If you see an offer for free paintball be very skeptical. Many companies will let you in for free and then charge for your protective gear, paintballs and everything in between. Knowing this all too well, when the invitation came from the folks at Gasp Design to join them for a morning of mayhem, it was with some relief to learn Rednal Paintball Arena offered to provide not only free entry for ten of us but also 600 paintballs each as well, a package worth nearly £600 for free.
Built around an old aircraft control tower the arena contains everything from a rocket to launch, an embassy to storm and trenches to get muddy in. Our day luckily coincided with rainfall the night before so we were ensured of a day of mud and squelching boots (which to be fair is always a bonus). We found time to play five games in all, and our team of ten (comprised of first timers, one expert player and the rest) was pitted against a group of 10-13 year olds and their fathers who seem to have played the arena every week for the entire of their lives. Eep.
Game 1: Our first game was simple. We had to work our way through trenches and an abandoned building to a bus and activate a detonator. As we slowly and nervously made our way to the building it became apparent that the key to winning was to have all your men in the building, a revelation that only became clear as five children appeared in the windows and fired at us repeatedly. Using a system of you pop up and shoot, then I'll pop up and shoot we were pretty outgunned, and numerous attacks from our team were rendered ineffective. Seeing a spare window we darted towards it and... I fell on my arse. Stumbling about I climbed through a nearby window and was quickly shot in the mouth-guard at the precise moment I went to say a Rambo-esque phrase. As I walked out trying to get the taste of paint out of my mouth, the team continued valiantly, but it was too late and the siren rang to signal our defeat. Kids 1 Us 0.
With the tables turned to defense, our revelation over the usefulness of the building was rendered redundant as the kids stormed the building (all too aware they had unlimited lives and we, as defense, had one each) and flushed us out. The remainder of our team sat at the top of the bus, and soon found ourselves pinned down. The four of us lay there on the floor (and I apologise for not using names, but it's hard to tell who people are with smoke around you and everyone in identical masks) as we got shot at continuously for two minutes, If we tried to move another bullet went whizzing past our heads. Unable to get downstairs and defend the detonator, we heard the sweet siren of defeat but felt slightly relived we wouldn't spend the rest of our lives being shot at in a bus. Kids 2 Us 0.
Game 2: Still stinging will be feeling of defeat, we dusted ourselves down and returned to the field. This time our goal was to protect a flag in the building which we inhabited from the start (hooray!). We were unable to leave the building unless killed, which meant close combat, high impact shots and a fair bit of pain ... well only if you died that is. Sensing this four of us hid upstairs, in another moment of slight cowardice, but someone had to defend the second level right? Either way it felt good to be shooting the kids from the same position they had so badly bruised us only one round ago. Which was going great, until the combination of heavy breathing, gung-ho shouting, rubbish anti-fog spray and a cold day caused our visors to steam up. Unable to leave the building, or take our masks off, our upstairs team stumbled about only really saved by the good work of our downstairs team. It was a victory, if a blurry, disorienting one. Kids 2 Us 1
Switching to attack, and with clean visors again, we returned to the building to retrieve the flag. We had unlimited lives, so those high impact shots, were going to be hitting us more than one time. After the last few games, we had developed a sense of teamwork, and mainly stuck to a strategy of "If he can get over there without getting shot, so can I, I'd better follow him". For the other team it meant "Look there's three of them behind that tiny box over there" BANG BANG BANG dead, dead, dead. Not that they quite understood the concept of dead, as I raised my arms to confirm I'd been shot and was going back to the start I got shot twice in the hand and three times in the arm. Where is the honor?
As time slowly ticked against us we made a mad dash towards the building, with many of our team darting through windows. The flag was guarded by a central stairwell, at which they had two guards and we used a suppressing fire to pin them down. Looking at Leu and Mike's guns I soon realised they were only shooting air, likewise I had but a mere few paintballs left for the game. As we tried to think of a way around this, a loud bang was heard which ricocheted around the building. For a £3 flash bang it sure pakced a wallop. Coming to our senses, we saw our team mate Glen darting out of the building, flag in hand, taking bullets to the head and arms like no tomorrow. None of us were really sure what happened but back at the base, bruises and all, we confirmed he hadn't been shot in any critical places and won the game, Kids 2 Us 2.
Game 3:Order restored we went on to a game of launch the missile. This time running from behind the building to a missile and attempting to shoot it. Our attacking didn't hold water and the kids held back a point and on defense we likewise did the same. The setup was almost identical to storm the bus, but in the opposite direction and with more cover for the missile itself. Another good game, and more of the same. Kids 2 Us 2.
Game 4: We finished the day with Speed Ball, a close combat race to grab a ball and get it back to your goal. A bit like football but with added headshots. Our teams were divided as many of the kids had gone home (hopefully stung by the pain of a draw - and paintballs to the legs) so we split up. No buildings to storm this time, just a really fast paced game where a good angle could see you shooting the entire enemy team without them even seeing you. Our team won both rounds but by this stage we were having such a good time we didn't really care.
Game 5: With paintballs still to spare from our initial 600 we were asked to go in to the forest, shoot each other and not return until we'd used them all up. This was the most fun any of us had all day, and with the ability to shoot anyone on our team, several work colleagues were happy to shoot each other all day long, and the new team ethos we had formed on the day was quickly turned on its head in a sea of paint.
All in all, a fantastic morning was had by all, and I have to applaud Rednal Paintball Arena for being so generous. Likewise full credit goes to Gasp Design to arranging such an excellent day and inviting me along for the ride, some of them I knew before, some I didn't but none of that mattered when we got out on the field and carnage was had by all.... so why can I still taste paint?