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RETRO: Rare 80’s Game ‘Dark Tower’ Had Legal Trouble But Now A Bright Future

4 Minute Read
Sep 4 2018
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Sorry, Steven King fans, it’s not THAT Dark Tower. Still, for board game historians, Dark Tower has quite a notable legacy itself.

Dark Tower was a game released in 1981 during the height of the role-playing game craze. Dungeons and Dragons; Rogue, the video game (where the gaming term Roguelike comes from); and even Choose Your Own Adventure books all were hugely popular during this time. Milton Bradley sought to capitalize on the trend, no matter the cost. More on that later.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xo43hFP8nqc

Game Play

Dark Tower plays fairly straight forwardly. The players take turns traveling the terrain, tussling with titans, taking treasure and training their timid troops until they’re teeming with enough tried and true toughness to be able to tackle the titular tower.

What makes Dark Tower so unique is what made everything in the 80’s totally rad: Electronics.

In the center of the board, the Tower also functions as the game’s ‘Game Master’ of sorts. On each move, the players would hit one of the buttons on the face of the tower, depending on their move or action that turn.

The tower would mechanically whir and electronically beep to show and tell what was happening. By using a rotating column within the tower and light bulbs to back light each of the four sections of the column, the tower could illustrate what was going on.

These icons are used by the Tower to illustrate the game’s happenings.

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The game came with multiple ‘Levels’ to play, each with varying difficulty. However, the overall objective remained the same:

  1. Search the 4 realms to find the 3 Magical Keys required to open the Dark Tower
  2. Gather enough warriors to build an army
  3. Assault the tower to defeat the enemies within to win the game

Along the way, players will also have to gather gold to hire more warriors, maintain enough rations to feed everyone, gather specialized allies to defend against plague and become lost and a variety of other things as well.

Overall, Dark Tower goes into a fair amount of depth for what was available to the developers technologically. Really, the game designers at Milton Bradley should be very pleased with themselves about how clever they are about the design and structure of this game. Or, at least they would be, if they hadn’t completely stolen the idea.

Milton Bradley Steals A Game Idea And Gets Sued Then Loses The Case

I guess that header kinda explained everything. Well, frankly, unlike some other stories involving the actual Milton Bradley, this one is a little more straightforward.

Before Dark Tower was released, Robert Burton and Allen Coleman, two independent game developers came to Milton Bradley with a great idea. They had designed an electronic centerpiece tower which would be able to act as a game master of sorts for the game they had designed titled “Triumph”. Sadly, Milton Bradley rejected the idea and Burton and Coleman went home empty handed.

Then comes 1981 and Milton Bradley releases Dark Tower with a electronic centerpiece tower which would be able to act as a game master of sorts for the game they had designed titled “Dark Tower”.

Artists rendition of Burton and Coleman, probably.

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So, they sued Milton Bradley and after a bit of back and forth, they were awarded $700,000 by the court, or, with inflation roughly $2,000,000 today. Additionally, the game went out of print which makes it very hard to find nowadays. It sure is a shame, though. Such a fun game with a neat idea. Really, it would be great if someone were to reprint the game with a modern take. But, really, what are the chances of anyon…

Dark Tower Gets A Sequel

Restoration Games announced at Gen Con this year they are working on Return To Dark Tower, a direct sequel.

The jingle you hear at the start of the video is a direct takeaway from the original tower. It’s a minor thing, but that sort of stuff really gets me excited. When they are taking that much attention to the minor details, I think they are on the right track.

You may remember Restoration Games from some of the other classic games they brought up to more modern standards.

There are currently very few details about Return to Dark Tower, but we do know it will be cooperative, and they want to really take advantage of the advanced in technology since the original release, but without it just being a phone app. They want the tower to be integral to the game. They plan for launch the Kickstarter sometime in 2019 and have a full shipment in 2020.

More important, I think, is that it is being co-designed by Rob Daviau, (Risk: Legacy, Pandemic: Legacy) and Isaac Childres (Gloomhaven). If that’s not an all-star design team, I don’t know what is.

Thanks for reading!

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