Recently, I have been thinking of my favorite games on the Atari VCS and coming to the realization that I have some pretty unpopular tastes. Pac-Man, the "worst video game ever", in my number two spot? Donkey Kong closely behind at number three? Artillery Duel in the top-ten? Video Chess near the top of my most-wanted list? These are some pretty unpopular, if not downright hated games. What's more, some of the 2600's most beloved games, like Yars' Revenge, Adventure, and Pitfall!, aren't near the top of my list. Not that I dislike these games; quite the contrary. I just have some that I prefer more.
This also got me thinking of Flag Capture. Ever since the Wii2600 days, I have really liked this game. I'm very fortunate to have people in my life, particularly my dad, who will sit down and play Atari with me. My dad and I like to play video games together sometimes. With some experimentation, I have found that it is most fun to play the older, simpler games together, like 2600 through Super NES. I've also found that it's more fun to play games with direct competition rather than co-op. This game was always a fun one to play on the Wii or Atari Anthology on XBOX.
Strangely, I've found that this is one of the more hated games on the system. It's not as famous as Pac-Man or ET are as Flag Capture (released by Sears as simply Capture) didn't sell too well. I never understood the hate for this one.
This is also one of the less common games for the system. Not terribly rare, but I've never found one in the wild. And believe me, I've tried. This one was very elusive. I've found XONOX Double Enders in the wild at my regular used-game store. I saw a JVC X'Eye, a Sega Nomad, and a CIB Jaguar there, too. Motor Psycho, sure! Tengen Tetris, you betcha! But no Flag Capture. I simply couldn't find it in the 2600 rack, and I looked every time. Thankfully, Flag Capture isn't terribly sought-after and still goes for pretty cheap; about the same price as your average 2600 game.
So where did I get my copy of Flag Capture after all? I never did find it at that store, despite their large 2600 collection. Instead, Atari.io's very own @socrates63 kindly sent it to me. Young was kind enough to send me something from our recent Retro Junk Box, which I was unable to participate in. What I didn't know at the time is that he was going to send SOMETHINGS, plural. Flag Capture was a big surprise for me. Thanks, Young!
Flag Capture was released in 1978 for the Atari VCS and contains 10 "Video Games". Developed by Jim Huether, Flag Capture was initially designed as an adaptation of Stratego. If you're unfamiliar with Stratego, it's a board game that involves teams of two players traversing across the board attempting to capture the opponent's flag piece. Each of the pieces is assigned a number, one through ten, and the design of the pieces shields what it is from the opponent. If two pieces touch each other, the piece with the lower number is discarded. Along with the numbered pieces are spies, which are the only pieces that can kill the number ten pieces, bombs, which will blow up anyone who comes in contact with it (except 3), and the flag. On each turn, you can move one piece one space (except for twos which behave like rooks in chess) in any cardinal direction. Think of Stratego like Chess with a pecking order and end goal. I'm not very good at the game, but I enjoy it quite a bit.
Due to the limitations of the VCS and the 2k ROM cartridges of the time, Huether couldn't make a straight port of the game to the lowly 2600. Instead, he took the core element of the game, finding the flag, and ran with it. What we're left with is Flag Capture, which plays like a mix of Stratego and Minesweeper.
Flag capture is certainly a unique experience on the 2600. For most of the variations, two players go around the 7x9 grid of squares searching for the flag before the other. Each player can press the button while on a square to search underneath it. Several clues aid the player towards the whereabouts of the hidden flag. One could find arrows pointing in the general direction of the flag, numbers indicating how many spaces away the flag is from the player, and devious bombs that send the player back to their corner of origin. The goal of most two-player variations is to find the flag fifteen times before the opponent. Especially in the first variation, games between players can get pretty hectic and fun.
The variations are where the game really shines. The default mode has both players freely moving around the grid simultaneously. This mode challenges players to not only think faster and smarter than their opponents, but also use their reflexes to get to the right block before the other. If you'd prefer something a bit slower-paced, there is also a mode in which both players take turns moving around and checking spaces, a bit like a board game. There are also modes in which both players solve their own individual flag puzzles and compete to see who can get the flag in the least amount of space-checks, as well as variations where the flag will move after every space checked.
If you're going solo, Flag Capture has you covered to an extent. The last few variations are one-player time trial modes. You must find the flag as many times as you can within 75 seconds. This game mode is fine, though it's missing a little something without another player. Still, Flag Capture has a much better for a single player than many other 1970's games on the VCS. I'd rather play Flag Capture by myself than Combat or Outlaw.
Flag Capture, while not a must-have for the system, is a worthwhile pickup if you can find it. Especially if you have another person willing to play Atari 2600 with you, Flag Capture is a spectacular time. I'd say that Flag Capture is one of the better 2600 games of the 1970's.