Oregon Trail Card Game 

To review a card game, I first have to go back in time to give context.
I feel like an old man saying this, but growing up in the ‘80s was a different time. The Internet as we know it was science fiction, video game home consoles was a recent phenomenon, and the personal computer revolution was in its infancy. Steve Jobs playing the long game realized to speed up the adoption of PCs children would need exposure sooner than later. A program started in Minnesota and California, later spread across the nation resulting in an Apple II computer in every classroom in America. Schools, of course, purchased “educational” games such as Odell Lake, Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego, Number Munchers, and for us living on the Canadian border, Cross-country Canada. You can ask anybody my age what was their first computer game, and repeatedly you’ll hear one game, the legend, the immortal, “The Oregon Trail”.

On initial glance, the sales pitch for “The Oregon Trail” doesn’t seem like something children would get excited over. You play pioneers in 1847 leaving Independence, Missouri, struggling to make it to the Willamette River Valley in Oregon before the onset of winter. Many games from the era were simplistic, one screen arcade games that often were endless with increasing difficulty meant you losing was inevitable, e.g., Asteroids, Pac-Man, Frogger. In comparison, “The Oregon Trail” had a stated start and an achievable end goal. But, even greater was the multitude of choices presented, and decisions made early in the game could come back later to haunt you. Difficulty was presented as choosing a profession; the banker had more money and thus could purchase a greater amount of starting supplies, but the farmer would earn more points given their financial handicap. Then you had to decide when to leave; leaving early meant greater time to reach Oregon at the cost of less grass for the oxen, but leaving later meant better weather conditions but less time to reach Oregon. Then you had to purchase supplies: food, clothes, ammunition, spare wagon parts, and oxen. Then there was more choices that could be changed throughout the game, rations and pace, choosing between health or preserving food supplies/increased distance on the trail. There was more choices about when to rest, when to purchase new supplies, when to hunt, how to cross a river, etc. Ominously, as the journey progressed, party members deteriorated in health, succumbing to typhoid, dysentery, snakebites, or drowning during a failed river crossing. Subsequent playthroughs meant coming across the tombstones of previous failed expeditions. Grim stuff for a second grader.

Fast forward three decades to “The Oregon Trail Card Game”. Deceptively, the back of box presents “choices” for the players to make, two of which aren’t in the game, stopping to rest, and choosing who dies of dysentery. In the box is a dry erase marker and a laminated board, one side for party member names, and the other side TBD tombstones. There’s a custom, six-sided die with pixelated numbers. And, filling out the card component is 58 trail cards, 32 calamity cards, and 26 supply cards. Ostensibly, winning the game means playing 50 of the 58 trail cards. Thus the difficulty of the game is not a calculated choice over starting income, supplies selection, and starting month, but a random draw from a limited pool with only a 14% variance. Players get a random draw of supplies, the card count based simply on the number of players. The only way to obtain more supply cards is hopeful draw of the two towns or two forts in the entire trail pool. Two supply cards can be traded for a particular supply, but it’s a costly, desperate move given the practical irreplaceable of supply cards. Trail card differences are limited: simple paths, river fords that rely on even/odd results of crossing, but the large majority calls for drawing a calamity card. To remove a calamity, e.g., extreme cold, cholera, etc takes a supply card or two. You can leave them in play, but drawing another one either means death for one party member, or death for the entire party. Some of the cards are instant death, e.g., snake bite, dysentery, which can be frustrating as its random draw from the pile. In some games we played, all players except one were taken out early in the game. Besides erasing their name from the board, and writing their tombstone epithet, dead players only have one final action in the game, to “will” two of their supply cards to other players, and any remaining are lost. Ultimately, instead of players making tough pioneer choices, they are merely bystanders to chance on the trail to Oregon. It’s sad given the potential, but the card game isn’t well thought out, and comes off as a simple cash grab preying on nostalgia.

-George

Machi Koro

It’s time for a new post about a fun game. This week I want to share with you about Machi Koro. George recently picked this game up at The National Building Museum. I was very excited to see that he had decided to buy it. I have been paying a lot more attention to the board gaming community and this game is very popular. I wasn’t sure if we would like the game because we like some pretty meaty games. I keeping trying to think what game I would compare it to. Maybe Sushi Go.

Machi Koro is a 2-4 player game. You can buy an expansion to add another player. This is a great family friendly game. The suggested age is 10 and up but Bubbles and Duke have both been able to play with a little help. This is an easy game to teach newbies and quick fun. A playthrough can go from 30-15 minutes. The basic game play is rolling dice, acquiring money, buying property, and purchasing objectives. I know it sounds really easy. That’s because it is.

Does this game have any educational benefits? Yes! Ratios with the percentage of chances that you are going to roll a certain number to earn the max amount of money. Most board games include Math and this one does too. You have to add up business and special rules to make sure you get enough money to purchase objectives. There’s some reading and of course reading comprehension. Duke is able to read the special rules on the cards and understand that he gets a certain number of coins. The biggest thing this game offers is strategy. The kids each get to decide if they want to take the slow and steady way of earning money or buy the more expensive businesses in hopes that they get the dice roll they need.If that’s not enough teaching kiddos to be a good sport and play fair is always a plus for me.

I hope you all have been enjoying my posts about some really fun board games. If you would like to suggest a game or questions email me adventureswithsix@gmail.com

Have a great weekend!

 

Gloom 

In most games you’re trying to come out on top, i.e., building an empire, defeating an evil ogre, escaping a sinking island, surviving a long, zombie-infested winter, but in Gloom you want your family miserable. Not just miserable, but the most wretched, cursed family that ever lived and DIED. Gloom is a card game for 2 to 5 players, and the intended audience is teenagers and adults due to the mature-ish content, and the unusual language used. Players win by having the family with the lowest self-worth points after one of the families have all their members die. The cards are unique given they’re transparent, enabling cards to played on top of family member cards, adding or removing additional points, and occasionally obscuring previous points.

Players have the option to use cards to kill off family members with a negative self-worth, lower a family member’s self-worth, or raise another player’s family member’s self-worth. Examples of mishaps are the following: was distressed by dysentery, was taunted by tigers, was pestered by poltergeist, and was terrified by topiary. Examples of positive events are the following: found fame at a feast, was the toast of the town, was delighted by ducklings, and was wondrously well wed. When a player feels a family member has sufficiently low self-worth, and before a player can place positive event cards, the family member can have an untimely death, e.g., was baked into a pie, was devoured by weasels, and fell from on high.

A theme enhanced way to play the game is to generate an ongoing story as cards are played. For instance, Darius Dark was out for his usual evening walk on the moor when out of the mist came fearsome beasts. Darius [was pursued by poodles], and to escape their bites he jumped and waded into the marsh. Unable to return to land because of poodles he waded further out into the water until it became deep enough to swim. With his strength sapped he swam towards what he thought was a rock. Too late he noticed his error and [was mauled by a manatee]. Desperately he swam away and before he lost consciousness he managed to pull himself up onto a floating log. Awoken by singing and a gentle brush on his cheek, he saw his future bride for the first time, and that’s how he [found love on the lake]. Months later Darius was wedded, and as the ceremony came to an end, a sudden earthquake caused the pipe organ to shift off its platform, and fall onto the bride, and that’s how Darius [was windowed at the wedding]. Overcome by grief, Darius turned to the bottle and met his end a time later after he [drank too much rye].

As you can see, it’s a macabre game, like something out of Addams Family, Lemony Snicket, Tim Burton, etc. with its stories and the Victorian-esque artwork. As each player only has two actions each turn, it’s a challenge to spread misfortune on each of your family members and sending them to untimely deaths before positive events can happen to them, played by other players. Not a game I would want to play often, but certainly one to pull out on a dark and stormy night.

 -George

Dead of Winter

I  can’t believe I saw my first zombie only 6 months ago. No one could imagine the zombie apocalypse would become our everyday lives. It’s no longer funny but truly sad. We have lost over 30 people now. Thankfully few of those have been to frost bite. Our searches for anything useful has become harder as the temperatures have grown colder. I really don’t know how we will survive of the rest of winter. Supplies are scarce and more survivors show up everyday. Yesterday, I shared a can of beans with a stranger and it felt normal. I’m praying that help comes soon.

-Kim

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game

Theme: zombie apocalypse

Ages: 12 & up

Game time: 1hr-1 1/2 hrs

Players: 2-5 (better with more than 2 players)

Expansion: The Long Night

Game play: At the beginning of the game everyone randomly chooses a secret objective card. This card will help you to solo win the game or sabotage the whole game. My husband is known to frequently be the betrayer. The last time we played I choose the betrayal card. It was hard keeping a straight face. I didn’t complete my betrayal objectives but I did manage to get Pippi exiled from our colony. Then we each choose our survivors. The best player in the game is suppose to be the Mayor. That is not the case for us. No matter who or when the card is acquired, the Mayor dies by zombie bite. The number of survivors is determined by how many people are playing. There is a good variety of characters and abilities. Each turn plays like this, somebody draws a crossroads card, the lead player flips over the top crisis card, and we go around using our dice to do actions. The crossroad cards trigger different events depending on which survivors you have as well as other scenarios. The crisis card are group objective you must meet or bad things happen such as not collecting enough fuel and losing 1 morale. If you get to 0 morale the game is over. There are free actions and those that count dice. Free actions include: adding food to the food supply, adding cards to a alleviate the crisis, moving from one building to another as long as you have fuel or roll for exposure, vote to exile a survivor or swap or trade cards. In order to complete the following actions you must have a good dice roll or a really good character: attack (kill zombies), search (find those supplies before we run out), put up barricades(keep zombies out), clean waste(take out the trash 3 at a time), and attract zombies (invite zombies to your party). There is a lot more to this game but I’ll let it be a surprise. Just in case you struggle with how to play or are more a visual person check out this videos that will teach you everything you need to know. Happy Gaming!