Africa Trail is an Edutainment Game, a spinoff of The Oregon Trail, developed by MECC in 1995 for Mac and PC. The game is Very Loosely Based on a True Story in that it was inspired by Dan Buettner's AfricaTrek, a bicycle journey from the northernmost to the southernmost points of Africa. (MECC also produced MayaQuest, inspired by Buettner's bicycle trip through the former Mayan Empire in Mexico and Guatemala, the same year.)
Like all Trail games, the objective is to reach your destination and carefully manage your resources while doing so. The "full" game is a journey from Bizerte, Tunisia to Cape Agulhas, South Africa, but you can choose to travel only partway across the continent, jumping off in Lagos, Nigeria or Nairobi, Kenya, and traveling only as far as Lagos (from Bizerte) or Nairobi (from Bizerte or Lagos) instead of going all the way to Agulhas. In this way the journey is divided into the three "legs" of Bizerte-Lagos, Lagos-Nairobi, Nairobi-Agulhas, with the direction of travel in each leg being southwest, southeast, and southwest, respectively. Although the game allows sojourns and detours, you must follow one specific route to your destination and cannot travel through countries not on your itinerary (though you can buy visas for them, which is a waste of money). Therefore large portions of Africa are not visited on your journey.
There's no formal deadline, though the game advises you to travel each leg of the trip in 90 days or less, making the entire trek take no more than 270 days (doing this would beat the Real Life AfricaTrek record of 272 days). You are allowed to take three out of six possible companions with you on your journey, one of whom is Buettner himself (the other five candidates appear to be fictional characters); all of them have separate skillsets, some of which you might find useful on your journey (one is a doctor, good to have in a continent lousing with deadly and dangerous diseases; another is a bicycle mechanic, good to have when constant use and rough terrain makes bike maintenance a priority). Should you fail to reach your destination, the game ends when you run out of money (you get a flat $10,000 for each leg of your journey; unlike in other Trail games, there is no way to sell or barter goods for additional money) or when your character falls ill (as the game is set in the modern day, he or she is merely airlifted out of Africa and presumably survives, rather than succumbing to his or her injuries or maladies).
The game provides lots of photographs and drawings of African people, buildings, artworks, flora, and fauna, and describes the sociopolitical situations of each country it travels through in considerable detail, providing an interesting snapshot of Africa in the mid '90s. At this point, decades removed from the game's release, it's best appreciated as an educational tool for learning about African history as opposed to what life is like there in the present.
Your itinerary takes you through the following countries, circa 1995:
- Tunisia (starting at Bizerte, the city closest to the northernmost point on the African continent)
- Nigeria (site of Lagos, the game's first checkpoint)
- Central African Republic
- Kenya (site of Nairobi, the game's second checkpoint)
- South Africa (ending at Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point on the African continent)
Africa Trail contains examples of the following tropes:
- Absurdly Short Level:
- Tunisia, the very first country you visit. It seldom takes more than one day to reach the Algerian border. Lampshaded by your teammates in Tabarka, the last town before the border.
- Mozambique, because you're traveling along the "Tete Run", the road that marks the shortest distance between neighboring Malawi and Zimbabwe (a road frequently taken by gun-runners during the recently-ended civil war). Better hope you have the visas to get into Zimbabwe, though, because otherwise it's a lot of backtracking...
- Cash Gate: The border guards will stop you at every country you try to enter unless you've purchased the necessary visas. A couple of them will sell visas to enter the country at the border, but for most of them you'll have to backtrack. Most capital cities sell visas to many of the neighboring countries, which is why you can often visit a country's capital even if it's on a detour off the main route.note
- Gratuitous Foreign Language: Many of the locals speak their native language, without translation (unless you bring along the language expert). This is most prominent in North Africa (Arabic), East Africa (Swahili), and South Africa (Afrikaans). French, a language widely spoken in Central Africa, is also seen, but it's played more like typical Gratuitous French, with one or two words peppering an otherwise entirely English-language conversation.
- Joke Item: Visas to any country you won't be visiting on your itinerary are completely useless - they could be considered red herrings, but if you check the map your route is laid out for you and there's no mistaking which countries you won't be entering.
- Marathon Level:
- Algeria, only the second country you visit, will take you several weeks to traverse, easily the longest travel time for any country in the game. It takes so long to get through Algeria the game even allows you to buy visas to get into Niger at Tamanrasset (the only place other than a capital or a border where you can buy visas), rather than force you to backtrack all the way back to Algiers.
- Zaire doesn't take as long to bike through but you'll have to stop frequently because the only food available for long stretches are low-nutrition options which are consumed quickly and need to be replaced.
- Please Select New City Name: Mentioned several times, particularly in Zaire (formerly Congo) - this being just a couple years before the name was changed back - and Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia).
- Random Event: Bike parts breaking is common, and so are random injuries besetting you or your teammates. There are two types of injury: minor ones which recover on their own after a few days (with maybe a day's rest) or "walking ghost" type injuries which just get worse over several days before the afflicted rider has to be sent home. If that rider is you, the game is over.
- Stay on the Path: Although the game does allow detours which lets you skip a few stops along the main route of your journey, diverging from said route is nearly always a time-waster with little material gain:
- Starting from Bizerte, you can go west towards the Algerian border or east to Tunis, both to take in the local culture and possibly to pick up visas. Don't fall for it; the game punishes you by making the journey take several days (by having the road to Tunis be a rough dirt road - unlikely in reality considering it's the capital of Tunisia and the rest of the country's roads are paved and modern) and the only visa you need (Nigeria) can be purchased at Algiers (along with several others), which is directly along your route.
- Past Tamanransset in southern Algeria, you have three options: the road to Mali, the "desert road to Niger", and a direct route south to an old French fortress, clearly labeled on the map. Although all three routes are slow-going, the first two lead nowhere and will lead to a premature game over. (You can't even get into Mali.)
- Wretched Hive: Several of the countries you travel through are deeply corrupt and run by strongmen whose soldiers harass you - others have lawless areas where rebels and civil wars are ongoing. 1995 just happened to be one of the few relatively calm years during a very tumultuous decade and so fortunately you largely avoid any serious trouble.