LOST DUTCHMAN MINE / Magnetic Images / Amiga

Lost Dutchman Mine gives us a rare look at Santa's summers, as he prospects for gold out in the desert Southwest to fund his charitable organization.

As with many computer games of the 90s, you're dropped into the middle of the action without any real explanation as to what's going on. It's clear that the overall goal is to make your money prospecting for gold, but you're not given much idea of where or how. Reading the manual lets you know that the overall goal is to find the fabled Lost Dutchman Mine, the location of which can only be found by way of several scattered map pieces.

Fortunately, the interface is one of the easiest to use on the Amiga and it doesn't take long to get a handle on the full flow of the game. A dusty little town serves as the hub, providing all the basic services you'll need. You get equipped up from there and venture out into the desert looking for various sources of gold - panning in the nearby river, and finding caves to mine in (where Santa amusingly turbo-headbutts glowing veins).

You'll have to buy relevant items at the town store to do anything, though - a pan for the river, a lantern and pickaxe for the mine, and so on. You've also got to take care of your food and water needs, so you'll need some canteens and prep items like a knife and a skillet.

You start out with $250, which is enough to get most of the basics you need. The problem is that you also have to consider self-defense; you can be waylaid by Indians, bandits or rattlesnakes outside of town, and your only options are to fight back with a gun or run for it and lose a good chunk of your inventory. But the gun costs $200 and bullets cost $50, so arming yourself right away means you can't afford any other money-making tools.

Other than that manual I linked above, you won't really find any documentation of this game online - no FAQs or walkthroughs or such. So you're left to strategize on your own. Starting out, the smartest thing seemed to be to pan for gold. The pan isn't too expensive and you only need that to get underway, plus the river isn't hidden and you can get much-needed water and fish there. It turned out to be a solid plan, as if you go far enough outside of town panning often yields $60 to $120 per bag and you can carry a few bags per trip.

The rub comes with going that far outside of town. While you're walking the desert, you could be ambushed by a random encounter at any given time. They aren't very frequent, but if you're unarmed you'll have to run and that means most likely losing all your gold sacks. So you're kinda forced to save-scum for at least a couple of panning runs until you're fully equipped. The only alternative I could think of is buying the gun right away and intentionally hunting for bandits as you get a few hundred in reward money when you gun one down ... trouble with that strategy is that you have no way to feed yourself so you'd probably be save-scumming anyway, plus gun battles usually mean wounds that cost hundreds at the doctor to heal.

That little design shortcoming aside, the game is really well-constructed. It's randomized between new games, changing up the cave locations and prime river panning spots so it has some replayability.

I never did find the Dutchman's Mine though. The game manual tells you that one piece is in the hands of the poker player in town, but as to the rest I have no idea. My best guess is that they're in caves, and a map that you can buy in the store leads to the first one. Never did happen to find that first cave though.

It's a shame that Magnetic Images folded up so fast, as they had a good inherent sense for design and for coming up with original concepts. This was pretty much their one-hit wonder, though. It's a nice companion game to Sierra's Gold Rush if you're in an Old West mood, but this is definitely a little more fun and a lot less frustrating.

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