Star Trader


Star Trader was written by Dave Kaufman. He published a description of the game in People's Computer Company, volume 2, number 3, January 1974. People's Computer Company sold a paper tape containing the HP BASIC code.

Star Trader was written by Dave Kaufman in the BASIC programming language1 and was published in Volume 2, Number 3 of People's Computer Company's newsletter in January 19742.

A few years later, the game also appeared in What to do after you hit RETURN - A computer games book from People's Computer Company8 published by Hayden Book Company, Inc. of Rochelle Park, New Jersey. It contained a reprint of the Hewlett-Packard 2000F BASIC source code listing for Star Trader . This book can still be found at rare book stores, web sites and on-line auctions.

Front cover of What to do after you hit RETURN - A computer games book from People's Computer Company

The ASCII text based Star Trader is one of the the original computer games of interstellar trading. It started the "Space Trader" genre. Star Trader presents the players a map of the galaxy in which the they move about and earn credits by establishing trading routes. Each players seek to gain control of a limited of resources: food, fuel, ore, and technology, and travel through sectors of the galaxy trading them for money or undervalued resources. This game outlined the general details of a sector-based game with ports and a player moving between sectors trading three basic products (Fuel, Organics, Equipment) to earn credits. Detailed and involving, this could keep you occupied for hours.

Atari BASIC Version - Instructions Part 1 Atari BASIC Version - Instructions Part 2 Atari BASIC Version - Instructions Part 3

In the early 1970's, Bob Albrecht and Dennis Allison founded the People's Computer Company5, a California not-for-profit corporation that promoted the personal use of computers. PCC published journals (PCC Newspaper, People's Computers, iRecreational Computing, Dr. Dobb's Journal, The Computer Music Journal) and books What To Do After You Hit Return, ran a store-front computer center, and did outreach programs into the community.



The date is January 1, 2070 and interstellar flight has existed for 70 years. There are several star systems that have been colonized. Some are only Frontier systems, other are older and more developed.

Each player is the captain of two interstellar trading ships. You will travel from star system to star system, buying and selling merchandise. If you drive a good bargain you can make large profits.

As time goes on, each star system will slowly grow, and its needs will change. A star system that now is selling much uranium and raw metals cheaply may not have enough for export in a few years.

Your ships can travel about two lightyears in a week and can carry up to 30 tones of cargo. Only Class I and Class II star systems have banks on them. They pay 5% interest and any money you deposit on one planet is available on another - provided there's a local bank.

It Is The Future

Interstellar space ships link the small community of newly discovered worlds. You captain two merchant ships with the future of the young, emergent worlds depending upon you and your fellow skippers.

You land and you liftoff, you buy local merchandise and sell what you have on board. You trade with the merchants and haggle over process. Bid too high? Try a little lower. Bid too low? Try again next time!

You buy your raw materials (like Uranium or Metals) on the less developed, newer star systems. With a full ship, you lift off and return to Class I or Class II star systems. There you sell out and load up on goods such as Heavy Equipment, or Medicine. Then out to the periphery for another haul.

But that's not all! As the years progress, the star systems will slowly develop, and those on the brisker trading routes will grow faster.

Star System Classes

Star System Classes
Class Type
I Cosmopolitan
II Developed
III Underdeveloped
IV Frontier


Abbreviation Category
UR Uranium
MET Metals
HE Heavy Equipment
MED Medicine
SOFT Computer Software
GEMS Star Gems

Ideas For Star Trader

So you're new?

Just try to get the feel of the game. Find a friend and play for an hour or two. Spend a few days thinking about the game. Now get a few friends and play another short game for an hour or two.

Do you like the game? GREAT! Now read the box called ARE YOU GETTING INTO IT?

Stardust Spinoffs

  1. What does it feel like to fly a spaceship?
  2. How many crew members do you need? Are they men or women or mixed? What size is the ship?
  3. Sketch or paint a model of the ship.
  4. Is your food and water stored on board? Do you recycle it? Are there hydroponic gardens in your ship?
  5. What do you use for fuel? How often do you need to refuel?
  6. Do you own the ship or do all the crew members have joint ownership?
  7. Why are there pirate ships? Can you become one? Where would you refuel?
  8. Does your ship land on a planet or do space tugs ferry the merchandise up and down? How much does it cost? Are there space longshoremen strikes?
  9. What about taxes?
  10. Do you have stowaways? What does space law tell you to do with them if they are discovered between stars?

Are You Getting Into It?

I'll make two suggestions:

  1. Get two or three friends who've also gotten their feet wet. If necessary, talk them into it. Start a 50 year game. If you and your friends play once a week in two hours chunks, (Friday? During the week after school?) the game will easily last a whole school year.

Don't forget - each time you stop, type SAVE as your next port of call and keep the paper tape.

  1. Set up your own game and try different situations. You can

Start A Club

  1. Find some friends and tell them about your strategies.
  2. Talk about their strategies.
  3. Design a new, better Star Traders game.
  4. There are lots of good science fiction stories. How many are about interstellar merchants? What merchandise do they sell or trade?

Here Are Some Ideas For A Better Game

Here are some ideas for a better game -

  1. Change the way the star are setup.
  2. Make more than one Class I star to start with so there will be competing trade centers.
  3. Allow a player to go pirate for awhile. But if he's caught, he _ _ _ _ _ (you fill in).
  4. If a level III is growing too quickly, put an interstellar embargo on selling Uranium there. Otherwise, the locals would have a nuclear war.
  5. Make up better merchandise.
  6. How about ship-to-ship trading at certain open ports.
  7. If ships could pick their interstellar speed, how would you design the game to make very high speeds costly? Maybe at high speeds, the chances go up that the ship will fall apart, or maybe each step in speed squares the fuel cost, or maybe ...

So You're Finally An Old timer ...

You've played a dozen games with many variations. You're probably playing a long-rang game (50 years? 100 years?) with friends once or twice a week. Congratulations!

A few suggestions, some of which you've probably thought of -

  1. Play a tight game. 2 ships per player, 1 star system per ship, 25 light year minimum interstellar distance, and push the profit margin to 5. Drop max tonnage to 25 (or even 20), allow only 2 bids per round, and Good Luck - hope you make some money!
  2. Play an easy game. 2 players, 1 ship each, 13 stars, 15 lightyear interstellar distance, and drop the profit margin number to 1. Max tonnage make 60, allow 9 bids per round, you should make millions.
  3. Study the program.
  4. Change the macro-economic model (explanation of how to in The Econometric Model section).

How The Star Map Is Made

Ever notice how the stars are distributed? At the beginning of each game, the Frontier Class (Class IV) stars are on the outskirts, the Developed Class (Class II) near the center, and the Underdeveloped Class (Class III) stars are scattered.

Here's how this is done (If you speak BASIC, look at lines 1900 through 2390 in the TRADER program).

SOL is our sun, and is the only Class I star on the starting map. It's always in the center.

All the other stars are generated randomly. Class IIs appear inside the box (50 lightyears on a side) while Class IVs (the Frontier systems) are generated outside the box. The Class IIIs are sprinkled throughout.

To make the star map more even, as each star is placed, only half the map is considered. The first star appears somewhere in the top half, Y≥0. The next star is placed on the right halfboard (think of it as East of SOL) where X≥0. Then the bottom halfboard, then the left and around again until all stars are placed.

After placing SOL, the program next places two Frontier stars, then one Underdeveloped. After these initial 4, STAR TRADER places a Frontier, an Underdeveloped, a Developed. Then back to Frontier for another cycle until all stars are placed.

Want to generate your own Star Map? Easy - Start with a large, blank Star Map. Now mark down SOL.

Use another sheet of paper to cover all but the top halfmap. Make a random toss (use a thumbtack or a wadded ball of paper) on the halfmap showing; if it lands inside the box, toss again. Mark and name the new star.

Rotate the covering sheet to expose the second halfmap. Toss again for a Frontier star. Mark and name.

Rotate again for each star remaining. Toss each time until the star is legal (on the map, inside/outside the box if Developed/Frontier).

One more thing - the minimum distance between stars is usually 15 light-years. If a new star is closer to any other star, toss again.

How Local Merchants Bargain

When your counter offer to their bid is too far away, the merchants will tell you. THAT'S TOO LOW or WE'LL PASS THIS ONE. But if you're within their Price Window, they will adjust and continue bargaining! Usually, they move a little towards your last offer. Beware - the Price Window gets narrower each round of bidding. If you stick to the same bid, they'll reject it.

The Price Window is widest when the number of units you're bargaining for satisfies the local merchants. If they want 6 units, you'll get your best prices by offering 6 (or more). Unless you want to save some for a later star stop, it's best to buy - or sell - what the merchants ask for.

The Econometric Model

Each Star System (including SOL) is constantly changing its developmental level. And so the balance of products and needs shifts as well.

Young Star Systems have surpluses of Uranium, Raw Metals and Gems but need alot of Heavy Equipment, Medicine and Computer Software. Cosmopolitan (and Developed) Star Systems are reversed - and this is why they make such good trading partners.

To make your own Econometric Model:

When you find some new Models that work well, let us know!

BASIC Source Code Listings

HP Standard BASIC

From the time when computer games where played on dot-matrix printers, here are the HP Standard BASIC versions of the Star Trader Setup Module and the Star Trader Main Module. This version supports dot-martix printers and punch tapes.

  1. Listing #1- Star Trader / Game Seup Module - HP BASIC
  2. Listing #2 - Star Trader / Main Module - HP BASIC

Microsoft GW BASIC

Here is the beginning of a port from HP Standard BASIC to Microsoft GW BASIC. Code needs to be cleaned up to fix the smaller real estate size of a computer screen compared to the dot-matrix pritner.

  1. Listing #1 - Star Trader / Game Seup Module - Microsoft GW BASIC
  2. Listing #2 - Star Trader / Main Module - Microsoft GW BASIC


1Trade Wars - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
21974 History of Trade Wars Variations - John Pritchett
1031977 History of Trade Wars Variations - John Pritchett
104Star Trader (broken link)
105Dennis Allison
106BASIC Computer Games
107Online World Timeline (broken link)
108I'm an Ahl-knowing computer book author - Rogers Cadenhead
109What To Do After You Hit Return - John Lee (broken link)
110The People's Computer Company Alumni Pages
Last Updated: 2014-03-05