While the Mac has lagged behind in other areas of gaming, for some reason there has always been a host of good Mac fantasy games around. Is there some connection between fantasy games and the creative side of Mac users? Do we feel a stronger need to get away than our PC-using brethren? Maybe it's even a mixture of both -- after all, there's nothing like monkeying around with images in Photoshop all day long to make you feel the need to get away.
Whatever the reason, even in the darkest of hours, the Mac never lost its appeal to fantasy game creators. And now that the Mac is strong, there are more and better fantasy games to choose from. Two relatively recent entries to the fold are 3DO's Heroes of Might and Magic III and A Sharp's King of Dragon Pass.
Each episode of the Might and Magic series has been faithfully ported to the Macintosh. And the third installment in Heroes of Might and Magic may be the best of the bunch.
In Heroes III, you play a great leader who must recruit heroes to do your dirty work. These heroes wander about the wild lands, collecting treasure and conquering cities through the use of hordes of widely varying fantastic creatures. Other forces are, of course, working against you -- and have a nasty habit of trying to defend themselves.
In many ways, the flow of the game is very much like Civilization. You collect resources and manage cities for optimum effect. You can use ten different resources such as wood, mercury, and gold to buy the structures that you need to recruit different monsters.
However, the similarity with Civilization ends there. Each different city type recruits different types of monsters, and you have to learn how to use all of the different creatures' strengths to your advantage. Additionally, each hero that commands these creatures has specific strengths and weaknesses. Although heroes don't fight themselves, they do affect how your hordes perform -- a strong hero can accomplish more with less.
Once you learn how everything works together, Heroes III is addictive. Even replaying game scenarios is rewarding, thanks to numerous random elements. Additionally, the game's music and sound effects are fantastic, although its graphics are merely average.
Though Might and Magic has been around for a while, King of Dragon Pass is a first -- A Sharp's first game offering. Set in the fantastic world of Glorantha, you are the tribal leader of a people that recently migrated to the ancient lands of Dragon Pass. Of course, you are not alone. Other peoples that you are akin with have come with you. Additionally, there are strange indigenous peoples already there. Your goal is to manage your tribe through numerous hazards (such as politics, war, famine, raids, and jealous gods) in order to have your tribe thrive and have yourself made king of all the Pass.
It's a story older than Conan the Barbarian, but King of Dragon Pass makes it work. As with Heroes, in this game you don't do your fighting and spell-casting directly. Instead, you are directing other people and managing your tribe for its best effect. The game records all of your actions and generates a tribal history and folklore tailored to you, which is a pretty cool effect.
King of Dragon Pass is an event-driven game, and the events are diverse, well-written, and almost mystically interconnected. For example, you may have turned away a stranger years ago. However, the god that you now wish to befriend was very interested in that man, and as a result you're out of luck. It's an immersion into fantastic tribal folklore you've created with your own actions, and that can be incredibly fascinating and satisfying.
The organization of King of Dragon Pass is different from similar games. You play two turns a season, with six seasons a year. Different actions can be taken more easily in different seasons. For example, it's difficult to rally your troops for war in the planting season, because they will most likely not leave the fields.
The game's interface is well developed. Game controls are intuitive and well placed. The hand-drawn graphics take some getting used to, but it's a beautiful touch that's ideally matched to the game play.
While King of Dragon Pass is easy to learn how to play, it's hard to learn to play it well. The rule book is short on actual advice about game strategy; the designers have decided to force players to learn from the game instead of spelling out cause-and-effect relationships on paper. If you're willing to take some beatings as part of the learning experience, you'll do fine. If you're easily frustrated, however, this approach can turn you off quickly.
King of Dragon Pass, RATING PROS: Rich storyline, appropriate graphics and sound, strong replayability, wonderful mythos. CONS: Difficult to learn how to take proper action, music and graphics may be unimpressive if player doesn't buy into the mythos. COMPANY: A-sharp (www.a-sharp.com). LIST PRICE: $38.
Heroes of Might and Magic III, RATING PROS: Truly remarkable music, good graphics, very replayable, just plain fun. CONS: Can be hard to learn how to win. COMPANY: 3DO, www.3do.com, (650) 261-3000. STREET PRICE: $40.