As I took the field and prepared for battle, a tiny yellow flag with a double-headed eagle marked my kingdom, the Citadel of Durnin.
While this fantasy adventure took shape, my friend handed me a cardboard score chart and some tiny red plastic pegs to keep track of my men and supplies. Much of what my friends were setting up looked familiar: molded plastic warriors and dragons, cardboard tokens, and, of course, a colorful game board. And then they took it out—the electronic game unit that dominated the board.
Already, Milton Bradley’s game, Dark Tower, struck me as something revolutionary.
The electronic component to the game was an imposing 10-inch-high plastic “tower” with a digital display window, multiple light-up flashing color graphics, and a 12-button keyboard interface. As they finished setting up, I quietly thought about the countless hours spent playing Dungeons & Dragons; but, all that did me little good in this fantasy world.
The object of the game, they explained, was to journey around the board, collect magic keys while fielding an army, and then attack the Dark Tower itself. Whoever accomplished this task first won. I took a few minutes to study the instruction manual and formulate my strategy. Unlike D&D where a “Dungeon Master” (a fellow player) facilitates the game play, in Dark Tower action was controlled by the electronic game unit. Players interacted with the Tower, following their warrior’s move as the system flashes graphic symbols representing the outcome. If you were lucky, your warrior’s move was safe. Then again, your warrior might wind up in a pitched battle or fall victim to the plague.
The game could have been guided just as easily by dice or spinners, but the visual elements and sound effects the tower provided made this game innovative. The Tower had a personality—as if you were directly competing against it.
Dark Tower Battle Sequence
How did this particular adventure end, you ask? My fearless warriors fell victim to hordes of evil “Brigands” that day, as my friend stole the glory of defeating the Dark Tower. I wasn’t too upset; I was mesmerized by the Tower. Although I asked repeatedly, we never played again.
Looking back, this was an innovative example of a game that combined electronic and traditional play. In an attempt to cash in on the popularity of fantasy role-playing games, such as D&D, during the early 1980s, Milton Bradley promoted the game as “a fantasy adventure born of electronic wizardry.”
We recently acquired a copy of this 1981 Milton Bradley Electronics game for the NCHEG collection, and a feeling of nostalgia crept in on me as I cataloged the game in my office. It’s still a fascinating game and I’m glad we have a working copy.
You’ll have to excuse me now, the Tower is calling.