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Kids' Software

Life on the Trail and in the Money

"Oregon Trail" and "Monopoly Tycoon," two excellent simulations, teach kids about migration and business decision-making.

November 22, 2001|JINNY GUDMUNDSEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Simulations are terrific for educating kids. By creating complex environments, simulations let kids learn by doing. Two new titles, "Oregon Trail 5th Edition: Adventures Along the Oregon Trail" and "Monopoly Tycoon," show how good a good simulation can be.

"The Oregon Trail 5th Edition: Adventures Along the Oregon Trail": Become a pioneer, join a wagon train and head west on the Oregon Trail to make a fortune. Kids do that and more in this fifth installment of the classic "Oregon Trail" series.

As in previous versions, players take charge of decisions on the trail.

Players who want to jump right into the action can select the "Quick Start" option, in which initial decisions including supplies, traveling companions and route are predetermined. Those wanting a more hands-on approach can make all their own decisions.

Throughout the trip, players must track details such as health, food supply and consumption and financial resources. If someone in the party comes down with cholera, players must decide whether to rest and for how long. Rivers have to be forded, berries gathered, deer and buffalo hunted and fish caught.

New to this version is the addition of a separate story line focusing on the Montgomerys--three children traveling the Oregon Trail to meet their father. The player's experience mingles with animated movies of the Montgomery kids.

Everyday decisions made by players greatly affect the success of their trip. Advice is plentiful in the form of people to talk with and on-screen resources such as "Oregon Trail Guidebook" and the Montgomerys' journal.

The learning engine behind this program is set up to let kids learn by doing. Kid testers figured out they needed to caulk their wagons before trying to ford a river.

This is a fabulous way to let history come alive for children.

"Monopoly Tycoon": Many children grow up playing the board game Monopoly. In this new simulation, the game board is blown up to become a virtual city grid on which a complex economic simulation is built. As players vie for ownership of city blocks from Baltic to Broadway avenues, they go head to head against as many as five other players to attain the most property and wealth.

This simulation shares some of the objectives found in the original board game. Players acquire land, build businesses and utilities on the land, collect rents, manage their money and even pick up an occasional Chance card. But "Monopoly Tycoon" adds a new level of business decision-making, including what kind of retail and residential buildings to construct. Once players build, they have to manage rents, prices and inventories.

Twelve great tutorials and single-player scenarios teach the intricacies of the game. There are research and analysis options. The program also offers real-time multi-player options over the Internet.

With three levels of difficulty, "Monopoly Tycoon" provides a lot of play value. The higher the difficulty, the more artificial intelligence opponents have and the less money players start with. With this leveling, children as young as 12 can jump in on the easiest levels. Players seeking more sophisticated economic challenges can play on the higher difficulty levels.

Kid testers loved this game. The tutorials and scenarios enabled them to become comfortable with the program quickly. Some would have liked being able to play with another player on the same computer. But this is not a turn-based game--it plays in real time.

Jinny Gudmundsen is editor of Choosing Children's Software magazine. She can be reached at jinny@choosingchildrenssoftware.com.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Skinny "The Oregon Trail 5th Edition: Adventures Along the Oregon Trail"

* Price: $25

* Ages: 9 and older

* Platform: PC/Mac

* System requirements: On the PC, a Pentium 166 with 32 MB of RAM and 100 MB of available hard disk space. On the Mac, a PowerPC 180 with 32 MB of RAM and 100 MB of available hard disk space.

* Publisher: Learning Co.

* The good: Puts kids in the decision-making seat

* The bad: Nothing

* Bottom line: A wonderful migration simulation

"Monopoly Tycoon"

* Price: $40

* Ages: 12 and older

* Platform: PC

* System requirements: A Pentium 233 with 64 MB of RAM and 90 MB of available hard disk space

* Publisher: Infogrames

* The good: Progressive scenarios

* The bad: Only one player at a time

* Bottom line: Great fun

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