Age of Wonders is a good concept for a game, but aside from some good elements, it is a bad implementation of those ideas.
The game can be a lot of fun, especially building up your heroes. I like the fact that you don't have micromanage your cities as much as you do in Heroes of Might and Magic or in Master of Magic. Tactical combat, although time consuming, really gives you a lot of tactical options if you have a good mix of units, especially if you are fighting with two or more stacks of units. Finally, the graphics and sound are well done.
The single player game is very repetitive since the objective never vary between missions from the basic "Conquer the map" quest. Most of the maps can be won fairly easily by just maintaining a stack with your heroes and a few other fast, powerful units since the computer AI is very defensive. Basically, the computer just usually hangs around his biggest castle with his leader hero and stacks up a ton of defensive units. All you have to do to win is to move your power stack over and assassinate his leader hero and watch ALL of his armies turn into neutral armies.
This gameplay flaw is even worse in multiplayer, because many of your hero's powers are useless (especially combat spells) if you just play defense with your hero. Of course, if you put him on the offensive, you risk even more, but this is necessary to take over enough cities to win the game, so winning is more due to good luck than good tactics.
Another major problem with multiplayer is that there is no middle ground between smart tactical combat and dumb quick combat. Quick combat is a good idea, except that the game gives you no tuneable options such as turning off the use of magic, or being able to set how aggressive heroes are in their attacks. A lot of the time your hero casts way too many expensive spells (like Terror) or charges into combat and gets himself killed while in quick combat and this is frustrating because you know that in tactical combat you would have won with a few minor losses.
Tactical combat is flawed especially in the defense of cities. Walls give you a huge advantage in that only certain troops can break through or fly over them, but they also give you a huge disadvantage vs. the attacker since your archers often cannot fire over the wall at the attackers while they are trying to break in and your troops are almost always very spread out compared to the attacker. Why doesn't the defender get to place his archers on top of walls so they can shoot unhindered at the attackers? Why can the defender run away and give up the city if he faces overwhelming odds? Why can't the defender place his stacks where he wants within his city before the attacker gets to move?
Overall, Age of Wonders has a lot of good ideas, but a mixed implementation of those ideas. Even though I was disappointed with the game in the end, it is still a fun game and if its problems are fixed in Age of Wonders 2 then it will be a great game.
The Bottom Line
Age of Wonders tries to take the best elements of Master of Magic, Heroes of Might and Magic, and Warlords, but many of the gameplay elements they chose don't combine to make a game with lasting replay value.