Dungeons & Dragons: Gold Box Series [1990] – Games that will suck you in!

Dungeons & Dragons: Gold Box Series [1990]

Gold Box is a series of role-playing video games produced by SSI from 1988 to 1992

Developer: Strategic Simulations (SSI)

Publisher: Strategic Simulations (SSI)

Release date: Games that were released in 1990

Platform: Amiga (superior platform of the series)

Games reviewed in this article: 

  • Pool of Radiance, 
  • Curse of the Azure Bonds, 
  • Secret of the Silver Blades, 
  • Champions of Krynn
  • BONUS: Hillsfar (1989)

Pool of Radiance

Pool of Radiance – The game that started it all!

Originally released in 1988, but in this review I talk about Amiga version (1990).

It was the first adaptation of TSR’s Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) fantasy role-playing game for home computers, becoming the first episode in a four-part “Pool of Radiance” series. Pool of Radiance takes place in the Forgotten Realms fantasy setting.

Plot

Pool of Radiance takes place in the city of Phlan, which is located on the northern shore of the Moonsea. Phlan (once a mighty trade city) has fallen into impoverished ruin. Now only a small portion of the city (called New Phlan) remains inhabited by humans, who are surrounded by evil creatures. 

To rebuild the city and clean up the Barren River, the city council of New Phlan has decided to recruit adventurers to drive the monsters from the neighboring ruins. 

Using bards and publications, they spread tales of the riches waiting to be recovered in Phlan, which draws the player’s party to these shores by ship.

Overview

Player starts by building a party of up to six characters, deciding the race, sex, class, and ability scores for each. They receive a brief but informative tour of the civilized area.

They learn that the city is plagued with a history of invasions and wars and has been overtaken by a huge band of humanoids and other creatures. Characters hear rumors that a single controlling element is in charge of these forces. The characters begin a block-by-block quest to rid the ruins of monsters and evil spirits.

Beyond the ruins of old Phlan, the party enters the slum area—one of two quests immediately available to new parties. This quest requires the clearing of the slum block and allows a new party to quickly gain experience. 

The second quest is to clear out Sokol Keep, located on Thorn Island. This fortified area is inhabited by the undead, which can only be defeated with silver weapons and magic.

The characters’ adventure is later expanded to encompass the outlying areas of the Moonsea region. Eventually, the player learns that an evil spirit named Tyranthraxus, who has possessed an ancient dragon, is at the root of Phlan’s problems.

Game eventually ends with final battle against Tyranthraxus the Flamed One.

Source: Wikipedia

Impression

When you first pick this game up in 2020s, you might want to close it immediately. It looks dated, game is slow and you don’t understand anything happening in the game.

However – Don’t close the game! Give it a chance as I did!

The significance of this game on the computer gaming world cannot be overstated! Pool of Radiance alone sold over 200,000 copies on all systems and hold #1 chart position of sales for all computer game genres at the time.

Once you get the controls, learn the gameplay mechanics – you will get sucked into this wonderful fantasy world and you don’t want it to end, ever!

Personally I think Pool of Radiance has stunning intro music, maybe even the best of the series – and definitely one of the most memorable intro musics of early 90s.

Scroll up to watch the intro video and listen the music!

Also, Pool of Radiance has amazing character creation – for later ones they dropped character image for some reason (limited space).

Game itself starts tough as you don’t have a clue what to do. First you need to ask the city council what needs to be done, then buy some equipment (don’t forget to equip everyone). Something you also need to know – there are spells you can memorize. Don’t do it in the city (expensive) – better head to the slums (best place to start practicing your fighting skills). There you will encamp and memorize your spells (choose magic, memorize). I recommend to pick some healing spells, sleep spells, maybe bless.

Hopefully you do have 3 fighters, mage, cleric and another mage or thief in your crew and hopefully you have them ordered – fighters in the front, mages and shooters in the back. And yes, your fighters should have alternative weapon – Bow and Arrows. Mages can also have alternative weapons – Darts for example.

So your first battle will be tough but as you keep battling it gets easier and easier – as you eventually get better in this game.

Okay, back to comparing games.

Pool of Radiance have some other cool features that they dropped afterwards – there is some in-game music (same song as intro but that’s awesome). There is also some character animations – Ogres running into the battle and so on!

That’s a shame they lost it all!

There are also some downsides in Pool of Radiance (compared to sequels) but I will get to them as I continue with the next entries in the series.

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Curse of the Azure Bonds

Curse of the Azure Bonds was originally released in 1989, but in this review I talk about Amiga version, which was released in 1990.

It was the second in a four-part “Pool of Radiance” series, continuing the events after the first part, Pool of Radiance.

Curse of the Azure Bonds was almost as successful as Pool of Radiance, with SSI selling 179,795 copies.

Plot

Player characters wake up from a magic sleep to find themselves in a small inn in the city of Tilverton, with all of their possessions stolen and no memory of how it happened.

A passing landlord informs the characters that they have been unconscious for over a month after suffering an attack. Each of the player characters has five azure-colored tattoo-like markings, called bonds, on one arm.

The party had been ambushed while traveling on the road to Tilverton. They were captured and cursed with the magical bonds embedded on their arms. 

Your quest is to get rid of them.

Overview

The adventure begins in the city of Tilverton, a relatively small town that nonetheless contains all the essential shops and services to equip the party.

Although the characters begin the game with no equipment, each character does receive money at the start of the game with which to buy weapons and armor.

Characters can visit the sage Filani, who will give them information about the bonds.

Each bond represents a different evil faction, and through the bonds, which are the result of a possession-like spell and glow when active, the factions can control the actions of the characters.

The first bond forces the characters to attack the royal carriage as it goes past, resulting in a fight with some royal guards.

The characters begin searching for the first controlling faction, a band of assassins known as the Fire Knives. After defeating the Fire Knives and ridding themselves of the first bond, the characters are banished from Tilverton for trying to kill the King.

Outside the city of Tilverton, the characters may explore caverns, sewers, and outside in the wilds. Other locations include the Elven Forest, Zhentil Keep, the temple at Yulash, and the citadel at Hap, though these locations cannot be freely explored by the party. 

Instead, the player can use a menu to select places within the locations to visit. 

The remaining four bonds are controlled by Mogion, leader of the cult of Moander, Dracandros the Red Wizard, Fzoul Chembryl and his beholder allies, and Tyranthraxus, the main antagonist from Pool of Radiance.

As you may have already guessed – The final showdown is with Tyranthraxus, who takes the form of a storm giant, in the ruins of Myth Drannor.

Source: Wikipedia

Impression

You managed to complete the first game (I really hope you did) – and finally you are ready to start with another adventure in the series.

So the intro music – it’s not as good as Pool in Radiance! It’s mediocre.

Okay the first thing you notice is the changed in-game menu (which I think makes a bit more sense and is more modern). But the downside – Character images are gone! However, now you can at least re-roll your stats and you have more options designing your character icon (which is still confusing, however).

One of the best new features is FIX option when camping – this just makes it so much easier and less time consuming to heal your characters.

Also, you can now import all your characters from Pool of Radiance, if you have!

And if you don’t have – You are still good! The game offers pre-made characters or even if you decide to make new ones – they will be much stronger than your starting characters in Pool of Radiance. 

Your mages are going to have Magic Missiles, Stinky Clouds and other useful stuff that you didn’t have when you started Pool of Radiance. This makes you have some serious fun and exciting battles right from the beginning.

Another good thing is the game flow in the beginning. No more boring city tour – you will be dropped straight into the action. You wake up with strange marking, you get your equipment, memorize spell and attack the king! It actually makes sense! – But there is no aimless wondering around, after that you will escape and will be lead to Thiefs hideout where you are going to have some really fun battles.

Or you are just going to die few times at first, like me – before you get better!

In conclusion – It’s a worthy sequel to Pool of Radiance (some good things gone, some good things added). You will not be disappointed!

gold box series curse azure bonds

Secret of the Silver Blades

Secret of the Silver Blades is the third in a four-part “Pool of Radiance” series, and it was released in 1990 on many primary home computers back then.

The story is a continuation of the events of Curse of the Azure Bonds.

Secret of the Silver Blades was very successful, with SSI selling 167,214 copies. It was the last Gold Box game to sell more than 100,000.

Plot

A small mining town is being threatened by monsters who were released from a glacial prison. The monsters are led by the evil Eldamar, who had been interred in the glacier by his twin brother Oswulf and a group known as the Silver Blades.

375 years ago, twin brothers Oswulf and Eldamar built a castle in a large valley in the Dragonspine Mountains and the town of Verdigris was founded below the castle. 

The town prospered under the guidance of the brothers. Oswulf was a paladin and Eldamar was a mage. As Eldamar became older, his obsession for immortality grew and he began studying how to become a lich. 

Oswulf tried to stop his brother, but failed. 

Eldamar became a lich known as the Dreadlord.

A horrified Oswulf could not bear to kill his own brother. He sought the help of a band of adventurers known as the Silver Blades to help contain the Dreadlord. 

The Dreadlord was certain that these adventurers were called upon to slay him and he began gathering armies of evil creatures to aid him. The town was overrun by monsters and the inhabitants abandoned it.

With the help of the Silver Blades, they succeeded in driving the monsters out of the town and back to the castle. Oswulf was still determined not to kill his own brother, however. The Silver Blades set out to research a spell and when cast, it encased the entire valley in a glacier. 

Everything inside became frozen, but was still alive. 

Oswulf sacrificed himself so his spirit could guard the castle.

A few of the Dreadlord’s followers were beyond the glacier’s effects and began attempts to get through the ice, but failed. 15 years ago, they formed a group known as the Black Circle and succeeded in breaking the spell. The glacier began to melt. 

As the ice melted, many miners noticed the old mines of Verdigris were once again accessible and founded the town of New Verdigris. The mines contained vast amounts of gems. As the miners descended to the lower levels, monsters that had been frozen for over 300 years began to emerge and once again took over the mines.

In desperation, the miners took all their gems to the Well of Knowledge, which is said to grant wishes and provide information for those who dropped treasure into it. 

The party was then summoned to the town of New Verdigris by the Well of Knowledge at the wish of the townspeople. They need the party to protect them from the monsters and so begins the story of the Secret of the Silver Blades.

Overview

There is no overworld in the game, so all action takes place in the first person maps. 

The Well of Knowledge offers some teleporters so the party can reach various points in the maps. Nearly all the teleporters must be opened from their destination away from the well, however.

The Well of Knowledge can give the party hints if it pays a certain amount of gems.

The party’s objective is to adventure through the mountain region near Verdigris, entering areas such as the ruins of Old Verdigris, the Well of Knowledge, the mines, the crevasses, and eventually to the Dreadlord’s castle. 

You will face off against an evil group of humans called the Black Circle, many kinds of monsters in the mines and crevasses, and finally against the lich the Dreadlord himself.

Source: Wikipedia

Impression

Story of the game reminds me a fairy tale (someone is in deep sleep and awakens only when kissed). But this time it’s the bad guy who was sleeping.

I also like the idea bringing new villain in the game, so it doesn’t get repetitive.

Upgrades in character creation – now you can modify your character stats manually, and you can put everything to maximum if you want. Which is awesome!

Yes! Music is great again!

Reminds me a bit “Monkey Island” soundtrack (which is also awesome, as you know). Maybe it’s not as good as original, but definitely better than soundtrack in Curse.

Another change in the game is the traveling – there is no over world for traveling. Instead you are going to use portals (which you usually activate from the other side). Well, using portals is great idea – but it makes so much harder to follow where you are at the moment. Unless you map all the portals and make lot of notes! Otherwise..

Animations are back! Or it’s just me, who didn’t see any animations in Curse? Anyway, camping screen and treasure screen looks great (animated) and actually all the graphics look a bit better – maybe because this game was made directly to Amiga?

Another thing I noticed – in-game menus are much smoother, everything opens faster and placement is more logical. Also, now you can move between character with same keys as everything else (buying, choosing weapons). Using NUM 7 and NUM 1 just didn’t make any sense to me, too confusing!

And you can scroll your spells without using previous and next! Love it!

gold box series secret of silver blades
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Champions of Krynn

Champions of Krynn was released in 1990.

It was the first in a three-part “Dragonlance” series.

SSI sold 116,693 copies of Champions of Krynn.

Plot

Champions of Krynn opens at the end of the War of the Lance and after the defeat of the Dragon Armies.

The player controls a party of adventurers hired by the Knights of Solamnia, guardians of the outposts of Northeastern Ansalon, to carry out missions and investigate reports that evil still stalks the lands of Krynn.

Overview

After a prologue set at the Inn of the Last Home in Solace, the adventure begins at an outpost near Throtl, the capital city of the Hobgoblins. 

The party soon meets a group of Baaz Draconians ambushing some good settlers. 

After the battle, a greater Aurak Draconian named Myrtani shows up, and steals an ancient book. Myrtani teleports away, ignoring the party. 

The party then reports the events to Sir Karl. Sir Karl realizes that the evil forces are not at all weakened as was believed, and the party sets out to investigate and defeat Myrtani and his forces.

Impression

Game intro music is nothing special – I think it’s the worst so far!

Story of the game may not be the best of the series but it’s worthy!

One big difference you will notice immediately – in this game, you have a menu to navigate between in-city locations (inn, vault, bar, armory and so on). So there is no wondering around – you may or you may not like it. It’s different!

Another thing you will notice – some changes have made in character creation section. Now you can choose some new races (Kender, Qualinesti Elves, Silvanesti Elves, Hill Dwarves, and Mountain Dwarves) and there are some pre-made icons.

They say – it’s the worst of all gold box games? I would say, it’s different, but okay.

Another interesting new feature – your magic users reliance on the moons of Krynn. There are three of them in total, and their current phase is always shown at the top of the game screen. The white moon influences white mages, the red moon red mages, and the dark moon is said to influence dark robed mages.

Amiga version features unique death sounds for different sized enemies!

In overall, the game is much easier than its family of games. 

You gain experience at a much faster rate, with level three and four characters coming out of the very first major questing area of Throtl. 

Stinking cloud spells along with the sorcerer’s darling, the fireball, all procured long before they were in Pool of Radiance.

If you found previous entries a bit hard to deal, this is probably the best to start with.

gold box series champions krynn
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Bonus: Hillsfar (1989)

Hillsfar was a another role-playing video game released for MS-DOS, Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64 in 1989 (actually the third game after Pool of Radiance and Curse of Azure Bonds). However it’s not part of the “Pool of Radiance” or any other series.

It features a combination of real-time action and randomly generated quests.

Hillsfar received mixed reviews from critics.

Plot

Your party, exhausted and tired from their long journey, make camp outside of the city of Hillsfar. You alone decide to enter the Jewel of the Moonsea to see if you can make arrangements for supplies and perhaps learn of new challenges that may require your particular talents.

How things have changed! Weapons are forbidden. Magic has been outlawed by the First Lord of the city. 

And training to improve your skills is all but forbidden within its walls.

Hillsfar used to be a free city and one rife with intrigue, but the corrupt Council that had ruled it was suddenly overthrown in a coup led by Maalthir, formerly a merchant-mage and now self-appointed First Lord of the city. 

Under his control, the city became decidedly more militant and harsh rules were instituted that brought order but at a cost to freedom.

But it is also a place of opportunity for those that know where to look. 

The city is still filled with secrets and those willing to look the other way in order to get things done and a wise adventurer can earn a small living within its walls. 

That is where the player comes in.

Overview

Thematically, Hillsfar takes place between Pool of Radiance and the events of Curse of the Azure Bonds, but is not directly died to the series.

Gameplay is not party-based. It is primarily focused on the “lone adventurer” concept with the player controlling only one character throughout the experience. 

Various challenges such as missions and mini-games were issued to the player either by NPCs or simply through exploration.

Hillsfar was often regarded by players as something of a ‘trainer’ for characters that were moving from Pool of Radiance and into Curse of the Azure Bonds as they could be transferred from both titles. 

However, only characters from Curse could be transferred back into that game. Pool of Radiance characters imported into Hillsfar could not be transferred back.

Impression

Hillsfar is the black sheep of these first five titles!

It’s basically a series of mini games masquerading as a role-playing game. Mini games included riding on a horse over hurdles, an archery shooting gallery, one-on-one arena combat and picking locks using a full set of lockpicks. 

While some of the games were fun, they couldn’t hold interest for long. 

Most players would end up giving up on a failed experiment.

It’s quite boring, linear, and repetitive. Luckily, it doesn’t last very long.

None of the innovations in Hillsfar lived beyond the game.

Difficulty level is quite good and it offers some minimum amount of replay value with different classes (if you really care to see what all the guilds have to offer).

Or you could run your entire party through the guild quests, one by one, and end up with an exported Pool party a level higher when they start Curse.

Do you know anyone who would do it?

And coming back to the gameplay – repetitive horseback travel..

And to be honest, it’s the worst entry of those five!

hillsfar gold box series

Did I miss something?

I might have made some mistakes!

If you think, I missed something very important or I was horribly wrong about some details about these games – Please write in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

Composed by Retroconsole.xyz

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