Sunday, September 28, 2014

Secret of the Silver Blades: Final Rating

Secret of the Silver Blades
Strategic Simulations, Inc. (Developer and Publisher)
Released 1990 for DOS and Commodore 64; 1991 for Amiga, Macintosh; 1992 for PC-98
Date Started: 3 September 2014
Date Ended: 23 September 2014
Total Hours: 31
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: 50
Ranking at Time of Posting: 146/164 (89%)

You expect games in the same series to get progressively better as the years pass and better technology becomes available. The Ultima series is a perfect example, keeping a top-down interface that uses many of the same commands while constantly improving (at least between III and VII).  Even if the games use the same engine, the developers can make tweaks based on early player experiences. The Baldur's Gate II interface is notably better than Baldur's Gate, for instance, even though they're both based on the Infinity engine.

But SSI has been curiously unable to improve upon the experience of Pool of Radiance. Oh, sure, the graphics and sound have gotten a little better, but the core gameplay experience has degraded slightly with each new title. Pool of Radiance remains the only Gold Box title to offer open overland exploration, for instance. It had more encounters that required a role-playing choice, more side quests, and (to me) a far more interesting main plot. And because it has the characters starting at Level 1, the sense of character development is much stronger. Other than getting "Delayed Blast Fireball" towards the end of the game, I don't really feel like my characters went anywhere in Secret of the Silver Blades, particularly since there are no Level 7 priest spells.

Pool of Radiance also had a larger variety of monster types and encounters, making full use of the Gold Box engine's capabilities and the D&D rules that informed it. You fought typical low-level mooks at the beginning but eventually worked your way up to fire giants, dragons, basilisks, vampires, and other powerful creatures with a variety of strengths and weaknesses. Areas like the graveyard, the kobold caves, and the pyramid felt like separate "modules." Secret of the Silver Blades may have offered as many types of creatures, I'm not sure, but it doesn't feel like it offers the same variety. Consider that other than the final lich, there are no undead in the game and thus no need for the cleric's rapidly-developing turning skills. There are no creatures capable of causing disease for which you might need a "Cure Disease." (I think it shares both traits with Curse of the Azure Bonds.) There are no cursed items, and thus no need for "Remove Curse." Most important, there are no encounters with the same quality of role-playing as, say, the Zhentil Keep outpost, the brigand's fortress, or the lizard man village in Pool.

Meanwhile, the mechanics have remain somewhat stagnant. I had five complaints about the interface in Pool of Radiance:

  • The need to choose "Move" before moving in a combat round
  • The need to constantly re-memorize "Cure Light Wounds" spells, cast them, and re-memorize them when healing
  • The need to choose the spells all over again when memorizing (i.e., the game doesn't remember what spells you had memorized the last time and use them by default)
  • Choosing "Next" and "Previous" when targeting offensive spells in combat cycles through your own characters as well as enemies. To target the closest enemy, you have to hit "Next" up to five times.
  • When the last enemy is slain in combat, characters who haven't acted during the round still have to perform an action before you can get to the end of the battle.

In Curse of the Azure Bonds, they "fixed" the first two issues--the second by offering a "Fix" command--but all of the other issues remain problems, and other players must have been complaining about it. The spell thing is particularly annoying now that my mages get a couple of dozen of them. Trying to remember which ones I cast since the last time I rested is difficult. Meanwhile, the "Fix" command doesn't really work the way it should work. It ought to be a proxy for simply taking as long as necessary to a) burn all existing non-healing spells; b) memorizing all available healing spells; c) casting the healing spells; and d) re-memorizing the original spells. It should offer the same dangers as if you simply rested for that length of time. Instead, I find that "Fix" works in many places that resting does not, and it takes far shorter than it should. The result is to make the game a little too easy.

These gripes aside, the Gold Box engine is still a great RPG engine, and it's hard to imagine a truly bad game being made with it (though I understand I'll have some opportunities to revise that opinion coming up). I started this series of posts praising the combat system, and I'm happy to finish on the same note. There were too many combats in Secret of the Silver Blades--particularly too many random combats--but the engine still holds up remarkably. The boss battles are simply a joy to fight--tactical, challenging, and making better use of the D&D rules than any game engine up to this point.

The plot of Secret was okay--not as good as Pool or Champions of Krynn, perhaps about the same as Curse. I like the "Seven Samurai" aspects of it, where a band of grizzled adventurers comes to the aid of a helpless village. But it is regrettably far more linear than its predecessors, and something that's struck me a few times in the past became more obvious here: the SSI team is really only adequate in world-building and story-telling. The engine and the associated adventurer's journal offers essentially limitless opportunities for rich backgrounds, role-playing choices, and plot twists, but it never feels like SSI's writers rise to the occasion. They tell a passable story when it wouldn't have been hard to tell a great one.

Encounters like this weren't bad; they just lacked the role-playing fun of the first game.

Before I get to the GIMLET, let's talk about "fake" journal entries--perhaps the one area in which I think Secret surpasses its predecessors. There are some delicious misdirections in here, including an entire series of entries that suggest Tyranthraxus is lurking around in the form of a mouse, trying to steal the Dreadlord's power (adding this sub-plot to the game for real would have substantially improved it!). There were a bunch of maps leading to nowhere, one entry suggesting that the Beholder Corps was loose in the dungeons, and a few entries that would have fooled players into refusing to take key quest items or discourage them from using the teleporters. Not since Wasteland and its whole Martian sub-plot have we seen such clever fake entries.

In the GIMLET, I expect it to perform slightly worse than Curse of the Azure Bonds. Let's see:

1. Game World. As I've said before, while I'm comfortable in the Forgotten Realms setting, I've never particularly loved it. It feels like it contains too much stuff with no central core. Aside from that, the particular back story of this game is competently told, and the developers do a good job of setting up a geography in which the constrained, linear nature has a logical foundation. The revelations about the Secret Blades and the Dreadlord were only okay. Score: 5.

2. Character Creation and Development. I didn't create any characters for this one, but the game offers the same options that have earned general praise from me in the past. The problem is more in the area of "development"; as I noted above, my increases from Levels 10/11 to Level 15 don't feel like they accomplished anything significant except to modestly increase my hit points. Oh, I know my THAC0 was going down and my backstab multiplier was going up and such, but these subtle increases aren't really perceptible at this level. The only major development was the acquisition of a new mage spell level. Clerics don't even get that.

The Gold Box series has never been great about making class, sex, and race choices matter, but it's even worse here than in some previous games. There are a couple of places where having a dwarf increases the number of gems you find, and a couple where having a ranger offers a sentence or two about the terrain, but that's about it. There are no alignment-based role-playing options at all--not even any equipment restricted by alignment. Score: 5.

3. NPC Interaction. There are only a handful of NPCs in the game, few memorable, none with any dialogue options. The game even removed the "attitude" system of the previous titles. On the positive side, there were two joinable NPCs who had reasonably good back stories, and one of them, Vala, piped up with comments from time to time. Score: 4.

Disappointingly, Dersh has no special dialogue for the party after the Dreadlord is defeated.

4. Encounters and Foes. Up above, I suggested that I missed the same variety of enemies that we saw in Pool of Radiance. While this may be true, I still have to recognize that Secret, like all Gold Box D&D games, does this better than 90% of other RPGs on the market at the time. Nowhere else are we seeing the same variety of enemy strengths, weaknesses, special attacks, and overall threat level. Among the game's 40 foes, we've got those that can breathe fire, breathe cold, charm, confuse, paralyze, petrify, poison, phase in and out of combat, cast spells, and shrug off many of your party's attacks. Each combination of creatures on the battlefield requires a different approach to strategy and tactics--and each is described well enough in the game manual to give you enough warning.

On the non-combat encounters, again the game is a bit weaker than its predecessors, perhaps about average compared to other RPGs. There were a few lame puzzles and a few places where you could make a basic decision, but rarely related to any role-playing considerations. Score: 6.

The documentation meticulously catalogs every creature that you'll face, even though including "lich" is something of a spoiler.

5. Magic and Combat. I don't think I can say anything here that I haven't already said about Gold Box games in general. The engine is, in my opinion, one of the best ever created, and while I wished there were fewer combats, I never got sick of the combat mechanic. A handful of new spells offered some addition to the previous games' tactics. All the engine really needs is stronger enemy AI. Score: 7.

6. Equipment. Another area of comparative strength. I found more useful stuff in Secret than the previous two Forgotten Realms games combined, and a lot of it (though not the best stuff) seemed to be randomized. The thrill of seeing a "Girdle" or "Boots" in an enemy's cache is unrivaled by any other rewards in CRPGs of the era. I'm still waiting for helms and detailed item descriptions, though. Score: 6.

Goldeneye's final selection of identified and unidentified items.

7. Economy. Seriously, why is the entire Gold Box franchise so tragically brain-dead when it comes to an economy? From the first battle in Secret, I had more money than I was ever going to spend (since training and healing are free, you basically only spend money identifying equipment). They introduced a dynamic by which the well wants gems for hints, and the vault in town trades platinum for gems, then made it stupid by delivering so many mountains of gems that you never need to visit the vault. I ended the game with the equivalent of more than half a million platinum pieces (so about 2.5 million gold pieces) when you include the gems and jewelry. And to top it all off, there isn't a single thing in the town's two shops worth buying. Does SSI ever get this right? Score: 1.

8. Quests. I liked the main quest more at the beginning--when it was still a mystery who was attacking New Verdigris--than at the end, when the somewhat-boring story had been told. But it's in no way a bad main quest, just a tad bland. There are no options or alternate endings, though there are a couple of optional areas (the administration building and the drider camp) that basically serve as side quests. Score: 5.

9. Graphics, Sound, and Interface. I have to give it the same rating I've given pretty much every other Gold Box game. There are minor improvements in graphics and sound, but not enough to kick the game into a higher category. Nothing has changed on the interface (that I can discern) since Curse, and the bland hallways and featureless rooms are becoming less forgivable as time passes. Despite being slightly disappointed that nothing has changed, I maintain that the interface is quite good overall--very smooth and intuitive, with several customization options. Other games could take a lesson from the Gold Box commitment to redundancy in keyboard, mouse, and joystick. Score: 6.

10. Gameplay. A little too linear after some nice nonlinearity in Pool and Curse, and I can't really give it any points for replayability. But the difficulty is pitched perfectly--some easy areas balanced by some very challenging ones--and the length falls within that 25-40 hour window that I like to see in a good RPG. Score: 5.

The final rating of 50 is reasonably high, though significantly lower than the 60 I gave to Curse and the 64 I gave to Pool. This is the third Gold Box game I've played in 1990, and while all have offered above-average experiences, I worry that the series is resting on its laurels instead of really innovating. Pool of Radiance was a staggeringly good game for 1988, but since then, SSI seems to be content with offering gameplay that is merely competent rather than truly thrilling.

I find unlikely support for my opinions in Scorpia's October 1990 Computer Gaming World review. She hits upon the same points I do: a little too much combat, too linear, no role-playing. Just as in her review of Curse, I can't help but feel that she's a little more critical of the Gold Box series than is warranted, particularly given 1988-1990's other offerings, and I strongly object to her use of the term "hack and slash" to describe a combat engine as sophisticated as the Gold Box, but I can't disagree with her conclusion that Secret is most likely to be enjoyed "by those who enjoyed the previous Gold Box games." If you didn't like Pool of Radiance or Curse of the Azure Bonds, there's absolutely no way you'll enjoy this game.

MobyGames's review summary shows that most magazines gave it in the 70s or 80s out of 100. The one exception is Amiga Power, which gave it an 8. Not 8/10, but 8/100. The "review" takes up less than 1/4 of a page and the reviewer, Stuart Campbell, clearly hates RPGs and doesn't seem to have read either the manual or adventurer's journal for this one. He compares it negatively to King's Bounty, of all things, and calls Secret "unadulterated rubbish." According to MobyGames's trivia page, this review so incensed U.S. Gold (the game's publisher in the U.K.) that they refused to send any more previews, game copies, or promotions to the magazine.

I look forward to playing the fourth and final game in this series, Pools of Darkness, in 1991. I hear good things about it, and I seem to recall that it offers overland exploration again. But the character development issue worries me. From what I remember, leveling in Pools is essentially limitless, but after a certain point, the only thing it does for you is confer a few additional hit points. This is a problem that plagues a lot of game series: it's much more fun to go from a Level 1 peasant to a Level 8 hero than from a Level 8 hero to a Level 20 super-hero. This problem was particularly acute in The Bard's Tale, but it's recurred in a lot of series, and for this reason, I don't necessarily mind when franchises like Wizardry and Ultima find threadbare excuses for busting the characters back down to the novice rank.

I've updated my January 2013 post called "Gold Box: Spells and Their Uses" to consider the newest spell levels. As always, I welcome comments on anything I overlooked.

Next up, we'll have a post on Dragon Sword, a decent Wizardry clone that might keep me occupied on and off for a while.


  1. It is telling that even a "weak" entry in this series cracks your Top 20. Only Countdown to Doomsday did more poorly, though it was not a real D&D game.

    You can make a bad game with a good engine, though SSI has mostly just made an okay game with a good engine here. I'm looking forward to Savage Empire for that reason: with the amazing engine of U6 can they manage to pull off another amazing game? I've only played around 30 minutes so far and I was not pulled in, but I will dive back into the game when it shows up on the "Upcoming" list.

  2. Good summary.
    One thing I missed is a mention of the interesting combat encounters to "trash combat" ratio, which is about 1 to 99, which is much lower than most other Gold Box games, and I think the reason why the game is not as fondly remembered as the other games in the Pool series. The Gold Box games were loved not only for their excellent combat engine, but also the encounter design was much better than other CRPGs of the time.

    The next Gold Box games will mostly be a huge improvement, like for 1991 games Death Knights of Krynn and Pools of Darkness. Gateway to the Savage Frontier and the second Buck Rogers game are IMO the two weakest GB games, though.

  3. I played and finished Pool of Radiance, Curse of the Azure Bonds, Champions of Krynn, Death Knight of Krynn and in my opinion Death Knight of Krynn is the best. Champions of Krynn I have on second place and Pool of Radiance on the third.

    I think that Krynn trilogy has the best character developement and influence of three moons of magic is very good idea. Also story is much better in Kynn games than Forgotten realms.
    When I played Death Knights of Krynn in 1992 year, I was amazed and I run to nearest bookshop and buy books Krynn Chronicles trilogy and for today I am collctor of Krynn books:-) I didn' t finish Death knight of krynn in 1992, it was very difficult, also I hadn´t characters to transfer from first chapter. I finished it much later (2011 I think) after I finished Champions of Krynn and transfer characters.

    Pool Radiance was first gold box I finished, it was great, but I' am not so interested on Forgotten realms world so much as Krynn and I was litle frustrated in Pool of Radiance, because world travel was little heavy footed, because its divided to sectors. Ultima games has better world travelling.

    Next Gold box which I will play is Dark Queen of Krynn and Secret of the Silver Blades. I think I will start with Secret of the Silver Blades, because I want firs finished EGA gold box games, after it I will go to VGA chapters (Dark Queen of Krynn, Pool of Darkness and Treasure of the Savage frontier. I trensferred characters to Secret of the Silver Blades before two years, but I didn' t continue in play, because I wanted make little break in playing Gold box games:-)

    1. El Conde de MontecristoNovember 2, 2021 at 5:21 PM

      +10 , Krynn games have a more cohesive background, the FR settings is too much "bloated" , but Pool IS a great Game too

  4. I wonder if Pool of Radiance is the best in the series because it was an implementation of a pen & paper module, whereas the others required creativity on the part of the devs.

    1. There was a Curse of the Azure Bonds module as well.

      I think Pool of Radiance was intended as a simulation of D&D rather than a game (pretty sensible given SSI's roots), which is why it was so sparse in feeling (there are maybe only a few fixed encounters in all of Podol Plaza or Kuto's Well; if you look at the cluebook, the numbers only get up to 10 or so, unlike later games where they get into the twenties), and why there were so many options.

      After a while, they started treating it more like a conventional game series with an ongoing plot and bad guys. POR is more of a sandbox than a story--each area usually has about two different courses it can take, something I never saw in any of the other games.

    2. I think the module FRC1 Ruins of Adventure was based on Pool of Radiance, not the other way around. At a minimum they were developed simultaneously. I think TSR was experimenting with cross-media entertainment, which Wizards of the Coast is continuing with today.

    3. I've been playing through old p+p modules recently and actually on ruins of adventure currently. It says within that it is based on the computer version :)

    4. PoR was based on RoA, according to Dragon magazine, although I wouldn't be surprised if there was some co-development. CotAB PC game definitely came before the module.

    5. the curse novel, azure bonds, came out before the computer game, and the module was based on the novel.

    6. I love Pool of Radiance, but i don't think Ruins of Adventure is a good module for p&p. It follows most of the PoR-plot. But within the limits of a crpg a lot of things can be controlled, while p&p gives players a lot more freedom. And in a quasi-sandbox it is very hard for an DM juggle all the fancy ideas, groups might have - beginning with climbing over walls and roofs.

      On the other hand I really liked the story of Silver Blades. Alas there was no p&p for this, so I had to make this myself.

  5. SSI (Strategic Simulations, Inc) was out of their comfort zone for the Gold Box series, I think. I am very glad management took the chance to produce it, but it seems to me the discussion likely was: "Boss, we have this great idea for a D&D adventure...and here's a possible follow-on if it does well." Boss bought off on it,and we have two amazing games. They did so well, in fact, that Boss wanted a third and fourth as well, so they needed to come up with something to get it done. Meanwhile, Boss was also scrambling to get the Great Naval Battles series (1992) and Panzer General series (1994) out the door, the two that SSI is most well-known for. (Fantasy General is still to this day my favorite hex-based tactical combat game.)

    I am very glad they took the risk, but I guess what I'm saying is, in that light, I am not surprised the series tailed off after the first two, unfortunately. I think it is even more impressive, though, that a company that specializes in simulations would produce one of the best CRPGs in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

    1. It's funny, if you think of it, how two most successful DnD adaptations had influences from Strategy genre - SSI being a company that specialized in them and Infinity Engine being developed as one for RTS games.
      But then again DnD itself evolved from a wargame, so it's probably not that surprising after all.

    2. I still have a soft spot in my heart for SSI's 'Stronghold', a D&D (not AD&D) city-building strategy game. SSI only published the game, but given that they held the D&D license I consider it one of theirs anyway.

    3. That's true, VK; I had forgotten that IE was rooted in RTS games, but you re correct.

      I have never played Stronghold, but it sounds interesting...I will have to check it out! In general, I thought SSI made incredible games for their time, and not just in the CRPG genre.

    4. I love the SSI Stronghold (not to be confused with the other Stronghold). The Majesty series is very similar to Stronghold but lacks the city management part of the game.

      There's nothing more impressive than having an army of Warrior Lords and Archmagi taking down a Dragon's Lair with enchanted blades and lightning bolts.

    5. I never ever understood how to play Stronghold. Tried many times, nuthin' clicks in my brain. Any hints you can give me in how to understand and/or play?

    6. Try reading the manual. It contains the secrets you seek.

    7. To summarize the game:
      1) Always ensure that you have at least 1 guy in each screen that has any building you own.
      2) Utilize the Pyramid fluidly. The better you are at it, the easier the game becomes.
      3) Always upgrade your buildings instead of building new ones if you have the money.
      4) Have a good mix of classes in your war-party. Clerics should be top priority in the one of the 5 classes you choose to have. The 3 Demi-Human classes are also great to have as they generate a lot of income.

    8. Hmm... it seems that Chet has it on his 1993 list of RPGs. Not that I don't mind to see his thoughts on it, but I don't think Stronghold can be classified as an RPG and doubt it will do well on the GIMLET. He'd be better off playing Blood And Magic.

  6. Gold Box Companion fixes the healing problem in Pools and the spell memorization problem in all other Gold Box games.

    I haven't heard about any of the people involved in this. What would they have to say today about their work?

    1. In my final rating on Champions of Krynn, I wrote, "The SSI developers have always struck me as slightly more anonymous than those at other companies. You don't see names like Richard Garriott and Brian Fargo jump out from their credits; rather, they emphasize a "development team" and rely less on big personalities." Nonetheless, I did correspond with Victor Penman, listed as the project lead on that game and this one. He offered some helpful comments (you can see them in that final rating) but seemed a little curt at times, and I didn't get the impression that he was particularly interested in continuing our correspondence.

    2. Some of the principals behind SSB and POD have apparently formed TSI Games to make a 'spiritual successor'. No clue how it will work, but Dave of Dave's Challenge actually answered my questions about his mods, so maybe that's another place to look for answers.

      They seemed tickled anyone remembered their games 20 years later.

  7. I'm looking forward to your post on Dragon Sword, not because I'm familiar with the game, but because the post has been on my Blogger feed for days now. You must have accidentally submitted, then retracted it.

    It's been driving me crazy!

    1. Sorry about that. I thought I had scheduled it for later publication before I hit "publish." That wasn't even the first post on the game; it was the second.

  8. Dear Chet,

    Very fair and competent review. I appreciate your thoughts and will now add some of my own.

    1) For me Secret of the Silver Blades is reminiscent of Pool of Radiance in that you are fighting to save a city from an ancient enemy. The difference is that they reduced the overland to a long long long dungeon. (Try extending the map from New Town all the way to the Castle, without the tele porters and you will see what I mean). Second, they reduced the opposition to one boss and his organization. There is no Norris the Grey like character around to vary the mix. If this had been a pen and paper module, they probably would have broken it up with a first module about the mysterious Black Circle and the Lich would only appear in the final module.

    2) Racial level caps are what bother me the most, though Secret of the silver blades is the last game of the FR series that allows for their use. In Pools of Darkness it is human characters only.

    3) Harland is right about the fixes SSI does in Pools. Still there are some later subtractions, I remember that Dark Queen of Krynn drops customizable icons.

    4) I still like this game warts and all. Glad it comes in at 50. Seems appropriate. Not groundbreaking like In a Silent Way, but perfectly fun like the Theme from Jack Johnson.

    1. Oh, you can *make* a non-human character in Pools of Darkness, there's just no point. An 11th level mage will never get past Drow magic resistance.

    2. Yeah. That was my point. Non-human characters can only be thieves and be effective.

    3. Racial level caps are one of the most glaring design issues in pre 3rd edition D&D. I get that there has to be some mechanical reason for players to pick the comparatively dull and powerless human race, but the answer is not to produce a paradigm where the nonhuman races are clearly superior right up until they just straight up can't advance anymore. Ugh.

    4. I've heard before that Gary Gygax never really cared for non-human races (especially regarding hobbits) and included the level caps to disuade his characters from using them. This naturally became a trope of the game for some time, though I'm not entirely sure if that story is true. Except for the hobbit part, it was really obvious he never liked them.

    5. Not being 3rd edition is the main reason I don't replay Baldur's Gate over and over and then again. The character generation in 2nd edition is really awful, it's not only the racial level caps, but also the very stupid multiclassing and the fact that there are no skills and feats, which makes level ups boring very soon.

    6. BG 2 is 'AD&D 2.5'. It has feats at high levels and no racial caps. I didn't find IWD 2, the Infinity Engine game which uses 3rd Ed rules, to be a marked improvement on the system.

    7. If Gary hated hobbits, why did he not impose any level caps for Thieves which is THE most sought-after class of the Halflings?

    8. You don't need to level cap a thief, they can't do anything anyway ;)

    9. In the orginal Dungeon Master's Guide, Gygax does indeed hold forth on player characters as "monsters", for example as a dragon. I think the demi-humans are compromises in what he described as a human centered game. I need to re-read it, but the jist of his argument is that humans are real and dragons and elves aren't so to keep a foot in reality, playing a human is better. I could be wrong. Don't care. I still play elves in the gold box games.

    10. Then again there was a module in AD&D where you actually played as a dragon if my memory serves.

    11. @Tristan Gall - Tell that to a monster with his back turned to a level 12 Thief.

    12. Gygax was a very odd character. Yes, he thought non-human races were silly (see: Him not being a big Tolkien fan, just a lot of his players were). He was a bigger fan of pulp works like Conan and Moorcock. Oddly, Moorcock HAD non-human races (Elric and Corum aren't techncailly human if I recall right), but *shrug*

  9. Addict: if you still remember this in a year, I suggest you consult some of the Gold Box experts here on party construction before starting Pools of Darkness. It is entirely possible you will sail through the game and get whacked in the final fight.

    1. It happened to me too often to recount.

    2. Good suggestion, but no. If I "get whacked" in the final fight--which, by the way, readers won't stop trying to spoil for me--it'll make a fun series of posts. I'm not changing my party.

    3. Nor should you change the party. Even when I lose the battle, I can enjoy the ride. Why? I like my characters. Its the same with a novel, TV show, movie or that favorite subject of mine - history.

  10. Regarding the economy, I think SSI's hands were mostly tied by TSR's insistence that the Gold Box games stay very close to the AD&D rules. The economics in D&D have always been an afterthought, so it makes sense that a direct translation of those rules would lead to a CRPG with a broken economy.

    In my experience, this would usually be handwaved away by a DM in a pen & paper game. However, in a CRPG the problem builds until you probably could have just hired an army back in Plan army to stomp the Dreadlord's castle.

    1. Tied in some sense, yes, but there could have been town projects or dragons that asked for outlandish bribes or more gem dumps to interact with the well.

    2. Buy an army of what, exactly? The heroes saved Phlan and there obviously was no others that was anywhere near as good as the heroes. That was two games ago. Any army that could be bought in Phlan wouldn't stand a chance against dragons and liches.

    3. In a P&P game nothing would have stopped the players from just hiring these guys, and hanging back.

      Trust me, that crew can deal with a Lich and his cronies.

    4. Actually, a single character from Neverwinter (Nights) can take out that Lich & his army like an inconsequential side-quest.

    5. It wasn't so much an afterthought as Gygax thought the DMs would take care of it. OD&D had an entire castle building thing you were supposed to get into once you hit name-level. Turns out building a castle and hiring an army? Really expensive. (As I recall part of the origional rational for this is players were sick of having to travel from Greyhawk to where the high level monsters lived, so they built their own castle nearby so they could go adventuring more easily or somesuch.)

      Also he'd get his players involved in projects that would cost money. Robliar's player wanted to go to the moon, so hired someone to send him there. This of course took a lot of money, so he had to empty several dungeons to pay for it. Then when the giant catapult was unveiled Robilar simply walked away, to Gygax's annoyance since he'd spent ages writing an adventure set on the moon. (D&D was filled with crazy stuff like that back then.)

  11. I used to get amiga power and don't remember that review, I do remember death knights of krynn getting reviewed by him too and getting 60/100 (I ignored the mediocre score, got it anyway and never looked back ). He also gave hero's quest 2 trial by fire 24/100 ;)

    1. The guy strikes me as an ass. His Wikipedia profile revels in how "blunt" and "controversial" he was, as if it's somehow a virtue to thoughtlessly trash someone else's hard work. (And before anyone says it, yes, I know I'm guilty of that, too.)

    2. I wonder if he'll show up hear to dispute your criticism of his review, as he's done more than once in the past?

    3. Well, in the event that it happens, let's take a look at the whole thing, with my comments in brackets.


      Let's do everyone a favour and be brief with this one. If you take everything said in the King's Bounty review in these pages and negate it, then you'll have a handy thumbnail guide to Secret of the Silver Blades. [The only scan I can find of Campbell's KB review cuts off half the text, but the two games are different genres, so the comparison makes no sense. From the words I can read in the KB review, it's clear that he prefers faster-paced, non-tactical combat, so he shouldn't have been reviewing a sophisticated RPG in the first place.]

      After an hour spent ploughing through the manual and the interminable start-up sequence, I was no nearer to understanding the first thing about this game. [So he's a bit of an idiot? Because the manual makes things pretty clear, especially if you've already played other Gold Box games, which he clearly hadn't. I have no idea what he means by the "interminable start-up sequence."]

      When I eventually got into it my effort was rewarded with endless hours (or it could have been days) trekking aroudn the most tediously featureless landscape imaginable in desperate search of anything that could vaguely be described as action. [He has a point on the featureless graphics, but how could he possibly have explored for HOURS and not found any combat? Not to mention that the game gives you the ability to go directly to the Well. Not to mention that a map of the ruins from the town to the well comes with the game.]

      Quite some time later I found an interesting-looking doorway and entered it, to find myself back where I'd just come from. [I don't even know where he is at this point, but he's clearly not using the maps or doing his own mapping, the way a real player of the game would do.]

      Another couple of weeks of traipsing about, and I managed to find some other characters. Entering into battle, I picked my way through the unwieldy control system and completely failed to have any fun whatsoever. [It took him WEEKS to find a combat? And the combat system in the Gold Box games is only "unwieldy" in comparison to action RPGs. It's one of the most streamlined and intuitive systems ever developed for tactical RPGs.]

      Later, I did some more event-free traipsing, cried a bit from boredom that was almost physically tangible, and went home. I'm sorry if any D&D fanatics out there think I haven't spent nearly enough time playing this game, but it's my life and it's too short to waste any more of it on unadulterated rubbish like this. Actually that's a lie. I'm not sorry at all.

      [We'll leave questions about what "adulterated rubbish" would look like to the philosophers. Campbell clearly doesn't have the experience and history to be reviewing this type of game. His editors had no business assigning him this review and he had no business writing it. I've grown to expect a lack of sophistication, insight, and nuance from Amiga magazines, but this is in a class of its own.]

    4. Oh, I missed the coda where he gives it 8/100:


      Exactly the kind of crap that the likes of King's Bounty will hopefully put an end to. "Tedious" just doesn't even begin to cover it.

      [Well, he won. As we all know now, King's Bounty ushered in a golden age of pseudo-RPGs, the Gold Box series went down in flames, and there were no D&D games or tactical RPGs ever again.]

    5. The review really reads as though he never played the game at all. He bashes the game on generalities, points out nothing specific about SoSB and as you pointed out, mentions start-up sequences that don't exist and oddities such as failing to find a combat encounter within any reasonable amount of time.

      I suspect his review is "Oh crap, the deadline is tomorrow?!" and he never touched the game to begin with.

    6. The interesting looking doorway probably would have been the well portal back to town.

    7. Raifield, that is precisely what I thought as well. It struck me as something I would have written about MacBeth the evening before a report was due in High School English class the next day...I mean, something a friend of mine would have written about MacBeth.... ;)

    8. I bet Stuart Campbell couldn't get SotSB to run, so he just winged it, and gave it a low score out of frustration.

    9. here is his personal web page :)


    10. Jeez, what a blast to the past - after googling the guy I even remember his face...:)

      Yeah, Campbell was special even for the already 'special' UK gaming press landscape back then. (Believe me - that type of writing was not confined to Amiga mags.)
      Adolescent me loved his style, of course. :)

    11. I believe the 'start up sequence' he's writing about is the process of generating a new party. Anyway, reviews such as these could be one line long 'I failed to engage with this product'

    12. I used to read Amiga Power when I was younger and yes, I recall that particular "review". The "it's my life" line is something I would expect to hear as a ten year old on the playground. In fact, when you read some of the review snippets on Mobygames, the contrast between the Amiga Power line and some of the other lines is stark. If I was the reviewer reading that, personally I'd be embarrassed to claim that I wrote it.

      I was always of the belief that a reviewer or games journalist should be objective and impartial in their opinion. The reviewer is neither. It's an opinion, and one that does not contain any form of analysis to quantify that opinion. There's no discussion of the mechanics of the game, or a constructive argument in the successes or failures of the game engine. It's basically just i don't like it and that's that. Very unprofessional and reflects badly on both the magazine and the reviewer.

    13. British videogames magazines always had their very own thing, even before the amiga days. Amiga Power was kind of a spiritual sucessor to the likes of Crash and Your Sinclair. They were brash, juvenile but also incredibly entertaining.

      I'm from Portugal, and british magazines were incredible expensive (at between 15$ and 20$), even more than american ones, but I always made the "effort" to convice my mom to buy me Amiga Power.

      Yes, some of their reviews were way off, but they're concept reviews were great, like the (in)famous reviews of Internation Rugby and Kick Off '96.

      For me the only websites worthy of this great heritage of british mags was Eurogamer in its early days and Rock Paper Shotgun. Almost everything else is boring to read (except your blog, obviously).

    14. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    15. The guy is a review troll. It feels like he's a less funny, less honest yahtzee, and instead went full troll.

    16. Like a commenter above, I'm from Portugal, and I read British mags in my youth (mostly Your Sinclair, Sinclair User and Crash!, since I never had an Amiga), but I'd have *despised* this guy's review. What lazy, anti-intellectual, "games should be only about action" crap.

      And to think I actually enjoyed his Space Giraffe review... now I think it's because he actually *played* the game.

  12. Forgive me for rambling a bit, but I want to thank you for what you are doing. I stumbled onto your blog a few years ago when I was looking for information on PoR, and I have been hooked ever since.

    I love your writing style and your take on these games, but the thing that really gives me goose bumps and takes me back to my teenage years is the gold box cover art. Every time I seen one of those box covers (this includes all the classics like Ultima) I instantly remember the joy and excitement I felt the first time I unwrapped a present and held those beautiful games in my hand.

    It's kinda silly I suppose to get nostalgic over some video games, but what can you do about it. Once again I want to thank you for exploring these old gems and in the process bringing some found memories back to me.

    1. I think you hit the nail on the head for a lot of the folks that read this blog. Certainly fits me!


    2. I remember seeing Secret of the Silver Blades for sale at the long-defunct software store, Egghead Software. The review of this game sort of takes me back to when I was a kid and you could walk into a video game store and be awed and overwhelmed by all the interesting PC games available.

    3. Thanks, Bulldawg. "It's kinda silly I suppose to get nostalgic over some video games, but what can you do about it" is exactly why my blog exists.

  13. About the term "hack 'n slash" - for me it means that an RPG has mainly combat and little other interaction or encounters. It's been quite a while since I played the goldboxes but I think eg. Ultima had a lot more other-than-combat interaction.

    1. Yes, that seems to be the way that most others use it, too. But where combat is the Gold Box engine's primary strength and there are so many options and tactics, I don't like seeing any term applied that suggests a blunt, unthinking approach to gameplay.

    2. To me, "hack 'n slash" means the game is all combat or prep-for-combat (ie, which weapon should I equip now prep, not actual thoughtful prep). Just because there is a lot of combat doesn't mean it is hack 'n slash, as long as there are other meaningful decisions in the game to make beyond inventory management.

    3. I see action R.P.G.s as ones with a focus on real-time action and in very little plot, like The Elder Scrolls, Zelda and Diablo. Usually, I prefer action and role playing separately, though the combination is on rare occasions fun, like The Elder Scrolls and Zelda. I see hack-and-slashes as games with turn-based combat and a focus on the combat, usually also lacking in plot: Wizardry, Shin Megami Tensei and Might and Magic.

      Dragon's Dogma, Fallout 3 and New Vegas, Drakensang, Icewind Dale, The Witcher and Earthbound do not count, since even though they focus on combat and some are real-time, they have enough plot and role-playing opportunities to qualify as standard R.P.G.s.

    4. Funny how people experience things differently.

      A) I'd classify LoZ games as action/adventure games.

      B) Elder Scrolls has loads of plot and choices and immersion. Totally legit RPG series.

      C) Did Earthbound have roleplaying opportunities? It felt like a traditional JRPG to me. Lots of random battles while traipsing a linear path.

      D) IWD has zero roleplaying opportunities. It's almost the perfect example of a hack&slash rpg.

    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    6. In Earthbound, you can choose your character's favorite food. Name just one CRPG that has this option. Just one.

    7. You did get to choose your favorite food, but Earthbound is still how Tristan describes it: Lots of random battles along a linear path and very much a JRPG.

    8. "A) I'd classify LoZ games as action/adventure games."

      And you'd be correct. The only Zelda game with even minimal role playing aspects was Zelda 2, and that was almost nothing like any of the rest of the series.

    9. I really don't get the praise for Gold Box's "tactical" combat when the only tactic you ever need to use is "cast fireball", possibly switching to "cast stinking cloud, then shoot arrows" for fire resistant monsters. IMO tactical options only count if they're genuinely necessary for victory, and here you can sleepwalk through any of these games.

    10. "Hack and slash" is not a genre. Hack and slash is a derogatory term for games with implied too much combat, or too unengaging combat, or something else that's bad and relates to lots of combat.


    12. Nethack asks you your favorite food. "Slime mold" if you don't specify.

    13. D&D and it's offsprings are in essential pure hack & slash sure you can do more then just hack and slash but rules concern mostly on how to hack things to pieces.
      3ed tried to deviate from this but when your PHB has 1/2 dedicated purely on combat mechanics and the other half is combat spells you gereally end up with mostly combat since there aren't any other (satisfactory) rule mechanics to deal with challenges then to hack it to pieces.
      Though you can play a session without rolling a dice at all but (especially) younger gamers don't have much patience for those.

      As for computer games IWD's are a purest example of hack & slash that you can think of.

    14. This comment has been removed by the author.

    15. I think the term is used both ways depending on the author. While Tristan's passive-aggressive Wikipedia link supports the idea that it's simply a genre, I've seen the term used pejoratively enough times to give it (for me) a negative connotation. Even in the Wikipedia link, an early quote ties hack and slash to "adolescent males."

      In CRPGs, I would reserve the term to games with a lot of fairly MINDLESS combat, like Diablo, and not those that involve a lot of tactics and planning.

    16. Oh, and for the anonymous commenter who said "I really don't get the praise..." First of all, screw you for breaking my commenting rules and forcing me to address you in this tortured way. Second, I don't think you really get Gold Box combat at all, because there are a lot more tactics than the ones you list if you want to get through a battle in optimal shape and not resort to save-scumming all the time when a battle doesn't go your way. "Fireball" is a bit overpowered, yes, but you don't have an unlimited supply, so you'd better have a backup strategy.

      If you can honestly "sleepwalk" through every GB battle, then I must hail you as a far superior player than I am. Thanks for gracing us with your mastery.

    17. How I define hack & slash in cRPG is that your main answer to any problem is to hack it to pieces and both IWD's are a prime example of that, sure you can parley but the optional route is always to hack it to pieces and 99/100 the game actually rewards you for 'cutting corners' I.e. combat is easier if you don't even initiate a dialogue but instead just head straight to combat fully buffed.

    18. Passive aggressive?! Pfft.

      I agree that CRPG purists might turn up their nose at the hack n' slash label, and will use the term with a degree of sneer, but I think, particularly with the rise of indie and mobile games, the term has received a fair bit of positive traction. eg I have a game that's called Hack, Slash, Loot.

      Games like Devil May Cry and God of War are unambiguously Hack n' Slash and also unambiguously high quality productions (even if they're not my cup of tea).

  14. "As Bolingbroke prepares to rush the door, a bat flies past and strikes the door. It vaporizes instantly. Do you still continue?"

    So the bat was an illusion, right? Because a real bat would not actually fly into a door. :/

    1. Or I guess the DOOR could have been an illusion. Either way. If the actual answer was "the door has a disintegration trap on it," then I am disappointed.

    2. I had a bat kill itself by flying into my office window last year. I felt bad, but I figured if he was that inept, he'd probably starve to death eventually anyway.

  15. You mentioned something in the 3rd-to-last paragraph about how much more fun it is to play when your character levels are lower. I agree. I've seen discussions of the Baldur's Gate games and never understood why some people recommend skipping the first game. I haven't managed to finish it yet, but it's really fun when you're just starting out and have to depend on the companions you come across to help you survive.

    1. I also love those early moments when you don't have 10 healing potions and 5 wands in "reserve" but you're expending resources as fast as you acquire them, just to stay alive.

    2. 1st baldur has a LOT of aimless wandering around fighting random monsters and I mean random as in they vanish on next reload and it gets old very fast when you would just want to get on with the plot but instead of doing that you have to wander around the country side scrounging for equipment and gold to survive the first 3 levels of adventuring.

      Add in the fact that many screens are just fillers and might or might not have an important encounter which might or might not kill your party instantly and you can see why people have issues with BG 1.

    3. I assume those players like their RPGs on rails in which they just traverse from plot point to plot point. In BG, the fact that many screens have nothing to do with the main plot is a GOOD THING, not a bad one. All of them have something interesting--at least one quest or major role-playing encounter.

    4. The trouble with that model, which really becomes prevalent in later WRPGs, is that it too easily becomes "sidequest bloat". This not only makes immersion more difficult ("well, I've stopped the dynamite-throwing escaped convicts from kidnapping a guy in this town, found a new sheriff for this other town, and helped launch mutants into space, I guess I'll go see what I can find out about that guy who shot me in the head and threw me in a shallow grave" just seems hard to justify from an RP point of view unless you're RPing a very specific character archetype), makes progression frustrating because you don't have a clear idea of how dangerous an area is ("ok, so if I go THIS way I have giant superfast scaly things ripping me apart, but if I go THIS way it's mostly rats and weak bandits, unless I check THIS area and get my brain stolen and suddenly everything's way stronger than I am (OK, this one is marked, and you have to have the right DLC, but you can still enter it absurdly easy if you're reckless) and can seriously screw up game balance in ways that are impossible for the developers to plan for because you're going to be going into the later areas of the game with a huge variance in experience points and equipment depending on whether or not you did the sidequests, and level scaling can only do so much to address the balance, particularly when fixed equipment is added to the mix.

      BG1 handles it better than most, but it compounds the problem by scattering your potential party members hither and yon, so you can't even form the party you want unless you have played extensively enough in the past to know where everyone is, made worse by the linking system that often requires you to permakill one potential teammate you don't want to get one that you do.

      Not everyone sees this as a problem, but it isn't difficult to see why other people do.

      (examples chosen from a modern game that I know you're either currently playing or have played quite recently, as you've mentioned it a few times).

    5. I'm siding with Chet for this one. Games that allow you to get to places too hard for you at the start of the game are so much better than the ones that railroad you and hold your hand. If you wander off the beaten path and get stomped, then you reload & try somewhere else, and it makes it that much more satisfying when you are powerful enough and can come back and take revenge.
      The "sidequest screens" in BG are what makes it such a great game, and the main plot, while significant, never has a sense of urgency about it that makes you feel that it would be stupid for the character to do this stuff, same with F:NV.

    6. I personally prefer a mix of both; an open world with a great plot and, sometimes, an urgent quest or two.

      Wasteland 2 is one great example. Having shitloads of fun with that baby now.

    7. Wasteland 2 does one other cool thing (in my book) which is tempt one into replaying hours of content *for role playing reasons*. Afaik, it does that better than most crpgs because the consequences can play out so far ahead and in such unexpected ways. You don't have to at all: I assume most people play the game by rolling with the punches and potentially messing up in major areas while still never getting into a walking dead situation (though there may be moments where that could happen); but for me there are so many places where the 'what if' of a better quest resolution makes re-exploring vast maps seem worthwhile. Having played through once, I could instantly envisage a very different play through if I adopted a different ethical framework for my decisions.

      It's only the length of the bloody thing that stopped me doing that straight away.

    8. I'm playing 2 parties side-by-side and I'm not done with either! XD

    9. I love having both freedom and story, although it does require style. Style and humor can save a game with limited freedom or story, but a game with no style is going to be boring. I love Fallout, Baldur's Gate, The Elder Scrolls, Zelda, Metroid, Grand Theft Auto, Shin Megami Tensei are all great at providing big worlds and stylish environments to explore and do whatever I want.

      Wasteland 2 is a horrible failure: It has no style--the entire world is most boring and generic of apocalypses, with none of the imagination or humor of Fallout or Shin Megami Tensei. Going through the world is frustrating because the crippling bugs and horrendous interface make getting anywhere a chore. Most of the humor is just references to 80s products and Internet memes: Some of it is funny, but a lot is repeated ad nauseum and grows very tiresome. There are only two or three significant choices, and most of the quests are boring, inane chores. There is no plot, no conflict, no villain, no point until the abrupt ending. Wasteland 2 is the perfect example of how not to create an open world, and though I found it mediocre at the time, the more I think about it the more I think it might be better described as terrible.

    10. Wasteland 2 has no imagination: I played the entire game, but the only things that seemed remotely original were the mad tmonks and the disco robots. I then remembered that the mad monks were in Fallout 3, so that is one original idea in a very long game.

    11. Ug. I based Wasteland 2 since, hey, Isometric RPG! But then am scared to play it as every time I do everything I think "DAMMIT, I'm going to screw it up, I'm going to screw it up...."

  16. I've enjoyed your blog so far. The way you write about the old games bring back a lot of memories of playing gold box games after school in high school.

    I played most of the original gold box games when they were released. I remember my interest in them starting to wane with Silver Blades though. There were a couple of reasons for this:

    1. As you mention in your review, leveling from lvl 11 to 15 just doesn't feel very heroic. Sure you gain a couple more spells, but I don't remember any real show-stoppers aside from delayed blast fireball. There were a couple of spells that I didn't see any use for all, like Restoration and Mind Blank.

    What I love about Pool of Radiance (and low-level games in general), is that gaining a level is a BIG deal. At lvl 2, your mage can cast 2 sleep spells instead of just one. Everyone's hit points double. Your fighters start hitting noticeably more often.

    Going from level 1 to 2 effectively doubles the staying power of your party. What does going from level 29 to 30 give you? A couple more hit points and maybe a few more spell slots.

    Also, at low levels there is more danger and less margin for error. Accidentally aim that sleep spell too close to your cleric and the battle goes from routine to a fight for your life. Fail to position your fighters properly and a goblin might take down your mage. In other words - tactics matter.

    In higher level games like secret, it feels less like a matter of tactics and more of a matter of how many fireballs it will take to end the battle.

    2. There was a bug in the copy I played that caused all saving throws to fail. This was before the internet, so this was a straight from the box installation. It might have been something specific to the system I played it on - a Tandy 1000 if I remember correctly.

    Anyways, when I first noticed that the monster's saving throws failed all the time, I was stoked at first. You know how annoying it is when that Hold Person or Charm Person spell is resisted? Hate when your Fireballs only do half damage? I didn't have to worry about that anymore. My heroes were unstoppable.

    The down side of this was that the game got boring fast. This bug meant that all spells cast by (or against) my party had the full effect 100% of the time. This meant I could effectively one-shot any enemy I encountered unless they happened to be immune to magic.

    This made the battles very tedious because the only way I could lose is if the monsters managed to take out my priest and mages before they got a chance to cast a spell.

    I might go back and play it again. Maybe the bug won't present itself on modern hardware.

    Anyways, I've subscribed to your blog and I look forward to seeing what you think about some other games I played back in the day.


    1. Thanks for your recollections. I can promise you that the saving throw bug is not present in the DOS version with DOSBox anyway.

      Modern games seem to do a better job ensuring that leveling is still rewarding at high levels by allowing you to unlock perks and special abilities. I never felt I was overpowered in New Vegas, for instance.

  17. One way I deal with the out of control economy in these games is by taxing the party. I simply think of a percentage rate that the town or city the party operate from would charge the players. To "pay" the taxes, I just drop off that amount of gold etc. in the mayor's building or other place. Of course It is just dropping the money, but you cannot get it back. So I just roleplay that the party is paying income taxes on all the treasure that is raked in.

    Taxing and hoarding gold might be one way a town could cut down on inflation following a party's successful return. It worked for Basil II.
    Anyway, just an idea. More and more I find these (Gold Box, Forgotten Realms) games fascinating in that you can put as much roleplaying in it as you want.

    1. I love gold sinks myself. I'm loaded, let me give that old widow a bucket of money. Let me hire mercs to defend Megaton so they don't have to worry about raiders. Let me pay to upgrade things, or buy art for my house, customize my cloths and weapons, etc.

      Assassin's Creed 2 had some of these done well, but the problem is your upgrades gave you more money, so the money sink helped break the economy. *sigh*. Fallout 3 TRIED to do this, but they were too cheap, and you only bought a few house upgrades and one decoration set.

  18. For fans of SSI/Gold Box RPGs, you might be interested in checking out a new Kickstarter campaign by some former SSI members:

    Seven Dragon Saga, by Tactical Simulations Interactive

    1. Well... this sucks...

      "Update #13 from Seven Dragon Saga by Tactical Simulations Interactive (TSI)

      Mar 24 2015
      From the President
      Over $100,000, and nearly 2,000 backers achieved and a new direction, discovered.

      We’re postponing our Kickstarter campaign. No, TSI is NOT giving up on Seven Dragon Saga! Quite the contrary. We’ve done some serious reflection and come to the conclusion that we can’t create the level of RPG today that we know we’ll be able to create tomorrow.

      Given its heritage, SDS needs to set a new standard for the RPG genre. Not a ‘style over substance’ AAA standard. A standard that delivers a fresh, compelling and truly satisfying RPG experience. SDS deserves no less. And that goes for you too, our wonderful, loyal supporters.

      We launched this campaign at "veteran difficulty" (what some call "a high funding goal") because wanted to be sure that we would do SDS justice. We knew there would be a lot of you that remembered the classics or would appreciate our efforts to build a fresh RPG, but we underestimated how much new content we'd need to show in the middle of the campaign to engage people that were less familiar with the older games.

      We'd thought we could talk about core mechanics when it is clear that you want to actually see those mechanics in action. We need to show off more than we had ready right now. There came a point where it became more tell than show.

      We've had incredibly positive results from this Kickstarter. The press awareness, fan response, and community feedback has been tremendous. We're taking that feedback and what we've learned to refine our work further. We'll be coming back as soon as humanly possible, with a better, more refined Kickstarter, and some code you'll actually be able to play, along with killer videos and artwork.

      Once again, we are extremely grateful for all of your encouragement and support. We will continue to follow our progress by signing up for our newsletter on our website: and by following us on social media. This way, you can hear about our Kickstarter re-launch when it happens. And it WILL happen!



      If it were easy, where would the true sense of accomplishment come from?

      Sincerely, David Klein,

      President TSI"

    2. TSI contacted me, and I was about to pledge to the project, give them a quote, and start 1991 with Death Knights of Krynn so I could talk about this latest project. The cancellation was a bit of a surprise.

  19. First - thank you Chet for giving this game a fair shake. I can see the flaws in the game clearly enough, yet it remains a favorite with me. Here is my review. There will be spoilers.
    I have played all the SSI Golden Box games, except for Neverwinter Nights. Sorry but online gaming is not for me. The series has many highs and lows. Secret of the Silver Blades is more of a plain, than either a mountain or valley. I am a fan of the game, but I can see its shortcomings.

    STORY - It's a not so merry adventure through town, ruins, mines, dungeons, ice caverns and castle to slay the big bad. It's standard fare, but then SSI mix it up by having two evil factions: Black Circle and Bane Church fighting amongst themselves. Allowing the party to work with one or the other could have helped make the game more interesting. As it is you are locked in opposition to both.

    I will say that the game does make the villains more menacing than in either of the previous SSI games. The Black Circle is aggressive and the more you hurt them in the ruins the more they will attack you in the town, unless you shut them down early. It's not much, but its better than the villain simply waiting for you, no matter how long you take.

    As for the Lich, his choice in armies: giants, dragons, driders and Medusas?!?!?!? begs for explanation. Fighting an army of Medusas and Margoyles is impressive, but mirrors make it a forgone conclusion. Again the multi types of giants should have allowed for some roleplaying, but its reduced to one moment late in the game.

    INTERFACE - As Chet has mentioned, the ability to use joystick, mouse and keyboard is a godsend in this game. I like how I can adjust the icons to change the weapon or armor they are using.

    I found the bank to be a good innovation as it does save on encumbrance. The idea of a town as a base is well conveyed by having one street where all the services are located. Each visit to town is a stroll down main street. It made sense that the town would not charge the heroes for healing, training or drink, but I agree the economy suffers. Dropping +1 swords should not happen, yet I am guilty.

    Lastly - I like that you can change the difficulty. It does not improve A.I. or C2 for that matter, but it does increase enemy saves and the frequency of wandering monsters. So use with care.

    GRAPHICS - Frankly I am used to boring backgrounds. They do not bother me. SSI went for functionality here. There is a separate background for each major area - town, ruin, mine, dungeon, ice crevasse, castle, temple. We see them also in both Champions and Death Knights of Krynn. They are not exciting, but at least you know where you are.

    Images of monsters and townsfolk were okay, but they went overboard on using a modified portrait of Alias from Curse of the Azure Bonds.

    NITPICKS - Central to the game is the Well of Knowledge. It reminded me of the Guardian of Time from Star Trek. The wells serves as a source of information and a money sink. It serves well enough, but it is unexciting. It might have been more interesting if the well did not always give out truthful information.

    1. Thanks for your take on it. I agree with you on the Well of Knowledge. That plot bit never really made a lot of sense or came together.

    2. Your welcome. I should have added something about the geography of this game. It's sprawling and huge! I want to try marching from the town through the ruins, through the ice crevasse and then to the castle - and back! Forget the well!

      It's also possible to play evil in this game. You can tell Vala to take a hike, or tell Sir Cedric that you work for the Black Circle or exterminate the Frost Giants rather than making a deal with the king.

      Goldbox games are endlessly fascinating and I try to play them like I am in a sandbox. I thought of trying to bring my current party from SSOB to Pools of Darkness, but 2/5 of the party are elves and I do not like playing without them. Still I might bring them through just the same.

    3. Update. I keep unpacking this game the more and more that I play. Some things that I found. Please note: spoilers ahead.

      1) You can rescue Sasha in the ruins after defeating the Black Circle troops and mages in the inner sanctum. I do not know yet if this removes the chance of meeting her in the western crevasse.

      2) The world does respond to your actions. Obviously, if you attack Marcus' house, the Fire Knife attacks will stop. If you defeat the Black Circle in the inner sanctum, it becomes part of the ruins and is crawling with wandering monsters.

      3) The spell "Friends" actually has some use. As you know, you can try to bribe or talk down wandering monsters in the mines. Raising your Charisma via "Friends" increases the chance. But wait, there's more, even non speaking monsters, like Cockatrice, can be talked or waited down. Using "Friends" allowed me to avoid combat about 5 -6 times in parts 1-5 of the mines.

      4) The Vault in town is strange. I actually found items in their that had been in previous games, including three trident +3 and a bunch of mirrors. For roleplaying purposes I ditched them, but it looks like a ready made cheat.

    4. More Updates: My last play sessions have given me much to think about. I keep revisiting this game and I think the reason is simple, the game has so many varied terrains and monsters and challenges that each calls for specific tactical changes over time. I could not sleepwalk through battles and would never trust the A.I.

      In the mines, for example, you can talk or wait on the monsters and sometimes they will leave. The Friends spell works well here. None of the battles in the upper levels were that hard, so spell conservation was in order. This changed if we faced Wyverns or Slugs, who took too much time and hit points with infantry alone. Level 10 offered a whole new phenomenon, gaze attacks. So I equipped all party members with mirrors. If I faced Medusae and Basalisks alone, I could win with melee and arrows alone. If spiders or gargoyles showed up, spells could be used.

      Spell use is rather complex on its own. My fighter magic user, who is in the front, can use mass damage spells, but it is better for her to use spells which optimize her fighting, like Mirror Image or Fire Shield. The choice to cast a fireball or fire shield becomes crucial at times, especially in the Crevasses. Sometimes the lack of spells can create new opportunities. I found, for example that Stinking Cloud, that leftover from level 2, to be effective on dragons, worms and Remorazz! Monster and man alike would not avoid the noxious cloud, but charge right in. But would you waste time on such a spell if you had 5 fireballs and 2 delayed blast fireballs at the ready? Rationing spells really at the heart of the gold box game. Your infantry can never cope with numerous enemies alone.

      Another point: One that our is one our host has mentioned. In both the ruins and the eastern crevasses you meet enemies head-on with no warning. The mines gave you the chance to meet enemies at a distance. Each area had a different way of handling the wandering monster. The mines had the best way, true to the tradition laid down by Pool of Radiance. I agree with Chet that its the best game of the bunch, but Secret challenges me more.

      Other Points:

      1) The game allows you to load up on scrolls with DBF, from the magic shop. They are not as powerful as one delivered by the mage himself, but they still pack a punch.

      2) There are no magic small bows in the game. My Magic-User thief has had to contend with a mundane model.

      3) Polearms seem to hurt giants more than swords, except of course for the long sword vs giants. Still with one using a halberd and another using the above mentioned sword, killing giants become quite a sport. Still I found the Frost Giant village needed many retreats until we could subdue the place. It wasn't the giants, it was their elephants!
      4) The multiple organizations you fight are weird. You have Black Circle, Castle Guard, Legionaries and so on. I suppose they are to be examples of different classes of infantry, but in the end they were all equally obnoxious. Still the Dread Guards fell sooner than the others.

      5) Vala attacked my party! Seems attacking someone charmed to your side sets the NPCs to mutiny. The party bloodily suppressed the mutiny. We were five headed into the crevasse. Only the magic-user, Zoe, was happy, but then she is evil.

      6) The party lay encamped outside the Castle. Some want to finish business quickly (there have been at least 7 resurrections in the game and constitutions are low) and some want to kill everything in the place. This game is fun!

    5. 1. IIRC scribed scrolls are automatically lvl 10.

      3. Polearms, Longswords and 2H Swords do much more damage to Large enemies than human sized enemies. So having more than one weapon to chose from can be a goo idea.

    6. I wasn't sure that long swords did more damage. Interesting! Still I have a liking for pole-arms. By the way, the party finally won, on Adept level. I nearly choked on the Iron Golem room, but managed to win with only one casualty.

  20. It seems like you might have not gotten a couple of post-win messages that I did:

    1. When revisting Derf's room after winning the game, he was gone and I instead got a message that with the Dreadlord's defeat he "had joined Tyr".

    2. While the town was celebrating our victory, I was able to visit the pub where a "wild party" was going on, which leads to the party waking up in the mayor's house with aching heads.

    These make the post-win experience better than Pool, in which the clerk's congratulations are all you get. And in Curse, you can't keep playing after winning at all.

    1. Thanks Avenir.
      Guess I didn't dream up Derf's fate after all...
      Snipe hunt, eh?

      (ref to comment at Won post)

    2. My apologies, Dariel. Platform differences, I guess? What did you play on, Avenir?

    3. i owned and played POR, CotAB, SotSB, and POD. i remember derf (huh huh, fred) dying as well. I had the DOS versions.

      there is a faq on gamefaqs that mention seeing derf's fate after the final battle. using the teleportal in the lich's secret room to go to the well area and visit derf before going to town. it also says that there is a bug that reincarnates derf after visiting him. since you didnt visit derf after defeating the lich and freeing his soul but before returning to town, i would hazard a guess that it reincarnates him after returning to town as heroes and not simply by visiting him and witnessing his passing.

      "There is also a gate back to the Well here. You might want to teleport to the Temple of Tyr and discover Derf Strongarm's fate
      before returning to town. There is a bug in the program that reincarnates Derf after your visit."

  21. I played on the DOS platform. The title screen gives the version as 1.30, dated May 18, 1990.

    Even if that's the same version, there could be a glitch in the game that led to the different results.

  22. I recently finished up my game, and I feel like there are only a couple of small things holding this game back from being great.

    One is the mine segment. As a kid I spent weeks wandering around the mines, looking for those blasted staff pieces. 8 levels of that is just way too much. They could have easily compressed that to 2 or 3 - you don't get much in the way of EXP or loot, and you can easily go back and rest after every level. It's just a very poorly designed area, which serves no purpose other than prolonging the game. And it only does that by making you wander around aimlessly and possibly get lost. Not fun at all.

    The first crevasse involves a ton of uninteresting and not very difficult battles, and feels like a placeholder much like the mines. The giant village invites WAY too many battles with the giant inhabitants. The giant village suffers the same fate as the mines, too, because it's small and you can run back out to the teleporter to rest up as often as needed.

    Other than those areas, this is a very solid game. I actually think the second crevasse is one of the strongest segments of the game, perhaps of the entire series, because it's a long slog that really stretches even a max-level party to the breaking point by the end, and the purpose is crystal clear because you're on the way to the final area. You can't just run back and rest up as needed, either, because you'll just have to fight your way through again. I don't know that there is another area in the first 3 games to match it, quite honestly - the closest are the waves of enemies in the kobold caves of PoR and Dracandros' segment in Curse, but both of those suffer from being cake walks if you're of a high enough level. This is one place whose difficulty can't be solved simply by leveling up.

    Also, the high level fighters in the second crevasse look like Zap Rowsdower.

    1. Agreed on all points particularly that second crevasse. I wish I'd known about it going in, as I would have been more sparing with my spells in the early stages. Still, I loved how I had to call upon all my resources, no matter how paltry, by the end. The Gold Box needed more moments like that.

  23. "The documentation meticulously catalogs every creature that you'll face, even though including "lich" is something of a spoiler." Indeed, though since the Dreadlord also features prominently in the reproduced ad for the game, some spoiler was present already at that stage.

    I wonder what the best approach to this is / would have been: Include all (potential) enemies in the game documentation, none at all (i.e. having to find everything out through exploration) or just some of the ones you encounter at the start (to give you an idea on possible characteristics, strengths and weaknesses of foes, but keep the suspense for other encounters).

    When playing the Gold Box games myself, I handled these descriptions like the Journal entries, i.e. tried to only look at the one relevant at that moment. Though there are no fake 'monster entries' to discourage you from peeping ahead AFAIK.

    Not sure without checking again if the series handled it consistently, however (list every adversary with details). I seem to recall that in later games some foes had more generic descriptions while for others, especially new ones, you'd get exact statistics. Then again, if you came from tabletop roleplaying, you'd probably already be familiar with many of these.

    Of course it's possible all of this was already discussed in the next couple of blog years of (re-)reading I still have ahead of me, in which case apologies for the redundancy.

  24. One option is use the frua module that includes all games in a Big Big adventure


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