Friday , July 10 2020

Board Game Review: ‘The Oregon Trail Game: Journey to Willamette Valley’ from Pressman

The Oregon Trail Game: Journey to Willamette Valley from Pressman uses all the flavor of the original computer game in an all-new tabletop game. The previous Oregon Trail and The Oregon Trail: Hunt for Food card games had given a taste of the rigors of the journey westward with more randomized effects. This board game gives the whole experience of stockpiling supplies, strategizing transit, and combatting the calamities on the arduous trek.

Just as in the classic, The Oregon Trail Game uses numerous components to simulate the journey to Oregon. Each player receives a mat featuring a wagon that holds their family members; each with their own health rating, storage space for supplies, and weaponry for hunting along the way. While everyone starts equally, gameplay will quickly turn unique based on each player’s strategy and the luck of the draw.

Each player’s turn comes in several phases. First, players turn over new trail tiles to create the path that will crisscross westward. Then, players will draw a Calamity card to see the events of that turn. Most of these are damaging, such as Snakebite or Cold Weather lowering a family member’s health. Other cards are bonuses, such as Coffee giving an extra action or Canned Food adding more meat. Each damaging calamity comes with a way out, such as ending the turn at a town or fort or expending medicine or money to resolve them without losing a family member. Players then take their three self-determined actions: moving, hunting, buying, or selling, and even picking up hitchhikers as extra points. At the end of the turn, players must feed their family or lose further health points for each.

The Oregon Trail Game uses cleverly money not only not only to represent a resource but also points toward victory. Players may spend money to save family members from losing health or even upgrade their supplies, but doing so will cost them in the end with lower scores. Losing a family member is very costly with the “funeral expenses” being a penalty that adds up the farther they perished from Willamette Valley.

Play continues until one player reaches the end or all of the trail tiles have been placed. While racing to be ahead is a good idea, the first person to arrive in Willamette Valley may not actually be the winner. Final scores add up from each players’ health scores and money on hand, and then subtracting money for the distance from the valley. A shrewd player could be seemingly behind but well stocked enough to be the ultimate winner.

The Oregon Trail Game: Journey to Willamette Valley is a board game for two to four players aged fourteen and up. It is a moderately long game, lasting thirty minutes to an hour depending on the number of players and how quickly they make their actions each round. The timing works well: long enough for immersion and deep strategizing, but not so long that players feel the laborious journey. With its constantly changing dynamic thanks to the Calamity cards, players will need to be quick on their feet to strategize responses and make the best possible journey for their families.

About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.

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