If you've seen someone hurling water balloons across Barbur Boulevard lately, brandishing a Super Soaker at the Moon and Sixpence, or casually covering the spot on his crotch from a leaky squirt gun in his pocket, you may have witnessed a true local rarity: the PDX Assassin.
They may flash you a card and a $1 bill, asking for info on their assassination target. They may only leave a porch full of exploded water balloons as proof of their passing. Sometimes they dash across your lawn, fully hydrate your roommate from the outside in, and then invite you out for a beer. One thing is certain about all of them: They're cold-blooded pretend killers, who love a good time.
The assassin game has been popular on college campuses for at least a decade. MIT claims to have hosted the first one in 1983, and since then the game has thrived in small campus settings. Now Assassin is sprouting up in cities, like New York and Vancouver, where huge games are hosted with hundreds of players.
PDX Assassin concluded its second round last week, with 52 Portlanders hunting one another with squirt guns and water balloons. Here's how it worked: Every player was given a card with his or her target's name, photo, address, and phone number. They had four weeks to "kill" their target—and dodge the player who was chasing them. After scoring a kill, the target's target became the new goal for the successful assassin.
"We pared down the rules to make it easier for the players, and eliminate the 'he said, she said,'" said Agent Zero (AKA Frank Zurbano), one of the game's two officials.
Rules vary from game to game, depending on the moderator. In the PDX Assassin game, the target's workplace was off-limits, and so was their car—if the key was in the ignition. A single drop of water on your clothing counted as a kill, meaning umbrellas and the like could be used to shield you from elimination. It didn't matter how many people witnessed the kill, and lastly, it was against the rules to murder your own assassin. Your only defense? Running and hiding like a scared little girl.
"We put a certain level of trust in the people who play the game," Agent Zero continued. "Rule #1: Don't be stupid." The game is limited to Portlanders 21 and older, he said, because "by then you have an idea of right and wrong, and what you should and shouldn't do."
"A couple of our players have the right skills for the CIA," said Agent 001 (Jesse Blanchard), the game's other official. "These assassins are smart."
Stakeouts were the favored method of RipTide (Shannon Donaldson), Round Two's official winner. She went on stakeouts with her friend Dildozer (Kyle Ritter), who was also a player.
"We'd decide who would be the good cop and the bad cop," she said, "and pretend we were eating stakeout food and getting on each other's nerves. Targets could get away while we were playing around."
RipTide won the game after killing eight other players, using various nefarious methods, including the Stakeout, the Back Stair Rush (which left her covered in marinade), and something she calls the "Multiple Miggs" maneuver. A reference to a character in Silence of the Lambs, she would convince those with no chance of winning because of lack of kills (and thus, low interaction) to die by her hands willingly.
A couple of targets agreed because after a month of not being chased by a lazy assassin, they wanted the thrill they'd signed up for... the daily paranoia, knowing that someone, somewhere, had a water balloon with your name on it, was quite a rush.
"I never had so much adrenaline as when my assassin came up to me," Agent 001 said. (The two officials split their officiating, so both could still participate.) "I was taken out at the Harry Potter premiere—the ultimate nerd way to go down. I saw this stranger looking at me, and I knew I was finished. My heart was beating a mile a minute. It was great."
When you know someone is hunting you, the sudden fear of getting killed is one of the greatest rushes of the game. "My assassination marks the most fun I've had," said Dildozer.
But the thrill of the kill was not enough for most players; they wanted the interaction as well. To alleviate tension for themselves, the would-be targets would call their target or send them spooky emails—thereby raising the tension level of their victim. The game officials set up an online forum as well, to centralize communications.
"Some people use the forum to shit-talk, but smart people use it to find out about their target," Agent Zero said.
OPERATION BEFRIEND AND BETRAY
Although only 52 people were playing, there were more than 100 accounts registered on the PDX Assassin Forum. Players would create dummy aliases to befriend other assassins and convince them they had inside info about their target. Using the promise that their target would be at a certain location at a specific time, the victim would show up armed to the teeth; however, instead of their target, a nasty surprise would be waiting—a water-gun-toting assassin.
Dildozer was one such master of the Befriend and Betray technique, which he used to help RipTide achieve two kills within an hour on the last night of the game.
She walked into the Moon and Sixpence to meet her target at 8 pm, and to meet her target's target at 8:30 pm; both of them thought they were meeting Dildozer there. RipTide shot the first target with her twin seahorse water pistols, and (as is the custom) bought him a beer. The victim then turned over his intended target's information, a player codenamed Mad Dog (AKA Kevin Duncan), who was now RipTide's new objective.
Meanwhile, across town, Mad Dog received a beguiling text message from Dildozer, saying he had set up Mad Dog's target for him at the Moon and Sixpence. "Where are you?" he texted.
"Watch my tables," Mad Dog told his fellow bartender, as he threw down his apron and ran out the door. Crossing the river at 9 pm, little did Mad Dog know he was racing straight into a trap.
RipTide was waiting. And as Mad Dog entered the bar, the female assassin got off a clean squirt—killing him on the spot. But even in the throes of death, Mad Dog had one last trick up his sleeve—whipping off his overcoat, he revealed a huge water rifle that soaked everyone at the table. The rest of the bar observed the laughing role-players curiously—and then went back to their drinks. No Homeland Security Agents were called.
Mad Dog then invited everyone back to his bar to buy them a round of drinks. While the players were there, RipTide's assassin finally made an appearance, 40 minutes before the month-long game ended. When RipTide felt the wet spot on her shoulder, she looked up to see a strange woman standing at the door with a water gun. "You must be Jonas! It's so nice to finally meet you!" RipTide exclaimed.
Unfortunately for Jonas, the kill was too little, too late. Riptide had logged the most kills over the course of the game, making her Portland's top assassin, and bestowing her with the $200 grand prize.
DOUBLE THE DANGER, DOUBLE THE FUN
There's an unofficial rule that states that after being killed, you must have a beer with your assassin. This keeps players from doing anything in the course of the game that would prevent that beer from happening—interfering with work life, purposely giving elderly relatives heart attacks, etc.
"Everyone has been very cool and fantastic sports," RipTide said. "I never set out to win, I just wanted the adventure."
"Most people play for fun and bragging rights," said Agent Zero, pleased that everyone had such a good time. "Everything doubled from the first round," he continued, referring to the first local citywide game, which ended in September. "In every aspect—the enthusiasm, the number of people, everything."
He hopes to triple it again for the upcoming Round Three. Aiming to recruit 150 players, Round Three will incorporate team rules, so that Assassins will hunt in pairs. Check www.pdxassassin.net now for more info, or log on to forum.pdxassassin.net to see the rules and shit-talking first hand. Next May, when the rain won't be so easily mistaken for an erroneous shot, expect to see a whole different type of offensive rain coating the streets of PDX.
A rain of (fake) DEATH.