Fool's Gold takes place during the gold rush of 1849. Players are investors who send prospectors on a quest to find gold at various locations — in the mountains, in a forest, at a river, etc. — with each location having perils, gems, quantities of gold and bountiful supplies of silt. As players remove valuable gold cards from the location decks, silt becomes more prominent and gold harder to find.
Each player starts Fool's Gold with six coins and 2-4 prospectors, depending on the number of players. The game lasts five years (i.e., rounds), and at the start of each year, each player receives an additional coin and an additional prospector, giving you both more to spend and more on which to spend. Each year consists of two phases: the prospecting phase and the mining phase. During the prospecting phase, the start player rolls ten dice, then places the dice on the mines of the same number, with 6s being placed in the central camp. Each mine has a path to it starting with the numbered die, then spaces numbered 0-6.