A Distant Plain will be reprinted!

GMT Games has just put up a pre-order page for a second printing!


ORDER NOW to get it at the pre-order price of $54, a 30% discount!

A Matrix Game: Crimea in Crisis

Tom Mouat, a very clever man associated with the Wargmae Developments crowd, has just made available a matrix-style game on the Crimean situation, called Crimea in Crisis. Free download at:


This game is at the top of a long list of other matrix games Tom has developed; you should look into those as well.

What is a matrix game? I guess in its simplest form it is something like “adjudicated duelling arguments”, which doesn’t tell you much.

This type of participatory game was invented by Chris Engle in 1988, after he became involved with the British experimental wargaming group “Wargame Developments” ( http://www.wargamedevelopments.org/matrix.htm.).

Matrix games are well suited to a Bunch Of Guys Sitting Around A Table (BOGSAT) situation, but also are good for online play (by e-mail, chat room or on a bulletin board system). In either case, the usual flow of play is as follows:

  • Each turn players submit “arguments” to a central referee. An argument is a statement of what the player wants to do or have happen, supported with reasons why he thinks this is so (e.g. based on his known abilities, previous experience, etc..)
  • Counter-arguments can be made by other players if the structure of the game permits it.
  • The referee judges the strength of each argument and counter-argument and determines their success or failure randomly (this is modified by the strength of the argument).
  • Outcomes are then announced back to the players.
  • The next turn begins, and so on until some set of victory conditions or time/turn limit is reached.

There are slightly different methods to do the above, but you get the idea. The basic concept is quite simple but very very flexible, in the right hands. Besides their military applications, matrix games have been used in the areas of: creative writing, scenario development, “thought experiments”, management training, psychotherapy (Engle is a psychiatric social worker) and general education.

The Society of 20th Century Wargamers, a group associated with Wargame Developments, regularly plays matrix games at meetings and conventions. Copies of the Society magazine, The Nugget, can be downloaded for free and contain many descriptions of past matrix games, showing the applicability of the game:


A Distant Plain Sold Out!

Punters looking to acquire a copy of A Distant Plain can no longer go to the source… the game is now “Out of Stock” at the GMT Games website.
I don’t know what the production run was, but for a hefty wargame like this to sell out after only six months on the market is notable.
You can still buy copies of Andean Abyss and Cuba Libre, the two other games in the series.
Fire in the Lake, the Vietnam iteration of the system, should be released in the summer of 2014 and has about 1,500 pre-orders already.

[ETA, 31 March]
A Distant Plain will be reprinted! GMT has just put up the pre-order page for second printing: http://www.gmtgames.com/p-481-a-distant-plain-2nd-printing.aspx


Normally this website gets fewer than five visitors and ten or so views per day.

Monday, March 17 saw 1,011 visitors and 1,826 views. This one day represented almost 25% of all views ever received by this website, in the nearly three years since it’s been created.
Top viewers were from the USA (534), Russian Federation (352) and Ukraine (334), with Canada a distant fourth (130, and some of those were mine).

However, it’s obvious that almost 1,000 of those people saw “Ukrainian Crisis” and “game”, clicked in, discovered that
a) it was a paper game, and
b) that they would have to print it out themselves
and promptly clicked away again.

Anyway, I am happy to report that today traffic is back to near-normal volumes – 44 visitors and 110 views, after Europe has gone to bed – so I now return me to my already scheduled obscurity.

And thanks to the people who have downloaded it, and tried it out!

As I’ve been trying to make clear, for me this was a “game jam” experiment in creativity like the video game people do (only with one man, who felt it necessary to get something out when the situation seemed to be changing hourly, and an invasion seemed very likely).
Perhaps consider it an attempt to conduct amateur journalism in the form of a wargame.
The crisis still isn’t over, though perhaps I am looking silly already – like most journalists do, these days.
But one has to try these things out and see how they go.

Ukrainian Crisis OOB thoughts

Nice banner by Rodger MacGowan!

Nice banner by Rodger MacGowan!

Completists and wargamers, a generously overlapping set of people, prize details of even imaginary events. So I decided to add identification numbers to the combat units portrayed in the Ukrainian Crisis game, to supplement the few units that have been identified so far in the media. But it’s hard to put together a reasonable Order of Battle (OOB) for a hypothetical campaign.

Brigade numbers for the Ukrainian Army are drawn from diagrams appearing in an article in issue #10 of Modern War magazine, “Focus on Eastern Europe” by Maciej Jonasz. They are rated identically for Combat Value and I haven’t been able to make any judgements on their potential value, or even presence. Reportedly the Ukrainian Army is in a very bad way indeed: outdated an un-maintained equipment; badly trained and unwilling (and ethnically divided) conscript soldiers; an untried (and again ethnically divided) leadership class; and finally, a very iffy relationship with the present government. I think I have probably treated the Ukrainians very generously in this sense, and players should feel free to apply restrictions conditions limitations on the size, ability and power of their army.

The OOB for the Russian forces is completely speculative (and I’ve probably got the titles wrong, or skipped some “Guards” honourifics):

Western Military District – 20 Guards Army
2 Guards Tank Division: 5 Motor Rifle Brigade, 4 Independent Tank Brigade
4 Guards Tank Division: 12, 13 Tank Regiments, 423 Motor Rifle Regiment
76 Guards Airborne Division: 23, 104, 234 Airborne Infantry Regiments
6 Tank Brigade
9 Motor Rifle Brigade
detachments from 45 Spetsnaz Regiment

Southern Military District – 49 Army
810 Separate Marine Infantry Brigade
56 Independent Air Assault Brigade
18 Motor Rifle Brigade
detachments from 22 Spetsnaz Brigade

Certainly other units could conceivably take part in a large incursion, from either Military District – for example the Southern Military District includes another Guards Airborne Division, the 7th (108 Guards Parachute Regiment and 247 Air Assault Regiment) and the Ministry of Internal Affairs could provide the ODON, the Independent Operational Purpose Division, a dedicated unit of internal security troops (2, 4, 5 Operational Duties Regiments). So make of it what you will.


EDIT, 22 December 2016:

Ukrainian Crisis will be published by Hollandspiele in March 2017, in slightly different and boxed format. This print-and-play version will remain available.

Coming soon from Hollandspiele: Ukrainian Crisis and The Little War!

EDIT, 2 December 2015:

You’ve probably come here for the Ukrainian Crisis game.

The latest files for the game are here:

uacr-rls-20 (The latest rules. The game now concentrates specifically on the first 6 months of the crisis, from Yanukovytch’s departure in late February 2014 to the adoption of the first Minsk Protocol in September. This was the period in which a large and overt Russian military intervention might have taken place. Important changes to the game include: game is lengthened to 8 turns, and either player can declare a Combat turn instead of there being a pre-invasion and invasion phase of the game. This gives players a bit more time to fill out strategies, and fits with the stop-and-start nature of how the crisis played out militarily. Following on from this, the map has been revised slightly and the cards also have additional or changed functions.)

uacr-cds-20 (latest cards, to match the longer length of the game and some slight revisions to event cards)

UA crisis map1722-1 (latest version of the map with revised point values for Ukrainian ethnic zones)

UA_Crisis_ctrs2 (game counters, same as always; cut off and throw away the right-hand portion as the rules it refers to have been replaced)

Material is copyright 2014-2015 Brian Train.



Well, it took all of 48 hours but I have created a new game, from scratch, on the current Ukraine-Russia crisis.

It is a fairly simple “pol-mil” game for two players that concentrates on the buildup and resolution of threatened territorial annexation by Russia.
An overt military invasion of Eastern Ukraine is possible but not necessary for the Russian player to win the game. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian player desperately mobilizes to defend himself and build a coalition of allies to support him.

And you can have a copy, free to download!
You’ll have to print out the bits and make the game yourself, though.

Download the files found at the links here (material copyright 2014 Brian Train):

UA crisis map12

UA Crisis ctrs13

UA Crisis cards


ua-crisis-rules-12 (replacement rules from June 2014)

Note that I originally posted this on the evening of March 16, 2014, just hours after the Crimean people voted massively to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. Or something like that.
Will this be the end of the crisis?
Or will Vladimir Putin keep going and try to intervene in the rest of Ukraine?

Please leave a comment that you have downloaded the game, and come back later to tell me what you thought of it, and see if there are additions or changes… this is obviously a work in progress, and as the wonks say “a tool to explore the problem space”. There will be changes and updates, and I shall note them below.

Thanks for your interest!

Brian Train

Monday: made corrections to rules re diplomacy, truces, and start of Invasion phase, and added some examples to amplify terse wording. Uploaded a new map that tunes VP values for areas, adds a Sevastopol enclave and makes all the reds in the Russian ethnic Zone the same shade.

Wednesday: Polished rules (now version 1.1) and amplified/improved non-military options for players, so a straightforward military invasion is no longer the obvious option and framework for play of the game. A few changes to game’s initial parameters. Corrected small reminder chart under Card Matrix.

Friday: Neal Durando made an excellent suggestion for terminology, substituting the word “Information” for “Economic” in that area of the Card Matrix. This captures much better the raft of associated non-military, non-striped pants brigade options that I had in mind, which includes things like economic threats, minior sanctions against individuals, boycotts and pursuing other deals – but also the domain of “informational activities” that informs and affects the situation: rumours, the well-timed interview or Youtube video, cyber-shenanigans, other propaganda, in short, who is controlling the Narrative… and also intelligence, the incoming part of the action. Hence the options in this area are related to Prestige. I had all this in my head but couldn’t at the time think of a better word for it than “Economic”, it was bugging me. So consider the word replaced by “Information”, but I am not going to go back and change the rules and charts right now (later – I did).

Sunday 30 March: Playtesting showed a few kinks and necessary tunes in the combat and diplomatic sections, these have been addressed. Airfields added to Kiev and Odessa to allow the Ukrainian parachute brigade to move.

Monday 21 April: for those who don’t want to deal with the papercrafting aspect of things, a VASSAL module for this game is here! https://brtrain.wordpress.com/2014/04/22/vassal-module-for-ukrainian-crisis/
Many thanks to the dynamic Martin Hogan, who did a great job very quickly.