Come out and Play San Francisco: Jericho - An Urban Spy Game

Last night Greg, Mike, and I traversed into downtown San Francisco one more time to partake in Come Out and Play San Francisco 2011. This time we were in Union Square to play “Jericho – An Urban Spy Game”. We knew this about the game: We would be picking up and carrying “spy documents” or defending and stopping spies carrying said documents, and we should bring a hat and a Nerf gun. As an added bonus, we were told that the person in the best spy outfit would win a “special Nerf gun”.

I’m competitive by nature, and really did want a black trenchcoat. However, walking into a store wearing a fedora whilst wielding two Nerf guns was far more embarrassing than I expected it to be.

We were a bit wary of the event after the previous night’s mall debacle, but the lure of Nerf guns is pretty much a Siren song to anyone who likes to play games (come on, you can’t deny it) so at 6:30 PM we arrived (and I was decked out in a double-breasted black trenchcoat, matching fedora, and red scarf tied to look like an ascot).

From the moment we saw the event’s coordinator, dressed in a full tuxedo, the game went from awesome to completely fucking badass.
At 7 PM, about 80 people were in Union Square, all carrying Nerf guns. At that point, the tuxedo-clad coordinator called us over and started handing out slips of paper with the rules of Jericho (all the papers we collected are photographed at the end of this article, if you want to see). The game was pretty much what we thought it was going to be: everyone was divided into two teams and one would attempt to pick up a “package” at one of two possible locations and deliver it to a third location while the other team attempted to stop this from happening. The defending team knew where everything was within a 1 block radius, but not exactly where anything was (or which point the offensive would go to). Defense got a 5 minute lead to spread out and situate and plan for attack while Offense figured out how to get the package safely to the end point. For transporting the package, there was a Courier – if you killed this person, Defense would win, so Offense strongly guarded him. Everyone else was just for protection or destruction. If you got killed, you put on your hat.

Receiving instructions.

We prepare for battle. It’s serious business!

Also, Nesquik people came by with tasty treats.

After all the rules had been explained, the coordinator asked everyone who dressed up to raise their hands. I was sheepish, Greg was yelling at me, but someone else in the crowd pointed at me. The coordinator considered for a moment and then selected me! (me me me!) to win the special Nerf gun. The crowd asked me to step out so they could see my outfit and I realized that even after all these years being a public persona for a very large company, I am still INCREDIBLY SHY.

Here I am, rocking my spy getup.

By 7:30 PM, the game had begun. We began on the Defense and went south to stake out a corner. Pretty immediately, the three of us realized we might be a tad more hardcore than the rest of our group (although overall there were a lot of people there I recognized from Journey and Undercover – I even met people who won Journey, which was cool). At our location, the real tension began: We didn’t know what we were protecting, or where it was, or whether anyone would come to fetch it, and if they did, where they would come from. We decided to hide in an alley with Mike spotting one way and us spotting the other. We had people on every corner, lying in wait.

Ready for action.

In the end, someone came from behind us in the alley (genius!) I yelled out “spotted!” to warn the others on disparate corners and dove behind a metal fire escape while Greg took out the attacker.
By the time we sorted ourselves out and gathered our Nerf darts, we couldn’t find a single person on our team. Had the enemy swept in? Had they run when I yelled? Was the round over? Who knew! We decided to start for the end point because at least we could defend if the package had been picked up during our skirmish.
Close to the end, we saw someone across the street holding a Nerf gun, but we didn’t know whose side he was on – he was being very obvious, and we rapidly realized he was a distraction because a woman popped out of a doorway and shot Greg (and I rapidly returned fire and took her down). We continued on to the end point where we tried our damnedest to defend but, alas, the Offense returned the package with a mere 7 seconds left till the end of the round.

We may have lost the battle, but we have not lost the war!

Before I continue on with the events of last night, I want to take a moment to talk about the mood of the street during the game. In short, it was awesome. We half-ran to our first point, jogging along with Nerf guns, and got a couple questions along the way asking us what the hell we were doing. “Game!” I yelled (mystery is awesome, after all). We also received quite a few looks and many smiles – I guess there is something inherently charming about a pack of 10 adults wielding Nerf guns, looking very alert and clearly on the hunt. The street was not as much an obstacle as with Journey – while we were running, there wasn’t that crazy OH MY GOD WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE feeling all the time and because there weren’t thousands of people playing, the herd instinct wasn’t there (which was good). We also had moments to camp out, which was tense, and that also attracted attention from normal folk – at one point, a man in a Starbucks was pointing at us and talking to an equally confused barista.

Back to the game!

The next round began, we received another set of instructions, and now as Offense had to select a Courier. We chose someone fast who had won Journey – he had to be able to outrun those Nerf guns.

Selecting a Courier.

As a group, we headed under the tunnel, moving as a single mass to one point to pick up the package. The Courier and a small group were behind us.

The march begins.

Offense was fun because we spent a lot of time on strategy and running and we had a more urgent goal: protect the Courier. We swept through, picked up the package, and then had small battles along the way to our final destination. At the final destination, we could see enemies all around the area – many across the street, of course, out of Nerf range. At one point, I got into a fight with a girl behind a BART entrance – neither of us hit each other, but I had to leave my darts on the ground because collecting them would have put me in firing range.

One really hardcore guy said he was a barefoot running and played without shoes. On Market Street. Yeah, I know.

We won round 2, but not before a fairly epic gun battle in a strange intersection of 5 roads and around the entrance to an underground parking garage (allowing for many hiding spots).

Battle Two is over – we still have a chance to win!

For our second Defense mission, we sent out a select few spotters to figure out where the other team was going and our horde waited in a middle point for a text telling us where to go. When the text came in telling us to head to the South pickup location, we sprinted, full tilt, till we got there.

Unfortunately, after being there a couple minutes we started looking at lamp posts as we thought a piece of paper there was what the other team had to collect, and in this moment when I was looking up, I heard a Nerf gun not three feet from me cock and I screamed (kind of at the top of my lungs) as I was shot – one of their forward scouts had snuck up on us!

I ended up missing the rest of the battle, but apparently the entirety of Offense came together to meet with Defense and there was quite a bit of shooting, ducking, and running. As I was dead, I was heading back to the end point (this is what we were supposed to do) so I was about half a block from the final location when I saw 30 or so people burst onto the scene and a flurry of Nerf darts litter the sidewalk as people yelped futile instructions.

Moments after the final battle – alas, the other team won. (Whoever starts on Offense usually wins the entire thing.)

While we lost overall, I must say that didn’t matter to anyone involved – the sheer fun of the experience, regardless of which side you were on, made the game way more than just merely satisfying. It was exhilarating. In one hour and forty five minutes we traversed 7.20 miles of San Francisco at an average pace of 15 minutes a mile (including all the time we were standing and milling about) – and I barely felt like I had exerted myself at all because I had been so focused and excited the entire time. (Check out the Runkeeper map here.)

Between the team camaraderie (I did talk to and like a lot of the folks I was with) the stealth aspect of the game as well as the adrenaline-fueled Nerf battles, Jericho was a fantastic game. I’m signed up now on their Meetup page because they meet every month and I want to be part of it – I can’t think of a better way to spend an evening – Nerf battles in the city?! Hell yes. Win, lose, or draw, it’s a blast (no pun intended).

I also got a sweet Nerf gun out of the deal. This was super exciting – in fact, in my hungry-tired state walking back to the parking garage, I was excitedly (and apparently loudly) talking about how I won a costume contest and got an awesome Nerf gun – that I won something! An older gentleman a few paces ahead of me then turned around, smiled, and said “congratulations!” and extended his hand (which I of course shook).

Later, I was again mortified, but I suppose any game that can make me scream like an idiot that I won a children’s toy is aces in my book.

The aforementioned sweet Nerf gun.

Me with my sweet Nerf gun!

Come out and Play San Francisco, thank you so much for hosting this stuff. And Jericho guys? Thank you even more. It’s been an absolute pleasure playing these games. I can’t wait to do it again next year (or in the case of this particular game, next month).

All the papers we got.

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