Count the Gravestones

Here Lies poop head

The group is not happy. Rations are low. Oxen are dying. The ammunition is buried into the trunks of nearby trees, while the still-alive rabbits and deer prance mockingly by. Buck Lawley has a broken arm. Clementine Perkins has dysentery. We attempt to ford a river and watch as our extra wagon parts float away. As we make it over the river, we see a gravestone half-buried into the riverbank and walk over to pay our respects. In large, pixilated, letters, it reads: “Here Lies you suck.” Clever.

Such was almost always my experience playing The Oregon Trail. I’d slide that 5.5” floppy disc into the slot, push down the plastic disc release until it clicked, and lean back into the blue plastic chairs in my middle school computer room. I’d pick a profession, name everyone after friends and family members, buy all the ammo I could carry, and head out. And I’d never make it far.

If the gravestones along the trail were any indication, neither did anyone else. I came to see them as benchmarks of my accomplishment; each one I passed proof that I had made it farther than some other lowly student whose group had all died and somehow had both buried themselves, and carved their own gravestones. The miles travelled, at the bottom of the screen, would tick slowly upwards; a numeric measure of success. Quantitative victory.

The Oregon Trail was one of my first exposures to the fundamental literary plot of the journey. The trek. The travel story. One or more people set on an impossible task, usually requiring leaving from point A in an attempt to reach points, both literally and alphabetically, farther away.

Since childhood, these stories have been some of my favorite fictional and non-fictional material. Frodo and Sam hoofing it on foot to Mordor. The climbers on Everest in 1996, braving storms and low oxygen. Roosevelt “collecting” animals in his trek down the Nile. Otto Liedenbrock traveling to the center of the Earth, and Phileas Fogg circumnavigating the globe. And, yes, MECC’s classic computer game: The Oregon Trail.

In an attempt to create Christmas gifts again this year, I decided to try and create another push-your-luck dice game. I, yet again, fell victim to the false economy of homemade gifts; I’ve spent more money creating this game than I ever would have had I purchased doodads from a mall. I didn’t specifically have The Oregon Trail in mind while designing the game, but I did have the idea that it would be a group of people working arduously towards some goal.

The final product would be gifts for those unaccustomed to gaming, so I tried to keep it simple and short. I decided that I would do two things differently from the last game. One, I would have a professional printer create the rulebooks so they looked…professional. Two, and most importantly, I’d make it look good.

And in this context, “I” means absolutely not me in any way. Due to the void in my brain where artistic ability normally resides, I instead brought on Caroline Dougherty, of, to be in charge of illustration and layout. She created a beautiful board on which to play, and an amazing piece of cover art for the rule book she designed. The final product would not have been half the game it is without her involvement.

Although it can be played by up to four players, the game plays more like a solitaire game, and may work best that way. It’s difficult, fairly random, and sometimes brutally unfair. It’s free to download, so have at it. Don’t forget to count the gravestones on your way.


Posted by Jack on Wed, 14 Dec 2011
tags: boardgame , corvid .