Matrix Games: An interesting development

Further to the recent Matrix Games that Chris Engle featured on Hamster Press (his blog), he has now sent an interesting message to the WDDG (Wargame Developments Discussion Group) that describes the developments he has made in the use of Matrix Cards in his games.

In his current design Chris allows players to draw a hand of five Action Cards which limit their choices. Instead of the old ACTION, RESULT, and 3 REASONS method (as used in THE MARCH TO THE SEA Matrix Game featured on this blog) players make up a short story about what happens using the cards in their hand to act as inspirations. The players can be as creative as they want to be in the way that they use the Action Cards.

In his message Chris gives an example of this:

So I might look at the terrain board and see that enemy reenforcements are coming up behind me, play the card ‘Freeze’ and say ‘The commander of the reenforcements hears the sound of battle up ahead. Fear grips his intestines and he freezes up. He tells his men to stop and take up a defensive position. No help arrives at the main fight.’

Since this is an interactive game, other players get one chance per turn to add to or challenge an action. They play a card and add to the story. For instance a player may play ‘Disobey’ and say ‘The men realize that their officer is wrong and that they need to keep advancing. One NCO distracts the officer while the others set up ‘defensive positions’ ahead of the position. They keep moving till they reach the fight.’ The two players then roll two six-sided dice each. The high roller wins, re-roll ties.

This is an interesting development and one which I would like to experiment with myself at some point in the future.

Chris also mentions in his message that he is experimenting with a card-based combat system … and this sounds very interesting indeed.

I look forward to reading more about Chris‘s latest Matrix Game designs in due course, and I will keep my regular blog readers up-to-date with the developments as they happen.


12 Comments on “Matrix Games: An interesting development”

  1. Phil Dutré says:

    In my gaming group, we have tried similar things, vaguely inspired by matrix mechanics – to drive the battle forward.

    The main setup we used is that every player had a number of objectives for both sides. Then, story-based mechanics were used (arguments as in matrix games; or proposals and voting) to drive the battle forwards.

    See Battlegames, issue 33, for a description of our 'story-based wargames'.

  2. Phil Dutre,

    It sounds as if you have developed something very similar to what Chris has outlined in his latest message to the WDDG … and have shown that this concept will work.

    I don't have a copy of BATTLEGAMES No.33, but I will try to get hold of a copy if I can.

    All the best,


  3. This is a concept that sounds very interesting, and potentially a whole lot of fun into the bargain. Time consuming, though, I imagine.

    There is one aspect, though, that I would be uncomfortable with, and the story chosen is an example of this. In my view all your actions and stories should relate to your own command, no one else's.

    Going back to the story about enemy reinforcements approaching one's rear:

    'The sun was barely above the horizon (identifies time) when a dishevelled cavalry sergeant was ushered, panting, into General Cortiss's tent. “Scouts reporting enemy reinforcements approaching from” – he pointed to a spot on the General's map lying open upon his desk – “there, sir.” “H'mmm,” the General hummed to himself,”Trying to come into my rear, is he, the saucy fellow? We'll see about that!” Crisply he gave out his orders. Etc…

    The point being that the General should not have to rely upon divine intervention to interfere with the enemy's well laid scheme.

    Mind you, I can see how the concept as it stands would be good for a good many laughs!


  4. Archduke Piccolo,

    You are absolutely right … Matrix Games can be a lot of fun for everyone taking part.

    Presenting Matrix game 'arguments' can take time – especially when the participants are inexperienced – but once they get the hang of it, the games can move along at a reasonable speed. For example, if all the participants agree, battles or campaigns can move from one event to another rather than being tied to a fixed one turn = one measure of time-scale.

    I have mixed feelings about the way that players can influence what happens to other player's forces. In some instances it can work well, and in others it can jar. This is why the Umpire has such an important part to play as they can judge the strength or weakness of such 'arguments'.

    One instance where it did work well was a game of SAVE GORDON! that I ran many years ago at SALUTE. One Mahdist player argued that the British advance was slowed down due to the fact that part of the British force was passing through an area where cholera was rampant. This was allowed by the umpire … and a few turns later – when part of the Mahdist army passed through the same area – one of the British players was able to slow the Mahdist advance down by reminding everyone that cholera was endemic in that area.

    All the best,


  5. Phil Dutré says:

    We have experimented with games in which there is a decoupling between players and specific sides in a wargame. Each player has objectives for both armies at the same time. E.g. “Red unit 1 should make a charge during the game” “Blue unit 2 are cowards and do not want to get involved into melee” “Red commander favours an attack along the elft flank”.

    Players are encouraged to take a view at the battle as a whole, and their role is to influence events, but not necesarrily for 1 side only. After the game, your success depends on how many objectives you have achieved.

    Such a setup works remarkably well, especially in combination with matrix-game like mechanics. See Battlegames #33 for more details about these games. In that article, I describe 2 setups: one Dark Ages game, using matrix arguments; and 1 game set during the Great Northern War, using a voting mechanism.

    If you want to see the objectives that were available, they are free to download from:

  6. Phil Dutré,

    I must admit that I have never run a wargame where the players were not linked to a specific ‘side’ in the game. I have run games where all the players were on the same side, but not where they were active participants who did not have an allegiance other than to the development of the game’s ‘story’. I find the concept rather intriguing although I am unsure that mainstream wargamers would warm to such an approach!

    It would appear that I really must get hold of a copy of BATTLEGAMES No.33 … although my attempts to fins a copy have drawn a blank at present. I will, however, persist I will – however – persist in my endeavours!

    All the best,


  7. arthur1815 says:

    I like the basic Matrix Game concept – very useful for a quick campaign to generate a tabletop battle – but, Like Archduke Piccolo, I find the idea of making arguments such as the one in the first example that do not involve the forces under my own command to thwart the enemy rather too 'gamey'. The ability to make such arguments may encourage players to focus on trying to disadvantage the enemy, rather than on manoeuvring their own forces.

    The example of the cholera zone, however, is not so bad because it will affect any troops passing through in subsequent game turns.
    Personally, when I play a wargame I want to identify with one force or character, not change perspective and sides, so Phil Dutre's system does not appeal to me. It seems to border on Paddy Griffith's muggergame concept, but with the addition of the objectives for individual units.

    If you want BG 33 you can have mine.

  8. The Mahdist argument I can see being persuasive with a 'LOCAL KNOWLEDGE' card, say.

    The Corps threatened by enemy movement towards his rear might play such a card to describe the difficulty of the road being traversed by the enemy (especially to vehicles and guns), the confusing road network or disorienting terrain (making it easy to take the wrong road) this would have to be justified by the map, I think), or, if there is a river crossing, the bridge is out owing to recent floods… This would at least buy time for him to extricate his own force from the closing jaws.

    I certainly like the notion that having defined the terrain in this way, it is likely to have a similar influence on subsequent events. But possibly not, too. A week later another army marches through, and, using a 'LOCAL KNOWLEDGE' card, obtains a reliable guide (A shotgun can produce a fair amount of reliability), and finds that though the bridge is out, the river levels have fallen and the guide knows of an easy ford. Etc.

    Man, even just thinking about it is entertaining!

  9. Having looked at the Battlegames 33 example, I kinda like the idea in principle. If most wargames are narratives at least partially in the 'first person' – you as general – the scheme there described involves a narrative in the third person. The point of view just as frankly 'eye of god' and overview 'global'. What you would be seeing is the unfolding of a story, with no real stake in the outcome but one's own entertainment. I think I could go for that as a change of diet.

    I wonder what the potentialities would be for solo gaming?

  10. Phil Dutré says:


    I fully agree that the games we have tried in my gaming group and are describes in BG33 are not the type of game you would want to play every week. The concept of decoupling players from specific armies is very non-traditional, and it does require a different look at the game.

    Instead of considering the game as two armies controlled by the players, the battle is a mere backdrop in which a different type of game is being played, namely that of lower-level commanders achieving their own objectives, irrespective whether their side wins the bigger battle. This is something that might have happened on a real battlefield as well. Even if your army lost the battle, as a unit commander you might still want to survive, carry some loot home, strengthen your own reputation, etc.

  11. arthur1815 says:

    Phil Dutre,
    It would be perfectly possible to devise a wargame around incidents within a battle – for example, one could focus on the struggle for Hougoumont, while the rest of Waterloo proceeded according to history or was controlled by some sort of programmed scenario – in which the players took the roles of subordinate commanders or junior officers on opposite sides.

    Personally, I would want to play a particular character, not try to achieve objectives for both sides – just as I find first person narrative novels like Flashman more involving and atmospheric than third person ones like Sharpe. But that is just my preference in both fiction and wargames.

  12. Arthur1815, Archduke Piccolo, and Phil Dutre,

    What an interesting and informative exchange of views! It shows that quite a few of us enjoy the 'narrative' aspect of wargaming … and are interested in developing ways to incorporate it into our tabletop battles.

    All the best,


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