Oddly enough, a lot of people are unaware of the 1990 PC game, The Oregon Trail. This “educational” strategy game, originally made in 1985 by MECC for Apple II and later ported to Mac and Windows, takes the player through the historical journey of a wagon leader traveling from Independence, Missouri, to Willamette Valley, Oregon. If you’d like to check out the game for yourself, you can follow this link.
So why am I talking about a game that’s over 30 years old? Well, I was one of the people unaware of its existence until a friend got me interested. To my surprise, it’s pretty fun and enjoyable, even with its flaws. If you’d like to play the game yourself and make the journey, hopefully what I have to say here helps you on your journey. Here’s some tips and tricks for The Oregon Trail.
Who do you start the journey as?
When you begin the game, you’ll be given three professions to choose from: a banker, a carpenter, and a farmer. This is basically the game asking you to choose your difficulty level, with the banker being the easiest and the farmer being the hardest. As the game will show you, bankers start with the most money while farmers start with the least.
Due to the frequency of hardships each profession will face on the trail, you’ll get a point bonus if you make it to the destination. Bankers get no bonus, carpenters get a double point bonus, and farmers get a triple point bonus. For beginning players, I suggest choosing the carpenter, since that’s what would be considered the “normal” difficulty of the game.
Which month do you start?
You’ll be given the option to begin your trip between five months, from March to July. The strategy that comes in choosing your month to leave is that leaving too early will make it so your oxen don’t have as much grass to eat, while leaving too late makes you more likely to experience the cold winter.
You have to know the right time to leave, so that you don’t have to worry about grass for your oxen or freezing weather. But here’s the thing: inadequate grass isn’t even an issue, at least compared to cold weather. While it’s reasonable to leave in the middle of the five months so you’ll have plenty of grass and decent weather, it makes little to no difference if you leave at the very beginning, during March. So…leave during March.
What do you spend your money on?
After you go through that and name your party of five, you’ll have to buy supplies for the trip. This includes oxen in a yoke (which is two oxen), sets of clothing, food, ammunition, and spare parts for the wagon in case anything breaks. Besides needing at least a yoke of oxen, you can spend your money however you’d like. You have to choose what you buy carefully though, as there’s no refunds and you can’t earn that money back.
If you play as a carpenter or banker, you can buy the minimum amount of supplies the game suggests and still have much more money for later stores and services. As the farmer though, you don’t really have that luxury. In that case, I suggest you don’t prioritize food or sets of clothing when buying things at the beginning, since you can easily hunt or trade for them, respectively.
Now you should be out on your journey. As long as you maintain your food supply and rest when you feel it’s needed, you should make it to Oregon with little to no problems. Here’s a bit more tips to help with that.
Abuse hunting, and don’t abuse hunting.
Honestly, this is probably the most important tip I can provide. As I’ve sorta mentioned earlier, when you’re on the trail, you’ll have the option to hunt in order to increase your food supply. This puts you in a bit of a shooting minigame, where you’ll have a limited amount of time to shoot any animals that appear in a randomly-generated area. You don’t waste any in-game time doing this, even if you hunt multiple times in a row. This makes having ammunition very important, so make sure to abuse this as much as you need to in order to get your food supply to a satisfying amount.
There’s a bit of a catch though. All of the animals you can hunt will vary in the pounds of meat they provide. Despite theoretically being able to shoot down every animal, you can only carry approximately 100 pounds of all that meat back, which isn’t much at all. This is the part where you don’t abuse the hunting system. Use your ammunition very sparingly, not shooting either any more than you need to or when you don’t think you’ll make the shot.
I recommend not wasting your ammo trying to shoot smaller animals like rabbits or squirrels; they’re not only very fast, but they barely weigh anything, so the reward is not worth the effort. What you want to focus on is either deer, bears, or buffalos. You’ll reach the 100-pound limit from shooting three deer, two bears, or one buffalo, so keep that in mind when hunting.
Always look around at landmarks.
When you make it to various landmarks on the trail, the game will give you the option to look around. Make sure you always say yes to this. Not only do you get some pixel art of the landmark, but you’ll have an opportunity to rest, trade materials (which will be super useful for farmers in particular), talk with people, shop, and other things. Make sure you do everything you feel that you need to here, especially talk with people; they’ll impart some knowledge of their own that should be helpful to you.
Hopefully these tips make your journey to Oregon a bit easier. If you read all the way through this, I’ll add the link to the game here again so you don’t need to scroll all the way back up for it. Remember though: Mac and Windows devices.
Let me know how helpful these tips are, as well as any others you can provide. If you disagree with me, tell me what you’d suggest instead. Also, for all the beginning players, share your experiences with me. I’d love to hear your thoughts.