When your obsession with war board games is coupled with those games being difficult to source, the solution is to make your own. And that’s exactly what Brian Yost did, except he levelled up — taking the game from the board to the street. The 33-year-old English teacher from Philadelphia is the brains behind Hanoi Hitmen, which has run two seasons in Hanoi in 2017, with a third planned for 2018.
Originating in Istanbul where Brian lived for six years, the concept is simple; it’s a 24/7 assassination tournament. Players register as hitmen, attend an assassins’ party where they are handed a dossier on a “target” they are required to “kill” while participating in various challenges and earning “blood money”. The last man, woman or team standing after 30 days wins $US800.
“The idea for the game is not new,” said Brian. “It existed before in a Michael Anthony Hall movie from the 1990s, and I played something like this in summer camp when I was a kid.”
Participants can play solo or in teams, and the “weapon” can be any toy weapon — popular choices are pink water guns — as long as it looks like both a toy as well as a gun. There is a “kill” quota, rewards and special events over the 30 days to stop the game becoming dull. And Brian changes the rules to keep things interesting, as well as mixing up each season because veterans return to play.
Brian’s role is host, creator of challenges and enforcer of the rules, of which there are many — and necessary because most of the players are “pedantic English teachers.”
The fun of the game is in the “kill” and the more creative, the better. “Winners are patient, strategic and think like the enemy. They are devious and are good at getting people to trust them,” said Brian.
According to the rules of the game, the only place a kill cannot occur is inside someone’s place of work, although Brian said that one of the most creative kills occurred at a conference. “One target was giving a speech at a conference at a hotel. The guy who was hunting him got a fake press pass and organised a photographer to come with him and talked his way past the security guard. He was taken out while he was presenting his keynote. The security guard was not happy!”
Surviving the 30 days and being crowned the winner is all about trust, or rather, trusting no one — including potential love interests. Brian says that kills have even occurred on Tinder dates. “Why would you believe anyone is interested in you after the assassin’s party?”
The nature of the game means that it is more popular with men than women, but Brian says the game is about assassination, not about physical strength or action heroes. “The first two seasons [in Istanbul] were won by women because they have an advantage. They are better at strategic alliances and disguising themselves with make-up. Guys generally don’t bother.”
While only a relatively few Vietnamese play — around 20 percent — locals also have an advantage because they can blend into their environment better than foreigners. Indeed, one hitman disguised himself as a Grab driver and waited outside his target’s workplace to take him out. “During the season, any white person [who approaches a player] should be ‘shot’ on sight,” said Brian.
Patience is a virtue
Nicolas Viau has played both seasons, with his team — Hanoi Cleaning Inc. — coming second in season one and first in season two. Nicolas also has bragging rights over his take-out record, racking up six kills in season one and five in season two. Despite this impressive record, he says that the coolest part of season one was when he was killed. “It was a massive fight. The other team still had three surviving team members — my team members were my eyes outside — and they besieged my school. There was only one exit, so I had to face them all. I recruited my students to create chaos. I was dressed as a schoolgirl and planned to use the chaos to kill as many as I could. I was badly outnumbered.”
Nicolas managed to escape and took out the closest hitman, shooting him in the face. He then aimed for the second hitman, but he had retreated to get a better position. Nicolas turned to deal with the third hitman, but he was a second too late, and was shot in the face just as he was raising his gun. “I died and lost, but it was still fun.”
It’s the feeling after a successful kill that is the best thing about playing. “Sometimes you wait for hours and then finally get it. All your efforts are rewarded and you feel like a badass,” Nicolas said.
And while Rene Cordier — another member of Hanoi Cleaning Inc. — has not taken anyone out in either season, he was the eyes and ears of the team. “I was Mr Clean, as I didn’t have a single kill in those two seasons,” said Rene. “I was more like the support guy; scouting, backing up, collecting and managing all the information of the team during the game, like targets and their information, blood money accounting and the achievements of the members.”
Relax and you die
It’s this escalating paranoia that makes the game fun. “[The paranoia] is a love/hate thing,” said Nicolas. “During the game, it starts getting heavier and heavier. But when the game is over, that’s what I miss the most.”
The feeling of paranoia is real, allowing no time for relaxation. Those who relax, die. “The feeling that of being able to sleep without worrying about someone outside waiting to blow your head off is what I miss most during the game,” said Trung Nguyen, who is Nicolas’ teammate and played both seasons.
Trung’s survival strategy was simple: he was an early bird. “I always go to work early: two or three hours early. In the first season, I was the first person to come to the office. After work, I go straight home. I only get to go out with my team. In the second season, I convinced my boss to let me work from home, so I could stay inside as much as possible.”
A self-proclaimed video game nerd, Trung wasn’t sure that the game was for him. “After I made the first kill [with my teammate], I was hooked,” he said. “That feeling when you follow someone and wait for the right moment to jump at them is awesome. My killer senses were tingling. After that, we spent all our free time hunting and scouting and doing anything necessary to win.”
Finding out about Hanoi Hitmen via Facebook, Jacob Mutert has played two seasons, and despite not winning, is in the top tier for the most kills. In season one, he played solo before joining a team in season two. “I never thought I’d win, especially when it turned out most people were playing on teams of three or four and I was by myself,” he said. “So I just set little goals for myself to achieve and try and get the most fun out the experience. I had a pretty hectic [work] schedule the first three days of the game, so step one was just survive until I could hunt. Then it was get a kill. Then it was buy a special perk to target the big, bad teams.”
For Jacob, the most enjoyable part of the game is pitting his wits against the other players. “I’ve played or hunted solo both seasons, so it’s just me and them and they know I’m coming. My wits versus theirs. It’s the purest competition I can think of and it really makes me feel amazing when I’m able to formulate a plan based on what I perceive and then execute it and have it succeed.”
For more information about playing Hanoi Hitmen for the third season, visit facebook.com/groups/HanoitHitmen
PHOTOS PROVIDED BY BRIAN YOST