These are the most common rules and types of nerf games you'll find at the nerf wars we host. The rules are based on the experience of people from all over the world who have been running nerf wars for years. Your mileage may vary, use at your own risk.
Rule 0: Don't be a dick. If you are getting into arguments, harassing other players, or having fun at someone else's expense, you are doing something wrong.
Rule 1: Keep it simple. If you need 20 minutes just to explain the rules, you're making it too complicated. People should be able to figure out the rules just by watching you play a round. You don't want people arguing on the field during play, and you don't want people to get bored before you even get started.
What happens when you get hit varies, but all nerf battles are decided on some level by whether or not you've been 'hit'. You are hit if you or something you are holding/wearing stops a dart from moving through the air, or alters it's course. Anything touching your body that might alter or stop the dart's path counts as a hit. This includes your clothing, blaster, shoes, holster, and backpack. Making exceptions or counting gun-hits or head-shots differently just over complicates things. See Rule 1. If you are not sure if a hit should count, take the hit and continue playing.
We will go into more depth in the last section, "Rules and Conduct" but this covers 90% of what you need to know. Now on to the games.
Most rounds fall into three categories. Here are the most common examples for each category:
Any game where the players can be eliminated, and are 'out' for the rest of the game. The rules below form the bases for almost all elimination games.
3-15 (Three-Fifteen, sometimes called 3-15 Deathmatch)
Goal: Eliminate opposing players by scoring hits on them until they run out of hits and are 'out'. Your team wins when all opposing teams are completely eliminated.
Primary Gametype: This is typically played for several rounds, and in some places is played for most of the day at nerf wars.
Rules: Every player has 3 hits before they are 'out'. When you are hit, you must count out loud slowly to 15 while pointing your blaster up in the air. After you count to 15, shout "Clear!" to let everyone know you are back in play, and resume playing. When you are hit for the third time, you are out of the game completely. When you are hit and counting back in, you are allowed to pick up ammo and walk around as long as you stay out of the way and make it clear that you are counting in. When you clear in, you have to clear in with out of range of the opposing team, with the rest of your team. You can't clear in behind your opponents and surprise them, and you can't clear in close enough to shoot them right after clearing.
Variations: 3-15 forms the basis for almost all games that allow players to be eliminated before the end of the round. Other combinations of numbers are used to indicate different numbers of hits and different counts, like 4-20 and 2-0. In other games, 3-15 may just mean that you have 3 hits and a count of 15 to clear in, regardless of the goal or win condition. (eg the Defenders get 3-15, Attackers get infinite respawn). 3-15 be played with more than 2 teams (ie four-team three-fifteen)
Organizer Notes: This game is best played with at least three players on each team. Balancing numbers is more important in this game than most others.
Any game where two or more teams must complete with some goal other than the elimination of the other team(s). Typically players can 'respawn' or return to play every time they are hit until the game is over, making elimination impossible. Either there is some way of scoring points, and the game ends after a time limit, or the game ends after a goal is reached. Carpe is the most common objective gametype. The goals may change but the basic framework of Carpe is used in many other gametypes.
CARPE (Carpe Testiculum: Seize the Balls)
Category: Objective Rounds
Primary Gametype: This is typically played for several rounds, and in some places is played for most of the day at nerf wars.
Equipment: Symmetrical field, plastic ballpit balls (or some other token, see below), buckets.
Goal: Steal balls from the other team's bucket or pick balls up from the field, and bring them back to your bucket. Whoever has the most balls in their bucket at the end of the round wins.
Rules: Each team starts with a bucket with the same number of balls in it. At the start of the game, there may be balls in a pile in the middle of the field. Each team also has a 'spawn point' that is close to their bucket, but out of shooting range. Every time you are hit, you must return to your spawn point before clearing in. If you are hit while carrying a ball, you must drop it where you were hit. You may only carry one ball at a time. After the time limit is reached, the game ends and whoever has the most balls in their bucket wins.
Variations: You may also be required to count in after being hit, in addition to returning to the spawn point. You may have to count after reaching the spawn, or you may be allowed to count as you walk back to the spawn. You can play this game with any number of teams.
Organizer Notes: Lay out the buckets so that it is easy to attack, and not too heavy on defense. Try to make the field as symmetrical as possible. This game works best with at least 4 players per team. To prevent the game from dragging on too long with unbalanced teams or unbalanced fields use the following rules:
If someone has captured all of the balls in their bucket before the time limit, the game ends immediately. If no one has captured a ball from an opposing bucket by halfway through the time limit, end the game early. As an alternative to ball pit balls, you can use anything that is easy to spot and easy to grab. Sticks of PVC with colorful duct tape have been used.
Attack & Defend
A game where teams are split into Attackers and Defenders. The attackers must achieve a goal within a set time limit. Then the two teams switch places and the new set of attackers must beat the previous team's time to win. This game type is played less commonly than Elimination and Infinite Respawn games, but it can add variety to a nerf war and is a good solution to playing on an uneven field with a heavy advantage on one side. Typically the round is played as an Elimination gametype for defenders and an Infinite Respawn game for attackers, but there are exceptions.
SIEGE (Playground Siege)
Category: Attack & Defend Rounds
Secondary Gametype This is typically played a few times at a war to mix things up and add variety.
Goal: To capture a flag and bring it back to the attacker's spawn point in the shortest time possible. The team which recovers the flag in the shortest time wins.
Rules: Defenders get 4 hits, and count to 15 after each hit until they are eliminated (4-15 rules). Attackers get infinite respawns and must clear in at a spawn point after counting to 5. Play continues until the attackers capture the flag or the time limit is reached. Then the teams switch sides and the new attackers must beat the defenders' time.
Variations: Frequently played on a playground where the defenders are required to stay on the playground equipment, or in the playground area. Can also be played with infinite respawn on both the attacking and defending teams.
Organizer Notes: The spawn point should be placed well out of shooting range of the defenders but not so far that the attackers must spend all their time running. Adjust the count-in for attackers as needed. Someone should be picked to be a timekeeper. Preferably someone who is sitting out for the round, but someone who is playing can keep time if needed.
At most Nerf Wars, the event organizer will probably run mostly Elimination or mostly Objective gametypes. Some people dislike Elimination because players who are eliminated have to sit out and don't get to play for as long as others. Some people dislike Objective games because the goal of the round takes focus away from the pure combat of Elimination. Some wars will have an even mix of both types of games.
The most common games are listed in the examples above, but here are some other common alternatives
DEFEND THE CORE
Category: Objective Game
Secondary Gametype This is typically played a few times at a war to mix things up and add variety.
Equipment: Two large containers that will not be moved by wind or large barrages of ammunition. Must be able to hold a lot of darts/balls/missiles
Goal: To put as much ammunition into the other team's core as possible before the timer runs out, while defending your own team's core.
Rules: Set a timer, and set a spawn point a decent distance away from the cores. If you are hit, you must go back to your spawn point. Dumping ammo into the core from pockets and other sources is not allowed. Once the timer expires, count the ammo in the cores. The team with the least ammo in their core wins.
Variations: Here are a few optional changes worth trying. Make different sized ammo worth different points; large points for balls, Titan missiles, or other assorted things makes a more varied game. In Canada they apparently drew a circle (radius of fifteen to twenty feet) around their core and people were not allowed to cross it, to prevent people from shooting point-blank into the core. Make the core small, like the size of a coffee can. Cover the opening of the core with paper; this will help keep darts in, and provide better confirmation of a score to the core. Use a paper target from a shooting range at the opening of your core. Divide the players into thirds: One third will defend and the other two thirds will attack.
Organizer Notes: Cores should be far enough apart that one can not shoot into the opposing team's core whilst standing at your own core (ditto for spawn points). Try to make the timer no longer than half an hour. Symmetry could not be more important here. At a previous Chicago war, the wind was brutal, and the field was unfortunately laid parallel to the direction of the wind. The team firing upwind had their primary's distance cut in half, while the team firing downwind could shoot into the core from their spawn point. Field symmetry is extremely key. Cover is a big bonus, and a component of field symmetry.
Primary Gametype: In some places is played for most of the day. In other places it is played for at least 2-3 rounds per war.
Goal: To freeze every member of the opposing team.
Rules: This game is extremely simple. It's exactly like regular freeze tag, but with Nerf guns. If you are hit by an opponent, you must stop all movement (no reloading, relocating, et al.) until unfrozen by a team member. You are not required to strike a comical pose while frozen, but it is encouraged. You can unfreeze teammates by either tagging them, or shooting them. When everybody on one team is frozen, the game ends. You can not run around constantly tapping another player to stay 'invincible'. If you are staying in constant physical contact with another player and you are hit, they are hit also (aka the conga-line rule)
Organizer Notes: This game varies wildly in duration. A game can last mere minutes, or can drag out for 15-20 minutes depending on how many people get unfrozen, et al. As such, it is usually best played in a best of 3/5/7 rounds, tournament style. Of course, high ROF primaries is simply a suggestion, but it is a good idea, as tides can turn very rapidly in this game. This game can be a great morale booster if people are dragging their feet after a long round of 3-15 or an Objective game that doesn't quite work out.
Category: Elimination (see Objective variation below)
Secondary: This is typically played a few times at a war to mix things up and add variety.
Supplies: Some way of denoting VIPs, if you so choose. (Hats, special flagging tape, etc.)
Goal: To eliminate the other team's VIP before they eliminate yours.
Rules: Each team chooses a VIP, and tells the other team who it is. The VIP has a 15 second respawn, and may run away from the action while counting in. However, the VIP must indicate that he is still counting in by holding up his blaster or arm, and clearly indicate when he is back in the game. Every non-VIP player has a fifteen second respawn and unlimited lives, and may respawn anywhere away from battle. When a team's VIP is eliminated, that team looses.
Variations: One variation is to declare sudden death (1-0 Elimination) for all players on a team if their VIP is eliminated instead of ending the game. This can make games with more than 2 teams more interesting. VIP can also be played as an objective game, where the VIPs have infinite lives. The team who's VIP has been hit the least number of times within the time limit wins.
Organizer Notes: This game works best with set boundaries in an area where you can always see the opposing team's VIP. Avoid thick woods where the VIP can hide forever.
These are gametypes you can play to fill time when you are waiting for more people to arrive or come back from lunch, or when you want to start the day with something a little more intense to get people moving.
SPEED ROUNDS: SUDDEN DEATH - ONE HIT KILLS
Secondary Gametype This is typically run during downtime at large wars to allow people to come and go while other players are taking a break.
Everyone who wants to play is divided into two groups as quickly as possible. Use some arbitrary rule like odd vs even date of birth. Make some quick adjustments to balance numbers, and--time permitting--skill. Try to do all of this in less than 30 seconds. Now play a game of deathmatch (see team elimination above) where players are instantly eliminated if they are hit. Repeat, re-mixing the teams each round, allowing players to leave and join. The key is to keep things moving as quickly as possible. If the last players in a round are taking too long, declare the team with the most players remaining the winner or set a short (less than 30 second) time limit for a draw to occur.
SPEED ROUNDS: WINNER STAYS ON
Secondary Gametype This is typically run after lunch at large wars to allow people to come and go while people trickle back in after lunch.
Everyone who wants to play forms up into a line, and the first 6 players in line are formed into two teams. The first two teams enter the play area and play a game of Sudden Death (1-0, see 3-15 above) where players are instantly eliminated if they are hit. The losing team moves to the back of the line, and the winning team stays to play against the next team. Give the teams 15 seconds to be ready for the next round, and only permit them to play if they are ready in that time (make stragglers wait for the next round). If a team wins three times in a row, send them to the back of the line and send in the next two teams. Teams can come and go, and players can mix themselves into any groupings they want while waiting in line. Keep things moving as quickly as possible. If you play long enough for a team to get several consecutive wins, break them up and mix them into other teams. Teams can be expanded into larger groups than 3.
Organizer Notes: This game tends to develop a spectator element as the players wait their turn. This is pretty much the only time people get really excited about *watching* nerf. Enjoy it. Feel free to allow new players to form slightly larger teams. This should be a round where everyone has a chance to win.
Tertiary Gametype This gametype is particular to the chicago area and is usually played once as a warmup.
Goal: To shoot as many people as possible before the time limit.
Rules: Pick some teams, or allow a free-for-all. When a player is hit they must go back to a spawn point, then they may clear in immediately. Whoever had the most fun at the end of the round wins. If you are actually counting hits in this game, you are breaking rule 0.
Less Common Gametypes
These are games that have been played before, but usually as a novelty or to add variation. They are not as well tested, and they may not have spread outside of their regional areas. Feel free to skip this section.
These are changes that can be made to many different gametypes.
ATTACK & DEFEND (objective games)
See Siege at the top. Any of the Objective games can be made into Attack & Defend games by cutting the field in half and switching sides after a time limit. Siege itself is just capture the flag made into an Attack and Defend round. Defend the Core can be done this way as well, with a single core being attacked by each team in turn for a set time period. This is a great solution to a field with no symmetry, or an imbalance due to wind direction.
SUDDEN DEATH (elimination games)
For any elimination type game, set a time limit. When that time limit is reached, the remaining players go into sudden death (one hit kills). If round continues to drag on, you can end it after a time limit and award the win to the team with more players.
For any game type, you can require all players to use single shot spring powered pistols. What qualifies as a pistol varies from one war to another, but they should usually be evenly matched and shorter range than the 'primaries' people generally use. This variation pushes players to play more aggressively, and reduces standoffs. Allows play in smaller areas with less cover.
A variation on this is an 'Awfuls' round where comically bad nerf guns are used. People who play Awfuls rounds are Awful people.
DON'T GET ELIMINATED / ROCKET ELIMINATION
Special blasters have the ability to eliminate you from the game completely. This is usually combined with 3-15 and it's variations. Eliminators (a tiny under-powered pistol) can be used. Sometimes blasters that fire rockets or other large ammo are used. This variation is pretty uncommon, but can used to mix things up.
Only shots directly to the head count. Formerly played with 3-15 rules in Canada. Not recommended. At most wars, intentional shots to the face are discouraged.
Rules and Conduct
These rules are typical for Nerf Wars hosted on NerfHaven. They are for the safety of the participants and to keep things running smoothly. Most of them fall under Rule 0: Don't be a dick.
Bring Protective Eyewear. Typically everyone is required to wear eye protection. Goggles or safety glasses which are rated for impact are strongly recommended.
Calling a 'Hold'
At any time during a round, anyone can call "Hold", which will temporarily stop that round. Players should repeat the call of Hold so that all other players hear, until the round stops completely. If a pedestrian is walking through the field, if a player is injured or if there is some other threat to personal safety, you are obligated to call hold. You can call a hold to pause the game and sort out some issue that is not a matter of personal safety, but do not abuse it.
Getting Tagged and Tagging Other Players
See 'Hits' above under 'The Basics'
Ricochets do not count. You do not have to take a hit from a dart that bounced off of a wall, the ground or another person before it hit you. If you are not sure if a hit is a ricochet, just take the hit.
Hits to the face count. Do not intentionally shoot another player in the face or head when it is possible to shoot someone in the torso/center of mass. It's easier to hit someone that way anyway.
No blind firing. You must be able to see some part of your opponent while you are firing on them.
Do not call a hit on another player while the dart is still in the air. Do not call a hit unless it appears that your target has ignored or failed to notice that they were tagged. If you constantly call hits while the dart is in the air or when the dart actually missed, you will be warned and possibly removed from the game.
Tapping and Calling Tap
Barrel tapping is the practice of touching the side of your barrel to another player as an alternative to shooting them point blank range. Compare this to shouting 'bunker' or 'bang' in paintball/airsoft. Typically you have to be cocked and loaded in order to tap someone (you can't tap someone that you couldn't possibly have shot) and you may even be required to fire a shot at the ground after a tap. For the sake of safety and simplicity, barrel tapping is not allowed at some wars, so check with your host.
If you do not want to be shot at point blank, you can point your gun up in the air and call "Tap" to signal that you are voluntarily taking a hit to avoid being shot. Compare this to the 'mercy' rule sometimes found in paintball or airsoft.
Talking during a round/Arguing over hits
Do not get into an argument over whether you were tagged. If someone insists that they tagged you, and you did not see whether the dart hit, just take the hit. Be polite, and be honourable. It’s just a game. If someone is repeatedly making bad calls or otherwise causing an issue, tell the event organizer after the round is over and they will deal with it. Arguing about a hit does not exclude you from being hit. If someone hits you because you were not paying attention and were talking to another player, it still counts. If you need to stop the round, you can call "Hold" but otherwise you are in play and fair game.
Don't touch anyone's stuff without asking.
Pick up all darts when you dart sweep, and put darts that are not yours in the community dart bin, so other people can retrieve their ammo. You can use whatever you pick up during a round, but when the round is over, you should give back any ammo that doesn't belong to you.
Don't run off into the woods and hide, or endlessly run away, and expect anyone to come looking for you if you separated from your team or they have been eliminated. Play aggressively, and participate in the round, or you will be ignored.
Be prepared to play. When a round is starting, pay attention to your host and try to keep things moving. If your gear breaks, or you run out of ammo, don't expect anyone to wait on you.
Don't shoot anyone who is not playing. Do not shoot anyone outside of a round.
Equipment and Attire
Do not use silver, black, or camouflage colors on your blaster. An orange tip is not enough. If your blaster resembles a firearm, paintball gun, or airsoft gun, you may be required to cover a large portion in orange duct tape. Blasters shoul look like a toy, to discourage bystanders from reporting you to law enforcement.
Do not wear an all-black, camoflage, military, or law enforcement style uniform/clothing. For example, if you want to wear camo/bdu pants, wear a bright t-shirt or other non-military attire. Do not wear a matching BDU shirt, olive drab t-shirt, etc.
Do not wear a mask. Paintball, airsoft, or costume masks included. Headshots are not encouraged, so safety goggles or glasses should be enough.
Now that you know the rules, find a nerf war in the 2015 Nerf War Schedule, or plan and host a war yourself. If you're interested in using homemade or modified blasters, we recommend that you read How to Make Homemade Nerf Darts and check out the Nerf Mods Directory
Last edited by Ice Nine on 03 July 2012
Major Update 19 September 2014 as per thread in #nerfhaven