The Fair Shake

Flag Capture

Greetings readers! In honor of “International Talk Like a Pirate Day” Carl is on the beach searching for your flag. Why? He wants to find it quickly, so he can sound his digital horn in triumph. Will you find his flag first? He thinks he can take you in a game of free-for-all as well as in a turn-by-turn match. Join him in a quick game of Flag Capture on the Atari 2600.

Ahoy! Capture Ye Flag!

Flag Capture, like the name suggests, is a video game based on “Capture The Flag”. Not like in Quake, as there’s no killing, directly, anyway. Based on the game artwork shown on the box and game manual, you’re a pirate. ARG! Jack Sparrow? Two players, referred two in the game manual as ‘explorers’ are both tasked with finding the flag on this grid. The grid is 9 x 7 in size. Depending on the game variation, both players either move simultaneously or one at a time, each trying to get the flag 15 times before the other player. Other variations race a clock counting down from 75 seconds, and the explorer with the most flags wins. Simple right?

Ahoy Explorer

So you aren’t blindly wandering around the screen, you may uncover a hint on-screen(presumably with that pirate shovel) by pressing the joystick button. You may uncover a number, which indicates how many squares away the flag is in any direction (think Minesweeper for Windows). If you are in direct line of movement with the flag, you’ll find an arrow, pointing in the direction of the flag. Sometimes, however, you may find a bomb, which moves you back to your starting position. No ‘lives’ in this game, just the shame of getting blown up. You may also, actually find the flag. The game board then resets both positions, as well as placing the flag in a random location. Some game versions are a free for all, where both explorers move about simultaneously attempting to find the flag, while others are a turn by turn strategy session.

Boom goes the dynamite!

Graphically, Flag Capture is about as simple as it gets, which is to be expected since the game is almost 35 (!) years old.  A blue background and white squares make up the game grid (Beach, white sands? we must be in Florida!) The ‘explorers’ look like they are caught mid jumping jack. They aren’t animated at all. Big blocky numbers and arrows greet you as you search for hints. The bomb explosion is nothing exciting, as the grid square you’re in blinks with a circle the color of your player and flashes a bit as you ‘die’. Winning is even more intense with a flashing flag and explorer, alternating back and forth. By intense, I mean totally lackluster and disappointing.

Flag Captured!

Sounds? El Oh El. You could play this game without any sound. There’s a movement noise, a ‘hint’ beep, a bomb explosion, and the winning ‘trumpet’ that sounds like a police car siren from France. That’s it.

You’ll be using the joystick for Flag Capture. Each movement must be entered. That is, you can’t hold the stick and expect the explorer to keep moving – Every square equals one tap of the stick. Depending on the game variation you are playing, it can be quite easy to overshoot your goal. Your button only does one thing, it ‘digs’ for hints in whatever square you are in. It’s responsive.


So why would I discuss such a maligned game? A game that is ranges from at best “overlooked” to at most “hated”? Because once again, in Atari 2600 world, it pays to read the instruction manual. I welcome you specifically to game variation number 2, which is rarely played.  Slow the game down a bit, enjoy the white sands, and steal the flag before your opponent does.


Rule of Atari games.. always read the manuals.

Rather than a free for all, which almost always quickly degenerates into a frenetic mess of “who randomly presses the button and gets to the flag first”, game 2 is a turn based game, where each player can move one at a time at his or her leisure. Now strategy comes into play and the game takes on a dimension of fun. A smart player uses his own hints, as well as his opponents to find the flag successfully. Cheating? Perhaps.. But this is FLAG CAPTURE! Some variations of the game actually have the flag moving with each player movement, always in the same direction. WTF? Seriously. If you’re into two player strategy games, I ask, beg, implore you, try Flag Capture, but only on game 2.