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Triumph: Origins of Dark Tower



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Triumph was a prototype microprocessor-controlled board game invented by Alan Coleman and Roger Burten in 1979 that was, according to a successful lawsuit, an indirect ancestor of Dark Tower. 

In February of 1980, Coleman and Burten demonstrated Triumph to a group of Milton Bradley executives, but Milton Bradley informed them that it was not interested in marketing their game. They were unable to find anyone else to market Triumph, and gave up on the project.

However, in 1981 the two inventors saw Milton Bradley's Dark Tower at the New York City toy fair, and concluded that MB had stolen their idea and used it to create Dark Tower. The pair sued Milton Bradley for misappropriating trade secrets, and MB was unable to demonstrate in the trial that anyone at the company had an idea for Dark Tower prior to the meeting with Burten and Coleman. A jury awarded them $737,058.10 for lost royalties. This award was initially set aside by the judge because of a technicality in the waiver Burten and Coleman had signed when submitting the game for consideration, but on appeal the award was reinstated.

This case appears to have become an important precedent in intellectual property law, and is frequently referenced in newer cases.

Unfortunately, not many details about the Triumph game itself are known. If you have information about Triumph, please contact me.

I have received an email in defense of Milton Bradley in this matter:

I was just reading your web page on Dark Tower. I was one of the designers that worked on this game. I was also in the lawsuit (as one of the designers). The game from A. Coleman never went anywhere that I know of and and in my opinion his award was an unfair decision by the courts. His game was never ever used as any kind of reference for DT.


And another:

I was employed at Milton Bradley at the time Triumph game was shown to them (approx March 1980). From my memory, Triumph was a game that was based on space travel (moving around the universe). The only commonality between Triumph and Dark Tower was a game board with a controller positioned in center of the board. Dark Tower is based on an Apple II computer game "Wilderness" which many of us played at Milton Bradley. The concept for the game (taken from Wilderness) and adapting it for multiplayer (including solving of the key sequence to win in order to give another player of winning who is a few turns behind), predated my viewing of Triumph. I knew Allen Coleman (I shared an office with for a period in 1979 when worked for Milton Bradley), so I distinctly remember Allan Coleman bringing in the Triumph prototype. The credit for the game should go to Vince Erato, who also created Big Trak.

Robert Hoffberg

The Apple II game referred to was Synergistic Software's 1980 "Wilderness Campaign" by Robert C. Clardy, and it was remarkably similar to Dark Tower. You can watch a YouTube video of Wilderness Campaign gameplay by chaos5482 here.

For more information about Burten v. Milton Bradley, see Lee Gesmer's article here.

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