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Matrix Games

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The origins of Matrix Games

Matrix Games were invented by Chris Engle, an American psychiatric social worker who plays wargames. He began to develop the concept that became Matrix Games in 1988 because he wanted to create a system by which it was possible for a player to "role-play" an entire country. He was told that he would have to use a number-based system if he wanted something that would work, but he felt that this essentially missed the point. What he wanted was system that reflected the intangible aspects of a nation such as its culture, beliefs, and perceptions of itself; in essence a model of a nation's "character".

Taking as his starting point the work of Emmanuel Kant, Chris began to develop a "matrix" of words that would form the framework for his "model". To this he added George Hegel's idea that argument and counter-argument (thesis and antithesis) lead to a synthesis or consensus of ideas. Thus the basic idea of the Matrix Game was formulated.

Like all good ideas, the Matrix Game is very simple in concept, but has huge potential in that it can be adapted to fit almost every wargame. It is particularly suited to dealing with the politico-military aspects of campaigns, but can also be used to resolve any aspect of combat if the participants have open minds and the ability to think rationally.

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The Matrix

The main component of a Matrix Game is a set of "cues" which form the "Matrix". In a basic Matrix Game these "cues" are:

AMBUSH
ANGER
BATTLE CRY
FATIGUED
FEAR
FORCE MARCH
HALT
LARGE FORMATION
LOVE
MORALE INCREASES/DECREASES
MOTIVATION
NORMAL MARCH
OPEN BATTLE
RALLY
RECRUIT/DESERT
REST/PREPARE
RETREAT
ROUT
SHAME
SKIRMISH
SMALL FORMATION
SUPPLY LINES
TACTICAL ADVANTAGE
TERRAIN EFFECT
VICTORY/DEFEAT
WEATHER EFFECT
WILD CARD

N.B. Additional "cues" can be added to the basic "matrix" if required, but in most cases this will not be necessary.

During the course of a game-turn the players select up to five "cues" from the "Matrix", and these form the basis of an "argument".

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Constructing an argument

There are some cynics who, having seen this stage of a Matrix Game in progress, have stated that this was the ideal game for wargamers because they love arguing ... and for once the ability to present a good argument actually does confer a positive advantage to a player. In the Matrix Game, however, the "argument" is not about the rules; it is one of the rule mechanisms!

The "argument" should be structured in such a way as to meet the following criteria; namely it should contain an ACTION, a RESULT, and up to three REASONS, and that these elements should normally be drawn from the "Matrix".

Example 1:

  • ACTION: "I will FORCE MARCH my troops towards the enemy and

  • RESULT: bring their forces to OPEN BATTLE. I can do this because

  • REASON 1: my troops are REST(/PREPARE)ED,

  • REASON 2: I have the TACTICAL ADVANTAGE because they are not expecting me to do this, and

  • REASON 3: my troops LOVE their country."

Example 2:

  • REASON 1: "Because the enemy has a LARGE FORMATION near me capital city and

  • REASON 2: is threatening to cut my SUPPLY LINES,

  • REASON 3: thus forcing me to admit (VICTORY/)DEFEAT,

  • ACTION: I intend to use the mountain passes known only to my troops (TERRAIN EFFECT) to allow me to outflank the enemy forces guarding the frontier and

  • RESULT: make a surprise attack upon the enemy's homeland, thus forcing them to RETREAT."

Example 3:

  • REASON 1: "Although I have a SMALLer FORMATION of troops than the enemy,

  • RESULT: I intend to (VICTORY/)DEFEAT them

  • ACTION: by attacking (OPEN BATTLE) their forces

  • REASON 2: in the jungle during the monsoon season (WEATHER EFFECT).

  • REASON3: I can do this because they are not expecting to have to fight at this time of year (TACTICAL ADVANTAGE)."

All three of these examples show how, with a bit of imagination and rational thinking, it is possible to present very persuasive "arguments" as to what should happen in the next game-turn.

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Resolving arguments

Once each player has presented their "argument" for a game-turn to the Umpire, the latter must decide which of the "arguments" will be successful. This can be done in a variety of ways, but the most widely used method is by dice-throw. In this case the Umpire judges whether a particular "argument" is Very Strong, Strong, Average, Weak, Very Weak, or Stupid and then throws a D6. The result is then read from the Argument Success Table shown below.

The only exceptions to this are:

  • When two or more players present "arguments" that are incompatible (e.g. they both argue that their forces will receive the only available supplies next turn). In this case both sides throw a D6, and the higher scoring "argument" is successful and the other fails. If both throw the same score, they keep throwing D6s until one side prevails.

  • When two or more players present "arguments" that are the same (e.g. they argue that a particular unit should be sent into a specific area of province). In this case the "arguments" MUST be successful, unless it is incompatible with another "argument", in which case it is resolved by dice throws as shown above.

Argument Success Table:

Strength Of Argument

Dice Score To Be Successful

Very Strong Argument

6, 5, 4, 3, 2

Strong Argument

6, 5, 4, 3

Average Argument

6, 5, 4

Weak Argument

6, 5

Very Weak Argument

6

Stupid Argument

No Roll

Once it has been decided which of the "arguments" presented by players have been successful and which have not then any resulting combat takes place and all changes in status are recorded by the Umpire.

Play then moves on to the next game-turn.

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Trying a Matrix Game

It is hoped that this brief outline has imparted some idea about how to play a Matrix Game, but the only sure-fire way to really understand how one works is to play one. As Chris Engle says:" The describe a method for deciding the outcome of events rather than telling the players what the possible outcomes are. The methods are simple to learn and easy to play, but yield a nearly infinite variety of potential outcomes."

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How to find out more about Matrix Games

For more information about Matrix Games or the on-line journal dedicated to their continued development, e-mail Chris Engle.

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The page was last updated on 8th July 2008

Bob Cordery & Wargame Developments