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How Paintball is Played (Simple Guide to the Rules)




A pair of a man and woman playing paintball

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Sending tiny balls of paint whizzing through the air to hit an opponent sounds dangerous and exciting. If you’ve only heard of paintball, and you haven’t played yet, you should learn about the game before you head off to a field for the first time. What better way to start than to learn how paintball is played?

There are many different game styles in paintball, but the basic rule is if you’re hit, you’re out. There’s a game for all players, whether you want to play in teams, or individually, or you want something a little more challenging or a little more fun. 

Different Game Styles

There are so many different types of paintball games, so it’s hard to tell you how it’s played without explaining some of them. 

Elimination: Elimination games are like a high-speed version of dodgeball. Two teams compete to hit all the members of the opposing team. Once all team members of one team have been eliminated, the team with at least one remaining member is the winner. 

Free For All: Free for all is similar to elimination play, except there are no teams. Each player is competing against every other player. The last player remaining at the end of the game, taking absolutely no hits, is the winner. 

Capture the Flag: Capture the flag puts a fun spin on elimination games. The field is divided into however many teams there are, and each team has a flag to hide somewhere in their zone. The object of the game is to capture another team’s flag and bring it back to your zone without getting hit. 

A man player capturing a red flag from the enemy's base
Capture the flag is one of the most commonly played game

You can also win by eliminating all the members of the other team. 

Scenario: There are a wide variety of scenario games, but they all have a certain task that has to be completed. This style of gaming puts the story and entertainment above the paintball play. 

The different types of scenario games could be an escort situation, where one team has to safely escort a player from one end to the other without taking a hit. It could also be a “take and hold” task where you claim areas of a paintball field for your team. 

Scenario games are often based on real-world events, including military scenarios. This is common in Live Action Role Playing (or LARPing). Instead of using real weapons, or even fake weapons, players will dress up in costume and play out historically famous battles with their paintball guns. 

paint ball played

Speedball: Speedball isn’t necessarily a different play style, but it’s played on a different type of field. Speedball fields are smaller, flatter, and have less cover than standard paintball fields. 

This playstyle requires more teamwork and strategic play instead of stealth and patience 

Fortress Assault: Fortress assault games are timed games where a small team will defend a specific zone designated to be the fortress. The opposing team of infiltrators will try to breach the fortress within the time frame, or take out all the players on the guarding team.

If the infiltrating team manages to breach the fortress or eliminate the other team before time runs out they win, if not, the guarding team wins

“That sounds really cool, but I’ve never played paintball. How can I learn more?” Check out the complete guide to starting paintball as a hobby!

What You Need

It doesn’t matter what style of paintball you choose to play, you’ll need the same equipment. Besides footwear, everything you need can be rented from a paintball field for the day so you don’t need to buy your own. 

  • Paintball gun
  • Facemask
  • Hopper (paintball container that attaches to your gun)
  • Paintballs
  • Protective layers for body, arms, and legs
  • CO2 or compressed-air tank to power the gun
paintball equipment on a barrel in the field

If you have cleats at home, or shoes with good traction, you should bring those. Paintball fields can get extremely slippery with all the paint, dirt, and sometimes rain. If you can’t run for cover from someone’s fire, you’ll be “out” a lot sooner than someone who showed up with good shoes. 

The Rules Don’t Change

No matter what game you play, the rules remain the same. The rules may differ depending on which field you play at, but generally, the rules are as follows. 

Leave Your Facemask On: Under no circumstances are you allowed to remove your facemask while you are on the field. Once you are hit and have completely removed yourself from the field can you take your mask off. The face needs to be protected otherwise one misplaced paintball could leave you permanently blind. 

Fire from the Proper Distance: Most fields have a rule in place that you can’t shoot at another player while being within 10 feet of them. 

Call Yourself Out: If you’ve been hit, and the paintball explodes leaving a solid mark bigger than the size of a quarter, you’re out. You are in charge of calling yourself out by yelling “hit” or “out”, putting your hand up, and waiting for a referee to acknowledge you so you can come off the field. 

There are harsh penalties for cheating. Trying to wipe off the paint can leave eliminated from the game, or even banned from the paintball field. 

If you’re hit early in the game, some fields will have a reincarnation rule for beginners where you clean yourself up and come back to the game. It’s a fun way to enjoy the rest of your time without penalty. 

Wrapping It Up

There are many different ways to play paintball. While the play styles may change, the equipment and rules do not. 

It’s important to know the rules of the game, and wear all the proper safety gear, it’s most important for you to have fun and enjoy your time on the field. 

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