How to Play Capture the Flag

Kids playing outside
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Remember this one from summer camp or childhood camping trips? Capture the Flag is a favorite backyard game that offers players a fast-paced, exhilarating mix of fitness and fun. Play outside with two to four teams of any size. It can be a quick and simple turnaround or a long battle. Everything depends on the deviousness of the players! That, plus the number of teams/players and the size of your playing area, will determine the length of a game. To play, you need an open area for your territories (the bigger the better), and material to make flags: bandannas, old t-shirts, even beanbags work.

How to Play

  1. Divide players into two to four teams. Aim for a balanced mix of ages, sizes, and fitness levels for each team if you can. But it's also fun to play parents vs. kids, or use sports rivalries as your starting point (Cubs fans vs. White Sox supporters, say).
  2. Gather flags: scarves, bandannas, old T-shirts, socks, or even beanbags will all work. You will need one for each team, and they should be different colors.
  3. Divide playing area into equal-sized territories, one for each team. You can use chalk, cones, tape, or landmarks such as trees or sidewalks to mark boundaries and make sure each player understands the lay of the land.
  4. Place one flag into each territory. It can be mostly hidden, but some part of it must be visible. Once it's placed, the flag can't be moved by its home team.
  5. Start all players at a neutral location on the edge of the playing area. When the game begins, players try to cross into opposing teams' territories to grab their flags.
  6. When a player is in an opposing team's territory, he can be captured by that team's players. If they tag him, he must perform a task—say, five jumping jacks or three push-ups—before returning to his own territory. (In some versions, captured players are sent to "jail." But that means less physical activity, so we recommend the sweat-out-of-jail strategy instead.)
  7. Any time a player crosses back to her own team's territory, she is safe and can't be captured.
  8. The game ends when one team has successfully grabbed the flag(s) from the other team or teams and returned to their own territory.


  1. Decide beforehand how you'll handle captured players, and make sure everyone knows the plan.
  2. If you have more than 2 teams, decide how the winner will be determined. Must one team gather all other team flags or just a majority? In games with multiple teams, the strategy can become a bigger part of the game. Teams might form alliances and work together to defeat a common enemy.
  3. Make a rule that teams can't guard their flags too closely. One way to do this is to disallow players to be within 10 feet of their own flag unless an opposing team's player is present.
  4. Clear the area of any hazards (lawn tools, broken glass) before playing.
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