Thatcherball. Statue golf. Naval battle. Names like these are practically institutions on Hillsdale’s campus.
To balance hard, intellectual study with lighthearted entertainment, Hillsdale students play a variety of official and less-official games. While games such as the naval battle are planned, many other games, such as “assassins,” are less institutional, and students spontaneously play such games as “sardines” and “murder in the dark” for fun, simple Saturday nights.
The most recognizable of these games is “assassins,” which guys in Simpson Residence have the option to join. Everyone on campus can usually tell when it’s being played because male students will lurk around warily while friends shout at them, “Have you been killed yet?”
Junior Andrew Lohman, one of the dorm’s resident assistants, is one of the main organizers, or “gamemakers.” According to Lohman, this game has been played in Simpson nearly every year for five years.
Lohman explained the game: Everybody who signs up to play is assigned another specific player to pursue as a target, and a “kill” is made by tapping a spoon somewhere on the target’s torso. Once a person has been tapped, they are out of the game.
Spoons were chosen as the tagging item because “a spoon is a blunt object, and it provides personal, close contact, forcing you to actually look into the eyes of your killer,” Lohman said.
Lohman said “assassinations” can be made anywhere on campus except bedrooms (“so people can sleep”), the cafeteria (“so people can actually enjoy meals”), and classrooms with professors (“but, if the professor leaves in the middle of class, you can go right ahead and get your man”).
While there are rules about safe zones, Lohman said there are no rules about anything players say in the game. Apparently, lying about your motives is often used to achieve an assassination.
“Assassins” doesn’t always have a buy-in, but through a general consensus, Lohman instituted a $1 buy-in for this year’s game.
“We do it if it’s what the guys want,” Lohman said. “It’s so the winner can have a prize outside bragging rights and also so we get people who actually want to play, not just people signing up other people as jokes. It’s not as intense if people don’t take it seriously. But the money’s not why people play.”
The game ends when all the players except one have been “assassinated” by spoons.
“Our most recent game was over relatively quickly compared to some games. It was only five or six days long,” Lohman said. “We’re anticipating another game later this semester. The people who didn’t join this round realized they were missing out.”
A less-involved group game played on campus is “sardines,” a game like hide-and-seek where one player hides and everyone else seeks. When somebody finds the hiding person, he or she has to hide with them — and so it continues until there’s only one person left and a crowded hiding spot.
Sophomore Stephen Tanquist has played sardines twice.
“Both times it went on for several hours, which I wasn’t expecting,” Tanquist said.
Tanquist said that he’s played both games in the Grewcock Student Union at night.
“It doesn’t work during the day because people are around,” he said.
While you might not think that the Grewcock Student Union has too many places to hide, Tanquist said otherwise.
“Every time, you expect you know everywhere people will hide,” Tanquist said. “I have a routine, a way of searching that sweeps through the whole building. But most of the time I still miss the person who’s hiding.”
Tanquist said that the first place people usually try to hide is the elevator. But some people get more creative.
“Once somebody emptied the trash can, took out the bag, and put it in the guys’ bathroom, and hid themselves inside the trash can,” Tanquist said.
Space is also an issue, so sometimes people have to spread out around the general area if the first hiding spot is too small (like a trash can).
As far as Tanquist knows, the game isn’t widely played across campus.
“I’ve only ever been involved in it,” Tanquist said. “I’ve never come across a game. Sometimes in Lane and Kendall things will be dark and people will be running around, but I never see that in the union.”
The game Tanquist observed in classroom buildings Lane and Kendall halls could have been “murder in the dark,” a game often played there, according to sophomore Zachary Palmer.
“As far as my knowledge goes, this game was born in Niedfeldt my freshman year,” Palmer said. “I never knew it existed before then.”
Palmer said he has played murder in the dark at least 20 times with big groups of people. He also said you have to set aside at least two hours to play.
According to Palmer, murder in the dark is like the party game “Mafia” translated into action. Instead of the anonymously designated Mafia choosing victims by pointing, all players are let loose in dim halls to wander until the players acting as the Mafia physically tag them to put them out of the game.
“People do this groupthink thing where they try to be with other people,” Palmer said of this part of the game. “It’s suspicious if somebody’s alone, or walking too slowly — everything you do is suspicious.”
The game goes on with periodic conventions for guessing who belongs to the Mafia until either a majority of Mafia members remain or the non-Mafia members, termed “townspeople,” vote all Mafia members out of the game.
“Politically, it’s a mess,” Palmer said. “Every game I’ve played, the townspeople don’t understand that they shouldn’t wantonly accuse people. Nine out of 10 games, more townspeople are killed by their own kind.”
The need for strategy applies to the Mafia, too.
“Mafia are caught when they’re sloppy at killing or just make a verbal mistake in public — when they claim they were somewhere and somebody else knows they weren’t there at the time,” Palmer said.
So what makes a good Mafia member?
“The best ones hide and play people off each other. Sometimes they sacrifice another Mafia member to throw people off the trail,” Palmer said. “You get to see who’s good at manipulating other people.”
Tanquist gave a no-frills reason as to why exactly Hillsdale students get together to play games like sardines, assassins, and murder in the dark.
“Both times I’ve played sardines,” Tanquist said, “it’s been a spontaneous act because it seemed fun at the time. And it was fun.”