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Tag Archives: Chris Engle

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

Engle: Rapid turnaround matrix games

PAXsims is pleased to present more ideas from Chris Engle, the original inventor of the matrix game method. Today he offers some thoughts on how simple matrix games can be used to develop rapid insight into a challenge or issue.


 

QuickTurnaround

One of the realities of consulting is the requirement for speed. Problems arise and clients demand they be solved immediately. Highly complex simulations could take weeks or longer to set up and run. This limits their utility. Matrix games offer a simulation technique that is much faster to implement.

A customer may call with a question and be able to get a simulation solution to it within as little as an hour.

All that it takes to create a matrix game is to define a problem and briefly describe the context. The problem can be as little as one sentence and a context statement no longer than a page. A single writer could create this in minutes. The next step is running the game.

Games require players but they do not need to be face to face. If they are (such as in a staff meeting or some other kind of committee) that is fine but a focus group of players can meet online just as easily. Whoever calls the meeting brings the game and asks the participants to play. Even full blown games need last no more than an hour and sometimes less.

Once the session is done the consultant should write up the results in a report or tell the customer verbally. Either way the consultant need only summarize the key ideas and themes that emerged through play.

Rapid turnaround games like this can be used to help train people, to try and reach a consensus amongst a staff, to explain a policy decision, or build a team. The uses are only limited by the imaginations of the participants.

I have experience running games like this in psychotherapy since the late 1980’s. In these games, I bring up the simulation as needed and fit it to my client’s needs. Preplanning is impossible in this context. I use it as it seems appropriate. In substance abuse and anger management groups it is a way for people to examine their cognitions and assumptions. In individual counseling it is a way for a client to explore a possible course of action safely.

I see no reason why this technique could not work for any number of other disciplines. All that is required is the ability to think on your feet.

Chris Engle

Engle: Iterative matrix games

 

Yesterday, matrix game inventor Chris Engle provided an overview of the history of the matrix gaming method for PAXsims. Today he offers some more thoughts, this time on bringing narrative games and quantitative analysis together.


 

Iterative matrix games: Bringing together narrative games and quantitative analysis

reserach-charts.jpgMatrix games are a simple narrative simulation technique that maximizes the creative input of players by allowing them to make up what happens next. They say what they imagine and this allows those watching to get a glimpse of the inner workings of a player’s mind. The game is a conversation between players and is not built on an underlying mathematical algorithm. It is the opposite of a mathematical game theory approach. Consequently it is easy for designers who work in quantitative sciences to dismiss the technique.

There is a potential to bridge the gap between soft narrative approaches and hard quantitative ones. It is in iterative play. This has not yet been done but here is how I think it could work.

The game is played on an electronic platform. Participants register for the site by giving their demographic details, whatever details are appropriate for post-game analysis. Players gather on the site as they would on social media. Each game starts at a preset time. Players are presented with a brief scenario and asked to start.

Players then type in the actions they want to happen. This happens in real time so participants are both audience and actors. They may add to and alter the story as they see fit. Each addition adds to the narrative but also is linked to the writer’s demographics and sits in relationship to the actions that precede and follow it. In addition the platform could allow off side comments to further supplement the data collection. If games are limited to no more than twelve players it should work. More than that and play could spin into chaos as players are unable to keep up with the flood of new actions. Too many participants and information overload results.

If the same scenario is run repeatedly, for the same players or for new sets gamers, the electronic record builds up a data base of outcomes that can be subject to statistical analysis. So while any individual game may be “just made up”, when aggregated they form a picture of a crowd and crowds have wisdom.

As of now I know of no way a computer can breakdown individual stories to categorize them but I can imagine that coming. When it happens matrix games can be a way of melding together the strength of people and machines. The game combines human imagination with machine data crunching. The potential for useful research here is intriguing.

Chris Engle 

Engle: A short history of matrix games

There has been growing interest in matrix gaming in recent years, and it is a topic that we have covered extensively here at PAXsims. A few days ago Bob Cordery also posted a fascinating account of the early development of matrix gaming in the UK at his Wargaming Miscellany blog.

Today we are very pleased to present a piece by the inventor of the matrix gaming approach, himself Chris Engle.


 

A Short History of Matrix Gaming

Interest is rising in matrix games, and along with it some questions and confusion about the history of the idea. Here is an account of my part in the project. I draw it from my published games and articles, personal journals, and my recollections of anecdotes.

I invented the idea of matrix gaming in January 1988, just after finishing my Masters degree in Social Work. I was visiting a philosophy graduate student friend in Bloomington Indiana. We were discussing the idea of how to roleplay entire countries. He wanted to do it with a set of numbered statistics. I proposed using words. This grew out of my work as a psychotherapist. My practice has always included a strong use of narrative and teaching allegories (especially Sufi teaching stories which eventually lead to my conversion to Islam). My friend thought the idea unworkable so we agreed to work on the problem from our different approaches. Matrix games then grew out of an interesting question. How can you run a game with words rather than numbers?

The answer is two fold. First how to describe the world using words and second how to put that verbal picture into motion. The picture of the world is the matrix of matrix games. I started off using literal matrixes of short phrases that described various institutions and ideas. Together with scenario information (maps, character descriptions, and opening events) each player forms their own mental matrix of the world, a gestalt. The matrix of the world changes by additions to the narrative. Each turn players make arguments about what they want to have happen next.

This was a brand new idea in 1988 but I had the idea that it was good and that if I was willing to do the footwork it could spread. All it required was dedication and a willingness to stick with the message. I set a goal of talking about it and to keep on talking till someone asked me why I was saying the obvious. It took years before that happened.

I wrote the first article on matrix games in 1988. “Verbal analysis wargaming” appeared in Nugget 44 (the newsletter of Wargame Developments). It earned the Editor’s Award for most original game idea of 1988. I set a goal of telling one hundred people about the idea over the next year. I did this by writing more articles and running games at conventions in the Midwest USA. Over the next couple of years I got encouragement from some game community luminaries such as Frank Chadwick, then of Game Designers Workshop. Steve Jackson, of Steve Jackson Games, told me you would need a Masters degree in philosophy to play the game. Which I knew this was wrong because I had already had mentally handicapped people play it.

From 1989 to 1994 I published the Experimental Game Group newsletter. It was mentioned in Simulation and Gaming. I used it to work out rules and test them in yearly play by mail games. Early games included a replay of the events of the fall of Communism in 1989, which predicted the refusal of the Russian army to back the communist party and the secession of Russia from the Soviet Union before they happened. The Peninsular Campaign in 1809, the French Revolution and an Agatha Christie murder mystery followed.

My second goal was to have one hundred people play a matrix game and to tell one thousand people about it over three years. I wrote around sixty articles in gaming magazines like The Midwest Wargamer’s Association Newsletter, Lone Warrior (the journal of the Solo Wargamer’s Association,) PW Review and various Historical Miniature Game Society newsletters on top of publishing EGG. I ran matrix games at Midwestern and Near South gaming conventions including Gen Con and talked about them to anyone who would listen. I viewed gaming as a market of ideas so at some point I needed to produce an actual product. I did this in 1992. “Campaign in a Day” presented game rules, military campaign scenarios, and a miniatures game and was the basis of the game later adopted by the British army in the mid 90’s.

I corresponded widely and Peter Suber of Earlham College recognized matrix games as Nomic games in 1994. Paddy Griffin recognized them as Mugger games.

In England other writers including Bob Cordery and Tim Price started developing their own matrix games in 1990. These are important games but I am not the one to best describe them. After 1994 our two trains of development diverged when I stopped writing articles and began work on developing commercial games.

Dave Arneson, co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons, mentored and encouraged me to learn the business starting in 1995. He later introduced me to someone as “This is Chris Engle. He makes weird games.” I continued to build up my contacts in the game industry and learned about business and the mechanical process of game production. I published Dark Portals my first professional game in 1998. I followed this with a series of role play game like books from 1999 to 2005. After that I put out board game versions between 2006 to 2011 and eventually card games 2012 to 2014. Historically about half of all my players have been women. Unfortunately none of my products were commercial successes. I closed Hamster Press in 2015 and began work on an archive of all my game writings. I’ve got several interesting books from that and am looking for a publisher. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Right now I’m working on a professional matrix game book that spells out an intellectual argument for the game approach and includes chapters on many ways to apply it. One new idea is to do iterative matrix games. I see them as a cheap way to collect a body of mineable data from a potentially large body of players. It can tap the wisdom of crowds in a completely new way. I would like to have a lot of co-authors in this project, pulling on many people’s experiences. Over the years, matrix game have been used by the British and Australian armies for military planning and reorganization, in education to teach history and creative writing, by myself in psychotherapy and by the French army to teach English. I’m aware of academics using it to explore literary criticism and the nature of being European. Some people are beginning to use them in business consulting.

Matrix games started as an idea. With work they grew into articles and published games. Now they are wide spread and looks like they will be useful to a growing body of users. My nearly thirty years of experience boils down to a few simple rules. Start with a problem. Pick a scene and say what happens. Others can add to that or change it. This overwrites what was said before. Anyone can ask you to roll to see if the action doesn’t happen. When the problem is solved the game ends.

Chris Engle 

CBC on ISIS Crisis and AFTERSHOCK

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The CBC has published a report today examining the use of games by the Canadian government, including our work with Defence Research & Development Canada using both ISIS Crisis and AFTERSHOCK:

Canada’s military has been experimenting with a tabletop game inspired by the war against ISIS to help plan what tanks, planes, ships and people it needs to fight effectively in the coming decades.

The ISIS Crisis uses dice, markers and a large map of Iraq and Syria, and is the latest twist in a government-wide effort to use more games in the workplace for training and education.

“This certainly does have potential to add additional rigour to our process,” said Col. Ross Ermel, in charge of a directorate that plans how the Canadian Forces must evolve.

“It does show some promise.… It’s one of the things that we are certainly considering.”

The ISIS Crisis is known as a matrix-type game, a concept dating from the 1980s, with minimal rules and using debates and arguments, unlike traditional war games with complex rules and drawing on probabilities.

Matrix games allow complex, multi-sided issues to be explored, often by up to six players who don’t need particular expertise in the subject matter.

The ISIS Crisis was created by Rex Brynen, a political science professor at McGill University, who developed the roles and scenario rules, and by a British major, Tom Mouat, who created the map and counters. Brynen also acted as a kind of referee for the Canadian military sessions.

Last month, Brynen ran another board-game session for the military to explore responses to a humanitarian crisis caused by an earthquake in the fictional country of Carana.

The game, called Aftershock, is designed for up to eight players and takes about two hours to play.

As always, Chris Engle should be credited for first developing the matrix game approach.

Those interested in looking at the game materials should check out Tom Moaut’s matrix gaming page. In addition, the latest version of the ISIS Crisis team (and role) briefings can be found here at PAXsims.

 

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