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5:19pm on Monday, 8th February, 2010:

The Oregon Trail


The 20-year-old Buffalo Bill annuals that I read when I was a kid didn't just contain cartoons, prose and colour plates. No, they also contained games. Here's one I remember called The Oregon Trail.

First, the set-up:

Hmm, I guess I should show the rules at a scale where you can read them:

Not a lot of rules there, but all the promise of a "team game". Let's see what's on the next two pages:

Should you actually want to play this game, you'll want to read the hazards. Here they are closer to life-size:

They really knew how to design games back in the 1950s...

This is a game for children, though, so although yes, right now you read the hazards, grokked the gameplay and felt no need to play it, as a kid you perhaps would have played it if it was to hand and it was raining outside and there were no computers or Internet or daytime TV. You would have worked out for yourself the conditions for which each of the alternatives offered by the hazards was the better one. In fact, my brother and I did just that. For example, the first hazard, on circle 3, you always missed the turn for because yes, you stood a 50/50 chance of getting further next time if you didn't miss a turn, but you stood a one in six chance of rolling another 3 and winding up with the same decision to make and a turn behind.

Because of this, the game was actually fun — but as a puzzle, not as a game. As a game, it sucked: once you'd worked out what the best move always was (which sometimes was dependent on the die roll, but was always determinable) it was just a case of rolling mindlessly like in Snakes and Ladders. I won't pretend it was this game that made me want to design my own games that were better, because it wasn't — there were plenty of sucky games around back then, as indeed there are today. It did, however, mean that when we got to read the book The Oregon Trail in class at school I was slightly more knowledgeable than the other children about it. See? Games can be educational!

Not educational enough to make it play right to left, not left to right, though. For me, north is always at the top of the map...

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Copyright © 2010 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).