Paintball, like many other games, revolves more around teamwork than it does equipment or even the skill of individual players. A well-organized team working together can defeat a team whose players are in disarray, even if individual members of the confused team have better skills and gear. Communication is key to a winning team, and often presence of mind and teamwork help to win a game. Different game types, woodsball, speedball and scenario paintball, have slightly different strategies, although they all share many similarities.
The following are examples of common strategies with attending tactics and general tactics used in various scenarios. These are some of the “prefabricated strategies and tactics” alluded to in this article’s introduction. These are only some of the most common, and should by no means be taken as a complete list, for there are as many strategies and tactics as are possible scenarios.
The following are basic strategies and tactics that are the basis for many more complicated manauvers. By modifying these strategies to suit their team, commanders can have a very effective array of strategies and tactics.
GENERAL PAINTBALL TACTICS
‘The Farrier’ is a maneuver designed to draw opposing players into a U-shaped ambush, where they are under fire from three sides and often cannot escape without losing 75% of their numbers, if not more. In the precursor to many commanders’ strategies, the teams playing the game meet in battle lines, usually one battle line for two teams, two battle lines for three teams, et cetera. Once the line of battle has been established and the team has engaged the enemy, a section of one team’s line may withdraw after a particularly heavy bout of fire, feigning a regroup. The forces on the opposing battle line surge into the gap, thinking they are pursuing a weakened enemy who should be further attacked until annihilated. However, they have simply walked into a trap, and come under withering fire from three sides. Normally such firefights end very rapidly, often lasting only twenty seconds if not less. At the end of the firefight, either the remnants of the enemy have retreated, or they have been annihilated completely.
The roll-up is the tactic of either maneuvering past the enemy’s flank and attacking it from behind in coordination with friendly forces immediately opposite them, and then speedily proceeding down the enemy’s line to attack and destroy as much of the enemy team as possible before a counterattack is executed. One common counterattack is to sap forces from across the line and form a second, shorter line, perpendicular to the first, which will meet the enemy flankers in a more even situation. To avoid the possibility of this counterattack, commanders may send a portion of their flankers well ahead of the others. These advance flankers continue on stealthily, usually a good distance away from the enemy line, so that when such a counterattack is executed, the advance flankers can swoop down and hit that new line’s flank or rear, decimating their numbers and rendering the enemy even more vulnerable.
TACTICS AND STRATEGIES
A solid attack is the concept of attacking with essentially the commander’s entire team in a slow, methodical advance toward enemy positions (hence ‘solid’, which implies density and slowness of movement). Solid attacks are best employed if the commander has ambush elements out to either flank, such as marksmen, due to the vulnerability of solid attacks to enemy flanking maneuvers.
Solid attacks are useful in games where the objective is stationary and close at hand. This is because solid attacks force one’s team to clump up. In all but the most disciplined and elite teams, the commander loses each squad’s congruity as the squad members mingle during firefights. To re-form, the commander must call each squad back singly, via radio or shouted callsigns, and then re-deploy them accordingly.
Solid attacks can be countered by fast and mobile strike elements that mill around the slow-moving formation, striking randomly and harassing the enemy. Once the formation is somewhat disorganized (sometimes a difficult feat, as most elite teams resemble a rock in this fashion), then a large attack element attacks the formation’s weakest point and, ideally, breaks it.
Due to the solid attack’s cumbersome nature, it is often combined with other strategies, such as the staggered attack or multi-prong attack, to get into a position where the solid attack may be employed with benefit. the best for this job is small people that are stronger because they are harder to hit.
A staggered attack is the concept of attacking with one’s team spread out in groups, somewhat larger than a typical squad, normally called echelons. The actual size of each echelon may vary, but in a team of about fifty players (such large teams are used almost exclusively as components in scenario events, as smaller teams are preferred for woodsball games limited to about two or three teams, usually with a field population max of sixty), in such a large team, each echelon will be eight to ten players each. However, this number will vary further depending on the lay of the ground and intensity of enemy opposition in specific points up or down the line.
The shape of the staggered attack varies for each situation, but the overall concept stays the same. The echelons, usually number about three to five, although sometimes as many as seven echelons are used (it should be remembered that the number of players in each echelon varies). In cases with large numbers of players for use in the echelons, the team commander may also designate a quick-response team of four or five players, often specialists (especially marksmen), to support echelons that find themselves in difficult situations.
Once the line of battle has been defined by the rank of echelons, then every other echelon, starting with the first, pushes up into enemy territory, normally about fifty feet in front of the echelons which remain on the line. Between each of the advanced echelons is a distance of about fifty to a hundred feet. This staggered formation is where the attack got its name. Any enemy forces that attempt to flank the advanced echelons walk into this U-shape, within which they are cut down almost immediately by fire from three of four sides.
Once this system is attained, the formation advances in a leap-frog fashion. The advanced echelons lay down a heavy suppressive fire, while the remaining echelons rapidly advance and force the enemy back and becoming the new ‘advanced echelons’. If executed properly, the median of the new formation should be approximately fifty feet ahead of the previous median, although this distance varies, of course, depending upon how far up the advanced echelons were able to push.
Staggered attacks are very popular, especially in scenario events, because they are very versatile and maneuverable. However, they are usually slow, and any echelon or other team element that breaks off for whatever reason usually cannot be aided by the rest of the team, due to the involvement that the team is forced to invest in the line. If an element of the staggered formation is attacked by enemy forces in strength, then the entire line is threatened. If the line attempts to move up and attack the enemy, then it exposes its side and rear to the enemy, which is frequently the team’s doom. It normally does one of two things: falls back and withdraws into a protective circle, or falls back to a new position entirely, where it will probably assume a different formation as the commander decides upon a different strategy to adapt to the new threat.
Staggered attacks are well-applied in situations with heavy enemy activity, because the enemy forces get chewed to pieces as they throw themselves into the echelons’ formation.
A staggered retreat is similar to the staggered attack reviewed above. Staggered retreats are very useful because, among other things, they are attritive, meaning they wear down the enemy (see below).
A staggered retreat is the concept of essentially a staggered attack working backwards. The team is distributed into echelons, usually consisting of about one squad each, but can be progressively larger depending on the overall size of the team. Echelons in the staggered retreats work backwards, with every other echelon withdrawing fifty feet or so and set up positions. The echelons remaining on the old line then withdraw a hundred feet, passing the echelons of the new line and setting up about fifty feet beyond them. A staggered retreat can continue in this fashion for a long time, as the enemy will usually hesitate to attack such a formation headlong for the reasons described in the staggered attack section.
Staggered retreats are frequently preferable to standard retreats, because staggered retreats find it harder to devolve into a rout. A column in steady retreat whose rearguard is struck suddenly with great force and is annihilated is suddenly very vulnerable to attack until either a new rearguard can be formed or a delaying action organized—things which even the most elite and experienced teams can find extremely challenging; pulling out from an all-out retreat, forming up in a battle line or in a recognizable rearguard formation, and turning to face a strong enemy force flushed from the recent victory over the old rearguard, is a difficult thing to do without being broken and annihilated piecemeal. While a staggered retreat can be slower than a full columnal retreat, it is certainly safer and harder to break.
Attrition is an interesting issue: while it is an applicable strategy, it is also a type of strategy, in that its fundamental principles can be applied to many other applicable strategies.
Attrition maneuvers are an important issue of woodsball strategy. Attrition maneuvers are designed to physically weary the enemy’s players as well as wear down their numbers, ammunition, fuel (if a mechanized force), and other such aspects. A team with more energetic players will almost always be victorious over a team with tired players, just as an outnumbered team with little supplies is just as vulnerable to a superior team. Attrition may be achieved in any number of ways and tactics. An example is the so-called ‘one-up, one-back’ maneuver.
In a classic woodsball game, two opposing teams engage each other in a battle line, also sometimes called the front line. This line is rarely straight, as battle lines generally take form around areas that contain good fortifications, desirable positions, objectives, et cetera. Most battle lines curve and sweep across the field. Once the battle line is established, a commander wishing to use the ‘one-up, one-back’ tactic will order his or her forces to pool into two large groups on the battle line, while maintaining the battle line- no easy trick. These groups should preferably be out of sight and knowledge of the enemy team, and spaced approximately a hundred or two hundred feet apart. Once the two groups have been assembled, a single group will suddenly make a very fast, very strong assault on the enemy line opposite. If this is done near a point of heavy contention, such as near an objective, then the enemy commander will like as not rush troops to the area, probably stripping away troops from the rest of the line. Once the enemy reinforcements have arrived, then the group withdraws.
A few minutes later (the pause gives the illusion of troop movement), the second group attacks their immediate opponents, equally fast and equally hard as the first group. The enemy, thinking that the first group had just sprinted down the line, will do one of two things: assault the first group’s position, thinking it to be a weak point in the line; or, he or she will sprint those reinforcements over to where the second group is attacking. If it is the first, then the enemy rushes headlong into the open maw of the now-entrenched and waiting first group, who annihilate them. If it is the second, then the enemy must sprint the whole distance in order to prevent a breakthrough, which can be a team’s worst nightmare if it is fully engaged in a line of battle operation. In either situation, the enemy’s forces are either decimated in numbers, or in ammunition and gas, and possibly fuel, while the resources of one’s own team are still well distributed.
The heart of attrition strategies is always to wear down the enemy for whatever reason. In this example, the enemy are weak to assault after all that running and gunning. A weaker enemy will fall more quickly than an enemy fresh from the break with a full load of paint, air and stamina. Defensive actions, especially retreats, take advantage of that. If the enemy can be tricked into wearing out his troops, then they will not want to pursue, they will want to rest – giving one’s team time to regroup or rest themselves, or whatever is needed at the moment. Attrition is a strategy that is very open and very useful, and that can be modified and combined with other strategies and tactics in any number of ways, keeping it fresh, unexpected and unpredictable.
It may be argued that attrition is the single most efficient strategy possible because of its wide uses and applicability. Attrition is unlike most other woodsball strategies in that it does not involve direct destruction or inhibition of enemy forces or preservation of one’s own forces; every other strategy in this article and many strategies without are designed for direct application with these purposes, such as the solid attack or staggered retreat. Attrition, however, is not based solely upon movement or fire, but on the concept of attacking the enemy on a different level from most paintball play. Indeed, some commanders refuse to apply attrition strategies or tactics, claiming that such strategies and tactics are designed to defeat the enemy in an unsportsmanlike manner not expected of woodsballers, and that defeat of the enemy should be brought about by singular efficiency and skill on the part of one team or another while not inhibiting the enemy’s physical or material ability to fight back. This argument is valid and is taken sensitively by many advanced woodsballers, who on the whole regard honor and sportsmanship even more important in the sport than individual skill or even passion for the game.
Proponents of attrition counter that attrition is just as real a strategy as cutting off an enemy’s supply or reinforcement lines. Cutting off an enemy’s supply lines (some games with large enough teams, especially scenario games, have supply lines to provide combat players with a steady stream of paint and air) prevents one’s opponents from fighting back, but instead of wearing the enemy down physically, they are worn down materially. Certainly, if the enemy is cunning enough, then he or she can protect his or her supply and reinforcement lines from attack and severance. As attrition proponents claim, a clever commander can similarly prevent his or her forces from being wearied by attrition strategy used against them.
This debate continues on unsolved, often with commanders and players clashing after the battle, accusing their opponents of having used dishonorable tactics in an attempt to win. A typical and rather unfair insult heard in such arguments runs along the lines of, “You fight like a speedballer!”, often supplemented with expletives. Of course, such an insult relies upon the purely stereotypical assumption that all speedballers are dishonorable, which can obviously be disproved by logic alone.
Hit and run strategy is very simple: it is the concept and application of hitting the enemy hard and fast in a largely unpredictable place and withdraw before substantial resistance or damage to one’s own forces can be brought about. Hit and run is also a strategy of attrition, in that it wears down the enemy forces gradually.
Hit and run strategy is generally useful as two things: a delaying action, or one used by a weaker force. As a delaying action it can be very useful, especially if the enemy is hit in crucial points. While stealth is not a necessity for hit and run attacks, it is beneficial to use stealth, as an enemy who is not aware of one’s presence is likely to be more surprised when he or she is hit. Consequently, his or her forces will not be marshalled properly and will likely sustain greater damage, and additionally, the enemy will take longer to come about to face the attackers with great strength. Hence, it is generally a good idea to maintain stealth before and directly after an attack.
Attackers withdrawing from the enemy usually withdraw backwards to regroup in a clump before maneuvering to attack again. Most commanders expect this, as it is a fast maneuver, although usually poorly disciplined as paintballers rarely like having to retreat. This is bait most delicious to many commanders. To exploit this, a force retreating from an attack can assume the Farrier tactic, which is to exploit the enemy commander’s opportunism and draw the pursuing forces into a U-ambush in which the numerically smaller force can annihilate them. After this, the ambush forces flee to avoid the enemy’s retaliation.
As mentioned above, hit and run is also a useful defensive strategy. During a woodsball game, circumstances often force one’s attack to, out of necessity, lapse into a defensive force that falls back on friendly territory and/or positions. This is usually for support reasons, either in support for friendlies in one’s own territory or positions, or due to an attack’s need for further support (if an attack is beaten back with heavy losses, for instance). A defensive force withdrawing slowly has the great advantage of concealed ambushes—in essence, a planted butter advance. Ambushes consisting of well-camouflaged paintballers who excel in extracting from enemy territory, usually marksmen, are set up in the rear of the withdrawing force, while the rest of the withdrawing force stalls the enemy. Once the ambushes are in place, the team withdraws over and through them, leading the enemy into them. After the ambushers are fifty or so feet behind enemy lines, the withdrawing force resumes the attack and the ambushers suddenly come up and attack the enemy from behind, eliminating as many of the enemy as possible in their drive back to the rest of their team. Upon linking up, the team can either continue the withdrawal or execute a different tactic or a different strategy altogether, while facing a much reduced enemy force.
Players with the fastest-shooting markers are almost always gunners. They tend to hang back and ‘longball’ the opposition, letting scouts and riflemen move up alongside the other team. Gunners are responsible for providing heavy suppressive fire, and they will often rush up and down the front line, providing cover for other elements of the team as they advance.
Advanced teams will often have heavy weapons to combat opposing tanks, boats, and aircraft. However, such players will rarely be seen anywhere except ‘Big Games’ (games where sometimes hundreds if not thousands of paintballers will play) and Scenarioball. Heavy weapons specialists may carry paintball grenade launchers, paintball rocket launchers, paintball mortars, and operate mounted paintball machine markers. If there is a tank assigned to a team, it is common that heavy weapons specialists will be reassigned as tank pilots, also referred to as mech pilots. This can add an interesting twist, as the recently appointed mech pilots will often know ‘tricks of the trade’ in how to destroy mechs, and thus will bring that knowledge – and knowledge of counter-moves which can benefit the mechs – to their new position.
Paintball Marksmen/Snipers are arguably the largest, most commonly seen, and most controversial specialist group. And many consider it to be its own group separate from paintball specialists.
Marksmen are players who are dedicated to unparalleled accuracy on the paintball field. They are also known for their arguably unparalleled emphasis upon stealth. These two abilities allow the marksman to move to a position, lay in ambush and strike quickly then leave, often confusing the enemy, slowing them down and slowly eliminating their forces.
Because of these and other reasons it is not uncommon for paintball marksmen to spend much more than ordinary players on equipment, sometimes even spending $800-$2000 US dollars just on the marker itself. However, over time, this increased cost in equipment may be mitigated by the use of a lesser number of paintballs when compared to other players.
Woodsball marksmen are often incorrectly known for their ability to sit back from the front line and longball the enemy positions from afar. This is because it is difficult for a player to build a marker to perform this task because ball velocities are regulated. Assuming that a rifleman, with a 12″ barrel, shooting 280ft/sec is put against a sniper, with an 18″ barrel, shooting at the same speed, then the sniper’s ball will on average travel 6″ further from the gun breach than the rifleman’s. This is only because the ball velocity is measured from the tip of the barrel. Apex and Flatline barrel systems allow for longer distances, but it should be noted that the ball velocity at these longer ranges is often insufficient to produce a break. Snipers/marksman are generally more useful for longballing only because of their increased accuracy which translates into more hits at any range.
The term ‘paintball sniper’ is the cause of much controversy. Indeed, it may arguably be the most controversial issue in paintball today. Critics of paintball snipers argue that the very nature of military snipers contradicts that of paintball snipers. Along with this subject there are many other debates going on as to whether there is or is not a paintball sniper. As a kind of unwritten compromise, the term ‘paintball marksman’ is emerging in various areas throughout the world, which is more widely accepted than the original term. In military terms the ‘paintball sniper’ would more accurately be called a designated marksman since they perform much of the same duties as that squad member.
Paintball is a very active sport, involving a lot of running, diving, crawling and sliding. Accordingly, the clothing worn for paintball must be extremely hard-wearing and durable. For woodsball, camouflage is also extremely useful, so it is not uncommon to see players wearing army surplus military fatigues or BDU (Battle Dress Uniform), particularly DPM styles. For speedball, however, the small field and artificial obstacles make camouflage ineffective. Speedball players therefore wear clothing which forms a uniform amongst the players, usually in threatening colors or styles (flames, for instance, are particularly popular). For scenario games, players will tend to dress themselves in a style appropriate to the character or force they are representing. In order to minimize the sting of close-range hits, players often wear extra layers of clothing padding as well.
Clothing worn for tournament paintballing is also constrained by the tournament rules, which expressly prohibit thick padded materials which are likely to adversely affect the chance of paint breaking on the target. Combined with the need to allow adequate padding to protect the elbows and knees during slides on hard ground, tournament paintball gear can take on a rather unusual appearance. Often, in an attempt at gamesmanship, players will wear the baggiest clothing they can reasonably get away with, as this also makes paint more likely to ‘bounce’.
Footwear varies enormously between Speedball and Woodsball/scenario games. In woodsball, the rough terrain and uneven, often muddy ground makes footwear with good grip and plenty of ankle support a necessity. This lends itself to boots, either military style or walking/hiking boots. In speedball, however, the added weight of thick boots is a distinct disadvantage, as is the reduction in mobility. Speedball players therefore tend to wear sneakers or cleats.