By 1980 I was like a lot of kids with feet in two worlds of gaming — Dungeons & Dragons and electronic games. Both were well on their way to being the worldwide phenomena they would become in the next decade, and Mattel and TSR (then owner of D&D) sought to cash in on the intersecting interest of adolescents everywhere.
I never owned a copy of Mattel’s Dungeons & Dragons Computer Labryinth Game, but plenty of my friends did. The game looked pretty cool with its 64-square grid of spaces surround by a plastic castle-like wall. Metal figures represented a dragon, two adventurers and a treasure chest. The game could be played solo or with two players. A player moved their piece around the board, placing plastic walls when the board revealed a wall with light-up indicators. Other indicators would light up as you encountered monsters, traps or the dreaded dragon which roared as you approached. A player who avoided the dragon and navigated the revealed maze to the treasure first won the game.
A year before the D&D Computer Labryinth Game was released, Mattel was already competing in the new video game market with its Intellivision system. Those early years of the electronic game market were full of games which promised more than they delivered. Using the word “computer” in this game’s name was no doubt the work of shrewd marketing as the game itself was pretty low tech. Attaching the D&D graphics and brand to the game and even a moody TV ad didn’t do much to cover up for its shortcomings. Looking back, I recall the game even then to be unsatisfying to occasionally frustrating with its randomized LED grid and pieces which never really seemed to fit right. Retailing at around $45, the game didn’t come cheap either.
In 1984, Mattel admitted to its failed also-ran place in the video game market and pulled the plug on its Intellivision system. While it would go on to continued success with its boy-focused toy brands like Hot Wheels, Matchbox and Masters of the Universe, Mattel would never again be significant player in electronic games. D&D, on the other hand, continues to thrive to this day. While the brand extension foray of the D&D Computer Labryinth Game never really delivered on the promises illustrated in Mattel’s box art, the game does capture a moment in time when gaming was bridging the gap from one era to the next.
Collector’s Note: Complete copies and components of the Dungeons & Dragons Computer Labryinth Game are readily avilable on eBay. Games in the original box run in the $30-50 range while the metal miniatures generally go for $5-10 each.