June 26, 2024

Oregon Trail Challenge

Our theme for summer reading is Adventure Begins At Your Library. So most of my programs this summer are adventure-themed. I'm also a sucker for nostalgia so from that arose... the Oregon Trail Challenge for teens. This was a life-size board game with STEM challenges and the opportunity to play solo or in teams.


The best way to plan for an Oregon Trail program is to play the game. I was happy to discover a few online versions to play through. This one worked really well, there are ads on the side panel.

I decided to go with a mixture of stations and linear game progression. For randomness over skill, I incorporated dice to decide outcomes. This made things fun.

All of my graphics I put together in Canva. The file is here. To make edits, click "Make Copy" to save your own copy and edit however you like. It's free :) Instructions are included in the file, along with all the landmark screenshots, play money, calamity cards, and food rations. Each location on the wall was also numbered. There are some cool pixel numbers in the file too.

For the landmarks and destinations along the trail in the game, I put screenshots on the wall around the room like this:

If the location was also a river, I made a little fact sheet for each:
I printed several sheets of play money and made sure there was enough for 20 players to have $200 each.

I created 4 stations in total.

The River Crossing Challenge Station 

This was a bit of a STEM challenge. The players had to build a wagon that would float, similar to rafting a wagon across the river as they did in the game. Most players went with the challenge rather than risking rolling and owing money. For different rivers with different depths, I adjusted the odds. For instance, one river was only 2 feet deep, so the player would need to roll a 2 or greater to be successful. This made it enticing for players to try fording over floating.

Fort Station

The Fort Station had snacks and was also the trading post. I put up trading post price lists and kept the banker's money here as well. When players make it to a fort on the trail, they can visit the fort station and have a snack or buy more goods. Trying to keep it similar to the game.

Hunting Station

The hunting station was an absolute hit. I printed off a few pixelated animals with a bullseye. Players got to shoot a Nerf gun a few times to try to add rations to their supplies. I didn't make food rations a very heavy component in my game version, but they do play a role. This could be tweaked a bit. The teens absolutely loved hunting. At any point in the game, they could stop and hunt to replenish their food rations. 

Wagon Packing Station

The final station I had was the wagon packing station. This is where all players begin their game. They were given paper, scissors, and glue and were to build a wagon with those supplies. Then they were to put weight into the wagon. We used Legos because they were on hand for the river crossing station. You could also use pebbles or pennies. The teens tried to see how much their wagon could hold and compared it to other players.


To play the game, each teen began at the Wagon Packing Station to get their wagon ready for their journey. Then they visited the Fort Station to purchase supplies from the Trading Post. Each teen was given $200 and advised to have at least 2 oxen, but the rest of the decisions were up to them. Then they filled out their supply sheet and took that and dice with them for their journey.

The teens rotated around the room from stop to stop and followed the instructions on the landmark card. If their roll was unsuccessful, they had to draw a Calamity Card which would let them know their fate. Only two teens ended up suffering from a poisonous snake bite and dying. Most lucked out with only things like broken wheels. 

Thoughts for next time

Next time I'd like to work on the days passed system. Even if there is just a leaderboard created to see which players took the least/most amount of days to finish the trail. Also, I'd like to fix some work on calamity and landmark cards so that it's consistent.

I didn't expect many teens to come to this event. In a last-minute decision, I'd switched the program from an adult program to a teen program and then regretted it for months, waiting for the day to come. I was pleasantly surprised. Especially when two teens approached me after the program and said "I wasn't sure this was going to be fun but this was so great, you got us thinking and it was so fun!" Made. My. Day.

Let me know in the comments if you've ever done an Oregon Trail program and how you did it. I'd love more ideas for next time!

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