Nessie Hunt

Nessie / Nessie Hunt

Author: Lutz Pietschker
Version: 1997

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Nessie Hunt: A Family Boardgame of Research


A Strange Sighting at the Loch

Castle Urquhart On Monday, May 8th, 1933, Alex Campbell went to his work as "water bailie" as usual. Like his father before him, he was in charge to protect the salmon fishing in Loch Ness, to help hatching baby salmon, and to build up the stocks of salmon in Loch Ness and in other places.

On this morning, however, when he was standing on the shore of Loch Ness near the mouth of River Oich, something very unusual happened: The head and back of a huge animal rose out of the dark waters of the loch, just a few meters away from where he stood.

What he saw was a head similar to that of a lizard, but far larger, and mounted on a neck nearly 2 meters long. It swayed from side to side, and behind it was a hump and a body at least 10 meters long. Less than a minute later, the creature vanished again, submerging swiftly. The lake lay quiet again in the bright morning light.

Alex Campbell was by no means the first to see the creature -sightings are documented as far back as 465 A.D.-, but he was the one to provide the name that has been used ever since: The "Loch Ness monster". However, if this seems a bit formal to you, you may as well call her "Nessie", as all her friends do. But... does she really exist?

In this game, it's up to you to prove that she does!

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The Game: Abstract

"Nessie Hunt" is the name of the original Scottish game. The German version is titled "Nessie". The description given here refers to the Scottish version, but the German edition is virtually identical. The Scottish version has been out of print for some time while the German version is still available (as of autumn 1997).

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Game Concepts

Fort Augustus Locks Each player is an expedition leader, trying to collect evidence as fast as possible. He does this by placing observers and sensors on the board. Those sensors are of 6 distinct types (observer, camera, underwater camera, sonar, biological, trap) and each covers a specific area.

Sensors must be paid and maintained, so players have to be careful not to exceed their regular income. The logistics cards are event cards that bring an additional chance factor into the game.

The game is played in stages; all players act in turn in each stage. First, all players roll a die and move their tokens on tracks that are on the mapboard but have no connection to the geography of the Loch. This movement provides the co-ordinates of the sighting location, and some spaces also trigger the draw of an event (logistics) card.

Now players check whether their equipment covers the spot where Nessie appeared. If it does, an appropriate evidence card is drawn. Each of those cards gives a number of evidence points to the player. Evidence points are totalled for each player. Whoever is first to reach 750 points wins by "proving" Nessie's existence (the target of 750 may be modified for a shorter or longer playing time).

In the next stages, income is collected, equipment maintenance is paid and equipment may be placed or removed. In the last stage, players may play "trump" logistics cards that allow them to influence the spotting location in the next round.

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The Game Components

Fort Augustus The map is not exactly realistic because it distorts the contures of Loch Ness. However, it shows the area near Castle Urquhart in sufficient detail, and also some of the surrounding landmarks. I regard it as functional and good quality, perhaps not a masterpiece but nevertheless a very nice "poetic" map with a good graphic design.

The unique parts of the material are the transparencies used to mark the location and covered area of the observers and sensors. These are made of thin, coloured plastic sheets (you have to cut them apart before playing). They allow overlapping sensor areas and still show the map beneath them. When some of them are on the map you get a really nice visual impression of all the efforts to find Nessie, supposedly hiding somewhere out there in the water.
I expect, though, that you will need some time to perfect their usage- I certainly did. The transparencies slide on the map easily, especially if overlapping pieces are placed or removed, and a clumsy hand placing the monster tokens is also in danger to dislocate them. Nice as they look, they make the game board a vulnerable zone in a lively round of players.

The evidence and logistics cards are made of well-cut but unlaminated cardboard (5x8 cm). They show photos of real Loch Ness expeditions and events, and they are one of the most enticing aspects of the game. When you view the photos and read the accompanying explanations you get a pretty good overview of incidents and efforts connected with the search for the Loch Ness monster (the Scottish rules lay some stress on this educational side-effect). Sometimes I take the game from the shelf just to browse through the cards.
I suppose the cards would suffer when used very frequently, but given the average usage of a family boardgame they are functional enough even for a family of dedicated "Nessie Hunt" players.

The rules are written clearly and easy to understand, supported by the step-by-step description of the game. They are about 4 pages A4 size and cover all aspects of the game play; at least we did not stumble upon open questions. The rule set for young children leaves out the economic aspects and makes for a very easy game where children can enjoy the pictures and try to read the explanations.

The pawns or tokens are molded-plastic figures which add to the overall impression that someone took great care with the production of this game, as does the game money which has also been made specifically for the game and which shows landmarks around Loch Ness. (The images introducing the paragraphs are reduced details from the bills.)

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Look and Feel of the Game

Inverness Players must, of course, get as many observers and sensors on the board as possible to have a maximum chance to be on the spot when Nessie appears, and accordingly get evidence cards. However, the limited income and the necessity to maintain existing equipment will not allow them to act as generously as they would like to. Also, each player may not place more than one additional observer or piece of equipment per round.

Accordingly, each player tries to find a balance between cost, income and desired equipment. What he decides to do will, to some extent, also depend on the logistics cards he has available. The play of these cards is the major tactical element in the game, as all other events are mainly determined by chance. In other words, this is not the ideal game for the player who wants to win by shrewd tactical consideration. The spot of appearance, the draw of logistics cards and even the number of evidence points you find on the evidence cards depend on your good luck.

This certainly does not degrade the game's value. It is not meant to compete with chess or arcane conflict simulation games but to provide fun for a very variable number of players of differing age. This it achieves excellently, and it also transports some of the enthusiasm the professional and amateur researchers feel for their quest. In the course of the game we were often more interested to view the photos and read the explanations on the evidence cards than in the evidence points they provided. And considering that: Isn't it really more important that Nessie is found, after all, than who will be the lucky one who did it?

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Keep a Lookout!

Loch Ness Centre Whereas early sightings of the Loch Ness monster were merely eye-witness reports, and often by witnesses of dubious reputation or motivation, modern research employs regular scientific methods and equipment. Basic research showed that in principle the lakes of that region, including Loch Ness, would be able to sustain a population of large reptiles or mammals. Also, it is beyond doubt that even large animals would be hard to find in the dark, deep waters of the loch. The fact that none of them has actually been caught does not mean that they could not be there, after all.

While many of the sightings recorded to this day could be proven to be hoaxes of one kind or another, a considerable number of clues exists that may not easily dismissed. Considerable effort has been employed to search for evidence and to sift every clue that turns up, and if the scientists who do this work have not given up the case as hopeless we should not close it prematurely.

The branch of science that is concerned with the search for unknown and mysterious creatures like Nessie and Bigfoot is called "crypto-zoology". Its express purpose is to separate the hard evidence from mere rambling reports and thus to provide a stable basis for further research. Of course, many of the mysterious reports these scientists collect do not lead to any breakthrough. But occasionally their patient work is rewarded when some species is discovered that was previously, by most people, dismissed as a product of imagination. Perhaps the most famous example are the mountain gorillas that were eventually discovered in the jungles of Africa. Much to their disadvantage, I may add, for in the short span of their proven existence man has managed to bring them close to extinction.

For further reading, here are some web links concerned with crypto-zoology. All of them have numerous links leading to other valuable sites. As starting points for your journey I recommend

To this day it is a question open to debate whether Nessie really exists. But we certainly should keep our eyes open for her!

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, last change 2011-03-12