The Basics of How to Play Paintball

The basic premise of paintball is, of course, to shoot paintballs at other players in order to win. However, there are plenty of different types of games that can be played using the same paintball equipment. In the end, a game is actually the sum of its rules. When you change the rules, you change the entire character of the game. Different game types come with their own special rules, but there is a basic set of paintball game rules that everyone should know, especially if you want to run your own games apart from a formal venue that employs marshals. So here is the basic rundown of how to play paintball.

Define your Playfield

Paintball games are played within a specific area. Anyone outside of this area is not a part of the game. It’s very important to clearly mark out where the game will take place. Deciding on the right size for the playfield is very important. This is largely driven by how many players will be taking part.

Of course, at a formal venue play areas will already be marked off, with recommendations as to how many players are suitable for each one. You can use that as a rough guide, but player density has a big effect on gameplay. If you want fast and furious game play, then give players less room; if you want a long, tactical game, then give them more space.

paintball team

Mark Out the Dead Zone

What happens to a player when they are eliminated or have to leave the field for some reason? They have to head to the dead zone. It’s important to mark one of these out so that everyone knows where to go when they are not in the active game zone. This is where people leave their bags and spare equipment. This is also where they come to fix or maintain things, such as cleaning their masks. As such, the dead zone should be somewhere paintballs are not going to be flying around.

What Counts as a Hit?

Many paintball game types count hits in order to determine if someone is eliminated or not. That leaves the question of what actually counts as a hit. Most of the time you have to be hit squarely by the paintball, leaving a consistent, large splat on the area contacted. This means getting splashed by one that, say, hits a tree next to you does not count.

Sometimes a player isn’t sure if they have been legitimately hit. They can then call “paint check!” or another agreed upon phrase and another player or marshal can confirm or deny the hit.

Elimination Rules

Once you have established what a hit looks like, you have to decide what counts as an elimination. When I play with friends we often have a “two-one” rule. You are eliminated if you take two hits anywhere or just one hit on the head. However, in tournaments a solid hit anywhere just once could mean elimination. Whatever conditions you decide on, when someone is hit enough times to be eliminated they should quickly and immediately stand up, with their marker raised above their heads. A verbal “I’m out!” or something similar should be repeated as they move swiftly to the dead zone. No one should shoot at them on purpose, of course.


It’s common practice to allow for surrenders in standard paintball play. You can decide to leave this out as a team, but I wouldn’t recommend it. A “surrender” happens when one player gets the drop on another from close range. Since close range paintball hits can do a bit of damage (and hurt like the dickens) that player can call out “surrender!” instead, where it would count as an elimination.

Paintball Marshal

Using a Marshal

It’s very important that someone is there to enforce the rules. As a whole, paintball players are expected to be honorable and to self-police things like hits and eliminations. However, when you are in the game you don’t always have a good view of what happened or what’s going on. Having one or more players act as marshals will help things move along. More experienced players can take turns being the marshal, so that everyone gets a chance to play.

Ending the Game

When the victory conditions are met, all players should immediately come out, plug their barrels, and leave for the staging area as if eliminated. If the field is quite large you might want to use something like the siren on a megaphone to let everyone know the match has come to an end.

Also remember that matches usually have a time limit, whether victory conditions have been met or not.

General Tips for Good Paintball Games

These aren’t really rules, but if you want your games to turn out well there are some things you can keep in mind when setting them up.

Team composition and selection has a big impact on how much fun the game will be. While it can be funny to pit a group of veterans against new players, it’s not going to feel fair or fun for everyone. So perhaps think about balancing the teams out until they are about equal in strength.

Since paintball is a physical game, make sure you have an emergency contact if someone breaks a bone or has another serious injury. Have a first-aid kit on hand for smaller injuries. Make sure people wear sunscreen and get enough water to drink. In general, people should feel safe and happy so they can get on with the game.