Even among friends, games can become war. In capture the flag, that’s actually the whole point.
On March 22, some friends and I met at Doodad Farm east of Greensboro to fight a few rounds.
I arrived on the battlefield at 11 a.m. on the dot. But the concept of pitched, organized battles is as dead as Napoleon. Only a few soldiers had already arrived. Stragglers arrived in spurts as Riley Driver, the organizer of the event for the past three years, marked out borders in the woods — Doodad Farm is her family’s land; she knows the terrain better than anyone.
Eventually there were 20 of us.
At noon, we took a walk around the perimeter. Red string marked the boundaries of the field, running through dense woods, leafy hollows, stands of pine and cedar and bramble thickets, over a meandering creek. Strips of pink tape marked fences and patches of barbed wire hidden in the brush. Many of us would soon appreciate that attention to detail.
After surveying the grounds, we broke into our respective teams, shown by bandannas. Red cloth signified a Damn Commie; a floral pattern signified the Dirty Hippies.
I was a Dirty Hippie.
We assigned each other noms de guerre as an icebreaker. They ranged from the elegance of “Ghillie in the Mist” to the absurdity of “Ladybug;” I was “The Field Marshal.” We set our flags and traded scouts to show where each team’s flag was. Both teams planted their flag in western corners of the battlefield — the Damn Commies placed theirs in a defensible meadow; we put ours on a small bluff on the bank of the creek.
After three honks from a car horn, we abandoned all niceties. And that’s when things got interesting.
You think you know people. You think you can figure out ways to get to the flag. You think your strategy can work, no matter how hare-brained.
But you’re fighting against the most dangerous game: human beings.
The Dirty Hippies caught a couple of Damn Commies quite early on as they doggedly charged the flag. Eventually, the same happened to us. The game then settled mainly into a defensive war of paranoid attrition, accompanied by fruitless trades for imprisoned teammates. My team seemed more offensively minded, while the Damn Commies hunkered down on an impenetrable defense. We kept probing vainly into enemy territory. For instance, I tried to work the western side of the center, laying down whenever I saw movement, crawling through tan reeds and thorny thickets to avoid detection. When I was sussed out, I tried to serve as a distraction along No Man’s Land, but without a solid plan of attack, the game lulled into stasis.
After a few hours of stalemate, we convened in the neutral zone for pizza, cheap beer and strategic reassessment.
We decided our teams’ respective flag placement was too good. We agreed to place our flags in cover right off of the neutral-zone clearing while maintaining the wide boundaries of the battlefield. Being tagged would lead to a timed sentence of 20 minutes in the neutral zone instead of endless time without parole.
The game instantly picked up pace.
Still, despite our name, the Dirty Hippies played more offensively. Once one of our players made a mad run with the red flag, planting it in the middle of a clearing, at least three Damn Commies settled in defensively.
I did my best to move the blood-red banner.
The first time, I was stopped by the threat of running into a barbed-wire fence — thankfully, I spotted the pink tape. My next run was more successful. With two other teammates distracting the three defenders, I made a mad dash in a moment of surprise, hurtling the fence through brambles, rushing for the creek on the western side of the boundaries. A Damn Commie caught me from vaulting the creek’s bank by a few yards.
I spent the next 20 minutes in the neutral-zone jail, hearing my teammates get the enemy flag to within a few feet of our territory.
Then, as we began to lose light, chaos.
As another teammate and I left the jail, “Tree Bark” made a run for our unguarded flag. I saw him break out of the woods. I went to stop him, but two Damn Commies blocked me, and I wiped out into the mud. He was tagged, but a Damn Commie in the neutral zone picked up the flag, leading to their victory.
My curses do not bear repetition.
If you play it right, capture the flag is a game of spite. If you play it right, it’s a game that makes you hate the other side, no matter if your opponents are your oldest friends. If you play it right, capture the flag leads to scrapes and insults, ticks and paranoia, sprained ankles and bruised egos.
In other words: Capture the flag is the most fun you can have with your friends. If you play it right.