Paintball scenario or rock concert? That’s what kept running through my mind as I browsed the vendor area at Living Legends 7. The bright, neon colors of the Virtue booth, dance music booming from the HK Army tent, paintballers laughing, shouting, clapping old friends on the back. Greg Hastings, Mr. H, Wolf, Sarge Morin, Damian Ryan, even Bud Orr, creator of the Autococker, all there, laughing and posing for snapshots. Paintball scenario or rock concert?
But that’s the yin and yang of Living Legends, the fusion that generates the power. It’s where paintball meets fame. It’s the Lollapalooza of the scene, and players travel thousands of miles just for the spectacle of it all. Expectations were high going into this 7th episode of the annual series, and, oh boy, did it deliver. Here are some box office stats for you movie lovers: 2,219 registered players. 94 staff members. 4,960 cases of paint shot. Trivial Pursuit, Living Legends Edition: How many full medic cards did the Horde turn in? 78. That’s over 1,560 players healed, just on one side. It’s like a big-budget summer blockbuster, which fits, considering most of the features at CPX Sports in Joliet, Illinois, were created by actual Hollywood set designers.
Normally, mid-May in Illinois is hot, and in past years heat has taken its toll on the players. This year, a cold front brought rain. Morning temperatures were in the low 40’s, and the ground was a sopping sponge. But paintballers are a tough breed, and the camp grounds began filling 2 days prior to the event. Registration opened Thursday with multiple lines and each day after the lines grew a little longer, but after years of experience, the staff was able to move players through efficiently. Teams poured in at all hours, pitched their tents, and then dispersed to sight-see in Chicago or stuff themselves with thick slices of Giordano’s pizza.
By Saturday morning, the sky had cleared and by 6:00AM the entire 140-acre park was booming. The parking lot and fields were filled, and cars were lined down the road. Everywhere, legion commanders shouted into radios and bullhorns while teams geared-up under a sea of canopies. At 10:00AM, the players gathered to the main stage for Viper’s pre-game briefing. Mike Phillips of TechPB, General for the New Empire, and Kevin “Buckshot” Buchaniec of the Hellions, General for the Horde, were introduced on-stage. The crowd whooped with chants, cheers, and battle cries. Referees at the chrono stations moved players through the lines with gruff shouts: “If the man in front isn’t moving, go around him! Let’s go!” Cases of paint were heaved from the backs of semi-trailers, and the roaring fleet of compressors drove a constant 4,500 psi through banks of fill stations.
Game-on at Viper events is always Saturday, 12:00 noon, sharp, don’t be late. Players began massing at their bases, ignoring the ankle deep mud. The New Empire began at the West Base, while the Horde took the East. Commanders shouted orders to their legions. Months of planning all led to this moment. Recruiting drives, strategies, communication schemes, dreams, hopes, and fears—all about to face the pitiless test of combat. Referees resumed chrono’ing players at their bases; the Horde had a line of several hundred still needing their cards punched before entering play. Buckshot was frantically trying to organize his war machine when, in the distance, the bird banger fired, and with a “Go! Go! Go!” Living Legends 7 exploded into life.
But here we must pause to sketch-out just how Living Legends works. Each side, red and blue, has a commanding officer and an executive officer. Both sides are further divided into five legions each, with Roman era names like “Praetorian Guard” and “Visigoths”, and each legion has its own commander. The game itself can be divided into two distinct parts: the main game and the skirmishes. The main game, played on the big, 40-acre main field, is part scenario and part “big game”, the difference being that the goal in scenario is to complete missions, while the goal of big games is to take and hold ground. Every hour, each side received an attack mission worth 100 points, wherein they needed to assault a specific area of the field, flip a slap stick to their color, and hold it for at least 15 minutes. They also received a defend mission, wherein they were required to hold a slap stick against an enemy attack without losing control of the slap stick for more than 15 minutes within a 45-minute span. These attack and defend missions were issued 30 minutes prior to their start times, thus giving the commanders ample time to maneuver their legions.
Interestingly, each of these mission cards had not only the friendly side’s objective for that hour, but the enemy’s objectives as well. This way, both sides knew exactly where to attack and where to defend. At the same time, on the hour, each side received four, two-part mission cards of the more-or-less standard variety (observe-and-report here, demolish there, and so on.) These scenario-style mission cards had unknown point values, though one could assume the more difficult the mission the more points to be earned. The second part of Living Legends, the skirmishes, were essentially miniature final battles played on a smaller, separate field. Every hour, one legion from each side would send players to square off on a field of junk cars (Wastelands). Three slap sticks were placed across the center 50. The matches were 40 minutes with one reinsertion after 20 minutes. The goal was simply to flip the slap sticks to your side’s color and hold them. The referees counted the sticks every 10 minutes, with control of each stick worth 4 points, for a total of 48 possible points per skirmish. The purpose of the skirmishes, as decided by the Living Legends game committee, was to move players off the main field for safety and to thin the battle line, thus allowing more dynamic game flow.
Now that we understand the mechanics, let’s talk strategy. Planning, strategy, tactics, logistics—this is the realm of the commander, and it is important that we understand the strategies of our opposing generals to understand Living Legends 7. Buckshot, the Horde commander, is of the “no plan survives the first shot” school of thought. He wanted a simple, flexible plan. By recruiting experienced legion commanders and running a robust communications net, he planned to nimbly react to opportunities while maintaining pressure across the battle front. Each legion would have an assigned cross section of the front line, and each would shift to strengthen their flanks when needed. His analysis of the skirmish rules and point structure led him to determine that skirmishes were of secondary value, so he would only allocate minimal troops to each match. So, for example, when it was time for the Vandal’s skirmish, perhaps one-third of the legion would leave the frontline and proceed to the skirmish field. A flanking legion would then shift, or “lean over”, to help reinforce the weakened Vandals until their skirmishers returned. In Buckshot’s analysis, the rules did not say that skirmishes were mandatory, and removing 200 or more players from the main game for a chance at 48 points was not worthwhile. As captain of the Hellions, a team well-known for their armor, Buckshot also recruited 3 additional tanks to complement their own Grindhouse, for a total of 4 Horde tanks.
While Buckshot favored simplicity, Mike Philips, General of the New Empire, designed a veritable logistical machine. Utilizing a system of 70 radios, 9 modified watches, 7 bullhorns, and 2,000 printed schedule cards, Mike devised an intricate plan to rotate entire legions off the main field for their respective skirmishes. As a legion’s skirmish time drew near, his forces would shift south towards the skirmish field, therefore placing the skirmish legion closest to the insertion, allowing them a quick exit from the main field. Commanders using mechanical tally counters would count both sides at the skirmish field to insure the New Empire always had a body advantage. Also, in a bold move, Mike established his headquarters off-field in his hospital rather than at his designated base. In stark contrast to the Horde’s collection of armor, the New Empire did not recruit any tanks.
At the 12:00PM bird banger, Honu, commanding the Vandals legion for the Horde, sent his troops scrambling through Zacapa (Armageddon) towards Guatemala City (Bedlam) in a mad dash to be first across the land bridge between the two ponds, but the New Empire beat him to the punch and were already across the bridge and into the city when the Vandals arrived. The rain had filled the ponds, making the land bridge a critical feature. At the same time, New Empire sent a blitzkrieg of troops in a wide flanking maneuver around the north of the field. They quickly succeeded in making it well past the 50, all the way to Cancun (Gnarley). With the New Empire gaining initiative in the north and the south, the Horde pushed through the center (the Jungle of Doom), capturing their first objective, Tik’al (the temple), at mid-field with no resistance. Luckily for the Horde, there were 200-300 players still working through the chrono line at their base, so Buckshot was able to route immediate reinforcements to the north and block the flanking maneuver. Bolstered by these reinforcements, the Horde’s Gaul legion pushed the New Empire back from Cancun and west along the road, eventually hitting a wall of resistance between Merida and Campeche (around Widow Maker). Meanwhile, at the first skirmish of the day, New Empire’s Pegasus legion showed up with 200 players, while the Gauls, still busy fighting in the north, could only spare about 50. Needless to say, blue took the match with ease, completely blowing out the Horde.
While battle raged in the north, in the south, though the tanks were delayed, Honu used his 6 Heavy Weapons Specialists (HWS) to clear the front line of buildings, eventually breaking across the land bridge and moving west into an area of picnic tables at the south-center of the field called Tampachula. The picnic tables provided poor cover, however, and the battle lines stagnated in World War I fashion as attrition affected both sides.
At about 1:30 PM, the first of the Horde’s tanks entered the field. Grindhouse, LapuLapu, and one of Team Defiant’s track chairs formed an armored column and began a patrol westerly along the north road. The battle lines began to settle along the New Empire 40, from Campeche down to Tampachula though the wooded center of the field remained relatively quiet, with Horde continuing to hold west of Tik’al. The ravine in the far north hosted some of the most intense battles of the weekend, the fire never letting up and medics scurrying from body to body.
Early in the game, Mike Phillips began to experience the repercussions of running his HQ from his hospital rather than his base. Missions dropped every half hour, but, per Viper rules, a commander may only receive his mission packet at his designated base. Where the conflict arises is that when anyone leaves the field, they become an eliminated player and can only re-enter the field when the insertion window opens. What this meant for Mike is that his base referee would receive New Empire’s mission packets on time, but Mike could not enter the field to accept them until the insertion window opened. This consistently put Mike 10-25 minutes late in starting his missions. In the meantime, with coordinated help from his XO, Daniel “Hellhound” Massey, in the field and Lani Fox serving as Radio Telephone Operator (RTO), Buckshot was able to launch his missions quickly. Keeping in mind that each general was also told where the other side’s attack and defend missions were, Buckshot was able to position his troops at New Empire’s objectives well ahead of blue forces. In addition to this hindrance, there was some confusion amongst the New Empire about which color to flip their slap sticks. Apparently drawing on experience from another game, they turned many slap sticks to red instead of blue. This error persisted for about 2 hours on Saturday.
At the 1:00PM skirmish, New Empire’s Chiron legion, again with a 4-to-1 body advantage over the Visigoths, annihilated the Horde. About this time, because New Empire was counting bodies at the skirmish field, Mike Phillips realized the Horde was not committing entire legions to the skirmishes. He quickly deduced that pulling entire New Empire legions off the field while Horde was not was hurting them in the main game. With the prior understanding that skirmishes were mandatory, Mike requested a meeting with Viper and Buckshot. In the meantime, when 200 of his Praetorian Guard showed up for their 2:00 skirmish but the Horde only sent 40 Barbarians, Mike made a quick command decision, sending the entire legion back to the main field, effectively forfeiting the skirmish in favor of reinforcing his battle line. Soon after, the generals were summoned to Viper’s central command tent. It was determined in this meeting that, per the written rules, skirmishes were not mandatory, and no foul had been committed by the Horde. Buckshot did, however, agree to give both of the Team Defiant track chairs to the New Empire to help balance the game.
Around 3:00PM, the Gauls, with other Horde reinforcements, continued their westerly push along the north road, eventually sacking Villa de los Muertos and scoring take-and-hold points. In the south, Honu, who had attended the command meeting with Viper, returned to the field to find the New Empire knocking at the door of the city again. In bitter, knuckle-to-knuckle urban combat, Honu’s Vandals gradually pushed back across the land bridge and into the picnic tables, where they remained stalemated for the rest of the day. While fighting to retake the city, the Vandals sent 70 players to the skirmish field to face about 30 fighters from the Centaur legion. It became clear by then that Mike Phillips had adjusted his strategy and would from then on, like the Horde, only send a minimal force to the skirmishes.
Team Defiant’s track chairs, now fighting for New Empire, needed refitting and didn’t enter the field until about 5:00PM. Both attacked through the picnic tables, heading east towards the city but were stopped short by well-placed AT ambushes. Meanwhile, since the New Empire was not using their base, the Horde was able to plant an observation post near New Empire command. This allowed a savvy Horde player to successfully ambush the New Empire runner sent to collect the 5:00PM mission cards and return them to Mike’s off-field HQ. He called “search the body”, thus capturing blue’s entire mission packet for the hour, and delivered it back to Buckshot. On the skirmish field, the most balanced match of the event went down between Pegasus and the Visigoths, with each presenting roughly 40 players. The Visigoths barely eked out a win with a difference of just one slap stick.
In the last 45 minutes of Saturday’s main game, New Empire ran their last missions of the day, which included capturing Belize City (near Fort Courage), which placed them within striking distance of Horde HQ. Troops from the Praetorian Guard overtook the objective just shy of enough time to score the mission points, so they pressed forward sacking Horde base just moments before stand-down. The Horde’s Gauls, with over 100 players versus Centaur legion’s 20-30, won the last skirmish of the day. After a quick resupply, a 30-minute Dinner Battle was held, and at 8:00PM the Saturday portion of the game concluded. Players made their way to the main stage for the popular bikini contest hosted by HK Army, where the crowd was amped, the music was pumping, and the lovely ladies braved the chilly night air.
Sunday morning the game resumed at 9:00AM, but the decision was made to cancel all skirmishes. Sides were swapped: the New Empire took the East Base, the Horde took the West. New Empire retained both Team Defiant track chairs, while the Horde took the field with just one tank, the Grindhouse, as the LapuLapu tank did not participate Sunday. At kick-off, Honu successfully repeated New Empire’s speedy crossing of the land bridge into the city. Using LAWs and sniper cards, Honu’s Vandals took the city and stopped New Empire at the hill. At one point, while Honu spotted targets, Mike Phillips was just on the other side of the hill personally directing troops with a bull horn. Both commanders tried several times to out-flank the other by sending players into the woods, but their capable command and eager troops proved an even match. The Horde again took the temple at the center of the field, but only at great cost. They were able to keep bodies on the temple mound all morning, but most players had their faces planted in the dirt as paint whipped mere inches over their heads. The battle lines were solid along the 50 from north to south all day, with no clear advantage in ground, yet New Empire continued to struggle with missions.
After a short few hours of play, it was time for the world famous Living Legends Final Battle. Due to the increased number of players, the Final Battle field was extended to include part of the Jungle of Doom. The New Empire fighters, rallied by their XO, Josh “Orange” Samure of Citrus Connection, proved their mettle, capturing and holding slap sticks despite a shower of Horde paint. Liquid paint literally ran in streams from bunkers, but the New Empire fought furiously. At the end, everyone climbed the hill, blue and red alike, face-to-face after a weekend of intense battle, and shook hands.
The Living Legends closing ceremony is an event unto itself. Tons of giveaways and awards were handed out. To a cheering crowd, a young player who had lost his marker was given a new replacement. Bud Orr personally gave Viper an autographed Autococker to replace his that had been destroyed in a fire. Everywhere were cheerful but exhausted faces. Everyone agreed that the final score—Horde 1,334 to New Empire 143—was a complete surprise as the game was a non-stop slug-fest. At the closing ceremony, we learned that one of the guiding visionaries of Living Legends, Sean Scott, would be stepping down from his director role to be replaced by Honu. One can only hope that next year, with this new freedom, Sean will actually get to play in this amazing rock-fest-of-a-game he helped create.
All images were taken by me, here is a link to a gallery of images from the event: https://www.facebook.com/texaslight.infantry/media_set?set=a.633085530108812.1073741841.100002221129737&type=3