the Andrew Bailey

The Oregon Trail Deluxe

After doing some spooky games for Halloween, I wondered what games would go well for another part of the year. I realized that the Oregon Trail kinda fits for Thanksgiving, since it's old-timey, and about people moving to a new land. There were several versions, but I had the Oregon Trail Deluxe growing up. Its VGA graphics are more detailed than the original, since it's from about 10 years later. Since the Internet Archive has thousands of DOS-based games, I wondered if they had it. They do!

Screenshot of the Oregon Trail, about midway through the trip.

If you aren't familiar with the premise, let me catch you up. When America was expanding westward, settlers, gold diggers, and others followed numerous trails. Among the most notable was the Oregon Trail. This game seeks to simulate a trip, mostly by modeling the dangers that can afflict the party as you go west. Of course, you can get dysentery, but you can also get cholera, a broken arm, measles, a "fever", or a snakebite. In this edition, your character is always the last one to get sick and die, so you have to fail hard for that t-shirt to apply.

You can control how much you feed your party, and how much of the day you travel. This highly influences how sickly your party is. You can recover health and prevent death by resting for a few days. You can buy things at the start, or at forts along the way. Be sure to buy everything you need at the beginning, because everything is more expensive along the trail, but if you know what you're doing, you won't have to. Sometimes you get lucky, and find abandoned wagons with parts in them along the way.

The hunting minigame is where you will probably gather most of your food. Don't go crazy, because you can only carry back a maximum of 200 pounds of meat. That's just one moose or buffalo. With that, these games accidentally explore why most buffalo died in the 1800s.

From what little I've seen of earlier versions, there's a rafting minigame every time you cross a river. But here, the only rafting minigame occurs at the last part. If you don't want to risk it, you can pay to use a toll road. Just save the game and try to avoid the rocks.

At rivers, you have 2 or 3 options: ford the river (drive right into it), float across, or take a ferry. You don't control the crossing, and are left to the mercy of randomness. Ferries are only available at certain crossings, and are always safe. The other options leave you open to tipping. If you're lucky, you recover everything. You are told how deep and wide the river is, so if its much more than 4 feet deep, fording is not the way to go. I wonder that when you float across the river, do you stuff the oxen into the wagon along with everything (and everyone) else?

Screenshot of rafting down the river at the end of the trail.

This game so old school, it keeps score, and keeps high scores. You aren't going to rank high if you play on easy mode (banker). To rank high, you need to be a teacher, since they get the highest score multiplier. You need to optimize what to buy, when (and how long) to rest, and save often. Scoring over 9,400 points is easy.

If you get robbed, hopefully it isn't bad. In writing this article, I had all my oxen stolen during two playthroughs. How can someone steal 6 oxen without anyone noticing? I'm not an expert, but oxen are large, slow, and, when mishandled, loud. Other times, the trail will be impassible, and I won't get moving again for a week, only for the same thing to happen a few days later, and get delayed for another week!

When playing this, I realized that remakes and remasters aren't new. The Oregon Trail video games were remade and remastered several times over about 20 years. If another was made today, I wonder if it would be an all-encompassing trail simulator, since this game mentions that people turned and went to California. On second thought, California is a terrible place between poopy streets and raging forest fires. Why would anyone want to live there?

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