This is a weekly column from freelancer Rowan Kaiser, which focuses on “Western” role-playing games: their stories, their histories, their mechanics, their insanity, and their inanity.
Strategic Simulations Inc.’s “Gold Box” series of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons games were one of the biggest franchises of the Western RPG’s heyday, during the late 1980s and early 1990s. SSI broke into the top tier of computer role-playing game publishers by making effective use of their AD&D license with Pool of Radiance (1988) and its sequel, Curse of the Azure Bonds (1989). Their “Gold Box” game engine became one of the most prevalent within the genre, with around a dozen games in the series being released between 1988 and 1993.
All of the Gold Box games look and play in essentially the same fashion. You roll a party of six characters. Most of the games have overland maps, on which the party is merely a square traveling between cities and dungeons, but the bulk of the game’s exploration takes place in dungeons in a first-person perspective. The bulk of a Gold Box game takes place in combat, on a tactical grid. More than most other RPGs of the era, the Gold Box games focus on the details of their tactical combat. A single battle can be quick, or larger battles can take up to an hour. Space and movement are important considerations in combat, unlike Wizardry or Might & Magic. For example, if your character is standing next to an enemy and then moves away, the enemy gets a free opportunity attack.