Sunday, June 16, 2024

Game 421: Wheeler Dealer$


I tried. I really tried. Wheeler Dealer$, Dan/Danielle Bunten Berry's first commercial game (and thorough commercial flop) is actually playable now after years of being presumed lost, having reportedly sold only 50 copies and never been preserved through pirate compilation disks like so many other first-generation Apple II games.

In a way, the game anticipates future Bunten titles. The bidding and economics of M.U.L.E. The business management of Cartels and Cutthroats. The minimalist control schemes of Computer Quarterback and Cytron Masters. The complex behind-the-scenes mathematical modeling and competitive multiplayer focus of them all. All of these aspects had been alluded to based on sparse descriptions of the game, and having played it a bit I can appreciate it all the better.

If only it weren't so impenetrable!

Despite reducing the controls down to a single button per player, this game is far more Cartels and Cutthroats than M.U.L.E., and no copies of the manual exist that I know of.

At least the custom peripheral can be simulated without too much difficulty. You'll want to emulate an Apple II+ via MAME, make sure that a file "apple2p.ini" has been generated, and insert this text into it:

gameio paddles


After that, map your gamepad buttons (you only need one button per pad) to the "Paddle Analog Dec" inputs.


You also need each paddles' "auto-centering speed" to be set to about 100. And then you can play! The button serves three purposes - raising bids, confirming prompts, and answering questions (press to cycle between answers, keep up to lock-in your selection).

I played a bit with "B" and "D," first a practice run to grasp the controls, and then a real one recorded below, but we collectively gave up after two rounds.


The first phase of the round is bidding.

Four companies - Datacope, Kirke Electric, Mann-Made Inc, and Medfac Industry have their IPO's and stocks begin at the low price of $4 per share, sold in blocks of 2,000 shares. The industry sectors are unimportant here - all companies begin with the same assets and can be presumed to be in mutual non-competition, though the companies' fortunes can drastically change with time and chance, and director decisions.

If two players run out of cash before the bidding ends, the third can scoop up whatever they want from what's left on the floor for peanuts, knowing they cannot be outbid.

Next, you have business decisions to make.

For each of the four companies, the director - typically the player with the largest share - gets to play. Decisions include borrowing cash, buying/selling factories, and investing in marketing to increase product demand. Remember - it's the company borrowing and spending cash, not you! The one-button interface works surprisingly well here; though it means all investment decisions go in one direction - once you've told the computer you want to borrow $10,000, you can make it go higher by pressing the button more, but there's no way to make it lower!

Without a manual, it's dang near impossible to determine whether your decisions are good or not. Presumably you want to get production and demand levels to be about the same - after all, if the company's worth goes up, your shares do too, and if it goes bankrupt, then your shares become more valuable as toilet paper. But then, maybe you want to prop up its value and then squeeze it all out before unloading your depleted shares onto a hapless investor. Business is war!

An end-of-year summary follows, with random events a la M.U.L.E., but with no clear indication of who's ahead.


A lot can happen here. During our unrecorded test round, B's company went bankrupt for unexplained reasons, gaining me some liquidation funds as an investor and him a fine from the FTC. And two of my brand new factories got firebombed by union activists! This time, though, all that happened is that me and 'B' got opportunities for a bit of insider trading, but I am not sure how you capitalize on this.

Round 2 begins with the option to sell stocks.


We don't, but we do all borrow cash at the new prime lending rate, which we then spend on more stock shares, and then manage our respective companies some more.

End of turn 2.

I don't understand much of this. At least tell me who's winning!

After turn 2, we decided this wasn't getting anywhere and quit.

No GAB rating - it's impossible to rate without any inkling of what we're doing, which is unlikely to ever happen without a manual. As it stands, this is a neat little glimpse at the beginning of Bunten's career, but none of us had any fun playing it at face value.

Personally, I don't hate the concept. On the face of it, this could be sort of a step between the dry and dense Cartels and Cutthroats and the subliminal design of M.U.L.E., even though it predates both of them. The control design is indeed clever - perhaps too reductive; I think it could have used two buttons instead of one - but what's here makes this game about stock speculation almost accessible, and certainly more so than C&C did with its spreadsheet-like approach.

But the problem, apart from no manual (which is a massive problem!) is that the information I want isn't readily available, and much of the information that is available is confusingly terse. How am I supposed to judge whether a company is worth $4 per share or $400? The bidding screen doesn't even tell you how much money you have left, or things like how many stocks you own or how many are left.

I'm still glad that we tried, and that we had a chance to try. This obscure and obtuse computer game is an important part of Bunten Berry's legacy.


  1. As a big fan of Mule this was an interesting read.

    Another Bunten game I bought and played on my Atari was Cytron Masters. I don’t think you’ve played that one. Robot Rascals was the one Bunten game I bought and was disappointed in - more of a children’s game.

  2. I'm no programmer, but wouldn't it be possible to poke around in the game's code to figure out to a certain extent how the game works?

    1. Yep! If anyone's interested, I extracted and uploaded the source code here:

  3. Perhaps I missed it, but I couldn't find a way to contact you or send anything. I can send you pictures of the manual pages. That said I'm not sure it will be quite as enlightening as you are hoping... but maybe enough for another attempt.

    1. Thanks! I've uploaded a copy here:


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