The early history of matrix games; 2p matrix games


Bob Cordery talks about the early history of matrix games:

I read about these in the 90s (it may have been from when they started to get mentioned and printed in Wargames Illustrated magazine) and may have been one of the first to mention them to the US professional wargaming community, back when I set up a small wargaming wiki (now defunct) for the Military Operations Research Society’s Community of Practice on Wargaming. If I wasn’t, so what – I’m glad this useful method is having its moment in the sun over on this side of the pond.

The US military has always had a bit of a problem with the “not invented here” issue, but then again, in the very beginning, it was invented there. Or “here”, depending on where your here is. Either way, we owe Chris Engle much.

EDIT: Over at Rex Brynen’s blog Paxsims, Chris Engle himself contributes a piece about how he came to conceive of and develop them! He is now writing a book that sets out the intellectual argument for, and varied uses of, matrix games. Looking forward to this one!

2-player matrix games?

Over on Peter Perla and I were discussing the argument resolution mechanism for a small press game by David Janik-Jones called “Move it, Soldier!”. It’s a card game, an attempt to render the Engle matrix game engine for two players – that is, no umpire.

The strength of each player’s arguments are rated by the other player, and the differences between the two ratings add or subtract dice from a total number of d6 to be rolled (highest total wins the argument). Peter pointed out that someone who looked at game mechanics, or at least knew about game theory, would never bother rating one’s argument at less than 5 (the highest possible), just to exploit the mechanism. My counterpoint was that the probable point of David’s game is for both players to work at creating a believable and enjoyable narrative together, and that hypercompetitive Lizard People who view all games as elaborate puzzles to break and win ought not to play it. David said much the same thing, less bluntly and more articulately. Peter responded that if that is really the case, then the formalism of the argument resolution mechanism actually got in the way of what the players were trying to do, that trying to make the mechanism objective undermined the motivation to make persuasive arguments. Players would be better off not  using it at all, or at least talking it through and coming to a consensus on who ought to get a DRM and how much.

In the end I suppose Peter is right, as he usually is. But there ought to be a way to solve this 2-body problem. Chris Engle always wrote about these games in terms of role-playing, and perhaps there are mechanisms in that world that could help without getting into thick rulebooks and lists of conditional DRMs. I don’t know enough about what’s been done with RPGs.

About brtrain
This blog is mostly devoted to posts, work and resources on "serious" conflict simulation games.

6 Responses to The early history of matrix games; 2p matrix games

  1. James Sterrett says:

    In RPGs, this is a Creative Agenda issue – and it’s solved by the players agreeing, before they play, about what kind of game they intend to play.

    A Cliff notes version of GNS, one of the common explanations: RPGs can be about 3 things: Game (play through a challenge); Narrative (let’s tell a story); and Simulation (let’s find out what would happen if…) [ See for more.]

    People who want a Game will instantly break Move It, Soldier! because they are interested in the competition. (Which isn’t wrong of them per se, just that MIS! doesn’t serve their needs.)

    People who want a Narrative might or might not do fine with MIS! if it turns out to produce an interesting chain of events. It will depend on the events the players inject, and honestly I wouldn’t call it a good fit in that the system doesn’t drive drama so much as conflict resolution.

    People who want a Simulation might find MIS! a good fit, because their primary interest (find out “what happens if”) is potentially supported by the game, but may be frustrated by the matrix game format if they do not have sufficient expertise to figure out if the outcomes are reasonable.

  2. playnoevil says:

    Brian –

    Thank you for sharing this. I was just reading about matrix games in Zones of Control.

    The mechanisms in Fiasco (a storytelling rpg) may be useful for updating these games.

    Given their design, there is no excuse for them not to be available.


    • brtrain says:

      I was just looking at Fiasco, an interesting RPG. Unfortunately I do not have a group of suitable people to play things like this with.
      And I think a powerful excuse is that the right people are just too busy to make these things more commonly available!

      • playnoevil says:

        Brian –

        Pick up a copy, or at least watch a play through online. There is definite potential for narrative wargames at different levels of abstraction.

        Freeing these games from an umpire may really open up interest in them.

        I picked up a copy and had an “aha” experience. Doublely so after reading this post.

  3. Pingback: WARGAME WEDNESDAY: The Player’s Aid interviews Marc Gouyon-Rety –

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