Monday, January 27, 2020

Return to Dark Tower OR How I Learned to Love The Tower

At 55 years young (or old - depends on which day you ask), I'm the wrong age to be excited about the original Dark Tower board game. By the Christmas of 1981, I was deep into AD&D (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons)... running a multi-year campaign. (The technical term is "dungeon mastering"... yep, I was one of those kids with a well-worn copy of the DMs Guide and a big pad of graph paper.) One of my good friends had a copy of Magic Realm, which both frustrated and fascinated us... and we played countless games of Wizard's Quest.

With all that old skool gaming firepower, Dark Tower was an expensive toy that made noise - and we were interested in headier gaming pursuits. (Yes, I know how pretentious that sounds - and we were so very Serious Gamers. Not even Orson Welles impressed us. Sigh.)

I don't actually remember playing Dark Tower until years later... and being distinctly underwhelmed. The technology of the tower - innovative in 1981 - is still pretty nifty... but the gameplay is pretty uninspired. This explains my BGG rating of the original game as a 3. In other words, I wouldn't refuse to play it again... but there are literally thousands of games I'd rather play first. As a game collector, I've found the ridiculous prices for the towers (working or otherwise) to be an interesting curiosity - but I never felt the need to own it.

So, the news a couple of years back that Restoration Games would be working their magic on Dark Tower was, well... no big deal. I was thankful that Rob & Justin and their merry band were going to cash in big-time on GenXer nostalgia, but I wasn't interested for me.

This last summer, videos of the prototype being played at various conventions began to surface... which looked cool. I liked the idea that they had shifted to a cooperative mode of play - you could mark my interest as "cautiously optimistic". Edit: the Restoration Games team added competitive play as a part of the game this week after successful playtests - even better!

And then, just a few weeks ago... the Kickstarter appeared.

I could feel my resolve melting... like I was the Wicked Witch of the West and Restoration Games was Dorothy & Toto all rolled into one. My resistance to the seductive charms of this game was weakening.

The final straw? My younger son looking at the Kickstarter video and saying, "That looks awesome! I'd play that." (Note to Justin & Rob: get more kids to look at the page. Seriously - skulls, light-up tower, cool fantasy minis... I'm just sayin'.)

I realize that not all of you have my (very persuasive) son whispering in your ear, so let me outline some of the reasons that I finally broke down and opened my heart (and my wallet) to Return to Dark Tower:
  • In an excellent interview on The Ascent of Board Games podcast, Rob commented that "We wanted it to be as good as you remember, which doesn't necessarily mean it's as good as it was...a lot of people who played it haven't played it in 30 years would go back and go 'Oh... well, it's still fun for me cuz I played it as a kid' but it hasn't lived up." I love that the Restoration Games team was clear that the game needed more than a reprint... it needed - wait for it - a restoration. 
  • I appreciated the draft version of the rulebook - it helped me get a clearer picture of the game that they are creating.
  • While I usually rank viewing a live playthrough of a board game just above watching paint dry for excitement, it was instructive to push my way through The Dice Tower video. Two things I really stuck out
    • The tower is unbelievably cool... even in prototype form. The lights, the sound, the skulls spitting out, the glyphs turning behind the doors - wow.
    • The player turns are actually pretty short and straightforward. (There's a lot of variety in the design that could lead you to the mistaken impression that the game doesn't move along... which is not the case.) Use your banner power, move your hero, take an action somewhere along the way, and reinforce - simple enough to teach to kids and/or rules-averse gamer buddies.
  • The various blog post updates in the Kickstarter do a great job of fleshing out the design and development of the game. Especially intriguing was the post from Tim Burrell-Saward, the engineering wizard behind the development of the tower itself.
  • One of the biggest concerns (for others) early on was the viability of the app long-term, since the game relies on the app to communicate with the tower (and vice versa). Having Geoff Englestein, another favorite designer of mine (who is also a computer guy) agree to hold the app code in escrow was perfect.

This is the kind of game my boys and I love. It's the kind of game that I will happily play solo (and they've specifically designed the game to work with 1-4 players). It's the kind of game that begs for completely unnecessary miniatures for thematic reasons - and the Restoration team (along with Punga Miniatures) is making that a reality. It's the kind of game that my regular gaming group will dive into willingly... and often.

I hate that I have to wait a year to have it hit my table. But I'm happy to jump in and support a great company with an innovative spirit and the willingness to "go big".

If you'd like to "charge the tower", you can do so on Kickstarter for the next 7 days. Edit: make that 3.5 days... the KS ends early Tuesday morning, Feb. 4.

Note on my 
tiny potential for conflict of interest: 

I have playtested games for Rob Daviau in his roles as a designer for Hasbro and for his own design studio... and have playtested Downforce for Restoration Games. In that capacity, I was given a copy of SeaFall (since my boys and I were early playtesters) and a rather nice package of lava-related Heroscape stuff (since my game group in Fresno playtested Heroscape), including a Heroscape T-shirt that still hangs in my closet though it's likely to disintegrate the next time I try to wear it. I am not receiving a discount or a promotional copy of Return to Dark Tower for this blog post - I'm actually plunking down my own hard-earned cash to get the Askol's Fortune package and even springing for the complete overkill of the neoprene mat game board.

Rob D. fanboy note (unrelated to Return to Dark Tower, unless you count Hasbro as the center of all gaming evil, which I don't):

If you haven't had a chance to play Monopoly DVD: Tropical Tycoon, you need to remedy that as soon as possible. The DVD part is a little silly - but the innovations that Rob added (new types of buildings, victory points, etc.) are really great. I'd love to see those twists used with a Monopoly game that doesn't have a DVD.

1 comment:

TechnoHeaven said...

Excellent! Great Article! I am in for the whole kit and kaboodle (less the art prints ... No need to have them on the wall:)