Capture the flag

What it is: An outdoor, physically active group game (dare I say sport?) for lots of people.

Best for: Big group of at least 10 players.

What you need: First, you’ll need two flags (one for each team). These can be a variety of things; we always used two rags or cloths. You could also use two bandanas, t-shirts, etc., or, if you’re playing at night, two glow sticks.

You’ll also need somewhere to play, which can also be a variety of places, depending on how many people are playing and what type of game you want. I’ve played in front and backyards, big parks, parking lots…just anywhere with lots of space to run around outside, and a way to divide the playing field in two.

Finally, you need people to play, probably at least ten, but up to many more, depending on how big your playing area is. And, depending on how many people are playing, you might want a way to distinguish teams. (If you’re playing with a small group, that probably won’t be a problem because everyone could remember who’s on their team, but if you’re playing with a huge group, different colored t-shirts or bandanas might be a good idea, for instance.)

How to play: First, divide your players into two teams. Then, divide your playing area into two equal sides. (If you’re playing in a park, you can choose trees or other landmarks as dividing lines; if you’re playing in a yard, you could drag a hose across for a divider line; you could lay out shoes or t-shirts in a field; you get the idea.) Within each side, somewhere kinda far away from the dividing line, you’ll also want to designate two areas to be jails (this could be around a tree, in a corner, etc.).

Each team gets a side and a flag, and each team then puts their flag somewhere on their side. You could have a designated flag place picked out beforehand, so both team members know where the flags are, but it’s more fun if teams get to hide their flags, so the opposing team doesn’t know where the flag is. (If you do choose to hide flags, you might want to set some rules, like the flag has to remain visible, or it can’t be placed above players’ shoulders, etc.)

Then you’re ready to start the game. Your team’s goal is to find and bring the opposing team’s flag back to your side, while keeping your flag protected from the other team (because they’re trying to do the same thing). Any players are free to move anywhere in the playing area (on their side or the opposing team’s side) whenever they want, but here’s the catch: when you’re on the opposing team’s side, anyone from their team can tag you and send you to jail.

So that’s basic game play: players run onto the opposing team’s side and try to find and bring back the flag without being tagged and sent to jail. If one of your teammates is caught in jail, you can free them by running onto the opposing team’s side, making it to the jail untagged, and bringing back your teammate.

So while the basic game is simple, play can get very strategic and fun.

Your team could plan a specific attack, for instance, that involves all key players making a mass rush for the flag. Or, you could focus on defense, gather as many players of the opposing team in your jail as possible, and then make a move for the flag. You can have scouts that run and search for the flag, then come back safely and help plan. You can have decoys, trick plays, and kamikaze attacks. The possibilities are endless! It’s a great game for strategy, adrenaline, and teamwork.

It’s also a game that needs some well-defined rules beforehand, because disputes may often arise. Here are some things you might want to agree on with all players before the game starts:

  1. When a player rescues a teammate from jail, do the two players get a free walk back to their side? Or do they have to make a break for it and run the risk of getting tagged again?
  2. If you make a jailbreak, how many players can you bring back with you? One? Two? All?
  3. Is puppy guarding allowed? (Puppy guarding: noun. The act of defensively guarding the flag by standing right on top of or very close to it.) How far from the flag must defenders stand?
  4. What constitutes a tag? One-hand touch? Two-hand touch? Full tackle? (I’ve never played that way, but wouldn’t that be awesome?)
  5. How will players in jail be penalized for breaking free illegally?
  6. If a player finds the opposing team’s flag, grabs it, makes a run back to their side, and gets tagged in the process, what happens to the flag? Does it have to fall where it lands? Do the defenders get to take it back to its hiding spot?
  7. Are challenges allowed? (I never played with challenges growing up, but my husband informed me how they work. Two players from opposing teams stand to face each other, right over the boundary line, both safe on their side. Then they declare a challenge, reach over the boundary line to grasp hands, and try to pull each other to their side. The player who gets pulled to the other side goes to jail.)

Any other rules anyone can think of?

Variations: Like I said, there are many ways you can play capture the flag: outside at night with glow sticks as flags, with big teams or smaller teams, during the day… But one of my favorite and tried-and-true variations is flour bomb capture the flag, perfect if you want to get a little messy.

7 Comments

  1. Here’s an idea, If someone comes into your territory and is spotted, you can say “Contact” (for example) an they must return to Gaol.

  2. When does it finish? Once the opposing team has the flag or is there a set time? And if both (in different versions) which would you say was the best? Thanks.

    1. Emma, I think the game typically finishes when one of the teams carries the opposing team’s flag back over the boundary to their side. You could also do a set time and, at the end of the set time, count up how many players each team has not in jail and award a winner that way. But I think the capturing-the-flag part of the game is the best part and the more fun way to play. Hope this helps!

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