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Scared Witness: Play Folk #8

Myles Nye


The first time I watched 8 of my friends venture off into the woods, the darkness swallowing them up as they walked away from the streetlamp by the flagpole that was the only source of light, I felt a chill in my spine. One of them was the murderer. They were all looking for the same person, who was hiding somewhere in the park.

A tiny but might contingent of us came to play in the dark. This park had been specially recommended to me by LA’s Bureau of Parks and Recreation, and they did not steer me wrong. It was dark by the time we arrived at Rustic Canyon Park: me dressed as The Cat in the Hat (also a game designer!); Willa as a sea lion and a shark; Clinton as a Wizard; Dais as kung pao chicken; plus Maclen (perfect attendance!), Erin, Will, and Billy the Red with no costumes but clearly identifiable as good sports and first-rate playmates.

So it was a tiny but mighty group that played a game for scares and thrills that October night. I first encountered this game at Come Out and Play SF last year. We played it around city streets, but it can be played in a house or a park after dark: it’s sort of a variation on Sardines. One player is the witness: that person gets a head-start to go hide. The other players go looking for the witness: one who is trying to murder her, one who wants to execute the murderer, one who can revive the murderer, and three others who, if any 2 of them (or one plus the murderer-killer) find the witness and “hide together” (whatever that might mean), the good guys win. If 10 minutes go by and nobody can find the witness, the bad guys win. If the witness dies, the bad guys win.

It only took a minute to explain the rules. I passed out cards and we played. (It’s a free to print-and-play game online).

The first couple of games were over very quickly. The witnesses were too easy to find, and the murder would slay the witness every time. But after we played a few more times, we all knew the grounds better and the witnesses were better at finding good hiding places. Also people began to go off together, as a team, and lie about the identity on their cards.

Sometimes the games became a chase: the murderer chasing the witness, the executioner chasing the murderer. To kill a player, you draw the hand across the neck. The rules caution you to be safe. We were, mostly, for a running and hiding game played in the park. I totally found Erin Dean and murdered her behind a dumpster.

It was pretty much perfect for a Halloween game. We all took a turn being the witness. In the penultimate game, I was the witness. I ran all the way around the multi-purpose building, jumped over a fence, and hid in a courtyard that was only about 15 feet from where the other players were closing their eyes and giving me my 3 minute hiding head start, but protected from view by a low retaining wall. I also hid in the darkest corner behind a tree. I waited 8 minutes, crouched beneath a stop sign, waved at the cars who shone their headlights on me, and then burst out into the most prominent clearing of the park, under the flagpole and the light hoping the good guys would find me before the murderer did. They did, and the good guys won.

For the final game of the night, Dais was the witness. I warned him that it had to be the most epic game of them all. I drew the murderer card. Maclen and I went exploring down a corridor lined with kids’ toys. He had his skeptical eye on me and I pretended to be suspicious of him too. We both claimed to be townspeople. Later we met Erin and Willa, who also claimed to be townspeople. There are only 3 townspeople cards in the deck. I accused them all of lying and ran away.

With only a minute or so left in the game, I spotted Dais. He was easy to find, because he was still dressed as a chicken. He ran to the open arms of Erin and Willa. I chased after him. And just as he was about to be safe in their embrace… the clock chimed ten minutes and the game ended. A win for the bad guys. Huzzah! Dais delivered: it was the most epic game of the night. He’d been hiding under a truck parked on a side street of the dark park.

Willa figured out the auto-timer on my camera and we got these group shots.

If you think this kind of mischief sounds fun, come and join us for the next one.

The other thing I’ll remember about this game is how we hung our unwanted costume items on the flagpole.