—the welcome stranger—
There is something special about unearthing games from many, many years ago that you’ve almost forgotten about. I’m not quite sure what to call it, but it feels like something that goes beyond nostalgia. And after tirelessly scouring the internet trying to find this game (despite not even remembering its title) I finally found it. Needless to say, I am overjoyed. Goldfields is an educational strategy game I remember playing during primary school, back when games where still on B drive floppy disks. It was a game that succeeded with its simplicity. Many old games don’t thrive on their graphical prowess. Neither do they rely on an emotive soundtrack, a lengthy story, or complex gameplay. Goldfields is more like an interactive choose your own adventure book, with a realistic setting. It was developed by Jacaranda Software in 1986, an Australian publishing company that specialised in educational software, and created by David L. Smith and Trevor K. Jacob. At its core, it is a simulation of what life was like in the Victorian gold rush period during the 1850’s, and will definitely leave you with some basic knowledge on the subject.
You play as a miner trying their luck in the goldfields. Naturally, you begin the game with your pockets devoid of cash (which in the game is in pounds and not dollars) or gold. The single column on the right hand side keeps a tally of all the cash and gold you accumulate, in addition to keeping tabs on how long you’ve spent in the goldfields, your overall health, and your legal status.
Gameplay is highly choice-driven right from the get go, and gives you a good sense of control. The developers have also thrown in random events here and there to prevent the game from being too predictable, such as police checks, and being ambushed by robbers, which you encounter after you leave the starting point of Suze Port. Suze Port is like a training ground where players can choose to make some cash and stock up on essential mining equipment. Before you leave the Port, you can stop by the store and purchase things like pans, picks and shovels, and so on. From there on, you can travel to Fields town either by walking, or riding on horseback.
Once you reach Fields Town, you can choose to look for various forms of employment, or go and mine for gold. Of course, mining gold requires the necessary tools, which in turn require cash. You can also use gold converted to cash, or if you feel like taking a walk on the wild side-you can steal things from Briggs Supplies, which is the local hardware store.
Stealing will have a negative impact on your legal status, which can change from honest, to petty, to minor criminal, to major criminal, and finally to wanted criminal. If the police catch you (and they most probably will), you are taken in for questioning and face the possibility of being taken to jail where you must spend thirty days behind bars (do not pass go, do not collect $200). Having a jail record will prevent you from working as a member of the council in the future, so before you start accepting any bribes or doing what Garrett from the Thief series does best, you can take up employment at the local store, do some market gardening or bartending in the hotel, or work in the hospital. There is definitely a lot of grinding in Goldfields, and lots of waiting for the days to actually pass as you complete your work, but that applies to many RPGs and MMORPGs of today as well, and to me this is something that makes up a huge part of the charm of this game.
Before you commence your gold-mining adventure, it’s mandatory to buy a mining licence which will last for one year, and must be renewed every year thereafter. This is your one way ticket to mining at the smaller but closer Damp Camp, and to the Goldfields, which are larger but further away. Each of these locations allow you to try your hand at different forms of searching for gold, such as alluvial mining, fossicking, shaft mining and cradling for gold. None of these methods is safe however, as you might get bitten by spiders or be involved in a cave in, and your health will suffer as a result. If you become very ill, you are automatically shipped back to Calico House where you are hospitalised until you regain your health. This is where being a doctor has its perks.
Goldfields is a pleasant reminder of the many excellent MS-DOS titles that graced the eighties and nineties. I love coming across excellent educational games, and this is most certainly one of them. It feels like the developers have taken key aspects from texts about Australian history and translated them into a game format, which I think would be a nice reinforcement of the knowledge students learn in the classroom.
WHY YOU SHOULD PLAY IT:
- If you played this growing up but couldn’t remember the title like me
- You want to experience the essence of the ‘gold rush’ period in a retro game
- You like games with lots of text
And don’t forget the secret of the abandoned mine! I won’t tell you how to get there. That’s a secret you’ll have to discover for yourself. Happy gold-hunting!
- Enjoyable text-based adventure with historical setting
- Random events keep gameplay fresh and varied
- Simple yet effective educational game
- Stands out with unique tally system
- Grinding can become repetitive over time
- Moving on the map is difficult on newer systems
- Beeping sounds can become monotonous
Note: You’ll need DOS Box in order for it to run, and to open up the file, click and drag the application once you’ve extracted the ZIP file onto the DOS Box shortcut like this:
Below you can watch a speedrun of the game as presented by YouTube user EightBitNacho: