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