Interesting Sports, Outdoor & Backyard Games
capture the flag

How To Play: Capture The Flag

Games of a physical nature are fun. We tend to enjoy the physical challenge inherent in playing games like football, basketball, baseball, and soccer.  Yes, there is an element of strategy involved in them as well. But when it comes down to it, each is considered physical in nature. While they are great in their own right, sometimes we want more. Sometimes we want something physically challening, but a little more cerebral.   

We want something like ‘Capture the Flag.’ 

There are several variations of the game, but the elements of each are roughly the same. Players will get some exercise while playing, but the team with the best athletes will not necessarily win. 

Capture the Flag: History

Exactly when the game was created is not known, but the idea is said to have originate from combat operations during times of war. At one point in time many years ago, to end a battle did not necessarily require one army to kill everyone on the other side. One side just needed to capture the flag of the other.  

That was the universal sign that the skirmish/battle/fight was over. According to one website, over 500 Medal of Honor winners from the Civil War were earned by capturing the enemy’s flag.  

When the practice became a popular outdoor game, is anyone’s guess. The Boy Scouts of America have been playing a version of it for over 60 years. 

Capture the Flag: Equipment and Playing Field

The equipment needed to play the game can vary depending on the variation of the game being played. To play, you will need at least one ‘flag’ for each team. It can be an actual flag or simply something that acts as a team’s ‘flag’ and agreed to by both sides before beginning to play. It can be very helpful to have markers of some kind to designate the boundaries of the playing field.  

If you are playing with a large group, it may help to have some way to mark who is on which team. That way you don’t risk targeting one of your own guys! 

As for the playing field, it can be as large as you want it to be. It is imperative that boundary lines be clearly marked and that each side has an equal space. One corner should have a space designated as the ‘jail’ where players tagged go. 

Capture the Flag: the Purpose

There are many ways in which the game can be altered depending on how the participants decide they want to play. But the purpose of the game is always the same—to capture the other team’s flag. 

The basic version of the game is played on a big, open field. Players start the game in their own territory and have to figure out how they can get from their side of the field, through their enemy’s side so they can capture the flag, and back to their own. As long as players are in their own territory, they are safe, but as soon as they venture onto the other side, they can be tagged and put in jail. 


What happens to players when they go to jail is one of the most common ways the game varies. The following are several of the most common variants: 

  • Tagged players become part of the opposing team. 
  • After a predetermined amount of time, they can return to their own team. 
  • Players not in jail can perform what is called a ‘jailbreak.’ If they can run from their territory and safely make it into the jail, they can free one person or free multiple (depending on the rules everyone agreed to). 
  • Players freed are often allowed to walk back, but the one performing the jail break can still be tagged and can also try to capture the flag. 


There are two variations that are common. In one, each team has multiple flags which must all be captured for the game to be over.  

But the most common involves how players are ‘tagged.’ Capture the flag is game commonly used at paintball locations. So, rather than be physically tagged, players are shot with paintballs.  They don’t go to jail, though, but are instead, out of the game. 

People have also been known to use nerf weapons, water balloons, or squirt guns. The playing field is not divided into two territories in these cases, but teams instead hide their flag and must defend it while seeking out the other team’s flag. 

It can also be fun to play the game with frisbees as the flag (but only if throwing the flag is allowed). Instead of sending players to jail, have them ‘freeze’ until tagged by a teammate, or play at night. Night games make it possible to use glow in the dark items for flags which can add another element of fun to the game. 

Andrea H

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