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The Oregon Trail

Strong pioneer-simulation game with secondary emphasis on history

Learning rating

Community rating

Based on 5 reviews

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Expert evaluation by Common Sense



Subjects & Skills

Character & SEL, Critical Thinking, Social Studies

Price: Paid
Platforms: Android

Pros: Kids actively participate in historical events and create meaningful connections by making choices that affect their pioneer family's fate.

Cons: Mini-games stray from learning objectives, even though some historical facts are layered on top.

Bottom Line: Classic westward expansion game just as fun as ever, but would benefit from some diverse updates.

While the game is fun for all ages, the learning content and app's design is a good fit for kids in late elementary through middle school. If teachers choose to have kids play The Oregon Trail as part of a unit of study, they might ask kids to note historical figures or U.S. landmarks they encounter along the trail and follow up gameplay with a research project. To help kids develop a broader understanding of this time in history, you could have kids create a fictional journal from an alternate point of view not presented in the app, such as a Native American, an African American, or a female pioneer.

The Oregon Trail is a mobile version of the classic historical simulation game originally designed for PC. Kids play the part of a male pioneer emigrating west with his family by covered wagon. Along the journey, kids navigate the wagon through rocky terrain and across rivers, care for family members, hunt for food, and keep track of supplies. They make choices along the way and witness the consequences of their decisions.

Kids lead their family westward across the American frontier by tapping the screen to make choices about the journey. Text tips and hints help kids make informed decisions and prepare for unexpected events such as a sick family member or a broken wagon. They'll make decisions about purchasing provisions, how fast to travel, when to take a rest, and which routes to take. A set of mini-games breaks up the somewhat repetitive gameplay with fairly easy challenges to increase food or supplies. With each game transition, kids meet various historical figures and can read interesting facts about life on the wagon trail. In recent updates, The Oregon Trail has added a number of social gaming features and in-app purchases to speed up gameplay. For use in school, the mobile version of the game should be played offline.

As kids lead their wife and children cross-country, they get many chances to build decision-making and problem-solving skills. For example, at a river crossing, a text-bubble pops up telling kids the river is 5 feet deep and calm, and presents options for crossing: ford it, float across, or hire some help. If the water is too deep or isn't calm, they risk losing supplies or even the drowning of a child. If kids make a poor decision, they can apply what they learn at the next crossing.

In addition to developing these important skills, peppered throughout the experience are historical tidbits and cameo appearances by famous figures in U.S. history. Kids meet personalities such as Samuel Morse and Sitting Bull, though information about them is limited. Unfortunately, the game offers no alternative to the white male experience. A more diverse perspective on this period of U.S. history would be a welcome update. Though kids can make meaningful connections to historical events through gameplay, The Oregon Trail is probably best as a supplement to broader instruction and guided exploration of this period in U.S. history.

Learning Rating

Overall Rating

Kid-friendly and fun design makes for long-lasting gameplay.


Role-play actively engages kid and adaptive gameplay shows them the consequences of their choices. Some of the learning is layered on top, and game lacks a diversity of perspectives on historical events.


Tips and guidance are all in text, making gameplay less accessible to some kids. Teachers can use official game website for ideas on connecting gameplay to curriculum goals; in-app teacher tools would be a helpful addition.

Common Sense reviewer
Erin Wilkey O.
Erin Wilkey O. Content Director, Family & Community Engagement

Community Rating

This game maybe the reason I became a social studies teacher!

This is a tool around which I would plan an entire unit, but it is a great tool to engage students around specific aspects of America's settlement of the West. It is geared toward younger students, but it might be neat to see a version for older students that incorporates more of Howard Zinn's social history.

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