So. You went and did it. You ignored my review of The Oregon Trail Card Game (or more likely didn’t know it existed) and shelled out your hard earned cash for this card game. That’s thirteen bucks that could have been used on more worthwhile pursuits: lighting it on fire and keeping your toes warm, folding the bills into mini paper airplanes, or buying thirteen dollars worth of grass seed, planting it, and watching it grow. You did it, and now you have to live with it: sitting on your game shelf or burning in your garbage can, you have to live with that game. No amount of grass watching will erase that. But does that mean that you have to live with a terrible game? Well, yes unfortunately. But what you can do, with some simple modifications, is live with a better game than you purchased. Here’s how.
Two of the biggest problems with this game were it’s so called “2-6” player count and the fact that most of those players will be eliminated during the game and be forced to sit on the sidelines watching the rest of their friends suffer. These can both be solved by simultaneously lowering the number of players, while always maintaining a player count of six. Have I lost you yet? What I mean is that your party should always begin with six names written on the game’s included dry erase board. This ensures that the four auto-kill cards won’t wipe your party, as well as increase the stock of available Supply Cards to deal with the other Calamities. This may force two or more players to take on multiple roles, which is great for when one of your characters is killed by Dysentery: you still have one more to play. It isn’t a perfect solution, but it helps. For the record, I don’t recommend actually playing with six people, because one will end up getting killed by Dysentery early on and just sit there. So I recommend two, three, at the most four players, each taking multiple characters. Even playing solo, controlling all six characters, would work.
Another huge problem is a weird card balancing issue.
There are some cards that have one use and one use only, other than serving as trade fodder for when you need more Medicine. Bullets are only used on the Hunt Calamity (which is not actually a Calamity) but basically you trade a Bullets Card for a Food Card. Might be useful to have more food, yeah? Unfortunately, those Food Cards are only useful against the Starvation Calamity (which is definitely a Calamity). However, it is odd to me that these Supplies only have that one use. This leads to you having no reason to deliberate on those Calamities. Do I use this Bullet that I have on the Hunt Calamity, or should I save it for… the other Hunt Calamity? What I recommend is assigning alternate uses for the Supply Cards. For instance, there is a Thief Calamity that steals a Supply Card from the person who drew it. Why not add an option that someone in the party can discard a Bullet card? Sure, it might seem like the same thing, either the Thief takes a Supply Card, or you waste a Supply Card to keep him from taking one, but what if the person the Thief is targeting is the only one with Medicine left, and you need that to cure your Measles? See? Choices. It gives the game more legs. Or perhaps for the broken arm, you can discard a Clothes Card to make a sling. I don’t know, it’s kind of grasping at straws, but otherwise those cards don’t serve much of a purpose.
One of the oddest oversights I found was what I call the Impotent Typhoid. Here’s a mechanic that is actually really neat: you draw a disease card, ex: Typhoid, and if that card is drawn again and you haven’t been cured, you die. It presents the dilemma of “Do I cure this now or do I wait in order to do something else, but risk that other Typhoid card being drawn?” That’s a really interesting way to develop tension. Kudos. But let’s say that first Typhoid is cured. There’s a second Typhoid card in the deck somewhere, and when you draw you must cure it before the… nonexistent third Typhoid card is drawn. There are only two Typhoid cards in the deck. Therefore, if someone draws the second Typhoid, they can safely make their way to Oregon without curing the disease. The tension and danger is completely gone. My rule says that whenever the second card of a disease is drawn, the first card, after being resolved if necessary, gets shuffled back into the Calamity deck. This ensures that there is always the lurking danger of dying from that disease.
The last grievances I sought to bury like so many of my digital pioneers along the Oregon Trail were those painful and unnecessary Instant-Kill cards, the two Dysentery cards and the two Snake Bite cards. I get what they were trying to do with these cards. The most famous way to die in the original computer game was by Dysentery. They wanted that to be a memorable and dreadful experience; they wanted it to be the boogeyman of the game, everyone hoping that someone else would draw it. The only problem with making it unavoidable is that it offers no tension, no excitement, only pain and frustration. So, in order to keep the spirit of Dysentery as an unstoppable monster while still making it fun and avoidable, I modified it that, whenever Dysentery was drawn, you had to IMMEDIATELY discard a Food and a Clean Water card, to simulate the patient staving off death by dehydration. I went with this option instead of the Draw Two = Death like the other diseases because I wanted Dysentery to stand out and still be a formidable, terrifying draw, but I also wanted it to be avoidable through planning and good resource management. Likewise, the Snake Bite Card can be negated by the Bullets Card, giving you simple yet impactful choices.
A few ideas that I haven’t had time yet to integrate are rotating Trader cards, which dictate an economic trading system instead of the Trade Two Cards For One system the game currently has, as well as a competitive version in which each player has a six team wagon and they compete to see how far they can make it down the trail.
So there you have it: how to make the best of a bad situation. It may not make the game great, I’m not Uwe Rosenberg, but it will at least make it a playable game with more choices. And that’s really what this game was missing: the whole… game part.
Thank you for reading 2 To 4 Players guide to home-ruling your copy of Ox Crap The Oregon Trail Card Game. If you want to know other ways to make roses of poop, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and make sure to check back for the latest news, reviews, and other gaming related content. Remember: Don’t Stop Playing.