Retro fix–Return to the Orson Welles Dark Tower board game with its sequel

“Last night I journeyed backwards in time…”

Thus began Orson Welles recounting his Dark Tower adventure back in 1981.  Dark Tower was a new electronic board game from Milton Bradley, four years after it unveiled electronic Battleship.  In the long history of electronic games on track to becoming video games, Dark Tower was a fantasy-based roleplaying game that carried on where Tudor Games’ Electric Football left off, merging board game tokens in the form of small plastic figures in action poses with battery-powered lights, sound, and action.  Dark Tower even promised a computer as its centerpiece–a black tower housing cutting edge, handheld-style toy tech with buttons and backlit images.  Milton Bradley merged the cool factor of Marx Toys’ popular Navarone mountain playset with Parker Brothers’ Merlin handheld electronic game and marketed it with a commercial with Orson Welles’ booming voice (check out his vintage commercial below).  It stuck in every kid’s head thereafter.  It was a hit, but only for a year.  It’s difficult to track down a playable version of the original today (but it pops up here at Amazon from time to time).

Fortunately Restoration Games, a company that revisits vintage boardgame ideas, created a sequel of sorts to the game via a Kickstarter campaign.  If you missed the Kickstarter, that’s a good thing as now the game is in its second printing (so you don’t need to wait the two years to get it like the Kickstarter backers did).  Return to Dark Tower is available here at Amazon now.  It’s not the same as the original, but its electronic tower is likely to provide similar nostalgia, conjuring the vibe of the original.

The original Dark Tower was the most expensive game of its time, released at about $60.  So it should come as no surprise you’ll pay the 2023 equivalent in dollars today for the new Return to Dark Tower game, around $200 or more depending on where you buy it.  The game is a big update from basic bulbs and what was in essence toy projector slide images–the 1981 version of today’s touch pad screens.  For good or bad, Return to Dark Tower incorporates an app-based component which takes on a lot of the heavy lifting (and vintage fun of the original).  You can compare your device specs here.  Unlike the original the new game is cooperative, not merely competitive, although you can play it two ways, and it’s filled with alternate versions of the game, meaning a lot of variety each time you play.

Return to Dark Tower is a game for 1-4 players who take the role of heroes.  Together they gather resources, cleanse buildings, defeat monsters, and undertake quests to build up their strength and discern what foe ultimately awaits them.  When the heroes face the tower, the game shifts into its second act, where the players have one chance to defeat the enemy once and for all.  Expect a lot of app activity before you get to the tower itself.  The full rules can be found here.  The game company points to this video to introduce the game:

If you have the original game, hold onto it and count yourself lucky.  Out only a year because a lawsuit made it too costly to continue, a complete game includes the tower and turn pad, game board, four each of brown, grey, yellow, and tan building tokens; four warrior pawns and a dragon pawn, twelve keys, five flags, 42 red pegs, four corners, four Bionic Man-style cardboard score cards, four cardboard pegasus tokens, and instruction pamphlet, all in the recognizable classic box.

Here’s that great Orson Welles commercial:

Return to Dark Tower is available here at Amazon now.  If you’re after the original, bookmark this page at Amazon.

C.J. Bunce / Editor / borg

Leave a Reply