Nerf House

Sep 17

For the past year, I’ve been organizing semi-quarterly “Nerf House” weekends with some of my friends. We spend the entire weekend playing different forms of cooperative and competitive Nerf games. With food breaks and brief moments of downtime in between different games, we can usually squeeze in six or seven different game modes over the weekend.

An entire weekend of “Nerf or Nothing” can be intimidating, especially if you’re not familiar with the hobby and don’t know what to expect. To lower the barrier of entry and ensure everyone is on equal footing, all blasters and equipment are provided. Everyone gets a kit that includes an emergency pistol, flashlight, walkie talkie, carabiner, action camera, ammo belt, and safety glasses. 

Since we primarily play indoors, our blasters are capped at an FPS that does not damage housewares and doesn’t hurt when shot at close quarters. We limit our blasters to stock, off-the-shelf blasters—no 3D-printed blasters or custom install kits. Even with these restrictions, we boast a wide arsenal, with over 150 blasters across Nerf, X-Shot, and Dart Zone lines.

Selecting from a shared pool of blasters prevents situations where a new player is outclassed by someone who spent more time or money on their blaster. But as players become familiar with the available options, players will naturally discover which ones are “obviously best” in every situation. There’s nothing wrong with having a few favorites—part of the fun is finding a blaster that fits your style—but if everyone’s just going for the same weapons each time (because why wouldn’t you choose the Prometheus for every game), the “blaster meta” can quickly stale. To encourage weapon diversity and experimentation, we choose blasters using a budgeting system I call the Shared Blaster Budget System (SBBS).

In this system, each of the provided blasters has a colored sticker indicating its handedness and cost. A blaster’s handedness refers to how you hold the blaster when firing. There are three types of handedness:

  • Primary blasters (or two-handed blasters), indicated by a pink sticker, must be fired with two hands. (You can carry these blasters with as many hands as you want, but you can only shoot with both hands.)
  • Secondary blasters have a green sticker; these are sidearms with limited capacity (usually 6 shots or less) that can be fired using one hand. 
  • The third type of blasters, indicated by an orange sticker, are not primary blasters (meaning you can fire them with one hand), but don’t fall into the secondary classification due to capacity. This distinction can come into play in a game with rules like “secondaries only”.

A blaster’s cost depends on its ammo type, ammo capacity, and firing mode. Obviously, a single shot secondary with a manual prime that shoots Elite darts is going to cost much less than a hopper-fed automatic Rival blaster. The formula we use for our games looks something like this:

FiringCapacity: Number of possible shots before having to reload (Magazine-fed = 10)
StoredCapacity: Number of slots of ammo storage on the blaster
AmmoType: Elite = 1, Vortex = 1, Mega/XL = 1.5, Rival = 2, Half = 3
FiringMode: Manual Prime = 1, Slamfire = 1.2, Semi/Automatic = 2

BlasterCost = (FiringCapacity + StoredCapacity * 0.5) * AmmoType * FiringMode

Each blaster comes with enough ammo to fill its firing and stored capacity. Loose ammo costs 1 each, regardless of the type. Extra magazines cost half their capacity, rounded down. Melee weapons, shields, grenades, revives, and other accessories each have a cost as well. 

With these classifications and costs in mind, every game mode that we play has either a team budget or an individual budget to spend on blasters, ammo, and accessories. With an individual budget, you can only buy for yourself using your own money; with a team budget, the entire team decides how they want to spend. For example, if a particular game has an individual budget of 100/person, no one can buy a 200-cost Perses. If instead the game has a team budget of 100/person, a 5-person team could decide to buy two Perses.

The choice of budget greatly impacts the pace and experience of the game. The constraints of lower budgets help promote team strategy and thoughtfulness in blaster choice. Higher budgets grant greater weapon choice at the expense of creativity.

For example, in Find The Cure, an HvZ-style game where scientists have to find and assemble a cure for the zombie outbreak, everyone has an individual budget of 5. Do you choose a 5-shot Hammershot to maximize your chances, or do you sacrifice capacity and go for a 3-shot Mega Magnus to stun zombies for twice as long? More competitive team games, like Hold The Button, can use higher team budgets to allow for more action and strategic game-play. We even play a CS:GO-style mode where your budget increases depending on how well you played that round.

We’ve found that team budgets of 50, 100, or 200 work well for competitive team games; individual budgets are used in scenario-type games or for special players like VIPs. 

We also use modifiers to spice up our games. Modifiers are applied on an individual, team, or global level, and are drawn at random at the beginning of a round. They restrict the type of blasters you can buy, often forcing players to branch out beyond their main. In one recent game, we all played with a “Mega Blasters Only” modifier, and had way more fun than we anticipated.

The budget and modifier systems have gone through many iterations in the five events we’ve held so far. Before each weekend, we review the footage from the previous time to see where improvements can be made. Mega blasters used to be twice as expensive due to their shield-breaking properties, but after reviewing our “Mega Blasters Only” game, we reduced their cost to encourage more use. We no longer play with the “Vortex Only” modifier.

Recently, we’ve experimented using our modifiers as a comeback mechanic in our competitive team games. Whenever a team wins a round, they must play the next round with an additional modifier. This mitigates situations where a stronger team steamrolls (and thus, demoralizes) the opposing team.