Oregon Trail games (Pressman Games)

Dates played: May 16 and May 23, 2020

Variations played:
Oregon Trail, 2016
Oregon Trail: Hunt for Food, 2017

Basic details: 2-6 players; 30-45 minutes

Gist of the games:

Oregon Trail
Self-described as collaborative, everyone cooperates to have at least one person survive the trek to Oregon in order to win.

The game comes equipped with trail cards, including a starting card for Independence, MO, and an ending card for Willamette Valley, OR, 2 forts, 2 towns, kind, gentle trail cards that simply move you along, rivers that you have to ford (with an element of chance via die roll), and trail cards that require you to draw a calamity.

To start the game, players receive 5 trail cards and a number of supply cards dependent on the number of players (5 for a 2-player game). The remaining supply cards are divided by type (e.g., food, medicine, oxen). Supplies remedy calamities.

On the first turn, the starting player must play a trail card. After that, players may play a trail card or a supply card on their turn. The trail is laid in groups of 5 cards, with the entire thing ultimately taking about 3 feet (so you need to have some length real estate available on your play surface).

If a player plays a spacebar card, they draw a calamity card and follows its instructions. The calamity card may affect just that player or the whole team, and may be immediate (e.g., snake bite) or time-bound (e.g. broken wagon). If a wagon breaks down or oxen die, no new trail cards are played until the situation is remedied or everyone dies because it can’t be remedied with the resources available. Players can trade 2 supply cards for a specific supply card of their choice (or 2 players can go in together, contributing 1 card each).

When a player dies, up to 2 of their supply cards can be willed to other players.

The game ends when at least 1 player reaches Willamette by completing the 10th stack of 5 cards, or everyone dies.

Oregon Trail: Hunt for Food
The goal of this game is to cooperate to collect 600 pounds of meat before everyone dies. If at least 1 person survives and you collect 600 pounds, you win. This game can be played as a standalone game or as an expansion of the original Oregon Trail game described above. If you survive this game, you can carry food and supplies back to your wagon in the original game and continue your journey. However, if you’re playing it as an expansion and you die in this game, you’re dead in both. Fun aside, this box contained a set of 4 coasters that looked like the most recent iteration of floppy disks (alas, not the giant Apple IIE disks).

This game comes with hunting cards, which include obstacles, calamities, animals, and clearings, and supply cards, which include things like crutches, a compass, clean water, medicine, extra bullets, etc.

To set up, 4 supply cards are placed face up in the play area, with the remaining supply cards placed in a stack.

Hunting cards are placed in a 6×6 grid with each pile containing 3 cards. Each player gets a die, and the hunter standee is placed on a stack (the instructions recommend not starting on an edge) and the 1st player rolls the die to determine both the number of actions the player must take as well as the furthest away card (in a straight line, not on a diagonal) the player can flip. Actions include flipping cards, moving the hunter, and shooting animals to gather meat.

The goal of flipping and moving is to clear a path without obstacles between the hunter and animals, enabling you to shoot them and gather their meat. You can move the hunter from stack to stack (but around, not through, obstacles, not even flowers). If the hunter passes through a clearing, remove that card from play (revealing another card that has to be flipped or a permanent clearing when the last clearing card has been revealed).

If a player lands on an abandoned wagon, they can select a supply card of their choice and then flip the card horizontally so that it becomes an obstacle.

To shoot at an animal, you must have a clear path (no unflipped cards and no obstacles) or be on a stack next to the animal. Shooting costs 1 action and 1 bullet token or card. Each player then rolls their die to see if they successfully kill the animal and gather the meat. Every player must meet the die condition to be successful, and dice stay in play even if their owner dies. If an animal does not die, players vote as to whether to try again, using another action and another bullets token. Successful dice from the previous attempt are retained.

To win, you must have at least 1 survivor and 600 pounds of meat. There are 3 ways to die: have the hunter trapped by obstacles, all players have died from calamities, or you have used all bullets (12 tokens and 4 supply cards).

To integrate with the original game, you can stop the original game at any time by vote to go hunting. You can stop hunting at any point (even if you’re trapped by obstacles) and return to the original game, taking animal and supply cards you’ve earned with you. You can trade 200 pounds of meat for one food card from the supply or use meat as you would food. You can trade 400 pounds of meat for any supply card (the equivalent of 2 200 pounds of food cards). When returning to the hunting game from the original game, place the hunter on an edge stack and begin again. If a player dies in the hunting game, they are also dead in the original game, and vice versa.

The same number of dice remain in the hunting game even after players die, and all must still meet the win condition to kill an animal (i.e., a 4 player game will always have 4 dice).

Color commentary: 

Oregon Trail
1st game: We made it through 16 of 50 cards before we both died. I died first of dysentery. M contracted measles and then his oxen died. We blew through our supplies quickly because I had nothing but spacebar (calamity-drawing) cards and M lost a couple supply cards in an attempt to ford rivers. Nonetheless, the game was fun. The only real strategy may be when to use supply cards (for example, M would have only died of measles when a 2nd measles card was drawn).

2nd game: On his first turn, M drew a calamity card that gave him a deadly snake bite. We made it a total of 11 cards before I got cholera that I couldn’t cure because I had no medicine supply cards. Probably the only way the game even comes close to 30 minutes is with 6 players. I think these two games took about 5 minutes each.

3rd game: 11 cards in, M drowns trying to ford the river. We came across a town on turn 8 and I got the medicine I needed to cure my measles, but M’s death leaves me with no supplies. I fear for my future. This game creates the first convincing imperative I’ve seen for reproducing at or above replacement levels. Someone must survive the trip to Oregon! On my first turn after M’s death, I was able to fix a broken axle through a lucky die roll. On the next turn (card 13), I came to a fort and drew 2 supply cards. I chose oxen and clean water because oxen seem handy and I’m prone to cholera. On card 16, I came to another fort. On card 18 I died of a snake bite, incurable even though I had stocked up on medicine at the fort. Nonetheless, 18 cards was the most successful trip we had.

Oregon Trail: Hunt for Food
1st game: The dice only have numbers 1-4, though they are 6 sided. There are 2 each of 1 and 2, and 1 each of 3 and 4. It wasn’t calamities that got us in this game. We ran out of handy bullets and got surrounded by game we couldn’t shoot. (Ok, I got lost and died in the wilderness because we didn’t have a compass to help me find my way back). We presume the bear M couldn’t shoot ate him, and then the rabbits and squirrels that were also by him. We did manage to get 200 pounds of meat fairly easily, but then didn’t have any luck after that, eating through our bullets really quickly. It’s actually not clear if animals count as obstacles or if you could move through them to other cards. We did a lot of recon to scope out where it might be safe for the hunter to move. 

2nd game: Because there are more 1s and 2s on the dice, we decided to try to mostly hunt animals requiring those values. Of course, having decided this, we were confronted with a bounty of squirrels and rabbits, each requiring 3s and 4s. Then M died of dysentery. And that wasn’t even helpful in terms of hunting, since his die has to stay in the game. There seems to be a tension between success in the original game and success in this game, as more people make you more likely to have someone survive to Oregon, but much less likely to hunt successfully. However, we did manage to get 400 pounds of meat (a bear, bison, deer, and some rabbits) before running out of readily available bullets and then getting trapped by obstacles and a bear. Also, it’s really lame that flowers are an obstacle. Really? There’s no way to pass through them?

Thoughts from M: 

Oregon Trail
There isn’t much strategy to this game, but it was a fun exercise that celebrates the good old days, before Ron Howard ruined the country, when measles and broken arms weren’t seen as bad things, but rather as the opportunity to grow more robust and virtuous. I immediately ran out and personally gave this game to every non-social-distancing American and Confederate I could find! Also, the art isn’t 8-bit-esque enough, although this is because I got the game confused with Boss Monster. Listen, I didn’t play video games as a kid. Instead I read comic books and watched TV. This is why I don’t care if Mario can get his cart somewhere, I am constantly shocked by how little people know about Harvey Kurtzman, and am perplexed by the how many people have never seen High Noon.

Oregon Trail: Hunt for Food
This is a low strategy game, but it is a lot more fun than the high strategy game of tic tac toe! The game has quality art.

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