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by Bill Mills
It was Thursday night. I was finishing wrapping up my work, getting ready to catch a plane to a tournament the next morning, when the phone rang. On the other end of the line was gravely voice telling me I had to be in Arizona in a couple of weeks - it was urgent.
Perhaps that's a little overly dramatic. The call was from BW Dunn at Diablo Direct. He explained that Command Post Sports in Arizona was having a monster game, and the planned celebrity guest, Rocky Cagnoni of Avalanche couldn't make it due to a team practice conflict, so Dawn and I got the call. I'm not sure if that's good or bad to be called up as second string paintball celebrities, but it's paintball so we were game.
We saw Rocky before the event, and cooked up a plan where I would wear one of his jerseys and an afro wig, and say "dude" a lot, figuring it would be like those "santas helpers" that come to the local mall. They're not the real Santa, but they just help spread his good cheer. After realizing that a wig the size of Rocky's hair wouldn't fit in carry on luggage, we tossed that idea to the wind.
A couple of weeks, and a plane ride later, we found ourselves in the Phoenix airport, being met by BW and John Strzepek. John owns the Command Post stores on Phoenix, and a couple of fields in the area. From the airport we stopped in at one of the stores, unloaded a few pallets of paint and found a selection of paintball gear, airsoft, and mountain boards (the monster-truck version of skateboards for off-road riding).
After dinner and a night's sleep, we headed out to the field with John Logan. From Phoenix we drove further and further into the desert turning onto a dirt road that rambled into the small valley known as Cowtown. Cowtown is more than just a paintball field. On a ridge overlooking the small valley that forms most of the field is a western town built as a motion picture set and seen in the film Westworld. Along side the staging area is a private gun range for the local cowboy shooting association, where members fire at iron targets with 6 shooters and lever action rifles.
The paintball field itself is an exercise in, for lack of a better word, exercise. With an old ranch house, and a mocked up old west hacienda, the terrain is southwest desert. Mixed brush, saguaro cacti, and assorted other small cacti form the cover, and wildlife included a snake or two and a fleet footed jackrabbit. Sandy washes line the bottoms of the valleys which are bordered by steep, rocky slopes.
As the players gathered, Strzepek gave the safety briefing and laid out the plans for the day. Rather than just a single big game, everyone would be playing a series of short scenarios, each based on the theme that the US government had developed the technology to electronically read and interpret brain waves, while a militia resistance was working to block the new thought police. Even more invasive, the government agency known as the Thought Police had developed a method to reverse the mind reading process and actually perform thought control. On field, the referees who consisted mainly of the tournament team Phoenix Heat would pull players not only for game infractions, but even for cursing on the field. The reason behind this was explained that when players are cursing at each other, tempers are more likely to flare to the point of a fight - a way not only to get pulled from the game, but banned from the field. A great idea for any big game where young people play.
Each of the scenarios had a 45 minute game clock, and most had reincarnations for a set time period at moving regeneration points. These points were long PVC pipes with flags on the end carried by referees to keep them at areas where the players would not be pinned by opposition as they came back into the game.
The first game set the tone for the rest of the day. The Militia was out to get their hands on one of the top independent scientists, a man solely known as "BW." He had been rumored to be reverse engineering the government's mind reading equipment, and supposedly developing a counter technology. The objective for the militia was to reach Fort Nix, the ranch and its surrounding buildings, while the Thought Police must fend them off - a game of attack and defend.
The second game had more specific objectives. Scattered across the field were three thought receiver dishes. Players who spotted them early on discovered that the Thought Police had cleverly disguised their dishes as paintball referee shields - which really look like saucer sleds. The militia charged straight up a hillside next to their starting position and quickly took the first dish, then backpedaled to take out the Thought Police reincarnation point, protecting their back door for a push that proved to be successful, gaining their other two transmitters.
Game three was another attack/defend scenario. In this game the militia players ended up gaining key high ground positions in the middle of the field which helped them sweep from one end of the field to the other. Despite strong resistance from the Thought Police, the militia took the game.
After a lunch break with hot dogs and hamburgers hot off the grill, Strzepek gathered the players around while WARPIG's webmaster Dawn drew registration forms for door prize winners. Prizes included a JT Gearsack, several JT Proteus systems, Diablo paint, WARPIG T-shirts and Goggle Skinz, and even a JT bomber jacket.
Then came the escalation and scavenge game. Hidden throughout the field were "air dropped supplies" for the Thought Police. These supplies took the form of cases of Diablo Blaze that were available to the teams and players who found them. The rule of the game was that players could only remove this paint from the field if they were alive at the end of the game, which lead to most of it getting spread quickly amongst the teams.
By mid-day some players who were taking breaks, and many parents of younger players were resting at a patio snack bar in the local ghost town. This vantage point up on a plateau above the field led to a number of parents becoming secret agents, calling out player locations by radio.
Game 5 was entitled "Data Recovery". In this game the militia was split on opposite sides of the field's ranch house. They would have to converge on it by running along the top of the field's central ridge. The Thought Police were also split up, starting on either side of the house in open wash areas. While they had a bit of a climb to the house, they didn't have far to go before the ridge tops were in range of their paintguns.
Inside the house was BW, "the scientist" and his computer. His computer was a high tech prop made up of a cardboard box with a keyboard, map of the field, and "WARPIG.com" drawn on it with a felt tip pen. For this game, both teams were to capture both BW and the computer.
Dan Bonebrake, who heads up Diablo Direct's northwest operations enjoys a good practical joke, and he'd asked John Strzepek to get his co-worker with something good. BW, who is a huge guy, body builder, and former NFL player, is not that easy to get (unless you have a snake). John enlisted the help of a local professional pyrotechnician to add a little bang to the game, and a surprise for BW. I became a ref for this game to see how things unfolded. Outside of the building's north wall were explosive charges, and whistle charges to make the sound of a simulated artillery attack. The first explosion was set to go before the whistles, with the plan to scare BW out of his skin while he looked out the window in the building's South wall.
"Game on," shouted the refs, and "BOOM!" The building shook from the first explosion. Whistling noised filled the air like shells hurtling toward their target, and when the barrage came the floorboards of the house literally rocked. Unfortunately, Dan and John were foiled, BW didn't so much as bat an eyelash, he just watched the Thought Police players charging up the hillside.
To prevent close quarters overshooting, players were not allowed to shoot inside the building. In a matter of minutes it was occupied by the Thought Police who rushed the computer back to their base - forgetting the scientist. A few minutes later, the police inside were confronted with 3 militia players who had snuck in a back window. Neither group realized immediately which the other was until both were reminded of the no firing rule. Stryzpek made the call that since it wasn't clear which team got the drop on the other, both were eliminated, and the house was up for grabs.
The house was not unoccupied for long. John Logan had just charged up the hill with his stock class Phantom and burst in the front door. "All right, let's get him out of here!" he shouted, just as he was hit in the back from a shot fired up the hill. A few more minutes passed before another Thought Police player captured BW and led him back to their base for the win.
The final game of the day was another attack and defend. The Thought Police were to seize Fort Nix from the militia, but there was a catch. They had a couple of Terminators on their team, while the militia had one of their own. The Terminators were equipped with JT chest protectors, and the only way they could be eliminated from the game was to be shot in a small red patch on the chest protector. These guys really took some heat.
The last game was probably the hardest fought. Things had gone both ways during the day, and the militia players were digging in tight in the thick brush surrounding Fort Nix. As the time on the clock dwindled, so did the militia. With two minutes remaining, the Thought Police stormed into Fort Nix to win the game.
With the sun heading toward the horizon, everyone packed up their gear, hot and tired from a day full of paintball. I personally learned a valuable lesson about desert paintball - just because you don't see any cactus quills in your pant leg doesn't mean they didn't go all the way through.
All in all, there are field owners all
over the country who could visit a field run by John Strzepek to view personally
how a field should be run. Treating the players as customers but
with firm rules that aren't to be broken. The respect given and returned
is to be emulated. Big thanks to BW for asking us to come, John and
Lynnda for a great time and Logan for being our personal driver.
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