This post over at Dungeons & Digressions reminded me that I wanted to look into an old text computer game I used to play quite a bit called Star Merchant. The BASIC program was available in a 1981 issue of Creative Computing magazine.

My uncle typed it in to a big honking Texas Instruments computer and we had hours and hours of entertainment. Basically, you travel from starport to starport, buying and selling cargo in hopes of making a profit.

Star Merchant Screen Shot

Star Merchant Screen Shot (click to enlarge)

I haven’t looked at the code in 30 years, but it sure appears to be a nearly straight rip of the Trade and Speculation rules from classic Traveller. A few cargoes have been replaced, otherwise it looks and acts pretty much the same.

The speculation rules are one of the “mini games” within Traveller that, like the character creation rules, made that system so enjoyable.

You can download a Windows version of the computer game here and try it out if interested. It works just like I remember it, though the crew does seem a little easier to please. I seem to recall that most games ended when the crew went on strike continuously. As in, it was a constant stream of strikes and you could not do anything else. I also do not remember hull damage in the version we played back in the day, but I just might be forgetting.

The key is your first two or three cargoes. If you don’t get good options, you’re pretty much out of luck. If you can do well in your first couple of jumps, you should be able to keep going for quite a while.

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12 Comments to “Star Merchant”

  1. cyclopeatron says:

    In the early 80s I used to play a Nochange BBS game very similar to this called TradeWars. I think one of the programmers of TradeWars was known as a Traveller GM…

  2. Restless says:

    I’ve played resource management games like this before, but not this one. Fun!

    A couple times, though, I’ve wondered where the option is for “hire a new crew and space the old one that wants 3/4 of my profit.”

    • Kilgore says:

      Yeah. I especially like it when they’re making Cr500,000 and demand 27 million. That’s quite a raise. I’ve found that they always seem to accept a doubling of their salary no matter what crazy number they’re demanding.

  3. David says:

    Arg… how do you play without running out of cash in the first few turns?

    • Kilgore says:

      The key is to get lucky. You need to get one or two cargoes at 40% or 50% value that you can afford and sell them at 100%+ value at your first stop. Getting the first few million is the key.

      Often you don’t get an option that really works.

      Watch the % value. I usually never buy anything higher than 110% and never sell at less than 150% once I get my first few million. Until then it’s just try to keep your head above water.

      A Cr700,000 cargo at 40% value is ideal for your first buy. Cargoes less than Cr100,000 won’t pay enough even if you sell them at 400%.

  4. Dklon says:

    Hi Kilgore,

    I’m the programmer that ported Star Merchant over from BASIC to C up above. Thanks for linking over to it. Originally this was ported to C for a type-in learning site called Cymon’s Games.

    One of the features mentioned on the Atari Archives page talked about being able to do combat, but sadly was not in the original source. Instead I put a few other new features in, namely some new cargo types and also hull damage. Otherwise I tried to be as close as possible to the original.

    The best strategy when starting out is to use the shortest route in the game, which is Sol to Alpha Centauri and back. This costs the least amount in terms of fuel and best chance of scoring big on cargo.

    The C source code is available there if you want to mess with it. Enjoy!

    • Kilgore says:

      Dklon: Thanks for stopping by. Now that you mention it, it is Cymon’s where I think I originally downloaded the game earlier this week. When I went back to post and link, I found your site but didn’t think that was where I’d been earlier. Either way, great work. I’ve sure been enjoying the trip down memory land.

      Tip to Star Merchant Players: Buy Space Suits to sell at Sol.

      • Dklon says:

        Oh no, thank you for sharing Star Merchant with your readers.

        On another note, I’ve been fiddling on and off with a sequel that expands the game out. One of the test players suggested expanding it into a TradeWars-sized universe (they were big BBS players) with a lot more variety of cargo, combat, graphics, and a few other goodies.

  5. BeRKA says:

    Interesting game. I think I must take a closer look at this. In my opinion, the trade rules from book-7 was better, and the trading in the Elite game is more balanced than the book-2 rules that this seems to be based on.

    • Kilgore says:

      I’ve only looked at and never played the Book 7 rules and have never even looked at other systems. (Well, I don’t remember if MegaTraveller had different speculation rules or not.) But this is definitely close to Book 2.

      I do know that we never had a lot of luck when trying the speculation out in-game, though we did use it for a separate mini-game a number of times. And very good for solo play.