Turning a twenty-year-old Commodore 64 game into a modern board game.

I grew up with a Commodore 64. Aside from an Atari 2600, my family never had one of the early generations of gaming consoles. Which was fine with me! The C=64 had an amazing game library, could go online (Bulletin Board Systems โ€” the world pre-Internet), and better yet, I could make my own games with it.

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Early computing magazines would often publish pages and pages of code, the entire programming needed for a game or other type of, well, program (nothing was called 'apps' back in that day.) You'd type it all in, and then you'd be able to play the game. This is how I got my start, making games and submitting them to be published within the pages of magazines like RUN and Compute's Gazette.

By the time I was in high school I started self-publishing my games. I'd advertise them on BBS's or take out little ads in the backs of the magazines. This was near the very end of the C=64's lifecycle in the US, but I still managed to sell a few copies. The last game I put out was Gun Runner.

Gun Runner was a space trading game, similar to ones of the time like Elite, or Space Rogue, or Wing Commander: Privateer, only without any fancy (for the time) 3D graphics. You'd travel between planets and bases, buying and selling cargo, or taking on delivery missions, all to earn credits. During flight you'd run into friendly or hostile ships that you could trade with or engage in combat. The credits came in handy because you could upgrade your ship, reinforcing its hull, getting faster engines, more cargo space, better weapons, and so on. Gun Runner did have a bit of narrative: you intercepted a distress call about a device being stolen, dismantled, and its pieces being sold on the black market. Throughout the course of the game you'd find all the pieces, discover a hidden base with the last piece, and if your ship was powerful enough, you'd defeat the enemies, recover the final piece, and collect a healthy reward for your efforts. Or maybe you'd become a pirate yourself and sell it to the highest bidder.

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Combat in the game, while more or less real-time, was purely tactical. You'd fire lasers, launch missiles, divert power to shields, try to bargain with enemies, and the like. You didn't fly around and manually aim, it was all based essentially on the level of your ship and its upgrades.

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About a year or so ago I had the idea to remake my nearly twenty-year-old game. I had the idea that it would work well on iPad, and I wanted to retain some of the retro charm of it. Here you can see how the game's map screen looked in my mobile remake attempt, along with the original Commodore 64 version:

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But as I worked on it, I saw a few other games that were in development or coming out that were similar to my original game. Now, my game wasn't entirely unique when it first came out to begin with, but with excellent games like FTL accomplishing everything and more than I could hope to, I decided to abandon my computer game remake (though I am still hoping FTL makes it to mobile devices.) I didn't want to give up the game entirely, though, so I thought of a new approach: remake it as a board game.

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Sure, there are plenty of space trading board games out there. But for me this was more about the challenge of taking a single player game, with computer controlled enemies and economy, and turn it into something that can be played by up to four people with cards, and dice, and tokens, all on a static board.

The most obvious change is the name. The Commodore 64 games I called Gun Runner because the most profitable route in the game was buying and selling weapons between military and pirate outposts. But there were about a dozen different commodities you could transport. In the end, it's all just stuff you buy, sell, and trade, so in a way I just boiled it all down to a single commodity. Instead of having a currency, like credits, that you sell the commodity for, then use to buy upgrades for your ship, the commodity itself is now the currency. You collect it from interacting or destroying ships, and use it to purchase upgrades. Pretty simple. But now, the name Gun Runner didn't apply. You're basically collecting salvage, so to make the name at least a little more unique, I've called the new game Xalvage. Feel free to pronounce that however you like

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The game board looks very much like the original's and my first remake attempt's map. Locations are connect by three lines that players can choose to travel along. But aside from that, and some of the ship designs from the original as seen on the new game's cards, the board game looks very different graphically. The computer game has a very crisp, clean, Star Trek: TNG-type look to it. My first visual overhaul of the game as a board game looked a little to Mass Effect-y (ME wasn't the first to do it, but that particular style and color palette for its UI and other elements is so popular now it's become a trope.) I decided to go with something more rundown, a little less pristine. It could be said that's also derivative, but I tried to work in all my influences from different things, taking bits here and there that I liked, to work them into something that would at least stand out on its own.

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Player and target ship cards indicate stats such as their base shield strength, move points (their engines, essentially), and upgrade capacity. There are also indicator lights for their offensive and defensive capabilities, which vary from card to card. Combat is determined by rolling dice, and addicting or subtracting modifiers from the ship cards and any upgrades a player has to the roll. Here you can see how the combat screen looked in the original game along with how it looks in the board game:

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A lot of the original Gun Runner shines through in Xalvage. I mostly kept in tact the four alien races you could encounter in the Commodore 64 game, plus their ship types and designs. You can still be a peaceful space merchant, or destroy any defenseless ships in your path, which will get you in trouble with the Galactic Patrol. But now, of course, you'll encounter random events like "Caught in wormhole - Lose a turn" and other board gamey space hazards.

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I'm still finishing up Xalvage, but am hoping to have it ready for release around the time of International Tabletop Day on March 30th. More info will eventually be up HERE.

UPDATE: The board game is now available here.