Identify a very large, open outside space and divide it into two roughly-even halves.
Form two teams and allocate each team one half of the area as their ‘safe’ zone.
Supply each team with an equal number of flags, a bunch of soft tossables and one bucket.
Instruct each team to place their set of identifiable flags inside the bucket at the rear of their safe zone.
When ready, invite each team to retrieve all of their opponent’s flags and place them inside their own bucket.
Announce that people may be eliminated by (a) being tagged within their opponent’s safe zone, or (b) being hit by a soft tossable in their own safe area.
If a person holding a flag is eliminated, the flag must immediately be dropped to the ground.
Any flag or soft tossable which is lying on the ground may be picked up by any team member.
All eliminated people will be invited to observe the continuing action from the sidelines.
Play for 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of your group and the wide area being used.
The first team to successfully retrieve all of their opponent’s flags, or eliminate all of their opponent’s members wins.
How To Play Narrative
If you did not grow up with the 20th-century classic Capture The Flag the first thing you need to know is that you need lots of playing space, typically outside. And, in this brilliant variant, you will also need lots of flags.
Identify a large outside area and divide it neatly into two halves. One half of the space belongs to one half of your group and vice versa. This is their home turf, and is considered ‘safe.’
Then, place an equal number of easily identifiable flags and a bucket at the rear of each safe area. The bigger and wider your space, the better. Depending on the size and topography of your area, you may invite each team to randomly distribute their flags across their own defensible zone.
Finally, arm each team with a bunch of soft tossables, such as fleece-balls, and you are ready to explain the rules.
Upon an agreed signal, each team will attempt to enter the space of their opponent, try to steal one or more of their opponent’s flags, return to their safe area and place them in their own bucket.
A person can only steal one flag at a time. The first team to recover all ten flags, or eliminate all of their opponents, wins. Which raises the question, how does someone get eliminated?
A person may be eliminated by being (a) tagged when they are in their opponent’s safe area, or (b) hit by a soft tossable when they are in their own safe area.
If someone has successfully stolen a flag, but is eliminated (tagged or hit by a tossable) before they can place the flag into their team’s bucket, the flag must be dropped immediately and may be reclaimed by either team.
Same holds true for discarded tossables – they may be reclaimed by any person and brought back into play.
If a person picks up one of their own flags, they should return it to the bucket in their safe zone as soon as possible. Naturally, if they are tagged in the process, the flag may change possession again.
Being eliminated simply means enjoying the action from the sidelines. If this presents an issue for your group, consider adopting one or more alternatives (see Variations tab) which keep more people active for longer.
Strategy clearly plays a role in this activity, so feel free to allow each team some time before and during the contest (eg, you could give them several five-minute rounds) to plan their attack.
You can expect to play for up to 40 or more minutes, perhaps split into two or more sessions.
But keep it light, it’s a game remember. It’s nice to win, but this should not be viewed as a proxy for warfare.
Practical Leadership Tips
The more people in each team, the more flags you can introduce into the game.
Some of the best games I have played are those situated within the grounds of a large outdoors area, such as residential campsites. Venues such as these offer many wonderful places to hide.
Beware the carrying of flags as a tool to ward off menacing opponents.
You could integrate Capture The Flags as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate diverse settings and groups.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
The intensity and length of time your group may be actively engaged in this game make it an ideal vehicle for exploring and developing healthy and respectful norms. There are obvious teamwork elements at play as much as respect for the rules, but also opportunities for certain unhealthy behaviours to emerge from the competitive fervour such as aggression, coercion and intimidation. In addition to those described in the Reflection Tips tab, you may wish to invite your group to reflect on these questions:
Was the game played in the spirit of healthy or unhealthy competition? Why?
Did you observe any conflicts that concerned you? How were they resolved?
Did you/we observe all of the game’s rules and safety parameters?
How might we reconcile these behaviours with our full value agreement?
Were there moments in which compassion or empathy was demonstrated?
Can you think of a time when compassion or empathy would have been useful?
As described in the Social-Emotional Learning tab, you may also wish to explore other valuable topics such as leadership, goal-setting and taking initiative.
Single Flag: The original, and some would say, the best. Each team is given just one flag. The first team to successfully retrieve the flag of their opponent wins.
Short-term Eliminations: Allow eliminated people to return to the fray after one (or two) minutes. This will keep more people active for longer. In effect, the first team to successfully steal all of their opponent’s flags wins.
Jail Time: Adding to the above variation, house eliminated people for each team in a ‘Jail’ situated somewhere in their opponent’s safe area. These folk can be released only if and when a member of their team ‘breaks into’ the jail and tags them without being eliminated themselves.
Take a look at Ga Ga and Monarch Tag to explore more team-based games that leverage the benefits of strategic planning.
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Useful Framing Ideas
Here’s a wonderfully exhausting variation of the classic Capture the Flag game that you all know and love…
Most team-based games require a high degree of collaboration and critical thinking skills. Typically, those teams which develop the most effective strategy to work together will win. I wonder how your team will fare in this next familiar activity…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this fabulous wide-area game:
What plans or strategies did your team first discuss?
Did your plans change as the game progressed? How and why?
Did you notice any pivotal moments in the game, for either team?
Were there any behaviours that concerned you during the game?
How might this game reflect the way our teams work?
The inspiration for Capture The Flags, and many more wide-area games, can be sourced from the following publication: