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. 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 of a game.

Set Up for Capture the Flag

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. 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.

  1. 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 vs. kids, or use sports rivalries as your starting point (Cubs fans vs. White Sox supporters, say).
  2. 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.
  3. Clear the area of any hazards (lawn tools, broken glass) before playing.
  4. 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.

Rules for Capture the Flag

  1. 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).
  2. Teams should not 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.
  3. 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" and must be tagged by a teammate to be freed. But that means less physical activity, so give the sweat-out-of-jail strategy a try.) Decide beforehand how you'll handle captured players, and make sure everyone knows the plan.
  4. Any time players cross back to their own team's territory, they are safe and can't be captured.
  5. 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? 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.
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