How to Play Capture the Flag

A family costumed as a group of pirates
Photo © Hill Street Studios / Blend Images / Getty Images

If you were ever a Boy Scout, you probably played Capture the Flag. It is one of the all-time classic outdoor games. It can be a bit rough and physical, so it's a good game for tweens and teens. For milder versions, see the variations. It's a great game for parks or other areas with trees. Players will need some cover to keep from being captured. You'll also need two improvised flags and flagpoles. Bandannas or fabric scraps on sticks will do.

How to Play

  • Players are divided into two teams. Each team has its own territory with a boundary designated between the two. Each team must also designate a spot to serve as a jail. This need not be anything more than a particular rock or tree that a prisoner has to touch. Another decision that must be made is how large the designated safety zone around the flag should be. When the game begins, each team must decide where to place its flag. Once placed, it cannot be moved, although it can be guarded. Those guarding their own flag may not enter the safety zone around the flag unless in pursuit of an opposing team member.
  • Once the flag is placed, team members are assigned to guard their own flag or to enter enemy territory to try to capture the other team’s flag. Any player in enemy territory can be caught and put in jail. The classic Boy Scout rules say that the capture is made by holding the other player long enough to say “Caught” three times. Some play that tagging the other player is sufficient. Prisoners can be released by being tagged by a teammate, but only one prisoner can be rescued at a time.
  • A team wins the game by capturing the other team’s flag and bearing it back to their home territory. If a flag is seized but is recaptured before reaching the opponents' territory, the flag is set up where it was recaptured. If a game must be ended before a flag is captured, the team with the most prisoners wins.


  • Tagging the opponents rather than catching makes the game a little less rough.
  • Another variation is played with Nerf guns. Instead of catching or tagging opponents, players hit opponents with a Nerf missile.

Fun Facts

  • Capture the Flag is popular with urban gamers, who play in urban environments and use cell phones to communicate.
  • Several computer games have been based on Capture the Flag, and multiplayer team-based modes in many computer games are called CTF or Capture the Flag.
  • Capture the Flag can also refer to a computer security competition, in which participants must defend a computer or computer network from cyber attack.