I originally reviewed this game under it's more popular download format, and stand by everything I said there.
Also, the other reviewer is absolutely correct in that purchasing the game in this form serves almost no purpose ... as installing the game from this disk still requires that you connect to Steam, and once you do that, the version that this disk installs will be replaced by the latest version downloaded from Steam.
This is actually a very good thing in this particular case, as this game has had some significant updates that have improved it considerably. Knowing what I do about Steam, I pretty much expected this and wasn't disappointed or surprised. I chose to purchase the game in this format, anyway, because I am an avid collector of original game disks and artwork (over 3000 titles, dating all the way back to DOS days <G>) ... something that's becoming somewhat of a lost art in the age of the digital download.
But the reason for this update has nothing to do with the purchase format. I'm updating my original review because I've devised a great remedy for my main original critique of this game, which may be helpful to others as well. This primarily concerns the game's AI, which isn't the best.
True enough, if you start with a confined enough world (lean more towards islands than continents), and with enough opponents, you can find yourself in a position that initially seems tough to win. But this has everything to do with your random placement in the world and what resources and opponents are nearby ... and almost nothing to do with your chosen difficulty level. "Impossible" opponents are definitely more aggressive than their lesser counterparts, and defend themselves quite well, but still stop short of ever seriously threatening to remove you from the map. Eventually, if you bide your time and build intelligently, you will develop the strength necessary to vanquish all of your opponents from the map -- no matter what level you're playing on.
The solution to this seems subtle, but it kicks the game into another dimension (literally) altogether. It's also very simple: Eliminate "Defeat the Great Mages" as a victory condition. And while you're at it, eliminate casting the Unity spell as a victory condition also. And make sure that when you set up your world, you include lots of additional worlds besides Ardania.
Now, to win the game, you're going to have to control 50% of the holy grounds, also (since a portion of them are going to reside in the other worlds) you're going to have to explore, conquer territory, and develop cities in the other worlds ... a lost part of the game if you allow victory by simply vanquishing the other mages, because to do that you needn't set foot in any of the other worlds at all.
Inside these worlds, you'll find some initial tough sledding. You'll need some accomplished troops who can take care of and heal themselves to be effective down there. And the longer you wait, the more Elementals and Dragons spawn, and the tougher it gets.
Meanwhile, back in Ardania, you'll still have plenty of infighting amongst the magi and will find yourself in a war or two as you attempt to establish your superiority to your neighbors. Except that now, there is no reason to completely eliminate them from the map. Indeed, it's far better if you can beat them into submission to where you dictate the terms of their surrender and force alliances. Let them handle the mundane business of managing the territory that they control and to serve as a buffer between you and other potentially hostile opponents -- you've got Holy Grounds to find and Dragons to raise!
At that point, you'll be surrounded by allies, leaving you to systematically seek out the locations of these Holy Grounds and the entrances to all of the other worlds. If you find them already occupied by other magi, then you'll have to exercise your war machine and establish dominance all over again, but once again it's better to stop short of total anhilation -- for all of the same reasons.
Flying around the map with a couple of Gold Dragons is usually a powerful deterrent, anyway, but by this time some of the other magi will give you a run for your money -- to say nothing of the other worlds if you've waited until turn 200 or so to enter. Be prepared for some tough fights.
In all, I found playing the game this way to be far more rewarding. It makes for a tougher challenge, forces you to expose yourself to a lot of game content (the other worlds) that you might otherwise miss, and creates a much better "real world" parallel. On this planet (in this day and age, anyway) it is rarely as simple as wiping rival factions whose ideas differ from yours off of the map and taking over "dictator style". Lasting peace is established through ongoing diplomacy and displays of force to "encourage" your rivals to act in a fashion that suits you. And that's really what you're going for here. Win the game in the largest possible world, with all 9 mages (including yourself) still alive, and you'll truly feel like you've achieved something. If you love this game but feel it's too easy, I urge you to give it a try.