Begin in Independence and try to reach the Willamette Valley by laying down Trail cards. Along the way you’ll have to ford rivers and pick up Calamity cards that require you to use Supplies to fight off bad water, cold weather, illness, and more. It’s a collaborative game so only one person in your party has to reach the end for all of you to win. 2-6 players.
The Oregon Trail Card Game attempts to capitalize on nostalgia for the old PC game, featuring the familiar “You have died of dysentary” on the box, including cards with images of pixely oxen, and requiring players to ford streams, trade at forts, and survive measles, typhus, and cholera. Unfortunately, the instructions indicate that winning is extremely difficult–by which they mean impossible. I have come to realize that there is certainly no way to win this game without modifications, especially if you have a small party. Perhaps six players could win, but two cannot.
The real problem seems to be that the game simply does not allow players enough supplies to make it to the end. Consider, firstly, that if you have four players your group has twenty supplies, but if you have two players, you only get ten. Then, it’s very possible you can lose most of, if not all of, your supplies by trying to cross a river (and there are tons of river cards) because you lose a supply each time you roll an odd number. However, if you lose your supplies, there isn’t really any way to replenish them. There are a few town and fort cards (I think two of each) but you can only pick up one or two supplies. So you can theoretically lose twenty supplies and only be able to gain back six during the course of the game. You’ve lost the game as soon as you failed to ford a river.
There are also the instant death cards. There are four of them and if you draw one from the Calamity deck, you die. You can’t be saved by medicine or any other means. Imagine you have four players. Since you will go through most of the Calamity deck during the course of the game, you are all likely going to die just from drawing one of these cards.
Once you die, you’re stuck watching the other players continue on, which can also be a bit dull. Imagine you draw an Instant Death card on your first and second turn. Now you get to watch everyone else play. The first person to die is supposed to be the “Shopkeeper” but this just means you put the Supply Cards back in the deck when someone plays them. It’s not exactly thrilling and it’s not something the remaining players (or player) can’t handle by themselves. The only good thing about this is that your fellow teammates are probably going to die very shortly anyway.
So is it fun? Actually, yes. There’s a limited amount of strategy involved (which cards to play, which players to save or sacrifice) and the difficulty of winning the game can make it sort of addicting as you try to beat the odds. However, eventually you realize that the odds of winning are essentially zero unless make your own rules. Below are some of the modifications I have tried–and, indeed, if you want to win, you’ll want to use more than one of them at a time. (As of this writing, I haven’t won yet.)
- Remove the instant death cards from the deck. There are four of them. Because you will go through most of the Calamity cards during the course of the game, this almost guarantees that four people in your party will die just from these cards–and there is no way to save them. If you started with four or fewer people, you’re basically guaranteed to lose.
- Allow players to begin with extra supplies. Two to four players begin with five supplies each, meaning that if you have four players you have double the supplies. If you have two players, consider allowing them to begin with ten supplies each.
- When fording rivers, lose one supply each for one round only. Then continue play as normal. This ensures that you don’t lose all your supplies on one river.
- Allow players to gain more than one or two supplies at a fort or town. You can choose a number or you can roll the die to see how many supplies you can pick up.
- Allow players to communicate with each other about what supplies they have (especially if you only have two players.)