I’ve been a teacher for the last 12 years and have experimented with various variations of Capture the Flag. I enjoy using it as a warmup for PE sessions, and the children also really like doing it during recess.
Of course, playing at home, in the park, or various other situations is also great. Research has shown the benefits of organized outdoor play through games like this.
In this article, I’ll describe the best variations of capturing the flag I’ve tried.
I’ll also describe lots of games that are similar to capture the flag as well.
Let’s start with the classic rules of Capture the Flag first, and then lots of variations of the standard version:
Variations Of Capture The Flag
1. Capture The Flag Original
Just so you one hundred percent know what Capture The Flag is to start with, here is the version that I had always played (both when I was young and also how I teach it to children).
You have two teams, each of which has some kind of flag.
For the flag, you can use something like a piece of material, rag, or traditional flag. Whatever is good for you.
Have two territories marked out on the ground – usually two big squares or circles facing each other.
You can mark out the territories with cones, coats, chalk on the ground, or whatever else you have to hand.
Now each team places its ‘flag’ at any point inside its zone. After this, they are no longer allowed to touch it themselves.
Then the game starts. The basic idea is that each team has to somehow get the opposing team’s flag without being tagged and bring it back to their zone.
You can tag other players when they enter your zone. You can’t tag them when they are outside the zone.
Most good teams work around a mixture of defense and attack. About half the team will be ‘attacking’ and trying to capture the opponent’s flag.
At the same time, roughly half of their team will be defending their flag and trying to tag other team members.
There, in a nutshell, is capture the flag!
2. Oldies V Youngies/ Moms V Kids
One game variation is how to split the players into teams.
I normally try to select equal (ish) teams myself. But there are different ways to do this.
Sometimes to make it a bit more competitive, you can segregate the teams into opposing segments.
For example, if you were playing it in the park, you could have parents versus kids.
In school, it could be boys versus girls.
Or you could try oldies versus youngies.
You could also try supporters of a particular sports team or people that like a particular thing versus those that don’t.
Sometimes this gives the game an added element of motivation for many playing it.
3. Capture the Flag Jail
Another way to really jazz it up is to add the concept of a ‘jail.’
This seems to be quite a common way of doing it.
Basically, mark out some portion of the playing area as the ‘jail.’ You could mark it out with cones, coats, or whatever else.
When anyone gets tagged, they are now stuck inside the jail until a flag is captured.
4. Jail Release
This is just a simple version whereby you can release anyone trapped in jail from your team by simply tagging them.
Then they are free to continue the game again.
5. Different Forfeits
I’ve heard the game can be extended by having a different forfeit whenever you get tagged.
This is especially good if you are using the game as a PE warmup or as a starter for a sports club.
Whenever someone gets tagged this time, they must do an agreed forfeit. It could be:
- Do five-star jumps
- Do ten push-ups
- Run around the area
After their forfeit, they return to their zone and can begin the game again. A great workout to try!
6. 3 Or More Teams
The classical way of playing Capture the Flag is to have two teams.
However, if you have 3, 4, or even more teams, it really changes the tactics and the dynamics of what might happen.
Any team can capture any other flag.
Some possibilities in this kind of game are some of the following:
-Two teams work together to steal flags from another team
-You can use all kinds of ‘decoy’ attacks on other teams
There is generally much more going on and a wider range of tactics to draw on.
You can play the version where the champions are the first team to get a flag back to their zone.
Or you can just carry on until all teams have secured a flag.
7. Theme – Capture The Item
Especially if you are playing the game with young children, having some kind of a theme can really help.
For example, they might all be pirates, and you are trying to capture the treasure.
Or you could pretend that everyone is a monkey and they are trying to steal a banana.
Or they are witches trying to secure a wand.
Be as imaginative as you like! It really helps (as with anything) to tap into their interests.
If you have some children that are really into a particular topic, then target that. That will only boost engagement and motivation positively.
8. Unusual Terrain
I’ve always played this game on a field, in a school hall, or a yard. In short, in quite featureless environments that don’t have much variation in terms of terrain.
However, this game is taken up a notch if you have a really interesting terrain to play it in.
For example, playing in a place with a range of rocks, trees, and undergrowth just adds so much to the experience.
Players can sneak up on others.
They can ambush the other team!
They can hide under bushes and spring out at a key moment!
So, if you can play this game in a forest, on a hillside, or any other place like that, then so much better!
9. Introduce Obstacles
If you have a flat terrain (as admittedly, I’ve only ever had when I’ve played it), one way to jazz this up is to add a few obstacles.
You could perhaps place random cones or hoops marking off out-of-bounds areas.
10. Hide The Flag
One thing to consider is whether or not to hide the flag.
I’ve always played the version where the flag is fully visible.
But if you play in an area with long grass or lots of rocks and boulders, you could definitely play the version where the flag is hidden.
This will usually make it a lengthier game. The first target is locating the flag, and the second is working out a plan to get to it.
11. Move Flag Mid Game
Another rule you could try is that the team can move the flag around mid-game.
So if they’ve hidden it behind a rock, and the other team has suddenly spotted it, it’s time to whip it off and try to hide it somewhere else without the opponents seeing where.
It is important to agree on this rule before you start.
I normally do the version where you can’t move the flag, but if you agree to move it mid-game, just make sure everyone is aware.
Lots of children get very annoyed at this type of cheating!
12. Use A Ball
One great way to really elevate the game into a team ball game is to use a ball for the flag.
I did this with a rule that also said you couldn’t hold the ball for more than 3 seconds, and you couldn’t run with it.
So, if you capture the opponent’s ball, you have to pass your way back to your zone, with all team members helping to throw and catch it between you.
If the other team intercepts a pass, they can take the ball back to their zone, and the game starts again.
Games Similar To Capture The Flag
Now for a few games that are very similar to Capture the Flag. I have picked all of the following games because they share key skills that feature in Capture the Flat.
They all contain at least one of the following (and sometimes more than one):
- An element of tagging others
- A strong element of teamwork
- Games where there are marked-out zones or territories
13. Cats And Dogs Tag
This is a great PE game or recess activity.
Mark out a large playing area.
The children split up into two. One team will be the cats, and the others the dogs.
I like to get one team to wear something to signify who they are.
For example, the ‘cats’ could all wear a band.
To start with, specify who is going to be chasing who. So, it might be that the dogs will chase the cats.
Off you go!
The dogs chase the cats, and if they catch one, they ‘tag’ them on the back.
They have to freeze on the spot when they are tagged.
Keep going for about thirty seconds until you call out, ‘Cats chase the dogs!’
Everyone is now free again, and the roles are reversed.
The cats chase the dogs and repeat the process.
The children usually find this cats chasing dogs idea to be hysterical. Keep going, switching over roles now and then.
14. Tag Team Builder
This is a fun tag game that has an element of teamwork in it as well.
One child starts as the person that is ‘it.’ They are going to try to tag the others.
Whenever someone gets tagged, they now join the tagging team.
Keep going like that, building up the tagging team until no one is left or until you have a champion.
15. Snails V Slugs
This is similar to the cats and dogs tag before but involves more unusual moving methods.
There will be two teams in this – one will be snails and the other slugs.
Snails can move by crawling.
The slugs must move by slithering on their bellies.
Start with one animal chasing the other – e.g., slugs chase snails.
Swap over who the chasers are every minute or so!
16. Jail Tag
This one is similar to Capture the Flag in that it has a jail, tagging, and teamwork.
It’s a nice simple idea based on the idea of ‘cops and robbers.’
The tagging children are the ‘cops,’ and those running away are the ‘robbers.’
Have some kind of marked zone that is the ‘jail.’
Start with either just one cop or several. They chase the robbers, and when they tag them, they stand in jail.
You can play two versions – in one version, you are in jail until the end of the game, and the last remaining robber is the champion.
Or you can play the version where the robbers can free those in jail by going over and tagging them to freedom.
I would say this is the tag game I played the most when I was young.
It’s a mixture of hide and seeks and tag this one – and what child doesn’t love a combo of those!
Designate one area to be the ‘blocko.’ This could be a bin, a tree, or a part of the fence or wall.
One player is going to count next to this area. Everyone else will go off and hide.
When the seeker has finished counting, they look for the other players.
The players that are hiding are going to try to sneak back to the ‘blocko’ spot. If they touch the ‘blocko,’ then they are safe.
The player that is seeking is going to try to tag them before they can touch it.
It is a game of hide and seeks and chase mixed in together.
18. Hide and Seek Team Up
This variation of hide and seek shares similar teamwork skills with Capture the Flag.
Play hide and seek as you would normally would to start with. But the main difference is that the player joins the seeker’s team whenever the seeker finds someone.
They go off together now and search for the remaining players.
Keep going like that, with the seeking team getting bigger and bigger as they search for the other players.
The last player to be found could be the champion.
19. Hide and Seek Jail
This game has teamwork, hiding, and a jail (so pretty similar to Capture the Flag, I’d say.)
The idea is that one child will close their eyes and count. Everyone else is going to go and hide.
Have a ‘jail.’ This could be a tree, a fence, or whatever else.
The seeker goes off to find everyone, and when they find someone and tag them, that person has to go to ‘jail.’
If the seeker can get everyone in jail, then they have won.
However, the hiders can sneak into the jail and free those in there by tagging them.
If they don’t get tagged by the seeker, they can go off again and hide.
20. Kick The Can
For this game, you need some kind of empty can. You could also use a musical instrument like a tambourine.
You have a ‘jail’ area. The can is placed in jail.
One player will stand next to the can, close their eyes, and count.
The others go off to hide.
The idea is that the seeker goes off to find everyone. They tag them if they find them, and that person is now in jail.
However, other hiders can free everyone in jail by running over and kicking the can. Then everyone is free to run off and hide again.
21. Shark Attack!
You need wide circles or squares on the floor to play this game. Use hoops or cones, or chalk the shapes on the floor.
These shapes are the undersea caves! They are safe spots where you can hide.
One person is ‘on’ in this game. They are the shark.
They will stand in the middle of the playing space with closed eyes.
Everyone else is going to move around the playing space.
At any given moment, the ‘shark’ will call out ‘shark!’ and spring to life!