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Drugwars is a turn-based strategy computer game in which the player assumes the role of a drug dealer engaged in arbitrage. The object of the game is to deal the most drugs to pay off the "loan shark" (who charges interest) by the end of the game and make a profit. Inspired by the text-based BASIC game Star Trader, Drugwars was originally an MS-DOS program created by John E. Dell in 1984.
The premise of the game is that the player is a drug dealer living in New York City. The player travels around the various parts such as Manhattan, The Bronx, and Brooklyn. The player also buys and sells various drugs such as Cocaine, Heroin, Acid, Weed, Speed, and Ludes. Traveling from one part of the city to another takes one day. The point of the game is to make the most amount of money in the given time of 30 days.
The player begins with $2,000, 100 spaces in his/her trenchcoat, and no weapons. A player must deal with loan sharks who are useful because they provide the much needed initial capital investment, but charge a high interest rate and must be paid back quickly or the player loses the game. During the course of the game, the player can buy a gun or extra pocket space by randomly being offered those things during travel. In each part of the city, the player checks the prices, buys and sells drugs, and then travels to another part of the city.
Other components include the police who are embodied in the character of Officer Hardass. During the game, Hardass and/or one or more of his deputies will randomly confront the player. The player has four choices: to get arrested, to run, to fight, or to keep dealing. Any choice risks injury to the player and after 10 shots the player dies and thus loses the game. In order to fight the police, the player must have a gun; some later versions have the number of deputies increase the odds of being shot (and, in some cases, the odds of hitting an officer) and the player's number of guns affect the odds of hitting an officer. If the player can kill Hardass and his deputies, a cash award will be earned. Random occurrences also occur during the game such as muggings, drug sales, increased drug prices, and the finding of drugs.
After 30 days, the game ends. The final score is calculated by taking the players current amount of cash and multiplying it by two. The number of millions of dollars a player has is his/her score out of a 100. For example, a player who finishes with $25,000,000 will have a final score of 50/100. If a player reaches $50,000,000, the maximum score of 100/100 will be attained and the player will have beaten the game.
The basic strategy of Drugwars is to buy a drug in one location at one price, and then travel to another location to sell it for a higher price.
At the beginning of the game, the player does not have much money and must deal with the cheapest drugs such as ludes and speed because that is all the player can afford. As the game progresses however, the player can buy the more expensive drugs with a high profit margin such as cocaine and heroin. A skilled player must know the standard price of all drugs and must realize when a drug is cheap and when it is expensive.
However, in order to make the most amount of money, the player must take advantage of great fluctuations in the market. These fluctuations occur in every drug. The cheap drugs such as ludes, speed, weed, and acid usually can be found at greatly discounted prices at one location, and therefore create a great profit margin. This occasionally happens also to coke. These price drops occur by chance and the player must be lucky enough to find one.
To beat the game, the player must take advantage of the increased price of the most expensive drugs, cocaine and heroin. Occasionally, the cops perform a coke bust or heroin addicts are desperate for heroin. This can drive up the price of these drugs up to ten times their normal value. If a player is lucky enough to stumble into several of these and make a huge profit, then he/she can beat the game.
Reception and impact
Over the years a few variations of the original game by John E. Dell have been released. Dope Wars for Windows from Beermat Software, an adaption of the original DOS source code, proved to be one of the most popular versions. Available from 1998 to early 2005 on CNET's download.com, this version was downloaded over 6,500,000 times and was listed in the "50 Most Popular Games" section weekly, for over 6 years. Beermat Software revived the same game for the Android platform on November 13, 2015, available now on  Google Play for phones and tablets. Other versions include Dope Wars, a popular version of the game written by Ben Webb. Another popular version is Drug Wars - Underworld; a fantasy-themed version called Dragon Trader also exists. In 1998, Michael Swain released a modified port of the original TI-82 Drug Wars, for the TI-83 and TI-83+ graphing calculators. In 1999, Jason Roberts released a version for the TI-83 called DrugWars 2: International that added RPG elements which included fights with cops.
A variation on Drugwars also exists in the Nintendo DS game Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars where the player can buy 6 different kinds of drugs from various gangs in Liberty City. Price trends are displayed on a map and the player gets informed of good prices via an in-game email system.
There have been various incarnations of this game. There are web-based versions, cell phone versions, a Windows client, a Linux client, a Palm OS version, a version for the Newton MessagePad 2100, and a version for the Mac OS X Dashboard.
Zynga developed a version of the game for social networking websites, such as Myspace and Facebook. Their version changes some mechanics of the game. Zynga's rendition of Dope Wars took the basic layout of the original game and turned it into an MMORPG style game with user interaction. The player's objectives are to deal drugs, hire live workers, fight with them for cash in fight club, gamble in the casino, and travel the world while doing missions and building their cartel. Zynga discontinued this game in early December 2009.
- PROGRAMS: DOORS: DOPEWARS on bbsdocumentary.com "In 1984, a programmer named John E. Dell created an economic demonstration program for his high school project. This would normally have been an uninteresting event, except he chose the theme of drug trading, and the program called "Dope Wars" was born. Through the next 20 years, the program has seen many versions and remained one of the most popular BBS doors."
- dopewars on beermatsoftware.com (2004)
- Google Play
- Dragon Trader