by: Regina Woodard
; edited by: Rebecca Scudder
; updated: 5/25/2012
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Capture the Flag has been an activity on elementary playgrounds and fields for a very long time. And while most people know the basics, you might be surprised as to the history and official rules for the game.
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Did you ever play capture the flag as a kid? The game reminds me of recess and outside play time when I was in elementary school. For many, capture the flag was learned on the playgrounds or ball fields of their elementary schools, or may even be the first sport they ever played.
On the surface it may look like a running game of tag, but CTF has many benefits - teaching team work and strategy. Running and being outdoors is a great activity for the entire family.
Where exactly did capture the flag come from? Are there official rules for capture the flag? What are the variants?
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History and Rules of the Game
In history capture the flag didn't start out as a game. During Medieval battles and wars, it was customary for the winning side of the battle to take items from the defeated party; this included the lands, treasures, and sometimes people as part of their spoils of war. And that also meant taking down the opponent's flag and raising their own in triumph.
In the American Civil War, both Union and Confederate soldiers were capturing and guarding their respective flags from one another. At what point this act of demoralization against your enemy turned into an outdoor game and activity is unknown, but the sport can be traced to the Boy Scouts, first appearing in the 1947 Scout master's handbook, which outlines the actual game play.
The basics of capture the flag are this - a group of people assemble on a field and are divided up into two teams. Two flags are placed at either end of the field, each flag representing the teams. The goal is for the other team to capture their opponent's flag and bring it over to their side of the field or territory. While trying to get the other team's flag, both need to make sure that their flag isn't captured.
As an example, say you have twelve people on a small baseball field. The group breaks up into two groups of five, with the field divided in half for each team, and two judges that view the game from both sides. Each team has a flag which is placed on either side of the field, visible to all playing. The teams are divided into guards and runners. Runners are those designated to get to the other team's flag, while guards are there to 'guard' their team's flag.
The first team to get the other's flag and return it to their side of the field wins.
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While the game structure is pretty much the same, there are different variants. When an opposing team member is caught, they can either be placed in a 'jail' for a few minutes and then released back into play, or pressed into the opposing team. Some teachers might utilize freeze tag within the game, where caught opponents are 'frozen' for a few minutes or until the teacher calls a reset, so that the teams can regroup. This is the game that I'm familiar with, and played in elementary school.
One popular variant is with a 'hidden flag'; flags are hidden and teams must find them. This is a fairly popular game when playing paintball, which is one sport that has incorporated game basics into their gameplay.
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CTF & Technology
Capture the flag has found its way into technology as well. The hacker conference known as DEF CON annually host a type of war game called CTF, in which teams need to gain entry into the computer or computer network of the opposing team. This is a strategy and hacking exercise in which groups prevent the invasion of their network, while trying to gain access to the opponent's network.
CTF has also found its way into popular gaming. Many first person shooter games, such as the Call of Duty or Halo series have mini games or levels that are similar to that of capture the flag. MMOs also have variations of this - the battleground known as Warsong Gulch in World of Warcraft, for instance, is a CTF model.
This is the first battleground that players will be introduced to once they hit a certain level (usually 20); a common compliant among Alliance members (such as myself) is the fact that members seemingly not to know how or can't remember how to play the basics of CTF. This is the response when nearly all grouped members run off to try and get the Horde team's flag, leaving our flag virtually unguarded and ripe for the taking.
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Ages and Varients
Capture the flag is usually introduced to children around the ages of 6 to 7, either as part of an elementary school activity or that of a little league sport. Rules can be changed based on the age of players; such as how to go about capturing opponents who are caught. In technology based CTF, the age of the player is determined by the rating of the game. In most cases, these games are for teens fifteen and up or adults eighteen and up.
Paintball has its own rules for how old players must be in order to play, but usually game play is for kids 6 and up or based on parental discretion.
The location for a good game of CTF is really dependent on the size of the group playing. For instance, when I played as a child, we played on the basketball court as our classes were fairly small. A baseballor football field is usually a great spot for a game, though in some cases (like paintball or urban areas), a dirt field works as well.
For paintball games, agencies that sponsor the sport will usually have much larger fields in order to accommodate the large number of people who are playing. Kids who will play paintball should dress appropriately, either in paintball gear or long pants and shirts, tennis shoes/sneakers or boots, and a protective helmet. Paintball areas or those that offer the game will usually have equipment that can be rented or purchased in case you don't own your gear.
Paintball, while funt, can also be a dangerous sport. Take it from me - even with long sleeves, paintballs hurt and can leave bruises. It's important that parents and kids are aware of the danger (which is always explained before groups head out on the field the first time) and that they are prepared before going in. Parental discretion is important; it may be better to wait until your child is older (pre-teen or teen) before letting them play.
Depending on the location and age of players, parents may want to bring along a small first aid kit for scrapes or bruises. This can included ointment, gauze, and band aids.
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Guide to Capture the Flag from Kidz World, http://www.kidzworld.com/article/4670-your-guide-to-capture-the-flag
Capture the Flag from the USSSP, http://www.usscouts.org/usscouts/games/game_cf.asp
War Games/Battlegrounds from World of Warcraft, http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/1597874