters found in each room are randomized with each new game. You don't know what each room holds until you enter it or use a flare from an adjacent room.
|The original game, for comparison.|
To find the object of the game--the Orb of Zot or whatever--you must find a "runestaff," which allows teleportation to a specific level and square. You must then figure out the location of the Orb by gazing in enough of the lesser orbs--which provide about a 50% chance of telling you the right location--to get double confirmation. After that, you teleport to the right room (it mimics a teleporter and boots you out if you enter "normally"), grab the Orb, and head for the exit.
|Using the runestaff to teleport to the coordinates of the Orb.|
Along the way, a host of things can increase or decrease your strength, intelligence, and dexterity, particularly since strength also doubles as hit points and intelligence doubles as magic points. You can also suffer a variety of conditions, such as blindness or having a book permanently stuck to your hands. Various artifact items relieve these ills, and vendors offer potions to raise attributes to a maximum of 18.
The games are meant to be fairly difficult and random. Each game only takes 10-20 minutes, so you're supposed to fail a lot--sometimes unfairly--before you win. It's not unlike Solitaire in that regard.
(The Wizard's Castle variants are, as far as I'm concerned, emphatically not roguelikes, though many sites list them as such. Although they feature minimal graphics and permadeath, they lack the quality of dungeon exploration and the complex inventory systems of true roguelikes.)
To this basic template, Leygref's Castle adds very little. Like The Yendor's Castle, it copies the introductory text almost word-for-word from Powers' original, even the bit about "esurient monsters." The name of the kingdom has been changed from N'Dic to Zantu. The "gnomic wizard Zot" is now the "Grey Elf, Leygref," and thus the object of the quest is the Orb of Leygref rather than the Orb of Zot. (In case it's not clear, "Leygref" is a rather lame anagram of "grey elf.")
|The introductory screen from The Wizard's Castle (1980)...|
|...contrasted with Leygref's Castle. Except for acknowledging some of the new elements here ("crotchety old wizards," "a phantom"), it's the same.|
The game interface has been rehauled a bit here, and I admit it's probably the best of the lot. It keeps the map and the character's inventory and attributes on screen at all times. Whether you possess artifact items is emphasized by highlighting them. Most valid options are offered in the status window. You rarely have to leave this screen.
|A nice instructional summary of how the game works.|
Leygref adds centaurs and wood nymphs to the available character classes, but like the standard classes--dwarf, hobbit, human, and elf--this doesn't really affect anything except starting attributes.
Leygref also adds a few more vagaries to the exploration. Chests can contain (nonsensically) wizards who curse you unless you have the gem artifacts to block them. A wandering "phantom" shows up in random rooms and can steal your gold or magic items--or leave you with a pile of gold.
Fewer of the rooms are keyed to teleporters and chutes, so exploration isn't quite as chaotic as in the predecessors. On the other hand, a few elements make Leygref a little harder. In The Wizard's Castle, if you managed to get your attributes up to 18, your were set for a long time, since the underlying math let you kill monsters in one hit and characters with 18 dexterity were almost immune from being hit themselves. That isn't true here. Characters with all 18s routinely die in a few unlucky combat rolls--monsters typically whack away 5-7 strength points per hit. This makes the game feel even more random than the earlier variants.
|Fighting remains primitive, but the battles take longer.|
Leygref's developer also has strength automatically decrease by one point with every 9 moves, and dexterity seems to just fall by one point randomly every now and then. These factors, plus the difficult combat, keep you running to the vendors for potions every time you manage to amass the 1,000 gold piece cost.
|Low on hit points again.|
In the previous versions, magic--which has a strong chance of backfiring and depletes attributes fast--served in a "Hail Mary" role. You used it when you were out of options. Here, that's not possible because the developer made it so you can't cast spells if your strength is below 10 and your intelligence is below 15. This encourages you to use magic when you're feeling good, as an alternative to getting your strength whacked away in melee combat, but the attribute minimums mean that you're only good for a few spells.
Still, no matter how difficult the game, the randomness means that eventually you'll get lucky and find the runestaff in one of the early combats, get the coordinates, and acquire the Orb within a few moves, not unlike a game of Solitaire that starts with a bunch of aces in the front row. Even if you're not so lucky, the key to winning is to take it slow, make use of flares (they're copious) and don't enter monster squares when your strength is low.
|"Great Rot!" substitutes for "Great Zot!"|
There's less fanfare to winning here. In earlier versions, the game recapped your moves, gold, and magic items when you escaped with the Orb. In Leygref, you just get a quick screen saying "You're out with the ORB" before hitting the DOS prompt.
Leygref's Castle was programmed by Frank Dutton of Independence, Louisiana and circulated as freeware (though he does solicit contributions of an unspecified amount). On the copyright page, Dutton says that it is based on a "computer game which has been in the public domain for some time," apparently referring to The Wizard's Castle. I'm not a copyright lawyer, but I'm pretty sure that just because the original appeared as code in a magazine, it's not in the "public domain." My view is bolstered by the fact that the magazine code has you type a line that says "(C) Joseph Power." Making a few changes and selling it strikes me as a bit unethical, but of course that seems to be common with some of these RPG lineages.
|It takes...something...to add your own "copyright" to this program despite acknowledging that you copied it.|
The game rated a 19 on the GIMLET--one point higher than The Yendor's Castle, reflecting a slightly improved interface. We'll see one final variant of this series in Bones: The Game of the Haunted Mansion (1989), which like Mission: Mainframe promises some cute variations. I won't be sorry to see the end of this lineage at that point.