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Wizard's Crown (Apple II) artwork

Wizard's Crown (Apple II) review


"Well before sports websites existed, I loved live box-scores. The top-down RPG Wizard's Crown used a feature called Quick Combat. Easy fights required no work. Tough battles could see-saw with each combatant knocked unconscious. I'd cheer as the chief enemy went down or groan as he killed my last three players. Sometimes my super fighter with the Frost Greatsword held off the last four enemies. Or I'd gain an important magic item and forget how morale loss affected my party, making for a ..."



Well before sports websites existed, I loved live box-scores. The top-down RPG Wizard's Crown used a feature called Quick Combat. Easy fights required no work. Tough battles could see-saw with each combatant knocked unconscious. I'd cheer as the chief enemy went down or groan as he killed my last three players. Sometimes my super fighter with the Frost Greatsword held off the last four enemies. Or I'd gain an important magic item and forget how morale loss affected my party, making for a tense battle my party would easily win at its best.

Without quick combat WC would have been painful. Tactical combat featured top-down maneuvering and was actually more fun to read about in the manual, which however omitted how to allow spellcasting in quick combat. Tactical's advantage: the computer AI loved obscure and useless actions, like Z for zigzag. So relatively straightforward formations and ideas--hit spellcasters while they're conjuring spells, and attack an enemy from opposite sides--would help in tough fights. That, and making sure your party's not stuffed in a narrow corridor in a dungeon. Quick combat detects this, being tactics without graphics.

With only 280K of disk space, this attention to combat detail made for a sparse story. To wit, rescue a crown that has protected the land of Arghan for 500 years--you're stuck in the main city. The crown's most recent guardian, Tarmon, refused to pass it on, skulking to a castle way south in the ruins. They're as orange-drab as the city, but with fewer roads. The party, after clearing the city of thugs and assassins and poking around in the northern grasslands, visits a few dungeons--orange, natch. They're small enough that it's easy to search walls, barrels and bookcases for treasures or levers, and if there are many key commands, you only have to use some once. Only one dungeon before Tarmon's is necessary, but that's not all bad. Finding an item losing a fight and rebooting means you may need to reset the dungeon level. Oh, no saving there, either.

WC's pull is in big-picture party management. Characters get starting points to distribute among life force, intelligence, strength and dexterity. High intelligence at the start lets you create multiple-class characters. The closest thing to a level is if you hoard a hundred experience to bump up vital statistics, but that'll wait until you've got the right skills.

Thieves' search uncovers extra valuables at random, while haggling increases what you sell enemy loot and equipment for. Priests heal, which sounds trivial, but a bleeding or dead character you don't have the karma to heal after combat means a roster space is freed up. Sorcerers cast offensive spells, but you need high spellcasting ability as well as power. Fighting skill expands to weapon type: sword skill doesn't mean mace or spear skill. Rangers are an enigma: they have some in common with every class, but they're sole owners of skills not useful until the sequel, Eternal Dagger. Different classes take prominence at different points in the game.

How to gain experience presents a pleasing puzzle: find one niche with beatable monsters, and they stop showing up so frequently. The same fight that gave five experience now gives one. You need to fight in the ruins more often before returning to the Inn for an experience bonus. Finding new areas with tougher monsters may be an unpleasant surprise. Skills improve less with experience when they clear 100, 150 and 200. Learning which fights are balanced--and how much you can get away with as morale drops--helps to judge long exploits. You'll overreach--the RPG equivalent of driving on a near-empty tank--and wind up eeking a few squares, saving, and repeating. This breaks the pleasant quick combat/loot/heal circle you'll get used to as your party improves.

That won't be enough for serious party improvement, though. At night, the town gates close. The grasslands to the north have a tavern, which restores morale, but no temple. The near ruins have temples, to restore priests' karma, but no tavern. Temples restore priests' karma, and taverns restore morale. So everything starts out easily, until you realize WC doesn't tell you WHEN at night it is, and your morale sinks with your party's. But once you get it right, several fights in a row should yield jewels or magic weapons. You may want to shift skills if you find, say, a Death Flail, and you may realize a Storm Mace has more potential than a +5 morningstar. You may also need a break from tough monsters to improve an item to its maximum magic capability--several suits of armor from a patrol can net more gold than a ruby found by chance. Some armor can be improved, too, though the real gifts are extremely rare stuff like wizard's rings, which protect extra against magic, or Reenforcing items, which protect against bashing attacks.

All this prepares for Tarmon's six-level castle, which fizzes with ideas. Ward Pact demons are only vulnerable to one of the three physical attacks--bash, cut and thrust. Invisible mazes and doors--yes, you're damaged for going the wrong way--lead to Tarmon, who vaporizes any magic weapons that touch him. My third time through I finally realized I should keep a pile of sharp weapons in the inn. This is what you were SUPPOSED to practice for with tactical combat all game, but wise-guys can just lose the fight, reboot and climb back up. The crown's behind.

Not so fast! The final run back through waves of monsters in the ruins, just makes WC a good game. Even today, too many games end with killing the big guy, but the monsters' last-ditch gauntlet of revenge adds to the theme that you need to be more prepared than you think you need to--even if you've found temples to rest in.

So quick combat allows for a dramatic finish--by which time the tedious under-the-hood stuff is forgotten. Making sweeping decisions about which areas to explore for how long, or racing to the city before nightfall, trumps the micromanagement and keyboard memorization and having to set a leader every time you exit camp. So while WC's short and rough-edged and monochrome, it satisfies. Win it, and your characters have a jump on the sequel, Eternal Dagger--which polishes WC's worst excesses and obscurities and even adds color.

Rating: 6/10

aschultz's avatar
Featured community review by aschultz (November 21, 2009)

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randxian posted November 22, 2009:

This review is teeming with lively examples from the game that keeps the reader engaged. I particularly enjoyed reading about the final little twist after finishing off the final boss. Also like how you casually sprinkle in some wit and sarcasm throughout the review. Overall, this is an enjoyable and informational read that kept me engaged from start to finish. It looks like you didn't force anything and just let the review more or less write itself.

However, I had a small problem with the following sentence - "To wit, rescue a crown that has protected the land of Arghan for 500 years--you're stuck in the main city." It sounds like you are describing the plot here, and then out of the blue you throw in something about being stuck in the main city. So when are you allowed to leave the main city? Does that have to do with clearing away all the thugs you describe below? What happens when you try to leave beforehand? I think what you're trying to say is you're supposed to go on a quest to find this crown, yet the game confines you to the city limits. Just the way it's presented here reads a bit awkwardly.

Otherwise, I enjoyed reading this from start to finish. This definitely rivals some of your best works from the TT.
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aschultz posted November 22, 2009:

Thanks for that catch and for the nice words. This was a review that sat on the shelf, of a game I've played several times since I found it on emulation. I had trouble making this one sentence succinct, but in my defense, the first draft was REALLY all over the place. So here goes:

"You need to rescue a crown to save the land of Arghan, which apparently extends outside the nameless city the game traps you in."

Finding this helped me locate a few other things to tune up, so I really appreciate it.

Nice job also working through so many critiques for your RotW stand-in.
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CoarseDragon posted November 23, 2009:

Really good review. Becasue I really had fun with the game I would have rated it higher but that's all presonal opinion anyway. Did you play Eternal Dagger?
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aschultz posted November 23, 2009:

Thanks for the nice words. I definitely played Eternal Dagger. I don't think I'm going to write a review, because there's little more to say than that ED is the game WC could be, and a 7/8, so I guessed WC is a bit below that. I try to put my own biases aside and maybe I twisted myself around too much.

My basic opinion:
Eternal Dagger = Wizard's Crown + multi-colors + better dungeons (Avlis's tower was funny) + more interesting story with the different races (greedy dwarves are funny) + more skills are useful, especially for rangers. It also had some cool combinations of beatable monsters or territory that'd sap your morale, then bam, tough monsters would swoop in later.

The end was dramatic, but different from WC, with your party giving up all their weapons to enter the Demon World, a fun maze.

But it doesn't seem like I can extend that to a review, quite...yet.
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CoarseDragon posted November 23, 2009:

I agree ED was a better game. I also liked you could transfer your characters from the first game. Did you ever realize it had a finite number of monsters in each area? I think it was the first game I ever ran out of monsters to kill.
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aschultz posted November 23, 2009:

I wasn't aware there were -finite- monsters! I just thought they got less populous. I'd be curious if there was text that said "oops, the monsters are gone" or if it was more that you just mucked around and didn't find anyone.

Sadly, the dungeons didn't have enough fights for a party to really build up.

Oh, I almost forgot, the caves with treasure were cool too. Guess that falls under rangers and tracking.
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CoarseDragon posted December 07, 2009:

Sorry I did not get back to you on this, but yes there is a notice that no more monsters exist in a given area. That is how I found out. I don't rememeber exactly how that came up I believe I was using some kind of search and there was the message, something like "there are no more monsters to be found in this area" and sure enough there were none.
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aschultz posted December 08, 2009:

No problem--this is tough to find. I looked through the bytes and didn't find anything with the words you had, but I'm inclined to believe you. I know several areas dried up. I suppose practically the effect is the same. I'll search more tonight.
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CoarseDragon posted December 08, 2009:

Might not be those exact words. I was a long time ago I played it.

Edit:

Guess I should mention I played the original version on the Commodore 64 back when the game first came out.

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