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The Oregon Trail, Produced by Pressman (2016), Reviewed by Jason Elliott from PaladinElliott Productions
What are the recommendations for this game?
Number of players: 2-6
Time of game: Not stated (our games lasted roughly 45 minutes each)
Age recommendation: 12 years and older
The back story:
It is the year 1847, you are a family travelling across the United States, going from Independence, Missouri to the Willamette Valley, Oregon. You must get your families safely to Oregon, outlasting many perils on the journey, including: starvation, snake bites, Cholera, Typhoid, oxen dying, extreme cold, being stranded, Measles, thieves, Dysentery, broken bones and bad drinking water. You will need to keep at least one family alive through to the end of the journey in order to win the game. This game is based on the old computer game that was played in many schools in the 1980's.
What comes in the game?
1 double sided, laminated board. (One side is the members of the party where you write their names, and the other side is their tombstones where you can write an epitaph if they die during the game)
1 Erasable Marker
1 six sided die
58 Trail Cards
32 Calamity Cards
26 Supply Cards
What is the end game objective? What am I striving for?
Keep at least one person alive going through a journey that will be 50 trail cards (this counts Towns and Forts, and not counting the start and end cards). There will be times when the strategy will dictate letting someone die to increase the chances of the rest making it.
How do I set the game up?
Write the names down of the party members (and no you don't have to use your real names). Place the start card (Independence, MO) and the finish card (Willamette Valley, OR) about 3 feet apart from each other on the game board. You will sort cards out into stacks of Supply, Trail, and Calamity. You then deal each player 5 trail cards (no matter the number of players). Then deal out supply cards, based on the number of players, as follows:
6 players - each get 3 supply cards
5 players - each get 4 supply cards
2, 3, and 4 players - each get 5 supply cards
You can look at your own supply cards and trail cards at any time, but others don't know what you have. The youngest player is the shopkeeper (you can trade two supply cards with the "shop" for the one you need or you can stop at the "shop" when you are in a Town or Fort). Once the initial supply cards have been dealt, you sort them into stacks (Medicine, Clothes, Food, Clean Water, Oxen, 100 Bullets, Spare Parts, and 200 lbs food).
Now to play:
The first player is the one born closest to Willamette Valley, Oregon. You start with any trail card and connect it to the start (before the start, as if you just came into town). As a tip, play a trail card that says you have to draw a calamity, for in this way you will avoid it. No harm is allowed to the party when starting the game. Then you will have two choices on your turn, where you can play one trail card, or one supply card, not both. Any trail card will connect to a Fort, Town, Start, or Finish regardless of the trail's orientation. These orientations can be on one side of the card or to the middle, so if you were looking at the trail from the rear towards the forward, you might be veering left, right, or back to the middle. This is important as you have to play a trail card that connects to the previous one. The cards must be lined up, and the rules do a very nice job of showing exactly what they mean. You are allowed to turn the card one way or the other, whichever you believe to be the best move. The reason you would be opting to play a supply card is to remedy a calamity that is in effect either for a player, or for the entire group. Always pay attention to these, as many stipulate if certain conditions are not met within one full round (each player gets one turn) the whole party will die. If you don't have the right supply card, you are allowed to trade to the bank (shopkeeper) at 2 of your cards to 1 that you need. This can happen at any time as a free action, and in addition it can be 1 card from player a and 1 card from player b, but the two players must decide who gets the supply card that is coming back. If you don't have a legal trail card, and you don't have the supply card you need in response to a calamity, then you must draw one trail card, and end your turn. When a supply card has responded to a calamity card, place it beside the calamity, because in some cases it will take 2 cards to be dealt with. Once a calamity is dealt with it does not come back, but all supply cards go back to their respective supply decks and are immediately available. Once you have played 5 trail cards side by side (in this case we will say "a,b,c,d,e") you will stack them with "a" being the top and continuing in order. You will need to have 10 stacks of 5 cards to accomplish the journey (that is your 50 cards travelled). If at least one player is alive when the 50th trail card is resolved, the players win!
Special Note: if the game is only two players, or the group is brought down to two players, then each player is allowed to play two cards instead of one.
Special Note: Some trail cards will use the die, and depending on your roll you might succeed, fail and lose a supply card, or fail and die.
When does the game end?
The game either ends when the entire party is dead (players lose) or when a living player reaches the 50th Trail card (players win)
Are there any variations for this game?
You could lower the total distance you need to travel to make for an easier game, and I am sure some players will consider this. This game is based off of its original computer version (which was a pain in the...) so some will find this game quite difficult.
Some game results:
Our four players decided from the onset that all decisions would be made for the whole of the group for a win, no matter what. On top of that it was decided that it would be a four player game due to getting the most supply cards. 2 players get to start with a grand total of 10 supply cards, 3 players would start with 15 total supply cards, 4 players would start with 20 total supply cards, 5 players would start with a total of 20 supply cards, and 6 players would start with a total of 18 supply cards. We felt that we maximized our chances and yet one died of a snake bite (automatic) and one died of Typhoid as we had neither the right supply card, nor enough to trade for the right one). Even with all of our measures we finished with two people alive to win, with one player having one trail card, and the other player having one supply card. In other words we barely made it!
I would easily say this game is going to be hard for some groups, maybe too hard. It has so much chance that groups who want more strategy are going to look at this and take a pass. The luck is mitigated by choice initially, but from about halfway to the end game you turn mostly to luck. Your strategy will be more in letting someone die at the right time to save the party, or the moment when it is decided to do the 2 for 1 supply trade because it will be the best outcome.
The game stays true to the spirit of the original computer, with lots of chance, and not being easy. That being said scores at the table put the game at an average of 5 out of 10 (boardgamegeek.com scale), so this game is easily not going to be for everyone. People who enjoy will be nostalgic about the original computer game, who like the theme no matter what, and people who love card games no matter what.
I am personally giving this a 5 out of 10, as I would play it 50% of the time someone says "do you want to play it?". I would advise everyone out there to preview this one first, because it may not be to their tastes! It also may be hard to have little ones to play since everyone has to be on the same page to win.
Thank you so much for reading this report on The Oregon Trail!
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RET. SSG Jason L. Elliott (PaladinElliott)