Capture the Flag › I: The Basics

I: The Basics

Kids playing capture the flag

1. STANDARD RULES – A BASIC, STRAIGHTFORWARD GUIDE

There are many versions of Capture the Flag, and most serious players will tell you that their version is the best. More on those variations later. For now, let’s review the Capture the Flag rules that are (mostly) universal:

Drawing of kids in outfits playing capture the flag
  • Each team has a territory with a jail and a home base.
  • Before the game starts, one player from each team hides their flag somewhere within their own territory.
  • Both teams strategize to get on the opposing team’s territory to find their flag and bring it back to their home base without getting tagged, all while defending their own territory.
  • If you get tagged in enemy territory, you get stuck in their jail until one of your own team members can free you.

So, sneak onto the other side, get the flag and get out without getting caught. If you’d like to learn more about these rules, click here.

2. SET-UP – GET YOUR GAME STARTED IN FIVE EASY STEPS

One of the reasons Capture the Flag is so popular is because it is one of the easiest games in the world to set up. It takes little to no planning or equipment – so you can spontaneously play a game whenever you’d like. Here are four easy steps to get started.

STEP ONE: Divide all the players into two teams.

Teams usually consist of 6-20 players. All ages can play as long as they are old enough to run around and taunt the opposing team members. Really, there isn’t a person on earth that can’t be a part of a Capture the Flag game — even those who can’t run much can help defend the home territory. If you have more than three players on each team, then you need a way to designate one team from the other – for example, one team can wear blue sports pinnies or bandanas and the other team can have green.

Capture the flag graphic territory markers

STEP TWO: Split the playing field in half.

Try to divide the total territory as equally as possible. Mark the borders of the field of play just as you would for any sport. You can use cones or ropes, or you can use natural borders like sticks or a line of rocks. If you are playing indoors, you can use masking tape to mark the boundaries.

STEP THREE: Designate a smaller space on each side for each team’s jail.

Both jails should be close to equal distance from the center boundary line. The jail needs to be big enough to hold as many players as might get tagged while in enemy territory, so size will depend on the total number of players.

STEP FOUR: Have each team hide their flag on their side of the playing field.

Flags can be anything you choose so long as everyone knows what it is. Make it hard for the enemy to find, but don’t break the rules by putting it under something so it’s not visible at all.
Once these four easy steps are complete, you are ready to start your game.

STEP FIVE: Now for the best part: PLAY!

Soldiers with a flag

3. HISTORY OF THE GAME – WHAT INSPIRED CAPTURE THE FLAG THROUGH TODAY’S COMMON USES

The idea of capturing a flag in enemy territory and bringing it back to your side originated on the battlefield of some of history’s deadliest wars hundreds of years ago. When the soldiers captured the enemy’s flag, it signified a win for them, whereas when a flag was captured, it signified defeat. Even during the Civil War, soldiers that captured the other side’s flag were awarded a Medal of Honor.

Back then, troops that went into battle would actively protect their flag and the flag bearer. The flag represented power and strength, and it is still a source of national pride today. On the battlefield, a flag was often called the “colors.” This is where the term “color guard” comes from. The job of the color guard was to protect the “colors.” In other words, they were expected to protect the flag from being captured.

Somewhere along the course of history, things lightened up, and it became a game that children love to play. In fact, even the Boy Scouts of America picked it up and has been playing it for over sixty years. Because we don’t know exactly when or who decided to first play for recreational purposes, a direct line is difficult to draw from these events in history to the modern version of Capture the Flag. However, the reference is clear: capture the flag, bring it to your side, and win.

The premise of Capture the Flag has even carried over into video games, and is one of the most popular “team based” themes found across the different video game platforms. Gamers can compete on teams against each other to infiltrate the opposing team’s base, capture their flag and return home without being caught by the other side. Though the stakes are lower now, the thrill of capturing the enemy’s flag still resonates today in backyards, school gyms and video games everywhere.

Kids playing capture the flag

4. EQUIPMENT – GAME KITS AND DIY OPTIONS

Traditionally, Capture the Flag is played with two teams and two flags. Equipment is minimal but is dependent upon the number of players and the size of the playing field. You can adapt the equipment and rules to fit whatever space you have. Luckily, you can play Capture the Flag almost anywhere! An outside playing field is perfect, especially if you have trees or interesting places to hide. If you don’t have outdoor space, or the weather is questionable, you can play indoors, like inside a school gym or recreation center.

Here is the list of equipment you’ll need for your Capture the Flag game: 

  • Two flags
  • Boundary markers (cones, tape, rope, a line in the dirt, etc.)
  • Team designations (bandannas, bracelets, colors, etc.)

For equipment, you can use official equipment from a Capture the Flag kit or make DIY equipment using items you likely already have at home. Most importantly, you will need a “flag” for each team. Many CTF kits come with different colored flags or beanbags to use, however, you can use any item that is easy to grab and carry – a ball, bandana or even a shoe all work great! You will also need to mark each team’s territory, base and jail. The best equipment for defining boundaries includes orange cones, rope or light-up territory markers if you are playing in the dark. You can also use tape if you are inside a gym. To determine each team’s territory, split your playing field in half and use the cones or markers as the dividing line. Then, use additional cones or markers to section off a five or six foot square jail within each team’s territory.

The final piece you will need for your Capture the Flag equipment is something to indicate which team players are on. If you are playing with a small group, it may be easy to remember who is on what team, but for a larger group – it works best to have the teams suited up with different colors. For example, teams can wear different colored velcro flag belts or sports pinnies, so that the players know who is on their team. Glow bracelets or necklaces are also a great option, especially if you are playing when it’s dark outside. Once you have your flag, territory markers and team color designators, you are all set to enjoy an action-packed game of Capture the Flag.

Parts included in Capture the Flag REDUX.

(Capture the Flag REDUX uses game pieces with LED lights as the Flags, for each player to wear to show of their team, territory markers and jail lights)

A. CAPTURE THE FLAG GAME KITS

If you are planning on incorporating some Capture the Flag games into your youth events or family gatherings, you can consider purchasing a CTF kit so that you will have everything on hand when it’s game time. If you have over 20 players, you may need to combine a few kits. Most of the standard Capture the Flag kits that you will find in-store and online are actually flag football sets that come with two colored sets of velcro rip-flag belts, two sets of cones and two sets of “flags” such as bean bags.

The latest CTF technology includes glow-in-the-dark kits like the Starlux Games Capture the Flag REDUX. It’s the classic Capture the Flag game revolutionized with futuristic glow-in-the-dark lights. Each Capture the Flag REDUX game box includes two glowing orbs to use as the “flags,” color-coded LED bracelets to differentiate team members, glowing jail markers, light-up territory markers and a rulebook. As an extra bonus, each kit includes 12 game variation cards that provide you with new ways to play Capture the Flag, as well as other games. You can also purchase expansion sets from Starlux Games to add additional players to your games.

Capture the Flag three-way expansion kit
Capture the Flag bracelet expansion kit

Whether you purchase a kit that is a standard gym set or one of the latest glow-in-the-dark kits, Capture the Flag is a great way to bring people of all ages together. Having several kits on hand makes it an easy go-to activity for youth groups, retreats, family reunions or block parties. Capture the Flag kits also makes an ideal gift for holidays or birthdays. It’s the perfect way to get kids off their cell phones, interacting together and active outdoors.

B. DIY CAPTURE THE FLAG OPTIONS 

In a pinch, you can adapt common household items for everything you need for a really fun game of Capture the Flag. First and foremost, you will need a “flag” for each team. That can be an actual flag or bandana, or it can be a ball, a toy, your little brother’s left shoe – whatever you have around.

Grass at the edge of a brick platform

No cones or rope handy to mark your boundaries? No problem! If you don’t have official sports equipment like orange cones or light-up territory markers, you can simply use backyard landmarks like a tree for base or a patio for jail. You can even mark the areas with colored chalk or spray paint if you are playing outside. If you are inside a gym or recreation center, you could use masking tape or duct tape to section off your boundaries and jails.

When you are ready to designate teams, you can really get creative. If you don’t have official flag football belts, find funny hats to wear or tie some brightly colored ribbon around each team member’s arm or forehead. For a really crazy game, find some face paint and paint different colored war stripes on team member’s faces. Whether you choose to go all-out with official CTF equipment for your game or plan on running around the backyard with war paint and make-shift flags, you know it’s going to be a fun time.

II: Variations →