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Undercover Capture the Flag: Play Folk 9

Myles Nye

October and November were lightly-attended months as far as Play Folk goes, and what with co-founder Lily moving to London it was hard not to feel a little sadness for these two events, the first ones run without her. However, we finished the year strong with a tremendous December game that I am eager to tell you about. First, though, I should describe how we played in November.

I don't want to give the November play date short shrift: it was a very good game, and quite different than the others we have run, and special in its own way. I wouldn't have wanted to play with a group any smaller, that much is sure. When the game was played in San Francisco by the collective Undercover Street Games, they had 50-60 people play. But our game day was on a super-rainy Black Friday weekend day and we just didn't get that kind of turnout.

But you know who did come to play? Totally awesome people. Three of whom schlepped out from Orange County! This was the first game with Jackie Riddle in the role of Lily, and she brought her husband Doug and their friend (whose name I don't remember). Maclen's perfect attendance streak remained intact and Play Folk mainstays Billy the Red, John Greg, and Al G. attended, as well as Chris Bates, whose contributions to Ministry of Silence helped make that event our most popular yet. Also three friends of Willa's came: former Starbucks regular patrons at the store where she was a barrista, and now they are friends in real life. A nice mix of people willing to take a chance on something new. Play Folk thrives even in the rain!

We played one round of the game with original rules and then, Tombstone Billy style, made some modifications and played again. I should point out that part of the appeal of this game is that, while you are trying to capture the other team's flags, you also have to evade mall security and not look like someone playing a game. In this instance, it was not hard.

Here are the rules, text borrowed heavily from Gabe Smedresman's original design:

GOAL: Capture the other team’s three flags. Each “flag” is a bandana worn around the wrist.
BOUNDARIES: Public areas only. No stores. Elevators okay.

CAPTURING THE FLAG: Capture a flag by tagging him or her with the tag-phrase below. Then bring that player back to your Captain without being tagged. If you are tagged while bringing the person back, give the flag to whoever tagged you.

JAILS: To free a teammate, touch him or her on the shoulder and say, “Let’s go grab ice cream.” They are now free: walk together back to your side. Jailed players are freed every 15 minutes.

TAGGING: To tag someone, you must use the tag-phrase.

Tagging an enemy: Have you been to Play Folk?
You’re caught: Yes, very recently.
Amnesty from Jail: No, not in a while. (i.e., you are part of a jail-break duo returning to your safe territory)

Team Gold

Team Gold

Since the red team regularly beats the blue team at Play Folk events, we decided to try an experiment controlling for variables and have a red team and a yellow team. The yellow team performed much better, perhaps due to having a 1-player advantage (which turned out to be pretty big) and also having a higher percentage of serious gamers. As Maclen pointed out, since there was no running allowed, and any player you approached would surely be tagged and sent to jail, the game had less in common with the schoolyard run-around version we all know from childhood than it did with a territory-capturing tabletop game.

The unlucky Red team.

The unlucky Red team.

Never mind, I take back what I said about the yellow team having more serious gamers on it. Lookit Doug, Billy, and John Greg. Plus Willa, but she and I were jailers and didn't play. I think the 1-person advantage was enough to tip the whole thing for the yellow team to win. Also our team seemed to plan together well and carry out the plan well, whereas I heard the red team had a hard time communicating and following through. It happens to all of us at times.

In the first round, the yellow team devised the strategy of having the two flags stay near each other, making it difficult for anyone to approach and capture them. In fact, Chris approached me and said that he thought that if the red team came up with the same strategy the whole game could end in stalemate. They hadn't, and it didn't, but perhaps a group of 3 approaching the flags could have defused that tactic. In subsequent go-rounds of the game, we had one flag located in the end zone / jail vicinity of the home team, and did away with all the rest of the territory. The yellow team fanned out and approached the red team's zone, capturing everyone in sight and winning handily.

The other notable thing about this game was how lightly attended the mall was. You should all be glad you do not own a store in the Beverly Center these days. The game would have been different either with a larger group or if the mall were packed and it was easy to blend in or hide with other groups.

After a couple rounds and a couple hours, we all compared notes and called it a day. As always, getting out of the house and playing something intentionally disruptive was a thrill, but it wasn't quite disruptive enough. Thanks to our players for braving the elements and what turned out to be a very small number of Black Friday shoppers to take a chance on a new, unproven game. Bravo Play Folk!

Now I'm excited for you to read about Food Chain.