Capture-the-Flag With Stuff

A somewhat psychotic variation on a classic game
By Andrew Plotkin

In Fall of '94, a group called KGB ran a game of Capture-the-Flag, using the labyrinthine corridors of Wean and Doherty Halls at CMU. It was quite successful (modulo a few sprained ankles); a good time was had by all. But deep nasty things in my brain began whispering that perhaps more fun might be made available... by the addition of Stuff.

Stuff is a key concept in game design. Pong plus Stuff makes Arkanoid. Risk plus Stuff makes Cosmic Encounter. Rock-Scissors-Paper plus Stuff makes Magic: the Gathering. Capture-the-Flag plus Stuff makes... Capture-the-Flag With Stuff.

Herein are the rules.

Base rules

The game space is divided into some number of team territories and neutral space. (There may also be forbidden territory, which no player may enter at all during the game.) No two team territories may be directly adjacent; they must be separated by at least six feet of neutral space. You are within a team's territory if either foot touches or is within that territory.

If you touch an enemy, and both of you are in your territory, he is captured by you. You must lead him to your jail (see Glyph of Jail) at reasonable speed. Once there, the prisoner must "enter jail" by touching either the Jail or another prisoner already in jail. A captor may not make any more captures until his prisoner has entered jail.

Prisoners may move around freely, as long as they all remain in constant contact with the Jail (either directly or through a chain of other prisoners.)

If you touch a prisoner in another team's jail, he is freed, as long as his freedom does not break the chain of captivity for any other prisoners. Both of you must then return to your home territor(ies) at reasonable speed; you need not remain together. Both of you are immune to capture until you re-enter your home territor(ies).

At the beginning of the game, there is a twenty-minute timeout, during which no player may enter enemy territory; this is so that Flags and other magic items may be placed.

If you carry another team's Holy Flag into your territory, your team scores a point. Report to a referee and give him the Flag. There will be a five-minute timeout while the Flag is hidden again.

Magic items may be dropped or given away, but they may not be stolen or yanked away from other people. A prisoner must give up any items he possesses, if asked. (To his captor or his captor's teammate.)

Definitions of terms and supplementary rules

Flags are large pieces of cloth or felt; 18 inches square is a good size. Their magic is inherent; possession is all ten points of the Law.
Belts are long sashes of cloth or felt; five feet long and five inches wide is good. (The ends will dangle.) The magic is invoked by tying it around your waist.
Potions are foam-rubber balls. Bonking the subject over the head with the ball invokes the magic. (Silly, but unambiguous.)
Wands are floppy two-foot lengths of foam rubber. Whapping the subject (anywhere) and shouting the keyword invokes the magic.
Glyphs are 8.5x11" sheets of paper marked with the spell (in big letters.) They function as long as they are taped to a wall or floor; they have no effect while carried. A glyph is owned by a particular team, and will be marked with that team's color. Only members of that team may move it, and it only affects members of enemy teams (with the exceptions noted below.)
One charge
An item with this attribute may only be used once; it must then be recharged by touching it to any Glyph of Charging. If you pass the item to a teammate, you should remember to say whether it is charged or not. If the item passes to an enemy, it is automatically recharged.
A stunned player must sit down on the floor and wait until the stun wears off. He is incapable of capturing or freeing anyone. He may easily be captured according to the normal rules, in which case he is unstunned and must get up to go to jail. If a player is stunned while leading a prisoner to jail, the prisoner is freed. A player may not be stunned again if he is already stunned.
Most items must be worn or carried openly. The only exceptions are items tagged "may be concealed". A concealed item must be brought out into the open to be used. A prisoner must give up a concealed item if asked, but only if the asker really knows the prisoner has it.
Some glyphs affect you when you see them, if you are close enough.

The Stuff

The Holy Flag
A flag, in the team color. This is the flag.
Flag of Delusion
A flag, in the team color. It is identical to the real flag, except for a label in one corner which says "Psych!" To invoke the magic, hold it with the label hidden. 'Nuff said.
Glyph of Jail
A sheet of paper marked "Jail". This is the jail; see the base rules for its definition. It may be moved if there are no prisoners in jail.
Glyph of Charging
A sheet of paper marked "Still Going". Any magic item touched to this regains full charge. Unlike other glyphs, the Glyph of Charging may be used by anyone.
Glyph of Entrancement
A sheet of paper marked "Gotcha". If you see an enemy Glyph of Entrancement, and you are within ten feet of it, you are stunned. The stun lasts ten minutes.
Glyph of the Disgusting Doorknob
A sheet of paper marked "Yukko". If an enemy Glyph of the Disgusting Doorknob is on the side of a door facing you, you may not open the door or prevent it from closing. If the Glyph is mounted on the side of an elevator door facing you, you may not push any of the elevator buttons, or prevent the door from closing.
Glyph of the Net
A sheet of paper marked "Thanks". If you see an enemy Glyph of the Net, and you are within ten feet of it, you must place one magic item on the floor next to it. If you have no items, nothing happens, and you need not leave any Holy Flag even if you have no other items. The Glyph can only affect you once every ten minutes. You may not pick up magic items sitting next to an enemy Glyph of the Net.
Potion of Lubrication
A brown potion. May be concealed. One charge. A prisoner in jail who has this item may use by bonking himself on the head with it. He may then "slip out" of jail -- just walk away -- as long as this does not break the chain of captivity for any other prisoners.
Potion of Truth
A blue potion. One charge, and may be used no more than once every fifteen minutes. A person may use this on an enemy prisoner by bonking him over the head with it. He may then ask six yes/no questions. The prisoner may lie no more than once. The prisoner may say "I don't know" if he really doesn't know (he may not lie about that), but then that question doesn't count against the six.
Potion of Jolt
A green potion. One charge. May be concealed. A stunned player who is bonked with this is awakened.
Long Wand of the Law (keyword "gotcha!")
A blue wand. If the bearer whaps a person or object with this, he is considered to have touched him or it, and they continue to touch while the wand is in contact.
Wand of Snoozing ("stun!")
A green wand. Anyone whapped by this is stunned for one minute.
Belt of Twofer
A red belt. One charge. The wearer may capture two prisoners at a time. The first must sit down and wait; when the wearer captures a second, he must go straight back to the first, and then lead them both to jail. The first capturee need only wait one minute; after that, the capture is void and he may leave.
Wand of Vengeance ("toast!")
A red wand. If the bearer whaps an enemy with this, in the whappee's home territory, the whappee is captured. The wielder gets safe passage with his prisoner back to his jail. When this item is used, the bearer must immediately drop it. You may not move or pick up this item if it is in enemy territory; you may only do so in your own or neutral space.
Light Grenade
A red potion. If you pick this up or voluntarily accept it from someone, you are stunned for ten minutes. It has no effect if it is thrown at you (as long as you don't catch it.) This item may safely be picked up during the initial 20-minute "set-up" period.
Anti-Magic Wand ("dispel!")
A brown wand. One charge. May be concealed. Whapping a magic item nullifies the magic for one minute. Whapping a person nullifies the magic of all the items he is carrying for one minute. Has no effect on flags or a Glyph of Jail.
Goombah's Humiliating Protection
A green belt. The wearer is totally immune to capture and stunning, as long as he is jumping up and down and loudly singing "Yankee Doodle". This protection may be shared by any number of teammates if they are all holding hands with the wearer, and all jumping up and down and singing along. A player carrying either Holy Flag may not use (or share) this item.

More footnotes

Organization and play

Each team should get one of each type of flag and one of each type of glyph. The remaining items should be rationed by team size; each team should get one wand, potion, or belt per person. A ten-person team can thus have one of each kind of item. (It's up to you whether duplicates are permissable. I recommend not, since some items are more valuable than others.)

This game is meant to be played indoors. Lurking in hallways, finding unexpected things around corners, and putting glyphs on doors are all integral parts of the strategy. An outdoor version would take considerable fiddling. Any takers?

For the sake of sanity, you should have a central room in neutral territory where the head referee will preside. He can answer questions, resolve disputes, and so on. The players wouldn't mind if there were cold drinks there, either.

If you have enough spare people, it is also helpful to have some field referees who wander around and follow the action, so that questions can be resolved more quickly.

All this nonsense obviously takes a lot of familiarity with the rules. It will probably take even more tolerance to play "at speed". Pay attention to people; see what magic items they're carrying so you won't be surprised if they seem to violate the rules.

If it impossible for you to know something, don't worry about it. For example, the Potion of Truth may only be used every 15 minutes; but if you come across one and don't know if it's been used recently, assume it hasn't. Make every reasonable effort to tell people about time limits and countdowns.

Every player should wear a watch.


The teams will be pink and yellow. (If the players object to the wimpy colors, inform them that great wizards are above that sort of whining. If they continue to complain, go home.)

Cut the pink and yellow squares of felt into quarter squares. Set aside two quarters of each color to be the Holy Flag and Flag of Delusion of each team. (Write "Psych" in one corner of the Flags of Delusion, in permanent marker. A little smiley-face with its tongue sticking out adds to the effect.) Cut the remaining quarters into long ribbons, 18 inches by one inch, which the team members will wear to identify themselves.

Cut the orange felt into eight yard-long strips, and tie pairs of strips together to produce four orange belts, each about five and a half feet long. Add bands of green and red cloth tape to form two of each kind of belt. (You could just use red and green felt, of course, but this is a little easier. I used orange because it's distinct from the team colors and the other colors significant in the game.)

Make up two of each kind of glyph, and color the borders with the highlighter pens to indicate which team owns each. Make sure there's enough color to be recognizable from down a long hallway. (You were wondering why the teams are yellow and pink? Those are the highlighter colors I found. You could make the glyphs on colored paper, if you wanted to be fancy. You could rearrange the entire color scheme if you wanted. Just make sure the team colors and the magic colors are all easily distinguishable.)

Cut the pipe insulation into eight 2-foot lengths. Put bands of colored cloth tape around each length to make the eight wands (two of each type.) Four bands of tape per wand is good.

Put a band of colored tape around each foam ball. We couldn't find foam balls in time, so we took eight 1-foot lengths of pipe insulation, bent them into doughnuts, taped them that way, and added more bands of colored tape.

Allow at least half an hour for all this construction foofaraw, plus another half-hour to go over the rules and pick teams.


This game was first played by KGB in April of 1995. Another round was organized in October of 1997.

KGB games have continued regularly since then. (Once per semester since, I think, 2001.) The rules have been extended considerably -- both with new items and with tweaks to improve gameplay. If you are planning a game, you probably want to look at the KGB CTFWS Rules -- that's the one that's had all the playtesting.

Photos from the KGB game, Nov. 4 2005. (Thanks to AlanV.)

Tom Lotze at Harvard has a moderately revised and rewritten rules page.


Last updated November 11, 2005.


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