Subway Vigilante was inspired by a New York City subway shooting incident on December 22, 1984, in which Bernhard Goetz (b. 1947) shot four alleged muggers, paralyzing one of them. Goetz was acquitted of murder but found guilty of illegal firearms possession. Public sentiments toward the shooting tapped into anxieties surrounding New York City’s high crime rates, which had been rising since the late 1960s and had worsened with the city’s economic instability during the 1970s.
Designed by Paperback Games owner Mike Marine, its folded paper board features a map of the New York City subway, ringed by the game track. Players begin in Brooklyn with the goal of making it to the Bronx after many encounters with “punks.” Player pieces are pewter guns and tokens are pewter bullets. Sales slumped after Marine quickly sold an initial 40,000 copies, but renewed with Goetz’s trial in 1987.