Written on residency at Outlandia, Glen Nevis; supported by the Nevis Land Partnership and inspired by the landscape, ecology and walks of the West Highlands.
These games are designed to be read and played by walkers and gamers of any level of experience. They are released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 License, which means you are welcome to copy and adapt them, as long as you give credit and freely share the results. Mods for different biomes and ecosystems are particularly welcome.
Cover image by Lisa Norwood
A map foldable download and limited edition print are available for purchase.
Before you begin your walk, lay out each item you intend to take. Weigh each in your hand. Fully consider what it entails to carry this burden: not just the weight, but the meaning and the memory. By doing so you will be able to care for each weight properly.
When you get home, for each item you still care for and do not wish to destroy utterly, score a point. Spend your points on some good stretches.
Advanced rules: Next time, don’t think about what you’ll take, but just throw in items by instinct and go. Notice the differences; compare your scores.
Did You Know
One player takes the guidebook for the day’s walk; they must not look at other walks, and their opponent must not peak at this one.
Throughout the walk, the Guidebook Keeper can ask “Did you know [this interesting fact about this location]?” The fact may be from the guidebook, or may be completely made up, as long as the balance between fact and fiction is maintained. Their opponent must decide whether each fact is true or false. If the Guesser is correct, they score a point; otherwise, the Keeper scores a point. The Keeper does not reveal the answer, but keeps a mental note of the score.
At the end of the walk, the two players can thus argue about who said what, what was true and what false, what the score should be, and what facts even are. The next walk, they switch roles.
As you pass a hiker or group of hikers, say “Hello”, “Morning”, “Hi-aye”, or some equivalent. Do not be overly demonstrative: merely acknowledge. If someone in the group responds in kind, score a point for each member of the group; if no-one responds, lose a point for each member.
To play competitively, take turns. Any player doubting the responsiveness of an approaching group may pass on their turn, whereupon the other players may bid points for the right to greet: the highest bidder takes the turn, and gains or loses their bid in addition to their score from the number of target hikers, with play resuming in its original order.
Playing over several days, on different grades and in different weathers, is highly recommended.
Advanced rules: Instead of verbally greeting passing hikers, acknowledge them silently and score only if this elicits a verbal response. Yet more advanced rules: Instead of scoring positively when passing hikers respond, score when they do not.
In all rulesets, if any greeting results in an extended conversation, all scores are reset to zero.
With permanent market, draw three even concentric rings on a patch of a exposed skin. The centre scores 20; the middle, 10; the outer, 5. Encourage the midgies to bite there. At the end of the walk, compare your scores. Winner buys a round of Skin So Soft.
It is raining. Collect a pool of water in your hand, in the fold of your jacket, in your hood. Keep it there, and if the sun comes out, protect your water from evaporation. Cherish your water’s movements.
At the end of your walk, measure the volume of your water carefully, if you wish to determine a winner, and then decide where it is needed most.
Pebble, Water, Twig
A game for two players. You will each need a small round stone, a twig recently fallen from a tree, and some water.
Without being seen, you each choose one of these and hide it behind your back. Reveal your choice on the count of three.Water loves pebble, because pebble gifts water expanding rings of shock. Twig loves water, because water carries twig where twig needs to go. Pebble loves twig, because pebble and twig make music together. If you reveal the same choice, tell a new romance.
Play only once.
This game can also be played in a clearing which contains all three as “Boulder, River, Tree”, by running to your choice. Alternatively, it can be played as “Mountain, Ocean, Forest”, if you are a giant.
a game for a break, with hills or mountains on the horizon
The skyline tells the fate of a distant society: a house, a village, a nation, a planet, a galaxy. Climbs mean periods of change, considered by many to be progress, while drops mean famine, war, plague or disaster: gradient determines severity. Plateaus are times of peace and plenty.
Work together to tell the story of the society, changing turns as the angle changes. Be detailed. Create characters, dynasties, lasting currents of social movements, possibilities. When the story is complete, walk on.
If, when you break again, the skyline is still in view, but altered in perspective, revise your history accordingly. What progress was actually a disaster? Which war was misunderstood as peace? And how did the historical evidence mislead you so badly?
Sit very still. With your walking mates, tease apart the different layers of white noise: trees whispering, water rushing, wind beating, helicopter buzzing, road flowing, loggers. Each player picks a sound. The first susurrus to cease wins.
Do not decide to overtake anyone, and do not deliberately accelerate to prevent others from overtaking you. That is, you may in fact overtake someone, but not with undue intention: it can only happen if it just happens. An allowable overtake is only noticed while it is happening at the earliest. Similarly, acceleration can be allowed on the condition that it happens unconsciously. But all competitive behaviours cost a life. You have three lives. Finish alive to win.
At a place on your walk that feels remote, stop. If you can see, hear or smell any obvious signs of civilisation, walk on and try again. When you have found an appropriate spot, ask yourself, or have a walking mate ask you, about the landscape and ecosystem around you. If society were unchanged since the Stone Age, would that tree be there? Would that mountain be bare? Would that river have changed course?
If you find any signs of civilisation, walk on and try again. If you reach a question you can’t answer, research it when you get home and continue another day.
Keep playing until you find such a place, and then work tirelessly to grow it.
Do not include yourself in the questions until it is too late.
Establish a gentle walking rhythm. Without breaking it, kick a small stone ahead of you. Score the number of kicks you make before stumbling or losing the stone. Strive to score higher. When you leave a stone behind, remember to say goodbye.
This game can be played in pairs or teams, taking turns to kick the stone, working together to score a glorious rally.
Competitive play is not recommended.
A round begins when a bird is seen. “Look!” says the first player. “That’s a —–”, making up the name of a fictional bird. The next player continues by inventing a fact about that bird, bur one rooted in a description of its actual features or behaviour. (“Did you know that it eats only buttercups? You can tell by its yellow beak.”) The next player continues in like fashion, until the bird is out of sight, and has been completely described by made up facts.
If any player knows what the bird’s “real” name is, they must never say so on penalty of immediately losing the game.
When the walk is over, the players retell the absurdaburds, writing down their features as best they can remember, and using a guide to identify their authorised name. For each made up feature that is completely inaccurate, the team gains a point; for each made up feature that turns out to be accurate, the team loses a point. Any team which reaches 1000 points wins.
Find a tree. It might be one silver birch among many, or a lone ridge pine: you will know. Place a hand against it.
The tree is thinking of a thing, a thing that will mean something if you can find out what it is. You can ask the tree twenty questions, including guesses, about that thing. Phrase your questions in a way that the tree can answer – trees are very intelligent, so this is not a question of simplicity, but precision – and listen carefully.
Other games which trees may enjoy include I-Spy, Blind Man’s Buff, and Musical Chairs. They do not enjoy Snap. They are exceptionally good at Chess, but are known to take a long time to make each move.
Pick up a piece of litter, and tell the story of how it got there. Each new player begins a new story, and each new piece of litter adds a new moment to its picker’s story.
All the stories must be joyful and fantastical. Thus “This crisp packet was dropped by an eleven foot trash monster striding across the mountains from Stirling to Fort William to meet her lady love” is allowed, but “Two kids got drunk and left a beer can here because they are rude” is not. Storytellers are their own arbiters and should be trusted to decide for themselves what counts.
When a Bruckheap is found – many pieces of litter in the same place – everyone works together to tell how it got there, weaving their stories together. Each piece picked adds a line, and it all happens very fast.
At the end of the walk, each player brings their story to an end, resolving its tensions. The ecosystem wins the game.
Rites and Wrongs
You have killed something. Perhaps you stood on a beetle, or stripped a sorrel stalk, or plucked a leaf without thinking. In any case, decide whether you wish to hide the evidence – no one will know – or perform a funeral ceremony. A burial, a pyre, a scattering, an excarnation? You will never know if you have won.
a game for when you reach the peak
Look around you; count the summits. Each player proposes a name for each summit in view: something descriptive, evocative, accurate.
Later, look up their true names. The player who came the closest most often wins.
Note: due to nationalism, imperialism, settler-colonialism, poor linguistics and misguided geography, many summits will have multiple or hidden names. Use the oldest, as it is likely to be the most accurate: like the peak, it is shaped by time.
For a stranger game and a fuller understanding, guess the heights as well.
Care No More
Find a pebble river beach, high up. Build a small tower of stones – no more than thirty.
In a year, return and measure the height of your tower, but do so without counting the result as either a win or a loss: simply acknowledge the height.
If you wish, you may add another stone, or topple the tower. Play as many years as you care to.
A move comprises placing one foot in front of the other. Allowable moves include but are not limited to: contracting and extending your muscles to manouevre your leg; pausing, taking a breath, and stepping forward, before pausing again; shouting fuck and lurching forward while you are distracted; leaning forward until you fall and step to catch yourself; lying to yourself about how many steps are left; thinking about your breathing and letting your body do the rest; true and false promises; and, as displacement, weeping. You are playing against the gradient, the ground, the weather, your pace and the distance. Reach safety and comfort to win.
a game for your walk’s end
Take a sheet of paper. Write the start of your walk in one corner, and the end in the opposite corner. Now draw a map between the two, staying loyal not to geography but to memory. You might use loops and turns to represent conversations, or thickness of line to represent exhaustion, or any similar device. Along the map, draw symbols of the most significant sights or events: clarity is your aim.
Now remember the last car trip you took that lasted about as long, writing its start and end in the same corners. Draw a new map linking the two, using similar symbology. You might criss-cross your walking route, or you might have a wholly separate line. Don’t forget the memories and experiences. Do the same for the last train trip of similar length, and then the last flight.
Your map is now complete, and you have won.
Take a sheet of tracing paper, and lay it on a high quality map (OS, Harvey, or similar) of the route you have just walked. Trace that route carefully.
When you are next in a city, lay your tracing over its map (one of equivalent scale), aligning grid norths, and placing your starting point over where you are staying. Keeping as close to your first route as possible, plot an urban hike. Now take that walk. Take precisely the same pack with you.
Advanced rules: Note on your first map where you took breaks, where you ate, where you admired the view. Repeat on your second walk.
Expert rules: Note on your first map where you took photographs, and repeat on your second walk. You may, if you wish, develop a scoring system for how closely each photograph matches its mate.
a game to play on the West Highlan Line southbound from Fort William to Glasgow, having just walked the West Highland Way north
To think about how fast the train is and how long you have walked – to look for glimpses of the trail itself, to compare the views, to remember your burning feet, to consider the absurdity of the round trip, to contrast how you felt out there and how you feel in here, to turn on your phone, to burst your blister, to count the miles, to recognise a bridge, to watch a walker, to pity a walker, to envy a walker, to think about your next walk – is to lose.
To not think is to win.