The Oregon Trail Card Game

A review of the card game sold at Target stores and our (my wife’s and my amended rules).

So after nearly a month of checking, rechecking, and again rechecking, my wife and I were able to get a copy of The Oregon Trail Card Game from Pressman. This game is an exclusive at Target and arguably was Target’s most successful release of a board game. So popular was it in fact that when it started trickling back in stock, we had to travel almost 30 minutes out of our way, or 5 stores away to find our copy. The store was sold out not long after we secured our copy.

We certainly think it was worthwhile. A) we’re big board gamers as is demonstrated by the below picture.

a small part of our gaming shelves
a small part of our gaming shelves

B) we were huge fans of the original Oregon Trail video game.

The Oregon Trail Card game is a cooperative game where players work together to reach Oregon, all without dying (of dysentery).

One of the things we heard in reviews about the game, we heard that there were some rules that were unclear or that didn’t exist. Being avid gamers, this didn’t deter us. We knew we’d figure it out based on the experience we’ve had playing board games.

Now playing it.

At our first playing, we played to the letter of the rules. Suffice to say, it was unsuccessful, but we both ended up with a few amendments to the rules in order to have smoother play. It was fun, but it needed a little work. So here are those amendments. If you like them, please feel free to share. If you have any of your own, feel free to share your suggestions or links to suggested rules below.


  1. Minimum Hand Limit of 5 for Trail Cards.
    In the rules, you are dealt 5 trail cards to start the game. There is no verbiage to describe what you do when you play a trail card as far as replenishing your hand. There is no drawing. Thus, when you have played 5 trail cards, you are empty. Then you essentially lose a turn to draw a card. So the rule is at the end of your turn, if you have less than 5 trail cards, draw until you have 5.
    The reason: in the video game, there is a condition that pops up where you’ve lost the trail. It doesn’t happen often, but the rule written in the card game simulates that. If you don’t have a trail card that matches, you draw 1 trail card and your turn ends. This makes sense then as a reasonable punishment if you do not have a match with a hand of 5. Additionally, there doesn’t appear to be any other mechanical reason to have a hand that depletes to empty only to have you then be drawing only 1 at a time other than a waste of time.
  2. Supply cards are a problem.20161001_132637 Based on the list shown (see the photo) the most optimum number of players are 4 or 5 players, meaning that the party has 20 supply cards to use between the group in either scenario. 6 players is next with 18, then 3 players with 15, and 2 players with 10. What?! There’s 26 total supply cards! If you are playing with 4 or 5 players then there are only 6 left in the store, but there are 16 left if you are playing 2 players?
    Part of the idea of making a game that can move between 2 to 6 players is having conditions that balance the gameplay. Either there are conditions removed, or there are a varied set of rules based on the number of players if there is a negative impact from playing 2 players vs more. Here, the team is trying to get through 50 trail cards and playing 2 players is punished harshly for it. Game mechanics are about balance as much as they are about a challenge.
    We have two differing rules for this. Here they are.

    1. For 2 Players – Players may choose their supply cards at the start of the game.
      The Reason: Gives 2 players a chance to balance if they don’t want to deviate from the chart.
    2. The supply card chart is as follows:The reason here: This adds balance to the number of players, making less difference between the number of players and the difficulty. 2 & 3 players now have as much ability as a group of 4 or more have.
      # Starting Players # supply cards stating for each player Total # Supply cards in play at start
      6 players 3 supply cards 18
      5 players 4 supply cards 20
      4 players 5 supply cards 20
      3 players 6 supply cards 18
      2 players 9 supply cards 18
  1. Play a trail card or a supply card unless you only have 2 players left (or start with 2) then you can play 2 supply card… AND
    Here is an issue because of the timing of a round. A “round of play” as it stands in the game is not defined, but the term is used in calamity cards. For this sake, we are only going to use the standard gaming definition of once each player has a turn, a round has occurred. In other words, a round is when all players have taken 1 turn.
    Here’s the slightly modified rule then: You may play 1 trail card (if able) or a supply card, unless there are only 2 players (left alive or having started) and you may play 1 trail card and/or 1 supply card, or 2 supply cards on your turn.
    The reason: Being that a round is when all players have taken a turn, then the team has a stronger chance the more players in the game to remedying a calamity card. This gives a little added balance to 2 players, else you die pretty quick.
  2. This last amendment has to do with a single card. It is one of the river cards. Here’s the picture to the right.
    a not full description on this card (and the others like it)
    a not full description on this card (and the others like it)

    The solution is that you blend the rule into the other river cards. Roll an odd and lose 1 supply unless you roll a 1 and then you (the player having played the card) drown.

I see that the above 4 amendments solve the majority of the balance issues in the game. So here’s some (untested) ideas I have on added rules. Let me know what you think.

  1. Choose a difficulty level.
    1. There’s one choices here to ADD difficulty: Each player draws 1 less supply card.
    2. Here’s a choice to LOWER difficulty: target a lower number of trail cards to play. For example, instead of reaching Willamette Valley after 10 stacks of 5 trail cards, play to 8, or some lesser number.
  2. Group roles.
    Much like the videogame, your party leader chooses a role and that gives the party special abilities. This is based on the 3 original choices in the videogame. There might be some better ideas for this, but here’s my ideas.

    1. Banker – Draw 1 extra supply card at each town or fort. Once per game may trade 1 supply card for another of their choice instead of the normal 2 cards per 1.
    2. Farmer – You may have 2 free supply card actions for bullets or food.
    3. Carpenter – You may have 2 free supply card actions for spare parts or oxen.
    4. NOT IN THE ORIGINAL VIDEOGAME – Doctor – You may have 2 free supply card actions medicine or clean water.


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