So You Wanna Play a Big Game? Part 1
After an absence of a few months I went out to a favorite field one weekend, feeling the urge to relive some fond memories, and hoping to hang out with some old friends. On a lark I decided to see if I missed playing in the woods. Instead, the games I played out on the large, wooded ridge field were a nightmare. The latest crop of tourney players in the mix were as lost out in the woods as the newbies. Even the regular walk-ons who routinely played the field behaved like they could easily wander off and disappear, never to be seen again. Most of the skills needed to play in the woods, heck, even to see and recognize what was happening in a woods game of paintball were virtually nonexistent. The result was a glacial game pace that would have bored an Alabama wood tick punctuated by so much friendly fire there should'a been a congressional investigation.
The whole debacle reminded me of the assorted scenario and big games that periodically occur on patches of isolated woodlands like an outbreak of some hemorrhagic plague or monkey-virus that must be contained lest it spread to the general population and infect them with the urge to run around with paintball markers pretending they're Muldar and Scully or General Patton reincarnated. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Really. I'm completely serious but ... I've been on all sides of the Big Game battle lines. I've been a player. I've been a referee. I've played as a rec player and played as a tourney player. If you've never tried it you ought to do it once and find out for yourself if it's the sort of paintball you want to play.
In the meantime maybe I can help separate the reality from the fantasy. Okay, it's all fantasy but play along. It'll be good practice if you ever do try the scenario thing.Most of the promoters of these events pitch the "scenario" (ya know, the concept, the storyline) as the draw. The possibilities are nearly endless as the scenarios can be anything that gives a coupl'a hundred paintball players a reason to run around in the woods shooting each other. 'Course I've never really thought an excuse was required, but ... Anyway, you get stuff like WWII or Vietnam based scenarios skirting the boundaries of reenactment and good taste to alternate history; for example, What if the Indians had Tippmann flatliners when Columbus landed on Hispaniola?
Alright, probably not that exact one but you get the idea. More popular in years past were 'Red Dawn' type deals wherein the godless Soviet commies invade Nebraska or Iowa or wherever. Nowadays you get plenty of 'Men in Black' meet 'Indiana Jones' scenarios that happily mix and match space aliens, towel-headed terrorists, One World whackos, time travel, legendary lost treasures, vampires, gangsters and unrepentant Spanish-speaking Nazis plotting the Fourth Reich from their haciendas on the Argentine pampas in between games of polo played with human skulls. The usual suspects.
The organization and complexity of these games can vary widely. Many of the shorter Big Games don't need much more than a broad outline and a handful of guiding players to get the action started while the 24 hour scenario games often have interwoven storylines and lots of prepared missions and special events. It can go so far that every player receives a unique character I.D. complete with pre-planned skills. A large part of the play of those games is to have as many of the players as possible act out their parts as well as play paintball. My experience has been that a percentage of the players really get into the role-playing aspect but that the majority just want to run around and shoot people. Nor do they care who they shoot. Once the game starts they are so anxious there often exists a near pathological disregard for anything and anyone that gets in their way, and would, in the real world, lead to a Sam Peckinpah-esque massacre if the projectiles involved were anything but paint-filled gelcaps. Hear a branch snap? Fire at will. Hear an airplane fly overhead? Fire at will. Decide that suddenly it's too quiet out there? Fire at will. See some guys through the cover of trees but can't see their armbands? Fire at will. Buried in the brush near the re-entry zone giggling like junior high school girls while you watch some players re-join the game. Fire at will. See refs coming your way. Fire at will then run like hell.
Broadly, every scenario or big game will have two or sometimes three competing teams and each team will have a base of operations. Among other things this gives everybody something to attack and defend. And a place for the commanding general to hang out. Once the players have been assigned to their team, arm-banded with colored tape and the backstory explained to help motivate the players--Ralph Nadar and the Eco-Weenies are plotting the destruction of Area 51 while simultaneously the Alpha-Centauris are organizing a raid to recover the ship they lost at Roswell--it's time for the generals to take over. In order to keep the game on track and see to it the clever advance planning doesn't go to waste each team has a general who orders the missions and generally (get it?) tries to keep the different facets of the scenario progressing and the players actively involved.
The generals are always seriously into the game but have differing styles of play. At one extreme are the guys (and gals) who take to the role like the latest Central American strongman intent on bringing order to his poverty-stricken pesthole of a nation even if it means killing every campesino who survived the latest cycle of insurrection and repression. The other extreme acts like they just arrived straight from some rubber chicken dinner theater staging of Gilbert & Sullivan's 'Pirates of Penzance.' The one leads his forces with a righteous intensity while the other engages with a tongue-in-cheek flamboyance. Think William Shatner.
Part 2 tomorrow