17 Types of Paintball Games

Including Capture the Flag, Annihilator & Traitor (Plus 14 Others)

David McBryan, Paintballer-in-Chief

David McBryan
Paintballer-in-Chief
Updated: 09/24/20
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At its most basic, paintball is a simple game: locate the enemy and eliminate them.

17 Game Types Including Woodsball vs Speedball - primary image
17 Game Types Including Woodsball vs Speedball

As much fun as a day on the field is, doing the same thing over and over can get boring. That’s why these 17 different paintball games exist.

From the basics (like Capture the Flag) to variations promoting complete chaos (ever play Annihilator?) there are a ton of different ways to keep things fresh on the battlefield.

This guide covers my favorite paintball games and includes a few need-to-know things about each:

  • Team setup
  • Objective
  • Rules
  • Other notes

If your favorite paintball game isn’t listed, let me know in the comments below. But before we jump into the different variations of paintball games, we need to talk about the two paintball formats.

Woodsball vs Speedball

While there are tons of different paintball games, they all fall under just two different playing formats:

  1. Woodsball
  2. Speedball

So, let’s kick this guide off with a preview of those.

Woodsball

Woodsball is the original version of paintball played outdoors and opens itself up to the greatest variety of gameplay objectives. Game strategy is highly dependent on the terrain, which can vary wildly from one playing field to the next. Some fields may be relatively straightforward while others may have slopes, natural bunkers, dense trees, and other obstacles.

Woodsball tends to be more spread out than speedball, involves more players, takes longer to play, and requires a different set of paintball gear. Woodball games generally are played at a slower pace and require more subterfuge, which influences the paintball clothing you wear and the types of equipment—such as tactical boots, compact binoculars, and vests—you need.

Speedball

Speedball is played on a flat field about half the size of a woodsball field with a few manmade obstacles or bunkers and no natural cover. These bunkers used to be large wooden spools or sewer pipes, but inflatable bunkers are increasingly common these days.

The smaller field size, flat terrain, and lack of natural obstacles makes speedball much faster-paced than woodsball. This means a whole different set of gear is required. Throw out your heavy tactical vests, bulky boots, and camouflage clothing. Speedball players want light gear that makes them swift and agile.

Speedball also is the only game played across the various professional leagues for three key reasons:

  1. Field can be set up as a mirror image on both sides, ensuring neither team has a terrain advantage.
  2. Flat, open playing area makes it easier for referees to make the correct calls.
  3. Small playing field size makes it easier for spectators to follow the action.

Despite the many differences between woodsball and speedball, the same general paintball rules apply to both paintball games.

17 Types of Paintball Games

The following paintball games are my favorites with each offering a unique twist. Each paintball game can be played in either the woodsball or speedball format, though many are much better as woodsball games in my personal opinion. All rules and objectives can be changed to fit your field and/or playing style.

1. Tournament Play

The objective of tournament paintball play is the same as standard paintball—to be the one team standing

Team SetupMore than two teams in the tournament but each matchup is between two teams
ObjectiveWin each matchup and be the last team standing
RulesStarting point: Play starts with each team on their own side. Standard elimination rules are used unless the tournament host has other specific rules. Teams are eliminated matchup by matchup until one team is left standing.
NotesOriginally played with the woodsball format, standard tournament paintball is now played with the speedball tournament format.

2. Capture the Flag

Capture the Flag is the original paintball game and has multiple variations, which are described in other paintball game variations below.

Team SetupTwo teams
ObjectiveCapture the opposing team’s flag and return it to your base
RulesStaring Point: Play starts with each team at their own base, each with their own flag. Once gameplay commences, players try to eliminate members of the opposing side while advancing towards the other team’s base to capture their flag. When players are hit, they’re out and return to the dead zone or staging area. The first team to return the opposing team’s flag to their own base wins.
NotesSome variations give players multiple lives. When eliminated, they return to their base and resume play until all of their lives are taken.

3. Down But Not Out

A variation of Capture the Flag with a small difference: Players who are eliminated remain on the field in waiting.

Team SetupTwo teams
ObjectiveCapture the opposing team’s flag and return it to your base
RulesStandard rules for Capture the Flag. However, when players are hit, they lay down where struck and put a white sock over their barrel to indicate they’re out. Members of the same team may tag them back in by hand. The first team to return to the opposing team’s flag to their own base wins.
NotesPlayers waiting to be tagged back in may not communicate with team members in any way.

4. Blackjack

Another of the many variations of Capture the Flag, Blackjack emphasizes skill, discretion, and accuracy.

Team SetupTwo teams
ObjectiveCapture the opposing team’s flag and return it to your base
RulesStandard rules for Capture the Flag. However, players only have 21 paintballs for the whole game and must use them wisely.
NotesPlayers are only given 21 paintballs for the whole game. This means semiautomatic and ramping paintball guns have no advantage and may even be a disadvantage.

5. Gettysburg

Another version of Capture the Flag but with a heavy dose of historic reenactment and no bulk loading gear to represent the musket fire of the American Civil War.

Team SetupTwo teams (North and South)
ObjectiveCapture the opposing team’s flag and return it to your base
RulesSame rules as Capture the Flag. However, no bulk loaders, loading tubes, or any piece of equipment used to feed paintballs is allowed.
NotesStrong teamwork is required to sequence firing with your team segmented into multiple units that alternate firing.

6. Kick the Bucket

A simplified version of Capture the Flag where your objective is to reach the opposing team’s base and simply kick over a bucket instead of capturing and returning a flag.

Team SetupTwo teams.
ObjectiveReach the opposing team’s base and kick over their bucket
RulesSame rules as Capture the Flag. However, you don’t need to return anything to your own base.
NotesThe best plan of attack is to storm the bucket. Remember, you don’t need anyone alive to return a flag to base.

7. Charge of the Light Brigade

“Into the jaws of Death / Into the mouth of hell / Rode the six hundred.” This paintball game, based on Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem that we all read in middle school, is the inverse of Capture the Flag. Instead of pushing into enemy territory, taking their flag, and returning it to your base, your objective is to charge with your team’s flag and hang it in enemy territory.

Team SetupTwo teams
ObjectiveHang your team’s flag in the opposing team’s flag area
RulesSame rules as Capture the Flag. However, you don’t need to return anything to your own base. If the player carrying the flag is eliminated, he or she must drop the flag on the ground of hang it on the closest non-person object.
NotesProtect the flag bearer at all costs and do not let the flag bearer engage in combat.

8. Kill the Captain

Almost like chess, this game’s goal is to eliminate the other team’s captain.

Team SetupTwo teams, each with a captain
ObjectiveEliminate the other team’s captain.
RulesStarting Point: Play starts with each team at their own base. Each team’s captain is tethered to the flag area with a 20-foot rope. Once gameplay commences, each team must try to eliminate the other team’s captain. First team to do so wins.
NotesFinding the balance between attacking and protecting your captain is crucial. React to your opponent’s style and be patient.

9. Annihilator

Annihilator is a chaotic free-for-all where several teams compete simultaneously to be the last team standing.

Team SetupTwo or more five-man teams
ObjectiveBe the last team standing
RulesStarting Point: Play starts with each team in their own base. Standard paintball elimination rules apply with the goal of being the last team standing.
NotesKeep your eyes on a swivel and don’t hang in one area too long. After battling it out with another team for a few minutes, move away to prevent other teams from setting up behind or beside you to swoop in for the kill.

10. Attack and Defend

Attack and Defend is a race against the clock as the attackers try to capture a flag (or kick a bucket) while the defenders try to hold them off for a defined period of time.

Team SetupTwo teams (attackers and defenders)
ObjectiveFor attackers, capture the flag from the defending team’s zone (there’s no need to return it anywhere). For defenders, hold off the attacking team for the defined period of time (usually 10 minutes) or until all attackers have been eliminated.
RulesStarting Point: Play starts with each team in their own base. A flag is hung in the defender’s base. Once play commences, attackers move on the defender’s base and try to capture their flag. Defenders try to hold off the attackers for the defined period of time. Standard elimination rules apply. Once attackers capture the flag, the game is over; there’s no need to return it anywhere.
NotesDefenders should push forward as far as they can so they have room to retreat. Attackers should try to be deceptive to sneak someone past the defense.

11. Bunny Hunt

An all-vs-one variation that serves as a great “end of the day” game when some players run out of steam (or paint) and you can’t muster a full game of Capture the Flag.

Team SetupOne person (the bunny) vs everyone else (the hunters)
ObjectiveThe bunny’s goal is to survive for a defined period of time. Everyone else’s goal is to eliminate the bunny.
RulesAll players start from one place. The bunny gets a head start (3-5 minutes) before the hunters advance. Standard elimination rules apply.
NotesThe bunny can be given an advantage, such as a shield, extra ammunition (or the hunters are capped on ammo), or a higher-capacity gun.

12. Recon

A multi-team game that uses a time limit and total team points to determine a winner.

Team SetupTwo or more five-man teams
ObjectiveMembers of the team must check in at checkpoints around the field. Each team member tries to check in at as many checkpoints as possible. At the end of the defined period of time (usually 20 minutes) the team with the most check-ins (points) wins.
RulesStarting Point: Play starts with each team in their own zone. Checkpoints are established around the field with different colored markers at each checkpoint. Players hold blank cards used to mark the checkpoints they’ve visited. Once play commences, players advance on each checkpoint and try to mark as many checkpoints as possible.
NotesScoring depends on your preferences but a popular scoring format is as follows: 1 point for every checkpoint visited for each player, 2 additional points for each player who marked every checkpoint, 5 additional points for each checkpoint visited by every player on a team, 5 additional points if every team member visited at least two checkpoints

13. Prisoner of War

A game of tag where you try to imprison the opposing team while freeing your prisoners of war.

Team SetupTwo teams
Objective“Eliminate” (i.e. imprison) all of your opponents while freeing your own. First team to eliminate all opponents or the team with the most captives after the end of a defined period of time (usually 20 minutes) wins.
RulesStarting Point: Play starts with each team in their own base. Each team also has a prisoner holding area. Once play commences, teams try to eliminate players of the opposing team. Standard elimination rules apply. Once eliminated, players are sent to the opposing team’s holding area. Your team may free eliminated players (prisoners) by tagging them by hand. The game ends after a defined period of time or when one team has imprisoned all opponents.
NotesGuards may be stationed near the prisoner holding area. Some versions apply maximums to the number of players that can be freed by one player, meaning each person may only tag in one or two players at a time.

14. Trophy Hunter

A free-for-all game where players try to collect trophies from each other. Whoever has the most trophies wins.

Team SetupFree-for-all
ObjectiveBe the player with the most trophies at the end of the game (usually 20 minutes)
RulesStarting point: Players all begin spread out and have three wristbands known as trophies. Once play begins, players try to eliminate each other. When shot, players lay down in waiting. Other players may come up to them and claim a wristband/trophy. Every five minutes, an alarm sounds bringing all eliminated players back into the game. Only one trophy may be claimed from any player by everyone during each five-minute period.
NotesIt can be hard to know who has already had a trophy claimed from them during each five-minute period. Eliminated players can indicate one has already been taken as new players come to claim them or they can have a signal/marker that a trophy has already been claimed.

15. Traitor

Like Kill the Captain except someone on your own team is a traitor.

Team SetupTwo teams, each with a captain. Captains and traitors are assigned at random using a deck of cards for each team. The decks must be assembled based on team sizes. The following is for a 10-player team: 1 King per deck, 1 Ace per deck, 8 cards from 2-10 (total count of all cards equals the number of players on the team). Each team draws cards at random. The player who draws the King reveals their card and is the captain. All other players keep their cards to themselves. Whoever drew the Ace is the traitor.
ObjectiveEliminate the other team’s captain
RulesStarting point: Play starts with each team in their own base. Standard elimination rules apply. Once play commences, each team tries to eliminate the opposing team’s captain. The traitor may turn on his own team/captain whenever they want. If the traitor eliminates their own captain, the other team (the traitor’s true team) wins.
NotesThe captain can’t trust anyone on either team, making this an especially stressful game for them. They should always keep everyone in front of them.

16. Historic Reenactment

Gettysburg was covered above, but paintball can also be played as a historical reenactment game for other battles, such as D-Day or other famous military battles.

Team SetupGenerally, two teams (opposing sides in the battle)
ObjectiveRecreate the conditions of the battle and eliminate the opposing team or complete the defined objective.
RulesRules vary depending on the reenactment being performed and the defined objectives. In the link above, D-Day Adventure Park in Oklahoma recreates battles from the Normandy invasion with forces from both the Allies and the Axis.
NotesWatch the documentary file Soldiers of Paint to get an idea of what the Oklahoma D-Day event is like.

17. Military Simulation (Milsim)

Paintball is great because it can be dressed down for casual play or dressed up as a full-on military simulation with realistic markers and combat gear. This short article by Paintball Mirabel gives a little more detail and some awesome Milsim photos.

Team SetupTwo teams but sometimes a third team of civilians is involved
ObjectiveDepends on the simulation
RulesGenerally, standard paintball elimination rules in combination with the target objective.
NotesMilsim games often are treated more like formal military war games and can last hours, sometimes a whole day or even overnight.

Beyond these 17 paintball games, there are plenty of other slightly different variations that change either gameplay or the objective. If you have a favorite paintball game variation that isn’t shown, let me know so it can be included in the list.

Frequently Asked Questions

What's the difference between woodsball vs speedball?

Woodsball is the original version of paintball played outdoors and opens itself up to the greatest variety of gameplay objectives. Woodsball tends to be more spread out than speedball, involves more players, takes longer to play, and requires a different set of paintball gear.

Speedball is played on a flat field about half the size of a woodsball field with a few manmade obstacles or bunkers and no natural cover. The smaller field size, flat terrain, and lack of natural obstacles makes speedball much faster-paced than woodsball. Speedball also is the only game played across the various professional leagues.

What are some types of paintball game variations?
  • Tournament Play
  • Capture the Flag
  • Down But Not Out
  • Blackjack
  • Gettysburg
  • Kick the Bucket
  • Charge of the Light Brigade
  • Kill the Captain
  • Annihilator
  • Attack and Defend
  • Bunny Hunt
  • Recon
  • Prisoner of War
  • Trophy Hunter
  • Traitor
  • Historic Reenactment
  • Military Simulation (Milsim)

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