Before Magic or Settlers of Catan, There Was Dark Tower

Dark Tower

Dark Tower…it was like every planet in the game universe had suddenly aligned. It was a board game, it was an electronic game, it was Dungeons & Dragons, all rolled into one. Milton Bradley called it Dark Tower; we called it “Dear God, I promise I”ll never ever do anything bad ever ever again if you make sure I get this game, and please make world peace, amen.”

The center of this 1981 game was the Dark Tower itself…not only did the big edifice loom over the circular game board, it was also the engine that made the whole game run. The object was to work your warrior’s way around the circular board, all the while building up armies, finding three needed keys and hoarding supplies of gold and food. Individual game cards with red and white pegs kept track of your current physical and financial status, but the real action took place inside the tower itself.

When it was your warrior’s turn, you pressed a button on the tower keypad to signal your turns action’s visit to the Bazaar for purchases and haggling; an exploration of Tombs or Ruins, where reward or battle might await; a simple one-space move; and so on. A randomizing engine inside the tower took care of the rest. At any moment, an enemy army of Brigands could strike, famine could decimate your troops, or luck could yield surprise treasures – the opponent-cursing Wizard, the dragon-slaying Dragonsword or a quick-travel Pegasus card. All results were indicated by one of many lit-up icons inside the tower’s dark, translucent face (an LED display took care of numbers). A dragon game piece roamed the board as well, acting as a fire-breathing spoiler.

After circling the board and amassing keys and troops, the final battle was an assault on the tower itself. After solving the riddle of the keys (which of the three went in what order), a final force of Brigands awaited, one that would tax the limits of your troops’ reserves. Fare thee well, young warrior.

Part of Milton Bradley’s leap into the electronic future of toys (along with Simon, Big Trak and others), Dark Tower was certainly a step up from your run-of-the-mill, dice-rolling board game. The emerging Atari generation was spellbound, as were D&D; aficionados. Unfortunately, the game’s relatively hefty price tag kept it from joining the ranks of Risk, Battleship and others, as Dark Tower vanished back into the Medieval mists after an all-too-brief lifespan.

The Mighty Ducks Was a Mighty 90’s Hit

Mighty Ducks

Everyone loves an underdog. From Rocky to The Bad News Bears, Hollywood has been capitalizing on our love for the little guy, pitting our hopeless heroes against seemingly invincible opponents. With most other major sports already taken, Disney turned to hockey for 1992’s The Mighty Ducks.

Self-absorbed lawyer Gordon Bombay is haunted by memories of blowing the final shot in the peewee hockey championships. When Gordon gets hit with a DUI conviction, his boss, Mr. Ducksworth, orders him to take a leave of absence from the firm to coach a peewee hockey team. The ragtag moppets represent a cross-section of cultures and character types (the overweight kid, the skate princess, the tough kid, etc.), and Gordon doesn’t like a single one of them.

The coach’s attitude begins to change when his team suffers a hard loss to the rival Hawks, a team still coached by Gordon’s cruel ex-mentor, Coach Riley. Gordon gets the team a new sponsor (Mr. Ducksworth), new uniforms, and a new name – The Mighty Ducks. After whipping the guys and gals into top game shape, Gordon puts the Ducks on the path to the championships’ and a rematch with Riley and the Hawks.

This fairly low-budget sports comedy was a surprise hit for Disney, and the company responded with a slew of spin-offs. Two movie sequels followed, as did a cartoon adaptation (this one starring actual ducks, albeit from outer space), and yes, a real-life National Hockey League team, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Apparently, everybody loves a winner.

Things I DIDN’T Have as a Kid

I’m sure we can all wax poetic about all the cool toys we had when we were kids and all the hours of fun they brought us.  But on the other side of that coin are all the things we wished and hoped for, but never had for whatever reason.  Well, here I’m discussing those things.  The things we would salivate over, plot and scheme to try to get, yet always came up short.  I hope some of you out there reading this had these things so you can fill me in on all the fun I missed out on by not having them.  So, if you DID have any of this stuff, please drop some memories in the comments, because I want to hear that they were as awesome as I always imagined they would be.

USS Flagg


G.I. Joe U.S.S. Flagg Aircraft Carrier

This single toy was, and still is, my Holy Grail. Never was there another toy that came before GI Joe in my eyes. It was the grand daddy of ’em all. I had most of the figures, the vehicles, the play sets, the action packs, and nearly anything else tied to the GI Joe toy line. But the one thing that always eluded me was this aircraft carrier.

When fully assembled, this toy was a whopping six feet in length! That goes beyond the realm of toy, and into the realm of something more like a coffee table. It was released in 1986 with a hefty retail price of $89.95, so it was definitely not to be found in my house. My dad would have had an easier time giving birth to one than actually paying that much for a toy.

But for years I would sit and think about all the cool battles that could have been had featuring the Flagg at the center of the action. It was so big, you could have incorporated many planes and helicopters on it’s deck. You could have loaded it with fifty or more figures without cramping things too much. Even while typing this, my mind is drifting away to endless assaults on Cobra Island with this thing as the center piece.


USS Flagg

As an adult in the early 2000’s, I tried again to acquire one. Searching on eBay, I found dozens of them, but none complete. The incomplete ones there were going for several hundred dollars. I actually did see one in a comic book shop one time, still sealed in it’s original box, but with a price tag of $1500. If I could have ever decided which child to sell, I may have ended up with it.

But who knows, maybe one day I’ll run across a good deal on a complete one and be able to purchase it. Then my friends, the battle for superiority of the bedroom will resume once more.

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The Short Lived B.J. and the Bear Television Series

B.J. and the Bear

Every Which Way But Loose and Any Which Way You Can were big hits for star Clint Eastwood in 1978 and 1979. Both films focused on the adventures of a man and his simian companion as they traveled through rural areas. It was a very television-friendly concept and was cleverly appropriated in 1979 for a one-hour NBC show entitled B.J. and the Bear.

The show focused on B.J., a trucker who roamed down the highways and byways in his red-and-white rig with his companion Bear, who happened to be a chimp. B.J.’s arch nemesis was initially Lobo, a corrupt sheriff. Lobo became popular enough to get his own spin-off series (The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo) and was replaced with additional corrupt-lawmen characters in the form of Sergeant Beauregard Wiley and his two sheriffs, Masters and Cain.

When he wasn’t busy locking horns with local lawmen, B.J. frequently spent his spare time at the Country Comfort Truck Stop, owned by Bullets. Other characters B. J. interacted with included Wilhemina “The Fox” Johnson, a state cop sent out to keep an eye on Sergeant Wiley, and Tommy, one of B.J.’s fellow truckers.

B.J. and the Bear

The second season of B.J. and the Bear was delayed for several months by an actor’s strike. When the series returned in January of 1981, the show’s story line had been altered greatly. B.J. and the Bear were the only characters retained from the first, season and the action was moved from the American South to Los Angeles, where B.J. relocated to run his own trucking operation, Bear Enterprises.

This story line also introduced a new enemy for B.J., corrupt politician Rutherford T. Grant, who happened to be a silent partner in California’s largest trucking firm. Not wishing to have any competition for his business interests, Grant did everything in his power to interfere with Bear Enterprises.

Grant successfully scared off any male truckers from working with B.J., thus forcing him to hire an all-female staff of truckers. This bevy of beauties included two identical twins, Teri and Geri Garrison, and Grant’s daughter Cindy. Other members of the new cast included Lieutenant Jim Steiger, Grant’s assistant, and Nick the Bartender.

The show finished its run in August of 1981. Prolific creator/producer Glen Larson had four series on the networks around the time of this show: Galactica 1980, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, the aforementioned Lobo and Magnum P.I. Larson also wrote the theme song for B.J. and the Bear (sung by star Greg Evigan), making him a true TV renaissance man.

Making a Super Sized Lego Set With a 3D Printer

OK, this dude has life figured out!  I’ve never really had a need for a 3D printer until I just watched this video.  This is such a bad ass idea, and one that I hope to duplicate one day soon.  Now that I’ve seen this, the possibilities are endless!  Re-create G.I. Joe figure parts, or make larger versions of He-Man figures.  So much could be done with one of the printers, I’m sure you could find a way for it to pay for itself in no time.

What about you?  What old toys would you want to re-make or re-size with a 3D printer?

Retro Revival Blog Challenge: Things You Never Had But Always Wanted

Each week on Monday, I post a new topic here on Retro Ramblings.  The topics will be centered mostly around a retro theme to get your mind going back in time a little bit.  Anyone who is interested, and has a blog, website, YouTube channel, or social media account can contribute to the weekly topic, and respond by the following Sunday.  Once the article, blog post, video, or whatever is posted, the writer must leave a comment on the topic page along with a URL to his/her article.

If you are posting a response via social media, be sure to tag it with the hashtag, #RetroRevival (and you may also want to tag me on Twitter @yesterdayville, and @Mick Lee on Facebook) to ensure that I don’t miss it.

Every blog that contributes to the weekly topic should include links to some of the other contributing sites.  This is optional, but the more people who do this, the more traffic will be generated for all of us.  There is a distinct advantage to getting your post up earlier in the week, but don’t feel like you need to rush your post.

Last week, we had a small turnout due to it being the first week the Retro Revival Blog Challenge was up and running again, but the subject was “What is an old food or dining experience that you miss?”  If you missed it, you can check out the post from last week and read the submissions.

This Week’s Topic

We can all go on and on talking about all the cool toys and things we had when we were younger.  But, what we rarely hear about are the things you DIDN’T have.  That’s this week’s challenge:  WHAT WAS SOMETHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED AS A KID, BUT NEVER HAD?

Was it a toy?  A certain baseball card or comic book?  A certain bicycle?  It could have been anything, but the fact is you never were able to get your hands on it.  I believe this is a topic we can really sink our teeth into, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what everyone has to say on the subject.  My entry will go up on Wednesday this week.

Be sure to invite your friends and followers to participate, and we should all try to not only link to each others posts, but also comment, tweet their stories, and share on Facebook.  We can really help each other out some through the Blog Challenge.  Now, go forth, have fun, and tell us about what you always wanted, but never had!

Participants This Week:

Things I DIDN’T Have as a Kid – Retro Ramblings
Mr. Smith Wanted the Millieum Falcon – Mr. Smith’s Plastic Hideaway


Arcade Classic: Marble Madness from Atari

Marble Madness

It’s safe to say there’s never been a game quite like Marble Madness. In a world of clones and knockoffs, this game was a true original, a testament to the creativity and innovation of Atari’s golden years.

The game’s concept was almost Zen-like: roll a marble down a hill. Using Atari’s famous Trak-Ball control, one or two players guided their marbles down chutes, over ramps and around bends to the finish, racing a dwindling clock. If your marble fell off a high cliff or was dashed to pieces from a strong impact, a magic wand would grant you another one, but precious seconds would be lost.

Don’t let the simplicity of the premise fool you. Marble Madness kept players plenty busy with endless tricks, turns and little surprises. To start with, the courses themselves were littered with giant ramps, secret passages, narrow paths over large drops, tight corners and more. One particularly tricky course completely reversed the laws of physics, forcing players to roll upwards in a bizarre, gravity-twisting environment.

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