When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions

Since last Saturday Germany has been the scene of two further vicious attacks – the murder of a Polish woman and the wounding of two other people in Reutlingen, near Stuttgart, followed by what appears to have been an IS-inspired suicide bomb attack that injured fifteen people outside a restaurant in Ansbach, Bavaria – and now there is news of a fatal shooting incident in Fort Myers, Florida that has ended with two dead and sixteen people injured. Yesterday twenty people were killed near a security checkpoint in Baghdad by a suicide bomber, and this morning a car bomb in Khalis, Iraq, killed at least seventeen.

As the quote from Shakespeare’s HAMLET states, we seem to be living at a time ‘when sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions‘.

Spanish Civil War: Day-by-Day: 25th July 1936

The Nationalists captured the Somosierra Pass to the North of Madrid.

The first shipment of French aircraft sent as aid to the Republican Government arrived in Spain.

28 years later: My small part in the early development of the Matrix Game

Some time ago I was discussing wargame design with someone from the US professional wargaming community when he asked me if I had ever taken part in a Matrix Game. When I chuckled and replied that not only had I taken part in quite few but had also been one of the first people to write and run Matrix Games in the UK, his reply stunned me. ‘You’re not mentioned in any of the academic literature‘, he stated … and he did it in such a way as to imply that I was not being completely truthful. At the time this stunned and shocked me, and it has been niggling me ever since. I therefore decided to put on record my minor involvement in the early days of Matrix Games, if only to assuage my annoyance.

The first time I came across Matrix Games was in 1988(!). Chris Engle – the real instigator of this method of wargame design and someone whom I think is worthy of much greater acclaim and acknowledgement within the whole wargaming community – wrote an article entitled VERBAL ANALYSIS WARGAMING that was published in the May 1988 issue of THE NUGGET (No.44). In it he outlined the first tentative concepts that eventually evolved into Matrix Games.

By the time the next issue of THE NUGGET was published in July 1988 (No.45), the concepts were beginning to come together and develop into a far more practical system. Chris stated in his article MORE ON VERBAL ANALYSIS GAMING that:

The process of play of a MATRIX game involves a dialogue between two conflicting players with a referee. The dialogue can be used to resolve several types of critical situation. Institutions can be “attacked” by problems from within that make the institution ineffective in doing its job (for instance, over-hunting in a primitive culture that hunts for food). Dialogues also resolve any situations where other player’s moves may critically affect the first player. Obviously there are more ways to use dialogues but I have not thought of them yet. In any case, the players present logical, opposing interpretations of the outcome of an event. They then argue as to which argument is better. If they cannot reach a decision in a short amount of time the referee decides.

At COW88 (the 1988 Conference of Wargamers) Chris Kemp – the former editor of THE NUGGET – put on a session where we attempted to play a Matrix Game. It was reasonably successful and fairly well received, and both the late Paddy Griffith and John Armatys wrote encouraging offside reports about it.

In the 1990 WD (Wargame Developments) Annual, Chris Engle submitted an article entitled THE SWASHBUCKLERS – A MATRIX GAME. In it he described a ‘Dastardly Pirate Game’ that he ran for a group of gamers aged nine to thirteen. It was laid out as a skirmish and each of the players took on one of the characters. He included a description of the prompt or ‘cue’ cards that were used to help the players formulate their arguments, these cards being split into ‘topics’ (e.g. Motivations, Emotions, Fencing, Brawling, Results), each ‘topic’ containing relevant cards (e.g. Lunge, Walk, Wound, Anger).

By the end of 1990 Chris Engle had begun to publish EGG (the EXPERIMENTAL GAMES GROUP newsletter) and as editor of THE NUGGET, I was able to keep members of WD aware of Chris’s thinking about games design. I was even able to publish one of Chris’s non-Matrix games – AGAMEMNON: AN ANCIENT WARGAME – in the October issue (No.60). When Tim Price took over as editor, he continued to publish Chris’s articles about game design in general and Matrix Games in particular.

At COW1991 Tim Price and I felt confident enough to stage a Matrix Game based upon one of the scenarios Chris Engle had written. PENINSULAR WAR 1808 accommodated seven players – each with a specific player brief that included victory conditions they had to try to achieve – used a large hand-drawn map of Spain, a number of figures to represent the characters and any military forces that had under their command, and what had by then had become the pack of standard 54 Matrix ‘cue cards’. We ran the game twice … and by the end of it we were convinced that the basic Action, Result, and Three Reasons structure worked, and that players did not need the ‘cue cards’ once they had played through a couple of turns.

Photographs of the PENINSULAR WAR 1808 Matrix Game run at COW1991. The map is hand-drawn and the playing pieces were selected from Tim Price’s extensive collection of LEGO figures.

Spurred on by this success I finally designed a Matrix Game of my own. It was entitled THE BALKAN LEAGUE and followed the general design of Chris Engle’s designs but with a larger pack of Matrix ‘cue cards’ (108 rather than 54) in order to enable all the players to be able to exploit the Matrix. (This game was published in NUGGETs Nos. 73 and 73 in early 1992, and subsequently in WARGAMES ILLUSTRATED No.66 in March 1993.)

Later in 1992 Chris Engle published his CAMPAIGN IN A DAY: A MATRIX GAME, CAMPAIGN IN A DAY: READY TO PLAY SCENARIOS, and STUPID SIMPLE RULES booklets. The latter were a set of wargames rules specifically designed to go with the campaign booklets, and contained some innovative ideas which still remain to be fully developed. By this point I had become convinced that there was no need for the Matrix ‘cue cards’, and that they could be replaced by a laminated list that each player could be given, and not long afterwards Chris adopted this innovation himself. (My modified Matrix Game Playsheet was published in THE NUGGET No.79.)

Up until this point Matrix Games had been essentially kept ‘in house’ in the UK by members of WD, but at the Victorian Military Society’s Show in January 1993 and at SALUTE 93 in March I and a group of members of WD – including Tim Price – ran a revised version of Chris’s SAVE GORDON! Matrix Game a number of times in front of the general wargaming public. The responses were interesting, and at SALUTE 93 they varied from ‘It’s just a boardgame’ from two young men who forced their way through the crowd of people around the table – and who then promptly left – to one chap who stood and watched two games because he enjoyed the interaction between the players. His parting comment was to the effect that he had never thought that wargaming could be a spectator sport until he had seen a Matrix Game in action! SAVE GORDON! subsequently appeared in WARGAMES ILLUSTRATED No.77 in February 1994.

I designed my most ambitious Matrix Game in 1994, and presented it at COW1994. Entitled VIVA LA MUERTE!, it was a Matrix Game about the Spanish Civil War. The one significant change that I made was to make each player give two Arguments; one had to be Political and the other Military. Furthermore each player had present them in written form, and they were deal with by the umpire – me – in the order in which they arrived during each turn. This had the dual effect of driving the pace of the game along and not allowing players to concern themselves with producing counter-arguments to what other players might propose to do. The whole text of the game was published in the 1994 issue of the WD ANNUAL.

My final involvement in the development of Matrix Games was to run a play-by-mail campaign during 1995. I chose Chris Engle’s THE MARCH TO THE SEA, which was about Sherman’s advance through Georgia in 1864.

It involved players who were located in various places across Europe – including Tim Price, who was on active service with NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps in Bosnia – and used the ‘first come, first adjudicated’ system that I had developed for my Spanish Civil War Matrix Game. The campaign lasted for eight moves and proved to be very successful, and a full transcript of the campaign was later published in WARGAMES ILLUSTRATED.

I think that I can justifiably argue that I did my little bit to push the development of Matrix Games along in their early days, and hopefully if or when someone records a history of their development, I might just qualify for a small footnote.

For examples of some of the Matrix Games I have designed and/or run, visit the following links to the MapSymbs website (which also contains a whole section about Matrix Games):

Yet another terrible event

Like many other people, last night Sue and I watched the events in Munich unfold on TV as the evening progressed. Coming as it did so soon after the recent axe attack on the train in Wurzburg, the first conclusion was that it was probably another IS-inspired act of terrorism. Then the fact that it was the fifth anniversary of the attacks make by Anders Brevik in Norway raised the possibility that it had been perpetrated by a right-wing extremist or extremists, and this gained some currency from the video of a long-range exchange between an alleged gunman and someone on the balcony of an apartment near to the scene of the shootings.

When we awoke this morning the situation seemed to have become clearer, and it now appears that a young man with dual German/Iranian nationality acted alone. No reason for the attack has yet emerged, and at first he seemed to have chosen his victims at random. We now hear that many ‘young people and adolescents are among the dead, and children are among those injured‘. Does this mean that this shooter had more in common with Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who perpetrated the Columbine High School massacre, than the radicalised people who have committed attacks in France and Belgium over the past few years? Only time – and a proper investigation – will tell.

In the meantime the families of the dead and injured have to come to terms with their grief and loss, and regardless of the motivation of the killer, their lives have been changed forever by his actions. Today our sympathies must go out to the people of Germany, but most particularly to the families of the innocent victims of this attack, and yet again I deeply and sincerely hope that this will be the last time I will have to comment on such a tragedy.

Spanish Civil War: Day-by-Day: 23rd July 1936

The Committee of National Defence (the Nationalist Government) met for the first time in Burgos.

Where are they now? Sitting on my work table waiting to have their paintwork touched up before they are varnished and then based!

Having accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to find the ‘missing’ Minifigs ‘S’ Range Prussian Napoleonic figures that I had been looking for, I forgot about them … and then almost immediately found them when I went looking for my collection of 1:300th-scale Spanish Civil War figures and vehicles!

The Napoleonic figures have now been temporarily fixed to individual bases that I can hold whilst I repair any paintwork that has been damaged during their nearly fifty years in storage. Once that has been done they will be given a fresh coat of polyurethane gloss varnish before each figure’s base is painted with Humbrol matt Grass Green enamel paint. They will then be based on MDF bases, which will also be painted matt Grass Green.

With luck (and a bit of cooler weather) the whole process should be completed within a week, at which point I hope to give them the opportunity to take part in their first ever wargame.

Spanish Civil War: Day-by-Day: 22nd July 1936

The Nationalists captured Alto de Leon to the Northwest of Madrid.