Dungeons and Dragons was a runaway hit in the 1980s. It launched a new style of game, the RPG or role-playing game, from its origins in traditional counter-style wargaming. The fantasy game earned millions of dollars and spawned a variety of imitators. Many of them, like Runequest and Rolemaster, used similar fantasy settings; others like Traveller, Gamma World and Star Frontiers used science fiction. The prohibition era even had its adherents, with Gangbusters and the horror game Call of Cthulhu.
Amidst the flood of new titles, a variety of smaller specialty games were launched which attempted to appeal to niche markets. One of the earliest, and most notorious, was Dallas.
A game from the company SPI (Simulations Publications, Inc.), it attempted to monetize the success of not one but two trends simultaneously: the boom of role-playing games and the eponymous nighttime soap which revolved around an oil family.
SPI’s greatest success was the magazine Strategy and Tactics, which produced a new wargame for every issue. The quality of the games, and their historical accuracy, earned praise from wargamers and military historians. A company with such a history would seem to be assured of creating an excellent RPG, considering the origins of Dungeons and Dragons.
Perhaps they would have… had they not chosen to license rights to a show that had no combat.
Instead, characters were left to persuade and seduce each other to get through various scenes successfully. The mechanic, particularly the seduction efforts, were dice-based and notoriously uncomfortable to play between friends and relatives. Not that it mattered much; the fan base for RPGs was overwhelmingly 25 and under, and the fan base for Dallas skewed heavily toward older demographics. Instead of combining the popularity of both trends, the pairing resulted in a setting that didn’t interest gamers and a game that didn’t interest Dallas fans.
It died quickly and quietly on the shelves of game stores throughout the country, remembered primarily as an object lesson in bad marketing ideas.
If you’re curious about what it might have looked and played like, here’s a video on the game. You’ll notice that it appeared as an April Fool’s Day episode of a show about gaming. That’s not because the game’s not real, but because nobody wanted to play it… although the video makers were able to get a Scuzzlebutt joke in, so kudos for that.
Question of the night: Have you enjoyed any soap operas (including telenovelas, UK or Korean soaps)?