If you've played Might and Magic 7 or 8, you probably remember Arcomage, the amazingly addictive fantasy card game found in those games' taverns. In fact, it's so addictive that many players, myself included, have kept M&M 7 or 8 installed long after they were through with them just so they could load up a save game and play a few rounds of Arcomage. When the game was first introduced in Might and Magic 7, many players clamored for 3DO to release a stand-alone version.
For those unfamiliar with it, Arcomage is a simple yet absorbing fantasy card game that could be described as sort of the halfway point between Solitaire and Magic: The Gathering. It has the simplicity, universal appeal, and the insidious "Just one more game..." factor of Solitaire and similar games, while the general gameplay and fantasy theme bring Magic to mind.
Each of the two players starts the game with a tower and a wall, with their starting heights dependent on the settings chosen from the options menu. Each also has three resource generators - Quarry, Magic, and Dungeon - which produce a number of their type of resource each day equal to their level. The object of the game is to be the first player to build his tower to a set height, acquire a certain number of resources, or destroy the opponent's tower. This is done by playing cards, which are divided into three colors each with a certain theme and corresponding resource which must be spent to play them. Blue cards, for example, cost gems from the Magic generator to play and generally pertain to tower building. Red cards add to the height of your wall, while green cards feature various monsters which can "attack" your opponent, doing damage to his wall or tower. While a few cards allow you to attack your opponent's tower directly, bypassing the protective wall, generally you'll need to knock down the wall before you can destroy the tower.
Games are short, typically 5-15 minutes, though depending on starting conditions and the luck of the draw, they can be much shorter. My current time record is 32 seconds. This makes Arcomage a great way to kill time while waiting for your dinner to cook or whatever. Since it uses few system resources, I personally find it great for playing while a download runs in the background. Since it resides in a window on your desktop, it's also easy to switch back and forth between Arcomage and whatever else you may be doing- great for those lulls in the normally entertaining Games Weekly staff meetings.
While the game is fairly simple, play is fast-paced and the AI is actually a fairly good opponent. Unlike in the Might and Magic version of Arcomage, the stand-alone version allows resource generators to be knocked down to zero, and the computer tends to take full advantage of this fact whenever possible, leading to a great deal of cursing at the screen. The AI does seem to get confused by two or three of the cards, such as one that allows you to switch walls with your opponent, and will even destroy its own tower occasionally. It also seems to have slight problems with planning ahead, discarding valuable cards because it won't have the resources to play them in the next turn or two.
If you find the AI isn't enough of a challenge, the game does feature a multiplayer component, allowing players to compete over the Net, LAN play is also possible.
Though graphics are a minor issue in a game of this sort, Arcomage is nice to look at, with each card bearing a unique fantasy-themed illustration. While the wall cards, for example, aren't terribly exciting and tend to look similar, the creature cards are especially nice, featuring everything from ogres, to werewolves, to dragons.
Sound is also pretty much a non-issue in Arcomage. Aside from the opening music, which is quite pleasant, there are only about half-a-dozen sound effects in the game. Different sounds indicate taking damage, gaining resources, tower or wall growth, etc. It's effective enough, but the repetition tends to get annoying after a while.
Aside from the addition of multiplayer and the ability to easily run at the same time as other applications, the stand-alone version of Arcomage's greatest advantage over the M&M version is customizability. The options menu allows you to set starting tower and wall heights, starting resources, victory conditions, and several other things, allowing for a great deal of variety. There's even a list of tavern presets from Might and Magic 7 if you know a certain inn was your favorite place to play, but don't recall the exact rules.
So, even if you've already got M&M 7 or 8 installed on your machine, Arcomage is definitely worth getting and highly recommended. It's simple, it's fun, and it's more addictive than crack.
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