Dark Tower is a board game developed by Milton Bradley in 1981. It was a huge success and was extremely popular, yet it vanished from the market within a year. The game was one of the first to successfully combine electronic components with a board game in a manner that didn't feel too much like a gimmick.

In Dark Tower, you play a leader of a citadel. With a small army, you wander the lands, searching for the three keys which will allow you to enter the Dark Tower. Acquiring gold, purchasing troops, magic items, and special personalities to join your army make the task easier, as you are constantly beset by brigands, wizards, plagues, and dragons. Your goal is the Ancient Magic Scepter held in the center of the Dark Tower.

The gameplay behind Dark Tower is, more or less, a solitaire game played as a race with the other players. The only real way you interact with other players is through purchasing curses from the wizard, and through interacting with the Dragon. This means that you're less likely to inspire hatred from your fellow game players, because you rarely take an action directly against them, but it also reduces the sense of it being a group game. It also limits the strategy to being one of you against the computer, rather than forcing the player to adapt to other players' strategies.

The really interesting part of Dark Tower is, oddly enough, the Dark Tower, which sits in the middle of the board on a swiveling base. This tower is electronic, with a push pad that lets you communicate to the tower your actions. As you move around and interact with the game, the tower tells you what the results are, and acts as the "dice" for the game, doing all of the random events and results for you. It also tracks your acquired units, food, gold, etc. When your turn is finished, you swivel the tower to the next player, who takes his turn. Only you can see your interactions with the tower, which makes secrecy an important component of the game.

As you wander the board, you can explore tombs and fight brigands in the hopes of gaining treasures or other rewards, enter sanctuaries where you can beg for help if you are truly needy, haggle for troops, food, and equipment at the bazaar, and gather warriors at your citadel. You can also acquire various items and characters to aid you in your quest. Most of these modify how random events will effect you in the game. For example, if you encounter the dragon in the course of playing the game, you will lose a fourth of your troops and gold. However, if you have the Dragon Sword, you will instead defeat the dragon, and gain all of the troops and gold he has stolen from other players.

The beautiful artwork for Dark Tower was done by Bob Pepper, who also did the card game Dragonmaster. The game had lavish production values. The tower in the center was wonderful and very sturdy, and the board and pieces were all beautiful and detailed. Despite this, and the wonderful sales, the game only lasted for one year on the open market, and now sells on eBay for over a hundred dollars.

So why exactly did this game vanish from the market after one year of sales? In 1979, two game inventors, Alan Coleman and Roger Burton, went to Milton Bradley, among other publishers, with an idea and prototype for a game they called "Triumph", controlled by a microprocessor. It was evaluated by Milton Bradley for a month, and then rejected. However, in 1981, at a toy fair, they saw MB marketing a new board game, Dark Tower.

They slapped Milton Bradley with a lawsuit, accusing them of stealing their idea. After a lengthy court battle, involving rulings and appeals, and several important precedents set for trade secret law, Coleman and Burton were awarded $737,058.10 in lost royalties. Milton Bradley stopped selling the game immediately.

Before Dark Tower was shut down, however, Milton Bradley decided to allow the development of a home console version of Dark Tower, for the vector graphics based Vectrex home entertainment system. The storyline is very similar to that of the board game, but as a single player game. You can collect much the same upgrades and visit the same locations, and your quest is similar. The game was never released to the public. However, copies of it have found their way onto the internet, and you can play this little time capsule with a Vectrex emulator.

Sources:


http://well-of-souls.com/tower/ - Very comprehensive resource on Dark Tower

http://www.gamewinners.com/faq.php?game=d/DarkTower-zmorganrw.txt - Detailed FAQ for the Vectrex version

http://www.lgu.com/publications/tradesecrets/2.shtml - Web site analyzing the legal battle between Coleman and Burton and Milton Bradley

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/viewitem.php3?gameid=30 - Information about Dark Tower from a board game enthusiast perspective

Dark Tower is a high-level (level 7-9) AD&D module from Judges Guild. It was first released in 1979. Dark Tower is one of the few official approved third party AD&D products, created during a brief but glorious time in the late '70s and early '80s before TSR began circling its wagons and started suing everyone.

Dark Tower was written and illustrated by Paul Jaquays. Jaquays is most familiar to old time gamers for having produced the red dragon art work used on TSR's 1981 D&D boxed edition (this is the version they released as a single 8 1/2" x 11" booklet with a blue monochrome cover, it's sometimes referred to as the D&D Basic Set, Second Edition).

The adventure is set in a sleepy, somewhat spooky mountain hamlet. On the surface everything appears normal. But below the surface, literally, are two ancient, buried towers. One tower was a temple to a good demigod named Mitra. The other tower was a temple to the evil Egyptian god Set. Both towers were buried and presumably lost to history when the hamlet became a veritable Armageddon, the site of what many assumed was a final battle between Mitra and Set.

Nothing is ever final in fantasy role playing. Ho ho! The module opens with the players stumbling on this sleepy hamlet to discover the locals somewhat unsettled by an emerging mystery. Residents have started to disappear. And what perfect timing: these odd group of adventurers have shown up just as villagers start to go missing. Well, that wraps up the mystery. The new comers did it! The adventure's kick off reads a lot like the first 10 minutes of every Doctor Who story ever written.

Dark Tower was originally released as a 72-page booklet, printed on Judges Guild's standard high grade newsprint stock. It quickly became not only one of Judges Guild's best selling works but a classic old timers still fondly remember.

Part of its popularity was it was one of the first professional products to come out that mixed village, wilderness, and dungeon adventuring. This was a time when most D&D players were creating little more than underground "monster hotels", endless series of 30' x 30' rooms. One checkerboard room housed a wyvern, the room next door housed a band of orcs, a D6 of trolls sleeping in random coffins, and none of the monsters seemed overly concerned by these living conditions. As if wyverns and orcs and bugbears and shambling mounds all just waited around for a group of 3 Player Characters and 2 NPCs to come and be their once-a-year feeding.

The module bears a number of thematic similarities to TSR's Village of Hommlet (T1), which was also released in 1979. The Village of Hommlet was no slider itself, of course. However the advantage Dark Tower had over T1 was Dark Tower was entirely stand alone. T1, like so many of Gary Gygax's pet projects, started off quite grandly but took years to complete. Gamers were told T1 was merely the opening opus to a grand series of adventures. But it was hard to convince game masters to run their characters through T1 and then put their campaign into suspended animation for half a decade until Gygax got around to writing T2.

Dark Tower is once again available with Judges Guild's recent resurrection. Judges Guild itself sells the classic edition. D20 system gamers can get an adaptation from Necromancer Games. Unfortunately, Necromancer seems to have hired translation editors unable to use Word's Edit | Find function. The D20 edition is replete with references to classic AD&D like THAC0 and references to doing a savings throw the old way. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.

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