Prisoner’s Base is a very old running game that was popular at Malmaison, and continues to be played today, although likely called by a different name. We don’t know which exact rules were played at Malmaison, but here is one version:
Divide an even-numbered group in half to make teams. As few as ten can play, but if the area is very large (i.e. a football field), as many as one hundred can participate.
With sticks or chalk or a line in the dirt, make a line between the two teams. About ten to fifteen paces in back of each team outline a square. These will be the “prisons.”
Each team picks one person to be held in the opposite team’s prison. This is usually someone who can run very fast and is why, in The Game of Hope, Eugène says that Hortense is always chosen.
Once the play begins, each team chooses someone to rescue their imprisoned team member and to bring him or her back without being “caught” (tagged, that is).
If that person makes it to the prison without being tagged, then the goal is to wait and chose a moment for both to try to run back to their team’s side without getting “recaptured.
If, however, the person does get caught, then he or she also becomes a prisoner in need of rescue.
At the end of a set time, the team with the most prisoners wins. An alternative rule is to play until one team has captured all the opposing team’s members.
For more information on Prisoner’s Base and other historical running games:
- Database of Games
- How to Play Prisoner’s Base
- Old-Fashioned Games for Outdoors
- The Forgotten Games of the Corps of Discovery includes a fascinating account by Lewis (of the Lewis and Clark Expedition to America) of playing Prisoner’s Base with the native Indians.
- Recess Games of the Old Country School