On the 17th December 2017, I was invited to attend West Midlands Airsoft: The FOB in Upper Tean, Stoke-on-Trent for their annual Christmas game. The FOB is West Midlands Airsoft’s woodland site and the sister site of High Command. The FOB was once a Home Guard Training Area during the Second World War and is a vast site covering 120 acres of varied woodland terrain. The site boasts some purpose-built structures and natural games zones from open dense woodland to 7 purpose-built, themed gaming areas such as “The Fort”, “Village” and the Crash Site which has an old beat up helicopter dominating the game zone.

The FOB is a 35-mile drive from my home in the Midlands which is around a 50-minute drive up the A50. The site can be a little tricky to find if you haven’t previously attended as the postcode takes you to a small house on the corner of Hollington Road, from the house if you turn right onto Hollington Road it will lead up a hill and around halfway there is a sign that says ‘paintball’ – turn into the opening and you’re there! When I attended we still had a little bit of snow on the ground which had turned to ice on the roads, because of the hills it is worth being vigilant during the cold weather. As you turn into the site entrance, there are friendly site marshals in high-vis vests to direct players into the spaces. The car park is fairly large and at the sites busiest there has been around 100 players’ onsite – this is the only time I’ve seen the car park struggle to fit all players vehicles.

The covered safe zone is a short walk from the car park. The safe zone is a large clearing in the woodland that contains fully covered wooden structures for players to organise their kit ready for the day, in the centre of the safe zone there is a podium (and in the winter a fire pit to keep players nice and toasty) where the safety brief and site rules are read out to players. The on-site facilities at the FOB rival a lot of woodland sites that I have been to in the past, they have a fully stocked pop-up shop selling everything from BBs to pyro to airsoft guns and a selection of snacks and drinks. There are both male and female toilets, with running water which makes a pleasant change to the unisex portaloos!

The rentals onsite are provided by Joe at SIXMIL.com, an independent airsoft hire company that gives new players something that they don’t often get during the rental part of their airsoft career – choice. SIXMIL.com offer different hire packages from assault to recon and many more, the packages don’t just include guns, they also include combat clothing and tactical gear so new players can look the part. From M4s to G36s, snipers and even Gucci guns such as the scorpion EVO for experienced players to rent, Joe has new and experienced players alike covered. Hire packages start at £20 which is in addition to the game fee.

The price for the day is £30 for non-members and £25 for a member which includes a hot lunch and free tea/coffee all day. Usually, lunch will be something along the lines of Chilli and nachos or a hotdog but as this was a special Christmas themed game, there was a more festive lunch on offer. For lunch, players were offered turkey and stuffing cobs with lashings of gravy which was awesome on a cold, snowy day!

Gates open at 8.30am, with the game/safety brief usually somewhere between 9.30-10am after all players are signed in and chrono’d. The game/safety brief is comprehensive and covers everything from pyrotechnics to terrain to gun safety whilst playing. The safety brief is in line with other woodland sites and has standard FPS limits - 350 FPS for full auto AEGs and pistols, 400 FPS for DMRs locked to Semi with a 20-metre engagement distance and 500 FPS for Snipers with a 20-metre engagement distance. Pyrotechnics are allowed onsite, including BFGs but because of the nature of the terrain strikeable and wire-pull pyro is a lot more effective.

The team at West Midlands Airsoft runs a variety of games that utilise the whole site from your standard force on force team deathmatch games to objective games including capture the flag, domination and grab and run games featuring inflatable buoys that players must grab from their locations around the site and return to their respawn points. The site itself is quite large and has some awesome purpose-built structures around the site that are all connected by a central ‘ring road’, my favourite areas of the site are the crash site which has an old helicopter in the centre – when the smoke is popping it makes an awesome backdrop for an airsoft game. I also really enjoy playing in the Village – what I like most about the village is the space this game zone offers, from the buildings and structures to the hill that dominates the open terrain and the treelines that encase it within the woodland it has variety and because it has all of these structures/terrains that are mixed together within this particular game zone it offers the most varied gameplay on site, so whether you are a sniper or you prefer closer quarters, any game played in the Village will give you your fix!

The last, and favourite game of the day was the ‘Santa Run’. This game is where site owner Paul dresses up in a Santa costume armed with the CA HPA Microgun and has a team of staff ‘elves to protect him whilst he makes his Christmas present run, but Santa and his band of helpers are against EVERY player onsite. I was asked to be a part of the Santa protection squad so the numbers were 9 against 39. As we made our way into the snowy, foggy woodland waiting for the marshals to call game on, the objective was simple – get Santa to the chopper *said in an Arnie voice*. We started on the very far end of the site by the Fort and waited for the players to descend on our position, they came quickly through the trees but our squad held them, as we fell back into the treeline to get Santa on the move to deliver his gifts the other team took a route through the trees in front of us in order to flank our position. After a fierce firefight through the trees that ended in heavy casualties for the protection squad eventually we made it up to the village which is the halfway point, as we ran across the snowy ground on the hill to make it up to the next point, we were exhausted – the terrain, snow and mud made for hard going, we raced up the stairs to the entrance to the site Santa declared our last stand would be on the steps. HPA guns whizzed BBs in all directions and the micro gun whirled as the other side closed in on us. Santa didn’t deliver the presents but went out in a blaze of glory.

As it was Christmas, WMA wanted to give back to their players so with every green free there was a raffle ticket for prizes from West Midlands Airsoft, Staffordshire Militaria and SIXMIL.com including chocolates, BBs, socks (wouldn’t be Christmas without them!) springer shotgun and even a G36C AEG.

Overall, even though I am what some would call a fair weather airsofter I really enjoyed my day at WMA: The FOB. The games played were fun and engaging, were marshalled well on a site that is varied enough to provide a great gameplay for players and has good facilities. Keep up the good work WMA!

Hardwick, K. (2018). WMA - The FOB. Airsoft Action. 85 (March), 58-61.

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