How to Play Capture the Flag

Kids playing outside

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Remember Capture the Flag from summer camp or childhood camping trips? It's 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.

A game of Capture the Flag 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 and players and the size of your playing area, will determine the length and competitiveness of a game. You can play with any number of players but usually having at least 6 or more on a side is ideal.

The rules of Capture the Flag are simple. Each team tries to take the other team's flag and get it back to their territory. If a player gets tagged by the other team in the opposing half of the playing field, that person gets sent to the holding area or "jail." The game ends when one team gets the other flag to their home base. Learn more about how to play Capture the Flag.

Preparing for Capture the Flag

Capture the Flag is best played outdoors with plenty of space to run around. All you have to do is assemble your team and make sure you have a couple of flags and you're ready for action. Again, this game tends to work best with larger groups but it can be fun with a handful of people, too, there just won't be as much opportunity for chasing or strategy. Follow these steps to make sure you're prepared to play.

Find an Open Area

You will need an open area for your territories. The bigger the better, and obstacles such as trees, bushes, and large rocks help make the game more fun. Additionally, this game can be played indoors, but ideally in a big space such as a large gym or rec room where players can have ample room to run.

Make Your Own Flags

You will also need material to make flags (one per team). Bandannas, socks, old t-shirts, and even beanbags work. Each flag should be about the same size and brightly colored.

Setting Up for Capture the Flag

Setting up to play Capture the Flag is fairly simple, but there are a few things to be aware of before you start playing.

Create Your Teams

Divide players evenly 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 against kids, or use sports rivalries as your starting point (say, Cubs fans vs. White Sox supporters).

Designate Your Playing Area

Divide the 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.

Clear Away Debris

Make sure the area is free of any hazards such as lawn tools before playing. Place cones or other markers on immovable hazards such as a stump or hole on the field.

Place Your Flags

Place one flag into each territory. This can be done by a representative from each team or a neutral person who isn't playing. The flag 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.

Aside from fun and fitness, Capture the Flag helps players build problem-solving, communication, and teamwork skills.

How to Play Capture the Flag

Now that you've set up your playing field and placed your flags, you are officially ready to play the game. Of course, it wouldn't be a proper game without a set of rules.

Ground Rules for Capture the Flag

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. Some teams might strategize beforehand and designate some players as seekers (who will go on the offense to try to find the other team's flag) and others as guards (who will protect their own flag).

Teams should not guard their flags too closely, as it makes it too challenging. 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.

When a player is in an opposing team's territory, they can be captured by that team's players. If they tag the player, the player must either be tagged by one of their own players or perform a task—say, five jumping jacks or three push-ups—before returning to their own territory.

In some versions of the game, captured players are sent to "jail" and must be tagged by a teammate to be freed. That's a fun way to play but it also means less physical activity. So, consider giving the sweat-out-of-jail strategy a try. Decide beforehand how you'll handle captured players, and make sure everyone knows the plan.

Players are safe and can't be captured any time they cross back to their own team's territory.

The game ends when one team has successfully grabbed the flag(s) from the other team or teams and returned to their own territory. If you have more than two teams, decide how the winner will be determined. Must one team gather all other team flags or just a majority?

Strategy for Capture the Flag

In any sport, it's important to balance defense and offense. This is also the case in Capture the Flag. If you primarily focus on guarding your flag, you'll miss out on opportunities to capture the other flag, and vice versa.

So, be sure to strategize with your team ahead of time to designate some players to be on defense while others seek to steal the flag. You can use decoys, too, to draw the attention of the other team, while other players sneak around to get the flag.

In games with multiple teams, strategy can become an even bigger part of the game. Teams might form alliances and work together to defeat a common enemy. Another way to spice up the game is to have players switch roles often, such as rotating through guarding their flag, seeking the opponent's flag, or freeing other players. This becomes a strategic advantage, too, because it keeps the other team guessing.

1 Source
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  1. Ghildiyal R. Role of sports in the development of an individual and role of psychology in sportsMens Sana Monogr. 2015;13(1):165-170. doi:10.4103/0973-1229.153335

By Catherine Holecko
Catherine Holecko is an experienced freelance writer and editor who specializes in pregnancy, parenting, health and fitness.