return to dark tower

A Christmas Story

In Postsby Justin Jacobson13 Comments

Christmas, 1981. The snow wasn’t falling. I was wearing shorts. I remember looking at the trees festooned with lights as we drove to my cousin’s house to open gifts. Palm trees. (Did I mention I grew up in South Florida?)

The hit toy that year was a big hunk of plastic that played lights and sounds. That’s right, the AT-AT Walker from Kenner.

Pew, pew. (Photo: Ron Salvatore, Star Wars Collectors Archive)

But the one that was a hit in our house, the one we all had our fingers and toes crossed for, was Dark Tower. This hybrid computer-tabletop game was like some epic session of D&D with lights and sounds and a computer for a DM. At least that’s what Orson Welles promised us. And all for the low, low price of … runs the numbers through the inflation calculator … $171.86.

Orson is judging you. (Screencap of Milton Bradley commercial)

Let me tell you: Dark Tower did not disappoint. The game itself was nothing special. It featured a generic quest for keys to breach the tower and win the day. It checked off all the fantasy tropes: brigands and dragons, bazaars and citadels, warriors and gold. Bog standard fantasy all the way down. If that’s all we wanted, we’d have just played another game of Magic Realm.

But none of that mattered. What made Dark Tower so exciting was … the show.

By 1981, we were starting to see just what a microchip could do. Games like Ultima and Zork gave us the illusion that computers could tell us a story. They could be the DM. But those were played at a desk on a computer by yourself, and just like the arcade games we were all hooked on, the fireworks were on a flat screen.

And here comes Dark Tower. Pulling the titular tower out of the box. The heft of it. Sitting it proudly in the center of the board. Racing around the house to find a couple of D-cell batteries. Firing it up. The grinding gears. Some vaguely familiar 8-bit melody. A flashing LED screen hinting at something bigger like a distant torch flickering amidst a darkened dungeon. The experience was unlike anything we’d ever encountered before.

When I started Restoration Games with Rob a few years ago, right at the top of the website, we set up a place for folks to tell us what games they wanted us to bring back and why. Unsurprisingly, Dark Tower got quite a number of mentions. Reading through them, what always struck me was the why. A lot of other games had comments about how much fun they were to play or maybe a silly component. With Dark Tower, the comments were always much grander, with comments like “mind-blowing”, “epic”, and “wizardry”. 

When Rob and I decided to tackle the game, we knew that was the mark we had to hit. Wizardry.

Little did we know just how much of a challenge that would prove to be. But more on that on another day.

I’m trying to cast a spell on the Tower as I demonstrate the prototype at PAX Unplugged. (Photo: Scott King)

This is the first in a series of design diaries on Return to Dark Tower, leading up to our Kickstarter campaign, launching January 14th. If you want to be notified when the campaign launches and receive a free metal active player marker, go to returntodarktower.com to sign up.

Comments

  1. I’m so excited for this! The original Dark Tower is one of the games that sparks perfect memories of my childhood and my family. I still play the original, and it still blows peoples minds the first time they play. “1981, really?!”, is the response that most give when playing for the first time. My excitement is unparalleled for this game to be on the center of my table!!

  2. I can’t wait. We still have a working original Dark Tower game that we still play every once in a while. So glad that someone is keeping the memories alive.

  3. Has a ballpark retail price been calculated? Once the “Kickstarter” campaign is underway what kind of rewards have been determined? Thanks!

    1. Author

      We’re still putting the finishing touches on that, but the game is going to have an MSRP of $150 and be available in the KS for $125.

  4. Is this going to be a rule for rule straight up reproduction of Dark Tower or have you taken the original game and added more?

    1. Author

      We don’t do reprints. We try to evoke the spirit of the original game but using modern design sensibilities. In this case, we’ve done a significant overhaul.

  5. Great news! I introduced my kids to my new in box $10 garage sale Dark tower last year. They loved it. I’m hoping that like fireball island, the rules get a total fun+ revamp. xmas present 2020.

  6. So incredibly excited for this, LOVED the game when i was a kid and can hardly wait for this to happen…I’ll definitely be getting two……….. one to play and one to keep pristine, the way I wish I would have done 40 years ago! I hope the artwork will be in the same style as the classic Bob Pepper work… it’s as much a part of the games nostalgic appeal as the game itself!

    1. Author

      Honestly, I don’t think anyone can match Pepper’s style. We are really thrilled with the artist we did find, and she’s got her own style that gives the game a unique look.

    2. BTW…. I’m a professional artist that works at Warner Bros. Animation and I have a LOT of contacts and friends in the movie & television industry as well as comics if you are in fact going for a Bob Pepper look and need any help finding people that can emulate that classic Dark Tower look and feel!

      1. Author

        That’s very cool, Dusty. I just did a tour of the WB studios when I was in LA over the holidays. In the end, we thought trying to emulate Pepper would likely have more downside than upside. His work lives on in the original.

  7. So here is my Christmas Story from 1981. Mom was a single mom of two. I was 13, sister 3. We were very poor.
    I had played D&D since before it was D&D so when I saw Dark Tower, it was the holy grail of anything I might want then or in the future… nothing else compared.

    So Christmas time we would make the 800 mile trek to my Aunt and Uncles house. They had money and two kids, one 11 and one 4. Over the course of the week before Christmas all I would hint at was Dark Tower… nothing else…knowing that my Aunt and Uncle would hook me up.

    Fast forward, Christmas morning… I come down the stairs… look out at the tree and low and behold.. Dark Tower, glowing majestically under the tree… A gift from Santa… I glanced over at my mom and she gave me a smile and a nod… I walk slowly over to the glowing box… and see on the top a note… To Shelly from Santa… WTF… Im Rob not Shelly…. she doesnt even want the game… Worst day ever!!! To be honest… that Christmas ruined all Christmas’ for me…

    I never did get the game… But did get to play with friends. Best game ever. Christmas’ are blah only thing that brought that day back was my kids…Now that I am old I dont even talk to that Aunt and Uncle (or that cousin) anymore… Not because of that day but that was a little forshadowing of their character…

    When I saw this, I jumped right in… might buy like 10 and pass them out as gifts …. Looking forward to playing this game with my family… and restoring a little of my lost youth! 🙂

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