Zenic's Journal: "Life is a game. Just a few nights ago I was trapped in an Arabian city on the trail of a killer, but after a few simple choices I find myself in the East Coast of the United States, looking towards West, to California, where I will hopefully be able to settle down and make a living. I am joining a company, sponsored by a European entrepreneur, Lars-Erik, escaping from the Swedish oppression of his beloved home country, Norway, interested in setting up a carpenter shop in Oregon. The condition of our wagon is to be taken care of by Laukku, a youngster running from consequences of a too successful bet and an enraged Russian duke, and an engineer Canageek from the British territories up north. Words of wisdom and guidance are provided by Charles, an experienced explorer of wilderness from South America. As I have most familiarity with letters, I have been tasked with keeping a log of our adventures. We haven't even left Independence, but I have a feeling it will be LEGEN... wait for it ...DARY!"
7. Put together your ultimate Fellowship of Adventure Gamer Companions
The opening screens of the Oregon Trail feel more like I am entering a CRPG than an adventure game. I get to decide the occupation of the leader of my group from three possibilities and name all of the five individuals travelling in my wagon. The resemblance to a CRPG is lessened by the fact that individual characters have no stats. Furthermore, the occupation merely determines the amount of cash I have to use and thus provides a difficulty level. I have already beaten the game once with the middle difficulty (carpenter) and I now consider taking up the challenge of playing as a poor farmer. Eventually I decide to take the trip as a carpenter again – there's supposed to be no other difference, but the amount of money one gets at the beginning of a new game. As for my travel party, I decide to use the names of five people currently on top of the CAP chart, to make this journey special.
Lars-Erik's obviously the one with the gun, but I am not sure who the other four are.
After naming all members of my team, I am prompted to buy equipment for the journey from the store owner Mat. There's not a lot to choose from, but all will probably prove important. Food is obviously required, and the wagon won't move without any oxen to pull it, so these two are essential. In addition, the store sells bullets, clothes and spare parts for the wagon. The shop owner gives some hints as to what I should minimally buy. Having completed the game once, I decide to invest my cash mainly on oxen and bullets. I also buy a few extra spare parts, but food I am purposefully leaving to a straight minimum.
Surprisingly, you cannot use the oxen as a food source. Luckily they also do not eat.
Before my party gets to the real adventure, I have a chance to decide the month when my group will start the journey to Oregon. The time of the year obviously has some effect on the weather, so players with more experience of the game could probably use the starting month to maximize their chances of survival. As this is just my second try at Oregon Trail, I randomly choose to begin the journey in May.
Zenic's Journal: "We packed our belongings into a wagon, mostly just ordinary stuff, clothes for keeping warm, a couple of rifles, spare wheels and axles, but there were also more personal items, like Laukku's violin and Canageek's collection of odd looking dice that he keeps throwing and inventing a story as it goes. Last to arrive were the metal cans full of food, complete with a picture of a Joker. Canageek looked at the cans doubtfully. "Trickster's Canned Asparagus Pieces? I don't really like asparagus.” ”Oh, you'll soon grow to love CAPs”, Lars-Erik assured him. ”Besides, we get them at a half price, because I've been sponsoring the owner of the company for some time”. And Lars-Erik's prediction came true. With a couple of hundred miles behind our backs, after constant hunger and rain, Canageek run for groceries in Fort Kearney saw him swim right into a pile of cans, shouting: ”CAPs, sweet CAPs! From this moment on, I shall dedicate the rest of my life for collecting as many CAPs as I can.”"
The basic game play couldn't be more monotonic. Your wagon is moving west, days go by and the food rations diminish steadily. With a press of Enter, you have the chance to take a more active role, with the following options:
1) Take a look at the map: This is usually pretty pointless, because there is only one way to go. Sometimes the player has to make the decision which of two roads to take, but I don't see how looking at the map really helps here.
2) Rest for a few days: This option is also pretty useless, because if the crew requires resting, it is better to also do something useful, like hunting.
3) Set the pace of the wagon: I begin with full speed and I won't really need to change the setting after that. If the speed is too exhausting for the animals or the crew, I stop for a few days rather than slow down.
4) Determine the rate of food consumption: Because there is a sure way to feed the travelers, I can let them eat as much as they want.
5) Trade with other wagons: An interesting possibility that in the first game I played I had to use couple of times when I ran out of some essential item on the road. The wagons always want a certain amount of some items and offer something else in return. No bartering at all, you can just accept or refuse their offer, so it might take a while before a wagon with the item you want arrives.
6) Hunt: I'll come to this in a minute.
I like the sound of Soda Springs. Do they serve it chilled?
My crew owns a dozen bulls, but you can see only one. The others are apparently resting in the wagon.
If I could just trade one bullet for everything you've got…
OK guys, if you won't behave, you won't get a burger today.
The screen always tells how many miles the wagon has to travel to the next place of interest. Most of these places are forts or towns, where the wagon has the option to stop. After seeing a picture of the place and listening to a simple tune, the pioneers have almost the same options to choose from as when they stop on the road. One exception is hunting – I guess it makes sense that you cannot shoot a deer in a fort. The travelers also have the opportunity to chat with the locals, which gives some flavour text and sometimes share some tips for the journey. Some places also have shops, which sell exactly the same things as Matt did at the beginning, although the more west you go, the more expensive everything gets.
Is that supposed to be a river?
Indian meets a true paleface.
This is all that towns have to offer. No casino, no bars, no ladies of the night. I guess we are travelling in Utah.
You mean they DON'T grow on trees?
Zenic's Journal: We had been low on CAPs for a few days, when Charles had finally had it. ”The time has come to show some love to Elvira, the Indian goddess of the hunt. Who's with me!!??” Lars-Erik was somewhat reluctant and said coughing: ”I'm sorry, I'm busy ... umm … washing my hair”. The rest of us were enthusiastic to get out of the boredom of wagon trail. We went standing between some bushes, waited for a while and BANG! That night we feasted on bear flesh. There was so much meat that we could not carry it all to the wagon, but Charles said it was all right, because we should leave some for the Earth spirits. While we ate in the Moon light, Charles told us a magical tale of weavers and their music, and when he was finished, Lars-Erik continued with a story of distant future and an investigator flying around in a horseless wagon and solving crimes. Laukku had heard a yarn about a writer battling forces of darkness, and even I shared with everyone my favourite story of a boy who went looking for his dog and became a sorcerer. Canageek complained how silly our tales were, and we ran into a fierce debate. Finally Charles sighed with a full stomach and satisfied mind: ”When I am going to retire, I will do nothing but read all the stories in the world”.
The most important thing to do while on the trail is to hunt – all you need is some spare time and bullets. After some simple instructions, the player just lands on a scene, filled with trees, bushes and cacti. Every few seconds animals appear from the edges of the screen and move according to some simple algorithm – straight line, until they bump on some obstacle and change their direction. The player can fire his rifle at any time and try to hit the animals. After a while, the hunting session ends automatically, but the player can also stop it earlier.
And only now I notice there's actually a key for walking around. This just shows how absurdly simple this minigame is.
Just one more deer and that's enough.
I quickly find out that I can just ignore most of the animals. Smaller animals, like rabbits, are quicker and hence more difficult to shoot and they also carry less meat. Besides, if I accidentally hit them, their corpses just block my shots. So don't waste your time on chasing bunnies or beavers, because all it takes is to shoot one bear or buffalo, or if neither are seen, two deer. After that, there's so much meat that the characters cannot carry it back to wagon, but have to leave the rest to rot. Bears, buffaloes and deer are quite slow and thus only obstacles like trees can prevent the player from getting enough food. Even if there are too many bushes that prevent a good shot, you can easily just skip the hunt and start anew with a different screen. In effect, hunting makes buying food completely redundant, and most of the time the game is spent in the hunting mini game.
Very bad hunting day. Luckily I can just instantly begin a new one.
Zenic's Journal: "CRASH! Our wagon refused to move forward. Canageek and Laukku began to investigate and soon found out that one of the wheels had broken. They discussed a while with a secret code language of engineers:
Laukku: %@ E6== E96 ECFE9[ x 5@?VE <?@H 2?JE9:?8 23@FE 7:I:?8 @?6 @7 E96D6] (92E D9@F=5 H6 5@n
Finally they had to admit it was beyond repair. Lars-Erik was certain that he had bought a spare wheel, but we could not find it. Finally Canageek confessed that he had traded it for a significant amount of CAPs.
With nothing more to do, we started waiting for other wagons. After a while, one arrived. ”Look here Billy-Joe, they're trying to make do with only three wheels. You reckon they would like our spare?” ”Yes sir, we do. Would you care to trade something for it?” I asked. ”Well, I don't know. It would have to be a considerable amount of CAPs to make us give our only spare wheel away.” Suddenly Canageek walked in and thunked a sack full of CAPs on the ground. Then he threw on shades and walked away as everyone gasped at the amount of CAPs he was throwing down."
Couldn't I just call for mechanics?
Driving around in the wagon is not just uneventful with continuous scenery watching, but is occasionally broken by a random event. The travelers may find some wild fruits adding to their food portions or remains of other caravans that contain some salvageable goods.
Usually the events are more negative. Bad weather conditions and loss of trail make the progress slower. Robbers steal items, usually oxen, leaving unprepared players stranded in the middle of desert – or oxen could die of too hard work. Wagon parts might also get broken, and some random number generator determines whether it can be repaired or whether a new part is required. But there are even more tragic events in store.
Zenic's having dangerously high temperature...
Laukku has a fatal disease...
I don't even want to know what Charles has caught…
And then Canageek dies. Oops!
Zenic's Journal: "We buried Canageek today. He had complained how tired he was and we all tried to cheer him up, telling him how close we were to the next town. Alas, even the sight of his collection of CAPs couldn't make him happier and he just wasted away in front of our eyes. We dug up a hole, to cover his body from predators, Laukku played some violin and our eyes were full of tears. We cast his beloved dice in the grave with him, but we knew he would want us to take his collection of CAPs with us. Every one of us left a piece of their heart with our companion, but our loss could not but fortify our spirits and make us even more determined to reach Oregon."
Every once in a while the game tells player that some member of his party has fallen to some illness. I haven't the faintest idea what actually triggers these events, but presumably food condition, amount of clothes and weather have something to do with it. It is also somewhat of a mystery to me what decides the final outcome of sickness, but resting for a few days appears to help. I thought I shouldn't have to do this, when Canageek got ill, because the next fort was so close, but the worst happened and my party had to leave him behind. Sorry about that!
In addition to forts and towns, there are also a few other points of interest on the road. In a few places the player comes upon a crossroad and has to decide which way to choose. Having played the game only twice, I cannot really say much about the options, but it seems obvious that both roads have some advantages and some disadvantages, that is, while one route might be shorter, the other one is easier to travel.
Should I meet Muppets or J.R.?
There are also a few rivers that must be crossed in some manner. Usually there are at least two possibilities: fording and caulking. Successful fording seems to require that the river is at its lowest (the height of a river changes according to time and weather). Caulking can be done without the fear of wagon sinking, but there's the real possibility that the wagon will tip over. There's usually also a third option (like hiring a local for help), which is usually the most expensive, but also the safest choice.
Crossing a river.
Zenic's Journal: "After numerous days in the scorching sun, eating nothing but CAPs and beaver meat, we finally set foot on Oregon. There was no one to cheer our arrival, only an official with an arrogant look who noted our arrival. ”Sign here please. One, two, three, four, was that all? No, one dead? All right, could you then tell me your name?” ”Name?” ”Yes, for official purposes, each group of settlers is to be identified by a name, preferably of your own choice. So what shall it be?” We discussed the matter for a while, but came to the only possible conclusion – after all, we wouldn't have survived without the CAPs. I turned to the official. ”You can call us Team Trickster.”"
Is it over already?
It takes no wizard to actually get your wagon to Oregon, and it took me only two hours of very unintense gaming, interspersed with watching TV, to get my team to the finish line. At least with the medium difficulty the key is just buying a lot of everything, but especially bullets, so you can shoot some deer whenever the food situation starts to look dire.
It is scoring high that is difficult. Yes, the player is scored at the end of the game. Most of the points come from the settlers and their health, so you want to get as many of them in good condition to Oregon. In addition, the amount of different items and the remaining cash are considered. Finally, the difficulty level is taken into consideration (with the medium difficulty the points are doubled). With Team Trickster I got 3540 points, which was a bit of disappointment, since in my first ever game of Oregon Trail I managed to score 4192 points.
Broke and one dead friend, but at least we still have all the oxen.
We are all adventurers.
I don't know how educational my experience was, and as for being entertained – well, I think I'll still prefer Lucky Luke. Quite certainly Oregon Trail is far from an adventure game, and feels more like a strategy game. Indeed, there are no traditional puzzles, just random obstacles you need to plan for. I am certain the PISSED score will reflect this, but it will be interesting to see how much the game will be penalized.
Session Time: 2 hours 00 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 00 minutes