This weekend I had the chance to sit down with my six and nine year old daughters and play through a few games of Rio Grande Games’ Loch Ness.
In Loch Ness the players take the roll of one of five photographers working to obtain pictures of old Nessie. There’s a bit of luck and a bit of skill mixed in to allow players to grab their photographic evidence and ratchet up their score before Nessie sinks once again into the depths of the Loch. With quick game play and several variants of play included in the rules Loch Ness has a good replay value although it may grow slightly tedious for adults. Kids on the other hand, at least my kids, love it.
From the Rio Grande Games site:
For decades reporters from the around the world have been on the hunt for the Loch Ness monster. But lately reports of sightings of Nessie have been increasing. Such reports naturally have drawn such reporters as the attractive Belinda Viewing from New York, the half-Belgian Claude McMirror, the clever Filosa Sharp, as well as her Londoner competitor Jack Nesstee, and even Nils the Blitzen from Denmark to the Loch. Equipped with the most modern equipment and techniques, these daring reporters have traveled to Scotland, in order to capture the elusive Nessie on film for their newspapers.
But the 5 will experience some surprises…
Opening the box
Anyone familiar with Rio Grande Games will know that many of their games come loaded with wooden meeples, cardboard punch sheets, interesting game boards and lots of cards. Loch Ness is very much like these games, but scaled down a bit. The box itself is very well designed and allows for easy storage of all the parts. There is a selection of colored wooden meeples and cards, but this game is decidedly lacking in cardboard punch-out pieces, which for a game suitable for kids is a wise choice.
The board itself is well constructed, with eye-catching artwork. The layout is done very well and while the game is rated ages 8+, my 6 year old was easily able to grasp the basic concepts and play competitively, if not always logically. The mechanics, while not terribly complex, do allow for a bit of strategic thinking and educated guesswork with some randomness built in but also mechanics which can allow for more strategy based game play if used correctly.
There are two decks of cards – one representing photographic evidence of Nessie and the other representing the movement points available to all players (used to move Nessie) as well as a common pool of moves. Each player also has two colored meeples for themselves. There’s a larger, black meeple to represent the player who will take action first in the current round, and two Nessie meeples.
Rules, game play and scoring
The rules are straightforward. Each player has (in the base game) three cameras, worth 3, 4 and 7 points. At the start of the first round Nessie is placed on any of the water spaces on the board. Players then draw a movement card from their deck each of which will cause Nessie to move between 1 and 5 spaces. After these movement cards are drawn each player then begins selecting spaces for their cameras. The first player for this round puts down one of their three cameras and placement goes around the game table in order until all cameras are placed. Once all of the cameras are placed the move cards are revealed. Nessie then moves a number of spaces equal to the total of all players move cards. In our three player game it’s not uncommon to reveal a 1 move card, a 3 move card and a 5 move card, for a total of 9.
Nessie would then move 9 spaces around the board and also gain 9 points on the score tracker which travels around the outside of the game board. In the image above you can see several spots where players can place their round wooden camera tokens (worth 3,4 and 7 points). Players are only allowed to place these tokens in the two spots closest to the loch – the third spot is reserved for a special circumstance we’ll get in to in just a bit.
Depending on where Nessie lands players score points with their cameras if they can see Nessie and are able to obtain actual photographs of the lake monster if they’re adjacent to the large Nessie meeple. If their camera worth 3 points is the one which scores they receive 3 points and their meeple progresses around the outside score track. If you’re lucky enough to acquire a photo you get to choose from one of three bits of photographic evidence (or try your luck randomly drawing one from the deck). Each photograph is worth an extra point at the end of the game. Or assemble two in a series for 5 points at the end game. If you have all three of the series, score 10 points at the end of the game.
In the first turn of the game, it’s simple movement and camera token placement. Starting with the second turn however, progressing through to the end of the game, you can place your second meeple on one of six (or seven, depending on what variant you’re playing) spaces which give you a special action for that turn. Now, being the player to go first each round has an added significance. Rather than just placing your camera token first, you get to decide which extra action you’ll have for the round. Only one action per person, and only one person per action. The actions are:
- Bagpipes: +1 move for Nessie, if it would move the creature to a space to benefit you.
- Pub: Get an extra camera, worth 5 points.
- Photoshop: Your 3 point camera is now worth 9 points for this turn.
- Castle: Move one of your cameras after all cameras have been placed, and may take the back row.
- Distillery: Use the “neutral” move deck rather than your own for a turn. Moves include a 0 and 7, in addition to the standard 1-5 move cards.
- Church: You may look at on of the player’s face down move cards before you place your cameras.
- Hotel: Take all of your move cards back into your hand immediately.
As the game progresses, Nessie moves around the score board. The turn that Nessie moves past 65 on the scoreboard signifies the end of the game. At that point, each player adds their cards to their total score and the player with the highest score wins.
There are several game variants included in the rules to change up your game play a bit. We didn’t delve into these however and I won’t be covering them in this review. You can look at them right now if you’d like – Rio Grande Games have thoughtfully published the rule book online as a PDF.
The bottom line
My play test group for this game consisted of my wife, my 9 year old daughter, my 6 year old daughter and myself. Also in attendance were several cats, but they had no opinions on game play, preferring instead to bat around and then attempt to eat one of the meeples.
The bottom line is that this game is a great game for the family. My wife and I found this a welcome relief from endless requests to play Sorry or Pet Shop Monopoly, two games I’ve come to dread. My 6 year old immediately fell in love with the game. She’s not old enough to really grasp the strategy behind figuring out where Nessie will most likely end up, but she’s got an uncanny sense of movement and ends up scoring points more often than not.
My 9 year old initially did not enjoy this game. I attribute this to two factors. First, she was losing, a condition she doesn’t like. Second, I sat down with the kids to figure this game out and me reading the rules is a process she finds thoroughly boring. On our second play, she opted to do something else, but was soon back at the table offering advice and generally wishing she had taken part. In the end she did tell me she enjoyed the game and is more than willing to play again.
My wife who is not a hard core gamer like myself also found this game enjoyable. Its quick play, neat game pieces and relatively simple game play make it an attractive choice for family game night for all of us.
If you have kids who enjoy games, or are looking for a quick to play Euro-style game, I’d recommend giving Loch Ness a look. It’s a fun game that can be played quickly and offers all of the satisfaction of a fully featured board game without the frustrations that come with complex play and lengthy rules. The game is well made, the box (as with all Rio Grande Games I’ve encountered) is nifty and compartmentalized for easy storage and the artwork is friendly and attractive. I say, have at it!