Take a trip back to your childhood and relive when virtual family members would die of dysentery left and right by playing the new Target exclusive game: The Oregon Trail Card Game.
Publisher: Pressman Toy Corp.
Genre: Cooperative Game
Play Time: 20 minutes
Number of Logged Plays: 2 (4 players both times)
In The Oregon Trail Card Game, all players are working together to travel from Independence, MO to the Willamette Valley. The goal is to keep at least one player alive by the time you reach your destination a.k.a. you collect 10 stacks of five trail cards.
Players can have two types of cards in their hand: Supply Cards or Trail Cards. Each turn, a player can either play a Supply Card to resolve a Calamity or play a Trail Card. If they cannot play a card, they must draw a new Trail Card. Some Trail Cards require you to draw a Calamity Card, which vary from providing you a way to get more food, requiring you fix your wagon, or instantly killing a player with a snake bite or dysentery.
Every time a player dies, you write their name on a tombstone with a little note about what happened.
I remember back in the day in elementary school when we’d get to go to the computer labs and play educational games like Math Muncher or, my favorite, Oregon Trail. Mostly because of cool story that unfolds as you’re virtual family braves the trail. The journey was full of dangers and it was quite the accomplishment to successfully travel the trail.
The Oregon Trail Card Game succeeds in simulating how difficult it is to make it through the trail with all its calamities that need to be resolved on your journey. This is also the reason why the game fell short for me because there were too many times where it felt like a single card draw could ruin everything. In the two times we played, we were stricken by snake bites and players drowning while trying to ford the river. The worst part about this is that there is absolutely nothing you can do to mitigate or prevent these effects from killing you.
This leads to scenarios where a player can get unlucky and draw an instant death card on their first calamity, leaving them to watch the remainder of the game. The game says that the first eliminated player can play the role of shop keeper, which isn’t really that interesting a role since you basically just organize the cards for a couple seconds and go back to watching things unfold in the game.
This mechanic may work well in the computer game because you’re playing it by yourself and if you lose you can just start over again. Unfortunately, when you’re playing with multiple players it just doesn’t work well to have one person get unlucky and have to sit out for 90% of the game. This left me feeling very frustrated whenever someone would just randomly die because it felt like there wasn’t a reason to try to formulate a strategy when the game throws unpreventable instant death mechanisms at you.
I understand that the game is meant to be challenging, but you can make a game challenging and also give players a rewarding feeling when they know they’re decisions lead to them succeeding. The furthest we got up to was eight trail piles. In each of those games we knew eight was the furthest we’d go because we didn’t have the supply cards to resolve the calamity that was at hand. At the end of the game, I felt it didn’t really matter how well we played our hands because eventually the calamities would always get overwhelming or too many people would die. I think if we had won, it would feel more like we got lucky rather than us actually earning it because of our decisions.
Overall, I do think this game does very well in appealing to the nostalgia factor of Oregon Trail with the artwork and font on the cards. The tombstones are also a pretty nice touch to allow players to write out how they died. If you really enjoyed the original Oregon Trail game and go into this card game knowing you’re getting a lighter game with a lot of luck and randomness, you’ll enjoy this game. It also isn’t very expensive so you won’t be out too much if you end up not liking it. The theme of the game drew us in, but once we played it, we realized there isn’t a very good game underneath the nice packaging.
I can remember playing Oregon Trail the computer game in elementary school on those old computers that had very few functions, so the nostalgia factor of this game was very present. Beyond that, I’m not sure what else this game really has going for it. The creators of this game are relying on people wanting to relive playing the computer game, but didn’t design a game that lived up to that expectation.
The major fault with this game is that there are so many circumstances in this game where you die, like drawing a Snake Bite card, and there is nothing you can do about it. The card just instantly kills you. I get it, to go along with the theme of the original computer game, you need to have something that kills people, and even something that kills people instantly. But this is just absurd.
The first game we played, I died in the second turn and then had to be the Shopkeeper, a role that involves collecting people’s cards. Super exciting. This player elimination mechanism also occurs in the game Bang!, a game that I can barely tolerate playing.
We modified the rules a bit and took out a few instant death cards, which made it a little better, but you can still die from something stupid like drowning because you happened to roll a 1. I’m not a fan of not being able to do anything to defend against these circumstances. And I’m also not a fan of games that require me to create house rules in order to make them playable.
Also, the win condition of this game is virtually impossible. This isn’t something I have a huge issue with because it’s not supposed to be easy, but the farthest we got was eight stacks of trail cards – admirable, but still not winning.
Lastly, the rules of this game seem simple, until you start playing and something comes up and you attempt to look it up. It’s most likely not in the rule book, and if it is, it’s incredibly vague. The rule book defaults to saying “read what’s on the card,” which is sometimes incredibly confusing and vague.
Overall, if you’re looking for a game that vaguely reminds you of the experience of playing the computer game, this could be the game for you. It’s definitely a game for non-gamers, which is fine. It’s a fun game that brings back some memories, but even a beginner gamer will notice the holes in this game almost immediately.
I will say that I do think the theme in this game is very strong, especially with being able to come up with a little story about how someone died. Beyond nostalgia factor, this game has too many issues for me to consider buying it (we played a friend’s copy). I think if a great designer got their hands on this theme, it could make an excellent co-op and resource management game. Not like I’m hinting at anything…
- Strong theme and nostalgia factor
- Affordable game
- Quick and easy to play
- Instant death cards mean someone can be eliminated immediately
- Seems virtually impossible to win without house rules
- Vague rules
- Too random
He gives this game 3 Snake Bites out of 10.
She gives this game 3 cases of Dysentery out of 10.