PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Engle: Proposal for a simplified matrix game

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PAXsims is pleased to present the final of a series of posts by Chris Engle on using the matrix game method. Today he offers some thoughts on how to simplify matrix games still further when exploring a common challenge.


 

Proposal for a simplified matrix game

Matrix games are a simple, low tech, low cost simulation tool that tends to be good at running highly fluid situations. It is gaining some attention now which means more people will take it up and make their own versions. This is a good thing but it also could mean a slow creep towards larger more complicated rules. I suggest that that is not the way to go.

Matrix games are simple now but can be made even simpler. The advantage in doing this is not just that it makes the system even lower cost but more importantly that it is easier to explain to policy makers, who often lack detailed knowledge of simulation techniques. When they can understand what a game is they are more likely to fund it. To this end I suggest the following rules.

  1. Define the nature of the game in the briefest way possible. A one page scenario description, maps, a list of possible goals and maybe a cast of important characters is more than enough to suggest a world matrix. The player’s own imaginations fill in the blanks without any additional effort from the designer.
  2. Start with a problem. Make it a simple statement. This is the question the game tries to answer.
  3. Players do not take on roles. Everyone cooperates to make the game happen. They all work towards answering the problem statement. Naturally players will identify with various characters in the story but they are not locked into only acting through that person.
  4. There is no order of play. Players jump in as they have ideas. This follows participant’s energy. Rigid procedures can stifle creativity.
  5. Players point to a scene or location and say what happens. They should write this down so there is a record of events for post-game analysis. Actions may be done in the form of arguments (an action, a result, and three reasons why) but don’t have to be. Novice gamers tend to just tell stories and that is okay.
  6. Other players may add to or alter the previous statement. This overwrites what the last person said. There need be no dice rolling, the effect is automatic but may lead to a discussion. It is possible for players to go entire sessions without ever using dice.
  7. Any player may call for another player to roll dice to see if their action fails. Each roll is 50/50. As many players as wish may ask for rolls. If multiple players do ask for this then it is appropriate to discuss why. If the action passes the roll then it happens and cannot be changed. If it fails, it does not happen and cannot happen in this game.
  8. Players may shift around from scene to scene inside the game as they wish. This allows the flow to go from critical event to critical event rather than get bogged down in minutia.
  9. Play continues until the initial problem is resolved. My experience is that this generally takes no more than an hour and can be done in less time if that is required.
  10. There is no game moderator but it helps to have a game host to encourage players to stay focused on the problem at hand. They do this by inviting players to say what happens next.
  11. All sessions should end with a debriefing period during which participants and spectators discuss what they learned.

I have used games like this in psychotherapy for over twenty years and found them very easy to administer. They can even be made up on the fly.

I invite people to take these rules and adapt them for their own purpose. All I ask is that you share your methods and results with the simulation community.

Chris Engle

3 responses to “Engle: Proposal for a simplified matrix game

  1. Robert (Bob) Cordery 29/07/2016 at 3:44 pm

    What Chris has outlined above is not that far removed from the Muggergame concept proposed and developed by the late Dr Paddy Griffith. I took part in some of Paddy’s Muggergames, and they had a narrative that was jointly developed by the participants.

    A description of the Muggergame can be found on Zpage 8 of the Wargame Developments Handbook here = http://www.wargamedevelopments.org/Wargame%20Developments%20Handbook.pdf

  2. Lorenzo Nannetti (@LorenzoNannetti) 30/07/2016 at 1:12 pm

    Very short game instructions and sides’ bios are useful if the players are very knowledgeable about the situation (if it’s a geopolitics-related one), but could backfire if there’s not enough experience. It depends a lot on what you aim to do with this game.

  3. Lorenzo Nannetti (@LorenzoNannetti) 01/08/2016 at 4:27 pm

    One other potential issue: by having players not assigned to any “faction/side”, there’s an increased chance of “groupthink” if players are from the same background (a more mixed group will be less affected by this). Taking sides forces a player to get out of its own “natural bias” by trying to identify with their assigned role – but without a role, it may prove more difficult especially if they are inexperienced. Again, it depends on simulation scenario.

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