The Basics

On May 14, 2008, in Basic, Featured, by Gerry

What is Airsoft?

At its core, airsoft is a non-contact game of tag, where players are tagged out of play when hit by a plastic BB pellet fired by an airsoft gun. Embellishments on the rules of the game have produced major variations in the game types, but it is closest to the sport called paintball. Airsoft is immediately differentiated from paintball by its decisively militaristic theme, so airsoft guns are almost invariably replicas of real firearms, and players usually don military uniforms and gear imitating police, soldiers or even insurgents. Airsoft game mechanics have developed further beyond the concept of ‘paintball with replica firearms’. Here we’ll get into the basics of what airsoft games are about and how they are played.

Game Types

Variations in airsoft games can be summed up into these categories:

1. Speedball

Speedball is probably the simplest variation of play. This is usually played between two sides with equally balanced numbers, faced off on either end of a playing field. The objective is to tag out all of the players on the opposing side. A player who is tagged out is instantly out of the game and must leave the playing field for the remainder of the game. Speedball games can also further have a time limit, and when exhausted, the side with the most players wins.

This is a high speed game, usually lasting only minutes, and mirrors the mechanics of the paintball game of the same name. Many games are played in this way because it requires only a small playing field.

2. Skirmish

Skirmish games, also called ‘meeting engagements’, are usually played with two sides, with the objective of tagging out all of the players on the opposing side. When the sides are unbalanced, one side, usually the outnumbered side, can be designated as the defender and can set up positions in the playing field before the other (attacking) side enters the field.

It is differentiated from Speedball almost only by the size of the playing field, but also by the duration of the game. Skirmishes are usually played in large areas where sides are not even within visual range of each other at the start, and it usually takes some time before players on opposing sides begin to encounter each other at the effective ranges of their airsoft guns.

3. Objective-Based Games

Objective-based games add one or more ‘win’ or ‘lose’ conditions to the basic Skirmish rules, so that one side can win by achieving the objective, or tagging out all the other side’s players.

Capture The Flag (CTF) adds the objective to steal the ‘flag’ of the other side. The ‘flag’ usually also marks the ‘base’ of that side. In some variations the flag must be brought back to the side’s base, in others just stealing or touching the opponent’s flag is enough. Plant The Bomb can be considered the reverse of this. Instead of ‘flags’, one or both sides must bring a ‘bomb’ into the opponent’s ‘base’.

Rescue the Hostage and Protect the VIP games substitute ‘flags’ for players who must not be hit. The hostage or VIP must be brought to a Safe Zone for the rescuing/protecting side to win.

4. Milsim

The mechanics of a Milsim event essentially boil down to achieving objectives, but ‘role-playing’ elements and special rules are also added that aim to recreate the feel of a military combat scenario. Players join teams with roles that have different game mechanics (e.g. a ‘medic’ can bring tagged players back in play). Teams of players may have assigned missions that achieve critical objectives in the scenario, or objectives that are requirements to move on to the next objective.

Milsim games often require that players imitate the look and weaponry of a military outfit and impose a limit on the ammunition that players can carry to a number that is more realistic. ‘Lowcaps’ or low-capacity magazines that carry around 50 rounds are usually required, versus ‘midcaps’ and ‘highcaps’ that carry hundreds of rounds.

Milsim events are also typically ‘bivouac’ events that run for one or more days continuously, so that play is not only done day or night and in any weather.

Counting Hits

Regardless of the game type, the constant rule in the game is that once you are hit, you are out of the game. But there are some variations in what is considered a hit that tags out or ‘kills’ a player.

1. Direct Hit

Part of a player’s body has been hit. Some variations require that certain parts of the body such as the torso are hit. Head hits are also usually counted as hits that tag out or ‘kill’ a player but discouraged for safety reasons. Hits to equipment worn by a player (i.e. a backpack) may or may not be counted, but typically are.

2. Ricochet

When a BB bounces off a structure or some other obstacle before hitting a player, it is considered a ricochet. Most variations do not consider this a ‘kill’.

3. Gun Hit

Part of the airsoft gun is hit instead of a body part. Most variations do not consider this a ‘kill’.

4. Surrender/Knife Kill

When two players are too close to each other, Surrender or Knife Kill rules allow players to tag out or kill an opponent without hitting him with a bb, by instead tapping the player or demanding the surrender of the player.

This is often adopted for safety reasons, to avoid causing serious injury. Some airsoft gamesites even make it a rule that when a minimum distance is between two players.

In case both players spot each other at the same time and could shoot each other, some variations consider this a ‘mutual kill’, and both players are tagged out.

5. Friendly Fire

When a player is hit by a player on the same side, this is considered ‘friendly fire’. Most variations consider this a ‘kill’ as a penalty to the side as an incentive to encourage players to correctly identify their targets.

The Honor System

Regardless of the game format, airsoft is highly dependent on a code of honor that players must adhere to. Unlike paintball, hits from plastic BBs do not leave a residue marking the hit, so airsoft is based on the assumption that the players are honest and will recognize and acknowledge that they have been hit. Breaching this honor often carries the consequence of a player being ejected from the game, or even banned from a gamesite.

Certain behavior inconsistent with this code of honor usually fall under these categories:

1. Going Zombie

The act of intentionally ignoring hits that ‘kill’ has been called many things. Players are called ‘zombies’, ‘mummies’ or ‘golems’ if they ignore hits or return to play after getting tagged without being ‘revived’, as provided by the game’s rules, or as allowed by a marshall.

2. Hit Calling

The act of accusing a player of intentionally ignoring hits that ‘kill’ is not as equally frowned upon, but is equally a breach in honor and disrespectful of other players. Typically only marshalls are allowed to call a player out for being hit.

3. Dead Men Talking

The act of providing or relaying information to players when you are already tagged out is often considered cheating, as ‘killed’ players should not participate in the game while tagged out.

Remember The Basics!

As airsoft grows in popularity, more and more new players are added to the ranks, and different playing styles are introduced. The challenge for game organizers and game players is to ensure that the games are conducted fairly. Key to everyone enjoying the game are the basics: know the rules of the game being played, pay attention to your hits, and always be honorable and honor your opponents.

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