This update of a classic history simulation boasts some new additions to an already excellent educational tool. The Oregon Trail 5th Edition puts children in the role of emigrants on a westward journey in history. Decision-making is the key to success along the trail, and key history facts are learned throughout the adventure.
Through cartoon vignettes and diary entries, children are introduced to the Montgomery children (Cassie, Parker, and Jimmy), who are heading west to join their Pa in Oregon City. Children can jump right into their own journey by selecting "Quick Start", which auto-selects players' traveling companions, supplies, starting point (for example, Independence), destination (for example, Sacramento River Valley), type of wagon train, and more. Alternatively, players can invest some time into creating their own character profile and setting up their wagon party. There are three difficulty levels to choose from -- Greenhorn, the easiest level, assigns the major decisions to a captain, while children take on the captain's responsibilities in the Adventurer level. The most difficult level, Trail Guide, is extremely challenging and best attempted once players have completed their trek on lower levels.
Players refer to a guidebook for helpful advice and their itinerary. They are able to keep their own record of their adventure in the program's diary feature. They can adjust things like their travel pace (either 8, 10, or 12+ hours per day), and rations (bare bones, meager, filling).
Children are faced with assorted challenges in their journey along the trail, including problems like extreme heat, a tipped wagon, and wagon party members falling ill. When Mildred's injuries have become infected, for example, players are given a list of possible courses of action. Should they continue as usual, increase rations, or clean and dress the wound? People they meet along the way give them advice, such as "don't be too hard on your animals" (or else they won't carry you the full distance), and "take small doses of camomile tea". Players engage in hunting, gathering, and fishing simulations along the trail, stop at major landmarks, and encounter various hazards (in the form of bad weather, disease, and other setbacks).
In order to succeed in their journey, players must pay close attention to their wagon party's health status and the supplies they have on hand. Decisions players make almost always involve trade-offs. For example, selecting meager rations means food supplies will last longer, but it can compromise the health and morale of the wagon party. Decisions regarding how to cross rivers and hills will depend on the conditions of these physical obstacles (for example, the steepness of the hill), in addition to players' own budget and schedule. Players automatically stop at these obstacles, as well as at major landmarks. They have the option to stop at towns and forts to purchase more supplies, make trades, or simply to have a look around.
New to this edition is the introduction of the Montgomery family characters. Children watch the children's journey westward unfold through a series of cartoon movies. Journal entries and stories around the campfire are engaging. At the same time, this story line adds richness to the program's educational value and offers children more insight into the challenges that faced real-life people in history.
This program is challenging and engrossing. This is not a typical game in that children will need to be very involved and have persistence in order to make it to the end. Real-life hardships are depicted in the game, and deaths of wagon party members do happen.