The Oregon Trail Revisited
When I was in elementary school, computers were still fairly new. (The Apple II and Apple IIe were wonders of the time!) But one of the perks about learning how to use them was playing games, like The Oregon Trail. Both educational and addictive, this deceptively simple simulation game left me feeling frustrated and determined each time I died. Today, The Oregon Trail is still popular and provides computer game nostalgia for those of us who remember its early days.
Now, there is a card game that brings the flavor of this classic DOS game to life. I recently purchased it at Target, and played several rounds with my husband. Here is my review — typhoid, dead oxen, starvation and all.
Setting up the game doesn’t require much time, as there are only a few components. You do, however, need decent table space. The start (Independence, MO) and end (Willamette Valley, OR) cards need to be placed about three feet apart from each other, plus you need space for the card stacks. (The cards are much closer together in the image below).
You can use the fun wipe-off board to write in all the players’ names. I kind of like staying within the theme, so choosing names suitable for the 1800s is pretty amusing. Each player then gets five Trail Cards, and depending on how many players there are, 3-5 Supply Cards.
A quick read-through of the directions gives you a solid idea of the goal: get at least one player to the finish line. Playing the game is easy enough. Winning is a different matter. Life on the trail really does depend on the hand you’re dealt with. This means that at least one person, but more than likely the whole party, will die.
With each turn, a player must play a Trail Card that connects to the one before it. If he or she is directed to draw a Calamity Card, the situation presented must be remedied somehow, or either that person or the whole party is at risk of dying. This is the challenging part of the game, because someone always and inevitably dies.
Dying on the Trail
At times, you need to decide if someone should die for the greater good. Remember, the entire party wins as long as just one person makes it to the Willamette Valley. Morbid, yes. But it’s the Oregon Trail, and crossing it (in real life) was long and treachurous.
My Thoughts and Recommendations
- Read through the directions, and then watch this instructional video before you actually play. The video helps to clarify some of the gray areas we encountered once we started playing. The written directions provided even indicate that you might have questions, and to just “follow the directions”. But this didn’t work for us. There were several “what if” scenarios that came up, for which there were no clear instructions so we just determined the solution on our own.
- Playing with 4-6 people is most ideal, though 3 could work fairly well. The game isn’t terribly well-suited (nor as fun) for 2 players. It means access to less resources to keep you from dying, so the game can end after just a few rounds. My husband and I ended up playing two hands each, and it wasn’t until then that we experienced the full affect of the game.
- I tend to like card-based tabletop games because they are so portable and you can usually play them anywhere. This is not one of those games you can play on a plane or on a roadtrip, however, just because of the space you need. Play it at your destination, where there is a decent-sized table.
- Don’t expect the card game to be just like the computer game. There are several aspects that just couldn’t (and wouldn’t) feasibly translate, though I did miss. One is the fact that you don’t exactly travel across the trail through the seasons. You might draw a calamity card that says your party is in extreme cold weather, but that’s about as far as it goes.
- The Oregon Trail Card Game is not long and drawn-out. It can take as little as 10-15 minutes to play, to maybe half an hour. Again, this depends on how many people are in your party. For a family game night, this is perfect, so that you can move on to other games. Plus, if others want to rotate in at some point, it’s an easy accommodation.
If you loved the original computer game, you will probably like the card game version. Each has its challenges, but then that’s what the Oregon Trail is about. You can’t expect to win, and when you do, it’s incredibly satisfying, in a grim sort of way. Play and enjoy, and may you not die of dysentery!