SummaryA classic of its period and genre.
The GoodOregon Trail (OT) is a classic game. Not just classic in the sense that it is an artifact from a bygone era, but also in the sense that it is well-designed and still fun to play today. The different aspects of OT--the economic, decision-making component; the arcade component; the educational, informational component--are all well-designed and well-integrated. It may not rise to the overall level of quality exemplified by Sid Meier's Pirates!, but it still resembles Pirates! as an extremely impressive hybrid game.
You have important decisions to make from the very start, like: Who do I want to be? Choosing between banker or farmer doesn't just affect your final score. It determines the amount of money you have to spend in the game, and if you're a true gamer, it will also shape your whole mindset for your game. You might even give the other members of your party (wife, children, etc.) names that seem appropriate to your social status. A little role-playing goes a long way, folks!
Once you get out on the Trail, there are all kinds of approaches you can take. Go early and get there late. Leave late and get there early. Pay for tolls, or go it on your own. Buy lots of food and supplies and never stop, or hunt for food constantly along the way. Or just wing it, letting the Trail itself influence your decisions as you make them. For a game with a pretty strict path to follow and one main objective to reach at the end, there are certainly a lot of ways to play it!
The BadThe music/sound of OT is a bit grating as far as I am concerned, even for a game from this time period. Fortunately, it is easily turned off. Also, I feel that the random (mostly bad) events are more annoying than enjoyable. However, I do not know how this game could be as challenging or historical as it is without those random events, so even this criticism is nitpicking.
I loathed the hunting sequences when I first discovered OT in grade school, because they seemed silly and pointless. Revisiting them now, I can see how they add to the game. Hunting provides a little arcade action, and it also drives home the a key historical point: food didn't just magically appear on the frontier. We modern city-slickers take the convenience of grocery-store food on our dinner tables for granted!
The Bottom LineAlong with the Carmen Sandiego series, OT flat-out *made* the edutainment genre. You aren't a true fan of Apple II games, 1980s games, or educational games until you've played Oregon Trail.