I’ve recently been introduced to Engle Matrix Games (well perhaps re-introduced as I had read about them briefly in an issue of the SOTCW Journal sometime ago) by Steve Thomas. This came about in a discussion around how to play a Crossfire campaign where the majority of players are in different countries. The idea is to find a system that is rule set agnostic, is ‘story’ driven, and is not constrained by technical details – in many ways in keeping with Crossfire’s own philosophy (although Engle Matrix games are quite suitable for any period and use with any miniatures rule set – heck you don’t even need miniatures or a set of rules to resolve the battles). “Engle Matrix Games are a simple low-tech game engine that allows players to do an amazing number of things” as one gamer has described (in a MS Word Doc).
“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’.” (from Wargame Developments website, read more there).
“Taking as his starting point the work of the philosopher Emmanuel Kant, Chris began to develop a “matrix” of cue 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. Over the years the actual “matrix” of cue words has been dropped, but the name has stuck. Like all good ideas, the Matrix Game is very simple in concept, but has huge potential in that it can be adapted to fit any game setting.” (from Tom Mouat’s MapSymbs.com website, read more there).
As mentioned 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 system or scenario, and there’s a further brief discussion about matrix games at the 20 by 20 Room website that may be of interest. Meanwhile the important thing here is Steven Thomas’s proposal to use this for Crossfire, to allow a free form campaign to be run globally (which may in turn lend itself to be the format for the third major global Crossfire gaming event – see World Crossfire Day 2009 and Operation Crossfire in 2014). In fact Steven has already run several Engle Matrix Games, including two World War 2 ones (aka Crossfire compatible), and you can read about those and his other thoughts around Matrix Games on his Balagan website (some further reading that may also be of interest is at the Hampster Press Games website related to using Matrix Games for Fantasy Role-Playing environments and similar).
So in simple terms how does an Engle Matrix game run? Well if you’ve read the links above you’ve already figured it out, but if not essentially players take turns making ‘arguments’ (or better said ‘building a case’) for a particular event or situation to occur. The great thing with this sort of format is you don’t need complex campaign rules – just a map, a logical OOB and related information (e.g. how LOCs work, simplistic map movement logic, etc) and the rest just happens and develops as the (campaign) game moves along… I really like the concept how it almost becomes a story and players can introduce new elements as they go, and can directly influence their opponent too if desired (e.g. arguing that an opponent’s reinforcements don’t arrive, or that their supplies run out, or similar) – you just need a strong enough case (ideally supported by previous arguments that have laid the ground work for this to happen) to argue any feasible or realistic event.
We hope to give an Engle Matrix Campaign a crack very shortly (and use Crossfire to resolve any table top battles that may ensue) so stay tuned for any updates or progress reports on how things turn out…