Board Game Review: Oregon Trail Card Game


Game Play

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.)

Recommended Modifications

  • 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.)

4 starsKrysta 64


17 thoughts on “Board Game Review: Oregon Trail Card Game

  1. Kristen @ Metaphors and Moonlight says:

    Everything you described about it being impossible to win just makes it sound even more like the computer game, haha, Did anyone ever actually make it to the end alive? I don’t think I ever did lol. Being stuck watching other play when you die would definitely be a drawback though as that sounds boring. Other than that, I imagine it would be kind of fun, at least in a nostalgic kind of way!


  2. Michael J. Miller says:

    I’m a little disappointed this post didn’t end with the reader dying while trying to cross a river. Other than that though, I couldn’t be more intrigued! I don’t know if it’s just – as you point out – the nostalgia factor but I think I might have to play this. You’ve also, thankfully, prepared me for the inevitability of my death while trying :).


    • Krysta says:

      Haha! That would have been a great ending! Now I’m sorry I missed my chance.

      It’s actually a really fun game (and pretty cheap since I think it’s a Target exclusive). But sooo frustrating! I want to win!!


  3. Emily | Rose Read says:

    Cool game review! The first time I played this, we had 4 people, and we won! I was the only one to survive to the end, and just barely. I had like no supplies left and it was sheer luck. However, we did communicate more about what cards we had, so that probably helped. I enjoyed this game a lot, and I agree that it’s very difficult, so some modifications are needed. Altogether a fun one, especially with the nostalgia factor and the tombstones – we had fun writing out our tombstones.


  4. Briana says:

    I have played this with only two people. We never won. And it’s kind of stupid because if someone dies in Round 1, technically the game is not over, so you just sit there watching the second player play all alone. I don’t think the game play was entirely well thought-out, though I enjoy the concept. We did start doing some modifications to the rules, and still didn’t win, or even come close.


  5. overstuffedbook says:

    My husband got this game for Christmas, and we played it a few times with 3 players. We had pretty much the same experience as it sounds like you had, Krysta. We figured if we had a few more players, we might have more of a chance at winning. I definitely like your modification ideas! There really should be more forts/towns OR more ways for players to get more supplies. Because, like you said, even if you don’t get one of those instant death cards, you can end up very screwed just from one turn. It was still a fun game, though!


    • Krysta says:

      I definitely enjoy it and always losing just wants me to play more, until I win. 😉 But I don’t think I would have designed the game to be essentially unwinnable, especially for fewer players. There aren’t many scenarios where I’d have six people playing.


      • overstuffedbook says:

        Exactly! If it is listed as being playable for 2 or 3 or 4 people, it should be winnable by that many players! And unfortunately, it seems like you need 5 or 6 players to win!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight says:

    I am OBSESSED with The Oregon Trail, and I clearly need this game in my life! I like the idea of modifying it too, because yeah, it would not be fun if everyone died within 10 minutes- even if it is somewhat realistic (I am sure some parties didn’t make it very far, while others did). Thanks SO much for putting this on my radar, because yes, I must play! 😀


    • Krysta says:

      It’s definitely a different experience from the PC game. But it’s fun to play with a group and watch them all be picked off one by one. 😉


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