Retro-Hammer: Dark Future

Welcome to Retro-Hammer, a series here at Master of Magic that has a look at the long and varied history of Games Workshops product line. Since the worlds of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 have been around for quite a while (and Games Workshop itself has been producing games even before these were a thing) it is unsurprising that there are a decent number of weird and wonderful things that have been produced by our favourite miniatures company.

Now if I were to say the words “Games Workshop” and “Dark Future”, many of you (especially of the younger demographic) would probably have images of space marines crushing xenos and their chaos brethren on some planet light years from the holy light of terra. However, if you are a little older (or are a fan of nostalgia) you my instead imagine a mad max inspired alternative future earth where people battle for dominance in the wastelands aboard tricked out rides.

You see, long before Games Workshop placed most of their eggs inside the very successful baskets of AoS and 40k, they had a good few games set in altogether different settings. In fact, we cover one of these games (Chainsaw Warrior) in our first ever article of this series. Well, Dark Future was another one of these games that was released way back in 1988 and was set in an alternative future where Richard Nixon beat John F. Kennedy to become president in the 1960’s election. In this timeline (known as The Solid Sixties) the authoritarian President lifted legal restrictions from businesses, allowing for both technological advancement and ending regulations against pollution.

Thanks to this increase in pollution, drastic climate change and damage to mid-western water supplies would cause most of America to become desert. In these “Des”, violent dystopian gangcults would rise to prominence. To try and maintain order, law enforcement was opened up to private groups and individuals known as the Sanctioned Ops. By the time of the games setting of 1995 (later updating to 2021 or 2015 depending on who you ask) the world is run by Megacorps, and the natural laws of physics have begun to break down.

The game itself was for two or more players and would see you take control of cars that can take either offensive weapons or defensive loadouts. The game played out like a sort of Mad Max style chase game, with one player as the chaser and the other the chased. The board itself was made up of straight or curved track segments, which players set up to form a customisable playing area. There was apparently also rules pedestrian combat focused on gangs, but these were later additions to the game.

Interestingly enough, Dark Future wasn’t initially pitched as Road Warrior with sports cars. Originally the game was developed for Games Workshop as a cyberpunk role-playing game, but was cancelled. However, rather than giving up on it, the game’s co-author and GW board game developer Marc Gascoigne ported it onto Richard Halliwell’s car-racing game system, using a mechanic originally developed for Judge Dredd role-playing game adventure Slaughter Margin.

By all accounts, the game was decent and got a solid following at the time. It even spawned a series of books that told the tales of this wild and crazy future. They even really leaned into the alternative future of the setting, with Elvis Presley is a hard-as-nails bounty hunter and Oliver North is President of the United States. There were also some more sombre topics covered such as racial strife and underground rebel movements, as well as the extinction of most of earth flora and fauna.

There were also some links to the established gods of chaos, with cults dedicated to the dark gods branding themselves with the star of chaos undivided. This has led some to speculate that the word of Dark Future maybe a prequel of sorts to the grimdark future of the 41st millennium that we all know and love. However, these connections could just be an attempt by Games Workshop to link their IP’s with overarching theme.

Sadly, Dark Future only lasted as a game for a couple of years and support for the game was dropped in the early 90’s. It will not surprise you to learn that this was when Warhammer Fantasy and 40k were rising in popularity. GW was probably trying to capitalise on their success and the discontinuation of Dark Future was just a casualty of these changes. In 2005 we did see somewhat of a return to this post-apocalyptic world when a series of novels were published by Games Workshop’s fiction imprint Black Flame. But since Black Flame closed its doors in 2008, we are unlikely to see any addition book in the series.

But if you were wanting to experience the world of Dark Future there is still a glimmer of hope, as in May 2015 the game was rebooted as a digital game entitled ‘Dark Future: Blood Red States’. Auroch Digital, a UK indie developer responsible for the digital version of Chainsaw Warrior, announced that they would be developing a reboot of the board game as a digital title for Windows, set 30 years after the original setting of the board game in 2025.

Still, it makes me wonder if there is an alternative future where Dark Future was more popular than 40k. Maybe in that world, was are all painting up motorcycles and deadly automobiles ready to race around our citadel highway terrain when lockdown finally comes to an end. Would it have made GW the powerhouse it is today? I guess we will never know.

We hope you have enjoyed this “drive”* into the retro past of Games Workshop’s product line. What would you like us to talk about next? Let us know in the comments below or find me on twitter @MTGTengu and maybe we will talk about it next time.

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*I will not know, nor will I ever apologise for my dad humour. 

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