Game plans, strategy, field knowledge --These fundamental elements are the foundation for winning paintball games, for winning tournaments. Strategy is based on game plans, which come from field knowledge, which is a product of walking the field. There is no cornerstone more important to success in paintball than walking the fields. I cannot overstate the importance of knowing the terrain before you play the game. This is even more important on a woodsball field, where there are an incredible amount of variables, and it’s imperative you know the on-field possibilities before you make moves.
You could literally spend hours walking a field. Bob Long was famous for this, as he would make his team stay until dark in order to figure out all the little important details to come up with the best game plan. Most teams either don’t want to or can’t spend that much time on the field, and you don’t have to spend that much time to come up with a concrete idea of how the field would play if you know the right way to do it and what to look for. There is a flow to walking fields, and if you understand this, if you follow the flow I lay down here, then you can get through the fields you need to walk in the quickest time possible while still fully understanding the game’s possibilities. It’s the captain’s responsibility to make sure the team is walking the field properly, and needs to make sure all the elements have been accounted for. So if you’re the captain, keep everybody on topic and get things done quickly.
Walking the field is a formula, and regardless of the thickness of the field or the type of terrain the principles are the same. You should already know who your front, mid, and back guys are before you start to walk the field. You should also decide which players are going to play together, who works the best together, whose styles match up. As your players head out to walk the field they should understand the need to walk the whole field, all the bunkers, not just their position. In woodsball, as in paintball in general, a front player might become a back player in a split second, and they need to know as much of the field as possible. This is even more important in the UWL, because you get dead players back every ten minutes, and if you lose your front player, and then take his spot, and don’t get shot, when he gets back in the game he is going to be the back player now. Remember, walking the fields is about preparing not only for the initial plan, but gaining knowledge of the field layout so you are ready for any outcome, any shift in the game flow. As anyone who has played any sort of paintball event can tell you, unfortunately the game plan almost always doesn’t work out as planned, and after it goes to hell, then your understanding of how the field plays could be the difference between winning and losing.
The first thing you need to do after heading out to the fields is to figure out if the field is balanced. The side of the field you pick should be determined by the follow factors: size and playability of the main bunkers, lanes of fire cross-field, the closeness to the start station of the main bunkers, how defensive the side can be if things go wrong, crawling lanes, and the general feeling of the team on which side can be played better. The people who craft woodsball fields will go to great lengths to make sure the field can be played effectively from both sides, that they are even, however, there will still be slight advantages to one side of the field. Find out how far it is from the starting flag station to the important front bunkers by walking the route of the run. Count the steps. Even on balanced field they will most likely be a few steps apart. One may be 60 steps and the other 56; those four steps could be the difference between getting shot and making the bunker. Do this for all the important bunkers on the field, on both sides.
Also, note any types of terrain that may play to your advantage from a particular side. For example, if there’s a creek going down one side of the field and you can get your players right hand dominant going down one side, then you would want to pick the side giving your players that advantage (in a perfect world, you should be able to use both hands equally as well, but that isn’t always the case). Find the defining characteristic of the field. If the bunkers are far apart then the field is going to play slow, if there are a lot of bunkers, then the field is going to play fast. Now, depending on these differences in the field you can put more players on one side of the field if you want to play aggressively on that side. This is often pretty obvious; say one side of the field is thicker than the other or just has easier bunkers to play and make moves from, then you want to stack that side, put your aggressive players over there, and push. Those are easy distinctions to make, but that’s where the real work starts. Once you’ve decided which is the more aggressive side, and have sent everyone out to walk their side of the field, you need to examine the bunkers.
Bunkers are both a place to play the game from and a launching point of attack. Don’t let your players just look at the playability of the bunkers, get them to come up with a game plan from that bunker. How do all the bunkers work in harmony when we have a strong presence on a side, and how can we get players to make moves, who can shoot at who? The plan needs to be fluid, not static. This is the genesis of the game plan; this is you assembling the plan from the possibilities the field layout, the bunker placement, and the talent level of your team. You’re giving your team the best chance to exert your will on the other team.
Find the solid playable bunkers that are going to be the primary stops for front, mid, and back players. Find out how far you think you can send your front players. They are the tip of the spear and they need to be as close as possible to the front line of the opposing team. The type of field you’re working with will dictate how far you can push you front players up off the break. Also, in the UWL, you are able to send out a scout ten seconds early, so use that player wisely, and try to get them towards an objective. The route you take to your bunkers increases the survivability of your run. There are lanes leading to the bunkers, but this is not always the best route to take. Sometime you can take a longer route, but because it’s not the location the opposing players are going to shooting, you can sneak into a spot you might not be able to get to if you ran the standard route.
Your mid players need to be close enough to the action going on at the front line, so that if one of your front players get shot then they will be able to take over the lost position, by either forcing it to happen, or making a sneaky move. The mid players should also make sure they are in a spot where they can talk to and support your front players. They should also be able to shoot at multiple targets from their bunkers. All this is found out from walking the fields.
Make sure your back players look long and hard at possible ways to get shots on the other team off the break. On an airball field if you are shooting off the break, most times you just turn about and blaze away, but with the bigger size of a woodsball field, you have to look harder to find the shots off the break, you have to look for spots you can quickly run to that have a clear shots at the opposing front players. Also, shooting at the back players is a good idea sometimes as well, because a lot of their spots to shoot off the break from might not be in cover.
All players from all positions should be looking hard for cross-field shots as well. They are the most important shots because a lot of players get tunnel vision on the battle in front of them while the game is going on, forgetting about everything else going on around them. We used to try and sneak guns out on the fields back in the day when we were walking fields to see if cross-field shots and blind shots would work, that’s how important they were. Many a rookie player, hell, even seasoned players, have let their team down because they didn’t walk the cross-field blind shots and got hit from a paintball out of the blue. Don’t let that be you.
Crawling lanes are some of the most potent tools you can have in your arsenal in order to put your team in a position to win. The art of crawling has been lost but used to be one of the most important aspects of the game. As with all aspects of field walking and preparing to play bunkers, you must actually get down on the ground, work your way through the path of the crawl in order to have this work. In thick fields you can use low ground cover to hide you from the opposing players and crawl out into no-man’s-land, the space between the bunkers. How to crawl is another article in itself. Walking the fields you should always look for available crawls. Not every field will have them, but knowing the crawling lanes can really open up offensive options for you as you try to advance. You can crawl to get from your bunker to another, you can crawl to get behind the enemy positions, and you can crawl to get yourself in position to bunker another player, either taking his bunker or running past him to instigate a push. One of the most important things to do when in walking a crawl is to get in the opponent’s bunkers and see what your opponents can see. This will keep you from stalling out mid crawl, second-guessing yourself and swearing in your head that your opponent can see you. That shouldn’t be something to worry about as you’re crawling. A properly walked and executed crawl can single handedly win the game.
In the UWL, since you get players back every ten minutes, there are times when you might need to retreat to a good defensive position to hold out until the reinforcements arrive. Sometimes this will be back by the flag station and other time it may just be a little back from the front lines. Sometimes you don’t have to move back at all and can hold out from the front lines, all depends on the situation. The most important thing to look for in defensive positioning is the ability to have crossing lanes of fire with another of your players. Bunker size does not dictate bunker quality. So when walking the field make sure you have a few spots you can hop back to, spots that have crossing lanes of fire so you can watch in front of your teammate and he can watch in front of you. You might not have to sacrifice the good front bunkers to play defensibly, and get back to full strength, but you should at least know where these spots are in case it comes to that. I’ve always been a believer that a good offense is the best defense, but you never know what’s going to happen when the battle starts and you should be prepared for any eventuality.
Another trick is to name or number the important bunkers on the field, and establish a code to have all players who have a shot on that bunker shoot it at the same time. In tournament paintball today codes are relatively simple but back when all money tournaments were played in the woods the codes could get pretty complex. Your codes can be simple, but they need to be effective, and naming the bunkers during the field walking process is one of the most effective things you can do.
After everyone as had a chance to check out the field, get the team together for a meeting. Let everyone state their case as to what they think is the best side is and why. If you have to switch people’s assignments up this is the time to do it. Once you have a tentative game plan, have everyone go and walk that game plan. Make sure all the sides of the fields are walked, the important bunkers are named, that every bunker has been checked for playability, the crawls have been found, a plan has been made for disaster, and that an aggressive push has been talked about that will break a stalemate late in the game in needed. After you have done all this you have walked the field properly, done your job, and put your team in the best possible situation to win.