Gold Rush is one of Sierra's more interesting and inventive adventure games, but it is also weighed down with a lot of rather goofy design choices that make the game a frustrating pain to play. In a parallel to the time period and the greedy gold quests that it emulates, only those with significant patience and perserverance (and an itchy F7 finger) will be willing to put up with the rigors of this one to get what reward they can out of it.
Jarrod Somethingorother is a banker in bustling New York. He's got a nice house that he inherited from his parents, a steady job, he might even get to take Bessie May out to the theatre one of these days. However, a letter from his long-lost brother (with a strange code and a gold flake hidden under the stamp) convinces him that he's got to head for Californy and find his bro (who has likely hit the Mother Lode or something). With only the letter as a clue he puts his house up for sale, pulls all his money out of the bank, and books passage to the West Coast.
The game begins about five minutes before the great Gold Rush of the 1840s ... and I mean literally, about five minutes into the game, apparently a herd of miners suddenly stampedes west, and you get a message that tells you that since the Gold Rush has suddenly begun all at once, both the prices you can sell your house for and the prices that you have to pay to get tickets and equipment change dramatically. You basically have to know what is coming next to get anywhere in this game, as the time limit is so tight that you can't do anything that isn't necessary. There are three ways to get to California for you to choose from, but if you bork up the introductory proceedings by taking too long, you can only afford the one that is most annoying. This is the one where you have a random chance of getting cholera every time you enter a new screen, and there is nothing you can do about it, and it kills you instantly.
The game seems like it is determinedly trying to piss you off, actually; you can get arrested for walking on some innocuous flowers, there's the aforementioned totally random cholera deaths that can't be prevented, and it's just jam-packed with good ol' Sierra Hang-Ups that will send you all the way back to the beginning if you miss some stupid little item or another. There's also a lot of reliance on random appearances; for example, when selling your house at the beginning, you have to wait around for some random guy to show up and buy it, which means walking off and on the screen over and over again. If it ends up taking too long for him to randomly spawn, sorry, tough nuts for you, start the game over. All in all, the puzzle design seems very amateurish, with an almost complete lack of foresight. Yet, lots of people put up with it anyway, myself included when I was a youngster.
That's probably because, despite the irritating random fatalities and complete lack of personality for the main character, the setting is very unique and the overall design is pretty clever. The three passages to California are mostly annoying, but those are actually relatively short portions of the game, and then it becomes more of a "real" adventure as you seek your brother in the Golden State.
All in all, I find this one too damn annoying to bother with, but I can see where some really persistent and patient adventure gamers might get into it. For me, it's only good for firing up and intentionally failing the copy protection every now and then, to watch Crazy Prospector send me to my grisly death dancing at the end of a rope! Gotcha!
* Gameplay Video