Paintball's implications for wargaming small arms combat.
The practice of using re-enactment to define wargaming rules is often quite reasonably criticised on the grounds that running around at weekends with a foam rubber pike or, as in this case, a paintball gun bears so little resemblance to real warfare that nothing can be learnt from it. Nevertheless, paintball is about as close as you can get to real small arms combat without volunteering for Kosovo. Whilst its differences to real war must be recognised, I believe that it illustrates many important aspects of small arms combat.
The principal 'inaccuracies' of paintball are the short range of the guns and the training and attitude of the people. The key way that paintballers differ from soldiers is that they can't be killed by the enemy. In addition, amateur paintballers have almost no teamwork ability, and there is also no command structure resulting in inevitable chaos. Plans last all of two minutes into the game, and there is little communication between supporting players.
I will only deal with observations made in amateur paintball games as opposed to pro teams. Partly this is because I have more experience of amateur paintball and also because pro paintball probably bears less resemblance to real combat than amateur paintball. First of all, it is generally played with only 5 people to a side rather than 20 or 30. More importantly, it becomes much more of a 'stylised' game due to the players' familiarity with the rules of the game. To draw a parallel, when I first played the computer game Steel Panthers 2, I played using a wide mix of troops and real tactics. However, the more I played it, the more idiosyncracies I discovered to abuse in order to win more easily.
The paintball gun is only accurate to about 25 metres, whereas an assault rifle is effective up to around 300 metres and can still kill well beyond even that. The average paintball gun is semi-automatic and carries around 200 shots, whereas an assault rifle is fully automatic and generally only has 30 shots. If firing in Three Round Burst mode, the soldier gets only 10 pulls of the trigger before the magazine is empty, whereas the paintballer gets 200.
In addition because of the light round and low velocity, the paintball gun has little or no muzzle velocity. This allows it to be fired in far more stances without accuracy problems. For example a good paintball firing position is to lie flat on your back and then half sit up with the gun already in a firing position when taking a shot. However, if you were to do this with a real rifle, it would be very difficult to keep the gun steady against the recoil.
Practical and Theoretical Accuracy
When actually playing it is almost impossible to achieve anywhere near the accuracy obtained when indulging in a spot of target practice in the back garden. So, in spite of the lousy accuracy of the paintball gun, it is difficult to fire even as accurately as that when your target is shooting back. This does suggest, however, that experienced troops would hit more often not because they are better shots, but because they wouldn't panic so much. This difference between theoretical and practical accuracy also means that results taken from firing ranges probably have little relation to the battlefield.
EXPERIENCEThey position themselves more strategically on the field, picking off players in weak positions.
They use cover better by ensuring their bodies are more fully protected.
They assess the odds of hitting or being hit much better, allowing them to assess whether something is a good or a bad gamble.
They hit more often, probably mainly due to being calmer as previously discussed.
One of the key aspects of any wargame is how different classes of troops relate to each other - how many green recruits is one veteran worth? Certainly in paintball this seems to vary depending on the situation. One player, even a very good one, will make little difference to the game, especially if the others are reasonably experienced. In a head to head shootout, they might beat new players at a ratio of 2 or 3 to 1 at most (assuming the same equipment). The experience seems to make the difference as an individual in the following ways:
Where experience really has an impact on the game is when a group of 3 or more have played together and cooperate closely. This opens up a range of tactics such as covering fire, drawing out the enemy and rushing which is particularly effective given the low firepower of a paintball gun.
Squaddies in paintball
Recently I played in a game which was mostly composed of army infantry, which provided an interesting contrast to the average punter who works in an office. Curiously they performed little better, because their tactics, which although presumably suitable for real war, were not suitable for paintball. Their weakness was that they did not expect a highly mobile and aggressive attack. They tended to lie down, even when out of range, making it easy to simply run round the side of them and shoot them in the legs.
Lying down severely limits your effective fire arc, and also means it is slower to take cover from unexpected flanking fire and also to run.
However, lying prone is less effective in paintball than war partly because of the tendency of the opposition to attack recklessly, and also because the extremely close range makes attacks from the sides far more likely.
This also suggests that the less powerful the weapons, the more mobile and less entrenched the battle will be.
Inexperienced paintball players frequently lose games because they fail to realise that their team is in a winning position. There is a tendency for them to stay in the same place and take potshots at the nearest enemy, or just to sit behind a tree looking around. If they were in real danger, then presumably this lack of inertia would be far more pronounced. Any advance is likely to be only as a result of a direct order from an NCO or officer. Individual soldiers will not wander around on their own, looking for an opportunity to fight.
Routs and forced withdrawals also occur in paintball. Once a situation starts to look hopeless or extremely dangerous, individuals will cease to attack, or even move back to better defended positions. One of the most likely things to make someone fall back is being fired upon in an ambush situation. At this point fleeing to a friendly area is probably the most sensible thing to do from a self preservation point of view, if they can see you and are already firing on you, then you will have little chance of locating them and returning fire before you are hit.
It is also possible to force a group steadily back. Generally the enemy advance will make an individual's position untenable. They must then either retreat or be hit. However, their absence will then expose someone else, forcing them back. This could be considered a forced withdrawal, but all remain in control. Retreats can also be a lot more chaotic. This makes losing people much more likely since with little return fire, the enemy are free to advance aggressively and take aim without disturbance. Once more than a certain percentage have run away, the rest must follow because they will stand no chance unsupported. This suggests that even with modern small arms combat, units can rout in groups, but these routs being normally preceded by a trickle of members falling back. Perhaps if a few models in a unit fail a morale check and withdraw, the others must take a much more difficult check to hold.
Following someone with more experience dramatically increases confidence and reduces the perception of danger. Bolstering weak troops with better quality troops would clearly be highly effective. However, it is easy to panic if the person who you are depending on is hit. If they have been taken out, what chance have you?