Hit the dirt

What it is: A night game, one you play outside when it’s dark in a big park and you have lots of energy to use up. For big groups.

Best for: A big group of at least 10 players.

What you need: Somewhere to play. A big park is perfect. You want somewhere fairly open, but you’ll also need landmarks (like trees or something). And the more people you have to play, the better.

How to play: First, set up your playing area. Choose an area of the park to be the home base (this can just be a spot of ground, or a tree or something). Then you’ll need to choose several landmarks around home base, maybe about three to seven, depending on the size of your playing area and desired difficulty of your game. These can be trees, playground equipment, etc. They should all be visible from the home base area, which should be in the middle of the play area.

Then choose someone to be It (say it’s Johnny). Johnny stands on home base and everyone else scatters and hides around home base, but not too far; you can set up boundaries for the game at the beginning. Players really shouldn’t need to stray beyond any of the landmarks. And they should also stay close enough to hear Johnny shout.

The point of the game (for everyone but Johnny) is to make it to each of the landmarks and finally to home base without being spotted by Johnny. The point of the game for Johnny is to spot everyone else.

Here’s how it works: Once everyone is situated and hiding around the playing area, Johnny shouts out a number, any number, like “Fifteen!” Johnny should be sure to shout loud enough so everyone can hear him. Then Johnny starts counting out loud up to that number, also loud enough for people to hear. And while Johnny counts, he closes his eyes.

When Johnny closes his eyes, that’s everyone’s chance to move. All the players get up from their hiding spots and book it to their next destination (maybe the closest landmark, or maybe another hiding point somewhere along the way, if the next landmark is far).

When Johnny reaches the number he said he would count to, he immediately opens his eyes, so that’s everyone else’s cue to hide lickety split. (If you’re close to a hiding spot, reach it; if you’re not, hit the dirt and freeze and hope Johnny doesn’t spot you.)

When Johnny opens his eyes, he can look all around the playing area, trying to spot players. If he does see someone, he shouts out to them (he doesn’t have to identify them by name) and they’re out of the game. For example, he might say, “I see someone hiding behind the tall pine tree!” The person behind the tall pine tree (you know who you are) would be eliminated.

(For those of you who don’t like games where players are eliminated, you could modify the rule to say that any player spotted has to go back to home base and start their quest to touch each landmark over, but can remain in the game. This will make it impossible for Johnny to “win,” though.)

Once Johnny is done spotting, he shouts another number and counts again. Johnny will want to choose a good mix and balance of high and low numbers to call out. If he picks a number too low, like three, maybe none of the players will be daring enough to move at all. That won’t do Johnny any good. But if he throws out a bigger number, like thirty, the players might get really daring and aim for something far – giving Johnny the advantage if the players miscalculate the distance to their next hiding spot. It might take some tries to figure out the ideal range of numbers for your playing area.

The whole time, Johnny never leaves the home base. All the other players try to strategically and sneakily make their way to each landmark and finally to home base. They have to touch each landmark on the way, and make it all the way to home base (basically right next to Johnny) before he sees them. The first person to successfully accomplish this wins. Then the winner gets to be it (or maybe choose someone else to be it, if that’s more of a reward for you and your friends).

If Johnny happens to eliminate all players before anyone can touch home base, he wins.

Variations: I’ve also heard this same game called “commando.” And I guess it’s kind of a (more intense) variation of hide and seek.

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