Have You Played… Dope Wars?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

I really had no idea the original Drugwars was as old as 1984. The drug-trading profit-me-do crossed my path in the early 90s where a Windows incarnation called Dope Wars, running in a small window, had me hooked (geddit?) for a surprisingly long time. It felt slightly naughty at first, and then just became about PURE PROFIT.

And even this goes back a lot further, the game based on another game called Star Trader from 1974. A chap called John E. Dell created the mid-80s Drugwars, in which you played arbitrage, buying and selling various drugs at varying prices, attempting to make a profit to pay off a loan shark.

Because it was about dealing drugs I remember it felt enticingly illicit at first. But once you started playing it might as well have been about dealing fruit or baseball cards – it was about gaming the system, making the right deal at the right moment, and then the horror of getting burned by a suddenly plunging price. And, I’ve just learned while researching all this, Beermat Software re-released it last year on Android. *Buys* *Installs*


  1. Kefren says:

    I played a different Star Trader on the C64. This tune played throughout, and I loved it. link to youtube.com
    I would play it two player hotseat with a friend (even though you never met in-game), trading, eating food, finding somewhere to sleep: for some reason it felt epic and addictive, and it was only the space battles that let it down. I think it is time to boot up the emulator!

    • Llewyn says:

      I also played a lot of that Star Trader, in the days before Elite came along. I seem to remember it largely being a case of juggling the eight(?) planets economies as best you could until eventually the whole galactic economy came crashing down.

      • Kefren says:

        Something like that! Most of my memories involve one of us running out of money and spending their time in prison for vagrancy …

  2. MrDowntempo says:

    This game ate up a lot of my time on my palm pilot before smart phones were around. It was thinner than a gameboy! It looks like there’s a modernish version on Steam now called The Dope Game that I may have to give a try.

  3. tehfish says:

    Oh wow, now there’s a blast from the past.

    Someone sneaked it onto the school LAN (probably in the mid-90s) So we could play it at lunchbreak (or stealthily in class) :D

  4. horrorgasm says:

    Used to play this on a TI-83 calculator back in high school. It was the only game on there that really worked. So old.

    • sleepisthebrotherofdeath says:

      Ti83? Pah, in my day I had to make do with the basic-only-no-assembler-for-you Ti85.

      (ok, it did have assembler, but I didn’t know about the zshell hack until many many years later)

  5. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    “The Marrakesh Express is in town! Weed prices are rock bottom!”

    Or something like that, yes, I remember this. Was very popular in my school for a spell. I can picture it now, open on my desktop, alongside some MSN chats and a Winamp playlist.

  6. Sin Vega says:

    Yes! But the version I played was in the early 2000s, and instead of boring po-faced guns, the weapons were charmingly silly things like peashooters and water pistols. And there was an option to change the names of the locations and means of transport to whatever you wanted, for a bit of local flavour. An hour or two later I was making a happy living walking around my town flogging drugs and beating up the filth with deftly flung chickens. And then coming home to play Drug Wars.

    It was surprisingly fun for such a basic economic game. I liked that your best source for the latest hot tips in the drug trade was an old woman, or possibly a network of old women, on the bus.

  7. somnolentsurfer says:

    Hang on, is this a strategy game? It sounds like it would be basically a spreadsheet? Is John playing a game that’s basically a spreadsheet?

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      Yeah absolutely, this is the spreadsheetiest of spreadsheet games where you’re doing very little aside from buying low and selling high. The illegal drug theming is pretty light.

    • anHorse says:

      It’s basically a teaching tool for stock trading dressed up in as exciting a way as was possible at the time

  8. invitro says:

    The game sounds nice, but the real thing is probably much more awesome.

  9. TheAngriestHobo says:

    When I was in high school, some genius had figured out how to get some version of this installed on our school-mandated graphing calculators. I still suspect it was a false-flag operation by the math department to secretly educate us.

  10. imperialus81 says:

    I remember playing Dope Wars on my TI 83 graphing calculator that we needed to buy for grade 12 math back in the late 90’s.

  11. poliovaccine says:

    The day one of these games can thread in some of the real life risks, rewards, and considerations is, well, the day they make drugs obsolete.

  12. sonofsanta says:

    We all had a copy of this on 1.44mb floppy at school, so we could run it on the (Windows 95, Novell Netware 4.11) network. Hours wasted.

  13. chabuhi says:

    This Star Traders? link to kickstarter.com