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Ah, paintball. How I love the thrill of your sting.

Ever played it? It’s pretty intense. Guns (euphemistically called “markers”) with CO2 cartridges fire hard round balls filled with paint. They hurt like the dickens when they hit you, too, often causing welts, bruising the skin, and occasionally even drawing blood. And as I learned in a previous ministry, nothing screams “Jesus loves you” like the threat of violence.

When working with a campus ministry, we purchased 20 guns and protective face masks and often played capture-the-flag style games in the woods. We developed a number of variant games, each of which fit a different purpose and allowed for a discussion of deeper spiritual truths.

1) Every Man for Himself. This game was always the first game we would play. The ref for the game would make sure everyone understood their guns and how to operate them. All participants would stand in a circle, then turn to face out, with the ref in the middle (for his own safety!). To get used to the feel of the guns, players could fire away safely at nearby trees, hearing the terrifying smack of a fairly solid plastic ball against the bark. Once the ref knew everyone’s guns were working he would declare, “The first game begins in 30 seconds. It’s every man for himself. The last one standing or whoever is left after 10 minutes is the winner. Cowardice is not encouraged. The clock starts now.” A few panicked players would start to ask questions, to which the ref would reply, “Now you have 20 seconds to find cover.”

Why this game? It guarantees just about everyone will get hit. And once you do, you discover a great motivation to not get hit again.

The lesson? Being alone is no fun. In fact, it can be terrifying.

2) Capture the Flag. Players are divided into 2 team. Two ribbons are tied around trees that represent the home bases. Everyone starts out touching the home base. At the whistle, the game begins. The goal is to get the other team’s flag and bring it back to your base.

Why this game? This is the classic head-to-head paintball game. It allows strategy and teamwork to accomplish a common goal.

The lesson? The question we ask is, “How is this different from Every Man for Himself?” It’s about the benefits of teammates and having someone to lean on and trust.

3) Center Flag. This is a modification of capture the flag. Both teams begin with their hands on their base, but there is only one flag in the middle. At the whistle, both teams run to the flag. Then you have to get the flag not to your own base (that would be too easy – whoever gets there first just runs it back to their base) but to the enemy’s base.

Why this game? It’s definitely more intense, and requires some thought as to how to maximize effectiveness.

The lesson? Most teams realize the advantage of getting to the flag first. So they will select their fastest runner, sometimes even having him run without a gun while others provide suppression fire. The lessons can become lessons of teamwork, of sacrifice (the runner often “dies” quickly, but is hopefully able to hand off the flag to a teammate first), of having someone’s back, and of utilizing the various gifts and skills of people.

4) Judas. In this game, each team has a Judas. A team lines up, and the ref walks down the line. He taps one person on the back, secretly designating that person as the betrayer. Then a normal capture the flag game begins, but one person on each team is actually playing for the enemy team, and at some point begins to shoot his own players.

Why this game? It completely changes the dynamic when you know your teammates may not be trustworthy.

The lesson? It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? What’s interesting is to realize that the mistrust extends into the following games, even if they’re not “Judas” games. A person who has betrayed his friends once may do it again, right? So not only do we learn about broken trust, but we learn about how hard it can be to regain trust.

5) Dignitary. In this game, one player is designated the Dignitary. He is unarmed. It is the goal of his security detail to get him from point A to point B safely. The other team simply lines the route and tries to take him out. If one of the security detail gets hit, the dignitary is free to pick up his fallen friend’s weapon and use it.

Why this game? We invented this game when we didn’t get enough players for a regular Capture The Flag game. Anywhere from 5 to 10 players can make this a pretty fun game.

The lesson? There’s not really one. Like I said, this game was invented out of necessity more than out of a desire to teach something. Still, values of self-sacrifice are worthy discussion points.

6) The British Are Comin’. Most games are played in the woods. But if there’s an open field nearby, this game may be worth trying. All you do is line up your teams, tell them they are not allowed to break rank, and have them march straight towards each other. The last team with someone alive wins.

Why this game? Why not?

The lesson? This is a stupid way to fight a war. But it also leads to an interesting discussion, especially if the players are Christians. We often pray for our weaknesses, right? But do we ever pray for our strengths? Our enemy rarely attacks head-on, and we think that our enemy would attack our weaknesses. But more often than not, it’s our unguarded strengths that can become a weakness, when Satan plays on our pride. Our enemy comes at us from an unexpected side, from where we may foolishly think we’re strong and thus unguarded.


So those were the games we enjoyed playing and discussing. How ’bout you? You ever play? Have any good games? Share them in the comments below!