Source of the Nile - Game of African Exploration in the 19th Century

Source of the Nile

Game of African Exploration in the 19th Century

Avalon Hill - 1980
(Based on an earlier game by Discovery Games)
1 - 6 Players


In Source of the Nile the players are explorers in the 19th century exploring the interior of Africa. Each player starts by determining what type of explorer they will be. There are 8 types; Botanist, Doctor, Ethnologist, Explorer, Geologist, Journalist, Missionary and Zoologist. The various occupations have an effect on play and influence the discoveries that are made and the outcome of some special events.

They players now receive $1000 with which to outfit their expeditions. They can hire Bearers, Guides or Askari (essentially mercenaries) or purchase animals, canoes, rations, gifts, water or muskets. Once they are finished they place their expedition markers at one of the port cities on the map.

At the start of the game only the edges of the map are filled in. The players fill in the rest of the map as they explore. Each time a player moves their expedition into a blank space they draw a card to determine what the terrain in that space is. The terrain is then drawn in using an erasable crayon. The player also draws cards and rolls dice to determine if any special events or disasters occur, if they have encountered native tribes or if they have made any major new discoveries. As an example from one card:

Disaster: An Askari falls into the River and drowns
Map: Terrain; 4,2 Mountain, River; Forks, Cataract if in mountain - Oasis if in desert
Spectacular Discovery: Waterfall 53 ft; Lake +92 square miles
Discover Natives if hex contains River or Oasis
Bonus: Geologist - Discover unusual geological formation if in Mountain Zoologist - Discover royal antelope if in Jungle

As you can see, the discoveries made vary depending on the terrain and the die roll. (For example, the Askari will not drown if the expedition is not in a square with a river.)

The rules for running the expedition are quite complex and include interacting, trading or fighting with native tribes, getting lost, hunting for food, dealing with sickness and making bonus discoveries (such as King Solomon's Mines and the eponymous Source of the Nile). When the expedition returns they can sell their discoveries or receive new donations to outfit a new expedition and return. The game proceeds until either a pre-selected number of turns have been made or when the entire map of Africa has been filled in. At that point, the player with the highest score is the winner.


This is a very interesting game. It can easily be played solo or by several players as a cooperative venture. The exploration motif is very well done and discovering new things is actually more fun than trying to defeat the other players. Many times I have played it doesn't seem to matter so much who wins as was what was discovered. I think this is the mark of a good game.

On the down side the components of the game are rather plain and I really don't like using the erasable crayons on the map board. (A better solution I think would have been to use a plastic map and dry-erase or washable markers.)

Despite this drawback the flavor of the game is very good and it plays very well.

7 comments on Source of the Nile:

DaveM at December 19, 2013 22:08 said:
I can't tell you how many times I played this one. I did not have access to other players and had to do mostly solo play. This one was very well suited for solitary play. I particularly liked the random component. I never knew what was going to be in the next hex.
beth at July 20, 2013 10:54 said:
My son has a game he would sell if anyone is interested.
kathryn at October 18, 2012 18:35 said:
is there anywhere i can buy this game
Gary Williams at March 20, 2010 23:57 said:
I have often thought SotN would be an ideal game for computerization, partly to take care of the bookkeeping, but mostly because erasing the map would no longer be a problem.
FrankLJ at March 16, 2009 23:14 said:
Where can I get the 25th anniversary edition?

What do you think of the expanded fantasy supplement for sotN at

Thanks for designing a terrific game!
A fan at August 15, 2008 12:18 said:
David: Thanks for your post, and for the great game. This is a classic!
David Wesely at March 29, 2008 11:23 said:
The plastic mapboard suitable for dry erase markers was considered back when we designed the game in '71-77, but it would have increased the game price to about $25 per copy, when almost all games were selling for under $10. (If that sounds really cheap, consider that gas was $0.36/gallon in 1976 and I was living on about $12000 per year).
We were a tiny start-up company and could only make a production run of 2000 copies, so unit costs were a big problem. Actually, we did a classier job at Discovery Games than Avalon Hill did later. We printed the map on "texoprint" which allowed ordinary crayons to be easily erased; AH insisted on printing the map on the same paper they used for all their other games, and then had to find strange crayons that would write on it and still be kind of erasable. Of course, they were a big company with big print runs. There was a lot of bitching on the AH staff about SotN being impossible to produce, largely because it was not ;like all their other games.
Meanwhile Mayfair was producing really nice erasable crayon games in the "Empire Builder" series. AH did make some worthwhile improvements to the game, but mostly they just proposed all the bad ideas we had eliminated during our seven years of development, like a preprinted map of Africe with blank counters hiding unexplored hexes...which are the same in every game!
The rights reverted to us when AH stopped selling SotN and we ran off a 25th anniversary edition in 2003 (a very small print run that used up the last of the game componants left from the second Discovery Gmes printing in 1979).
We have had 30 years to figure out how we would improve the game if we ever reprinted it, but being a one-game company is a sure way to lose money, even if the critics love your game, so that will probably never happen.

Comments are disabled while we deal with some database issues. We apologize for the inconvenience