Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Paul Vebber on analytical narrative gaming


Slide01As part of its regular “brown bag” discussion sessions, the MORS (Military Operations Research Society) Wargame Community of Practice hosted a talk today by Paul Vebber (US Naval Undersea Warfare Centre) on “analytic narrative gaming.” In it he focused on long term “story arc” development as an extension/application of the Engle matrix game technique to supplement COA development and analysis in the deliberate planning process. For those who couldn’t attend in person in Alexandra VA a phone-in facility was available for remote participation.

You’ll find Paul’s slides from the presentation here. In the presentation he argued that matrix games are increasingly being examined as a serious analytic tool (an issue we’ve discussed before at PAXsims, notably here, here and here). Such games had the advantage, he suggested, that they were relatively easy to organize and play—thus allowing for repeated play (potentially by the same group of players to enable learned strategy) in a way that helped to map out a problem space and identify frequent or convergent issues. His presentation also very much stressed the importance of narrative analysis in a way that allowed us to identify alternative trajectories, the reasons why choices were made (and not made), and why particular plots and paths emerged from game play.


His discussion included identification of some of the frequent problems of both narrative and analytical gaming, and they ways in which these might be addressed. Particular emphasis was placed on a “story arc” metaphor to help tease out key elements, actions, and interactions. Interestingly, he suggested players could be primed as to what aspects of an issue or problem were of particular interest, so as to encourage them to focus on these. While this approach advantages (by reducing the risk of distractions), it did seem to me it risked distorting game play in a variety of ways too.


It was a very rich discussion—hopefully MORS will consider archiving audio recordings of some future brown bag sessions to further increase their accessibility to the professional gaming community.

6 responses to “Paul Vebber on analytical narrative gaming

  1. Chris Engle 03/12/2015 at 9:21 am

    Cool! Let me know if there is anything I can do to help. I’l working on collecting all the drafts of Matrix Game rules I’ve done in the last 27 years to create a big ass volume – showing the full development of the idea. Hope to be done by the end of the month. Fingers crossed.

  2. Jerry Hall 02/12/2015 at 5:20 pm

    Hi Chris. Rex Brynen introduced me to matrix games recently (ISIS Crisis). We are working on including them in the curriculum and wargaming activities at the Army War College. I’ll shoot you an email!

  3. Chris Engle. 14/11/2014 at 7:33 pm

    Cool, Canada. I have cousins up there. Please let me know if I can help out.

  4. Rex Brynen 14/11/2014 at 2:47 pm

    Chris (and Paul)–there is certainly growing interest in using matrix games in serious gaming (including in DND here in Canada, as may be evident from Ben Taylor’s earlier blogpost on the topic at PAXsims).

  5. Paul Vebber 13/11/2014 at 8:09 pm

    Thanks to Rex for posting about this, and Chris, I sent you an email, though I forgot to cc my non-work email pvebber at (pls cc that on any reply).


    Regarding your comment regarding giving players too much info, distorting their view, that remark was aimed at situations where you are exploring a situation “collectively” – as with course of action development in the planning process – vice “playing the game” to get an unbiased view on what the players do given their embracing the roles assigned. In that situation giving the players too much info is indeed problematic.There are shades in between of course and is where an experienced facilitator/gamemaster can act as a “Trusted agent” while co-opting the players through the “fourth wall” to the least extent possible.

    Thanks again to you both!

  6. Chris Engle 13/11/2014 at 11:16 am

    Fascinating. I’m Chris Engle, the Engle in Engle Matrix Games. I’ve used EMGs in psychotherapy for the last 25 years. I’d love to discuss and collaborate with any people on games. Send me an email at hamsterpress at

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