Board games from the ’80s are rebooted for Generation X

Eric Francis

BLOOMBERG – In 1981, Milton Bradley Co released what may be the most Generation X board game ever. The Dark Tower – a fantasy adventure with flashing lights and sound effects emanating from a titular plastic tower-was a huge hit with kids. It even had its own, slightly weird television commercial featuring Orson Welles.

Four decades later, those kids are entering middle age, some with children of their own whose hands seem welded to smartphones. Perhaps out of nostalgia or a last-ditch effort to engage their offspring, those Gen-Xers are now looking back to a time when fun didn’t require a glowing screen.

But what was cool during the Reagan administration may fall flat in the 21st Century, and childhood copies of favourite games have probably disintegrated in your mom’s attic.

Enter Restoration Games, one of several board game-makers trying to capitalise on the tabletop gaming renaissance. Restoration is remaking and reissuing some of the treasured games of old-both for wistful Gen-Xers and their more discerning children.

Restoration’s planned Dark Tower reboot, Return to Dark Tower, incorporates an app into gameplay, and its tower-with glowing symbols that reveal enemy locations and assign quests-is more complex than that of the old version. The tower can also send little plastic skulls tumbling onto the game board-always a bad sign for someone.

Dinosaur Tea Party, one of the games from Restoration Games. PHOTO: RESTORATION GAMES

“We had to figure out how to make it impressive in 2020,” said Restoration’s co-founder Rob Daviau. Daviau spent three years perfecting the new version, working with a team of co-designers that included Isaac Childres, who created Gloomhaven, the top-rated title on Board Game Geek, the Internet’s largest community of hobby gamers.

“You want to relive your childhood, or share your childhood with your own children,” Daviau said. “You see this in movies, Broadway, television: the constant rebooting of things from the past. Board games are really no different.”

Board game publishers have increasingly turned to Kickstarter for help. Games are the largest funded category on the crowdfunding site, with tabletop games holding the biggest share of that, bringing in USD176 million last year.

Singapore-based CMON, a major player in hobby board gaming with almost USD12 million in annual revenue, has run several multimillion-dollar Kickstarter campaigns for its games. Restoration Games launched a three-week campaign for Return to Dark Tower on January 14, accumulating USD4 million.

For Restoration, the appeal lies in the ability to translate excitement among enthusiasts into needed capital. After the first copies are delivered to backers, the game will eventually appear in stores, where it will cost a whopping USD150. That could end up being a critical revenue stream: The company’s other big Kickstarter reboot, Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar, has sold 50,000 copies in stores, the company said, twice the number that were delivered to crowdfunders.

Daviau believes there’s still room for growth in the board game industry, even for such smaller publishers as Restoration Games and others serving the hobby game niche. But USD150 per game?

“There’s a big gap between being in the hobby markets and being on the shelf in Target,” Daviau said.