Capture the Flag is a summer camp classic, a test of speed, strategy, teamwork and even stealth. There are many variations on this traditional game, including both additions to the basic rules and high-tech new versions. Even the simplest version of the game varies depending on when and where it is played, adapting its rules and procedures to the play area and the available time.
The Basics of the Game
To play the traditional version of the game, separate players into two teams. Each team receives a large playing area, usually part of a park or other outdoor area, with a natural feature such as a stream or path forming the dividing line. Each team places its flag in a spot deep within its own area. Players from each team now have to enter the opposing team's area, steal the flag and return with it to their own side. To defend the flag, players can tag intruders, sending them to a "jail" area for the remainder of the round. The game may end when one team captures the opposing flag, or last until a certain number of points have been scored.
Choosing the Play Area
If you're playing Capture the Flag in a large outdoor space, the game will be relatively slow-paced and strategic. Reaching the opposing team's flag will be a matter of stealth and cunning, making use of natural cover to approach undetected before snatching the flag and running for safety. However, a large playing area isn't necessary. A smaller area, such as a gymnasium or football field, makes this game a test of speed and reflexes rather than strategy. In a smaller game, consider replacing "jail" with an option that freezes players in place until a member of their own team tags them.
To vary your game of Capture the Flag, you can change the rules in any number of ways. Allow other players to break captured teammates out of jail by touching the boundary of the jail, for instance, or equip players with Nerf blasters or water guns and allow them to shoot opposing players instead of tagging them. Consider adding multiple flags or designating some players as guards and others as offensive players. Only guards can tag offensive players; if an offensive player spots an opposing offensive player in her team's area, she'll need to alert a guard. To make things really complex, expand the playing area to an entire school campus, complete with buildings.
Capture the Flag in Video Games
The idea of Capture the Flag is so simple and familiar that it appears as an option in many video games. First-person shooter games often include a Capture the Flag multiplayer mode; examples include the "Halo" series, "Team Fortress 2" and several games in the "Call of Duty" series among many. A Capture the Flag mode also appears in non-shooter games, such as the real-time strategy game "Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars."
- US Scouting Service Project: Capture the Flag
- Penn State Urban Gaming Club: Capture the Flag
- Mindflare: Capture the Flag
- Ultimate Camp Resource: Ultimate Capture the Flag
- Halo Wiki: Capture the Flag
- Team Fortress 2 Official Wiki: List of Game Modes (Classic)
- Giant Bomb: Capture the Flag (Classic)
- Gamespot: Command & Conquer 3 Tiberium Wars Multiplayer Hands-on
Dr James Holloway has been writing about games, geek culture and whisky since 1995. A former editor of "Archaeological Review from Cambridge," he has also written for Fortean Times, Fantasy Flight Games and The Unspeakable Oath. A graduate of Cambridge University, Holloway runs the blog Gonzo History Gaming.