PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Tag Archives: matrix game construction kit

War Plan Tangerine

Warplan Tangerine.jpg

From the ever-prolific Tim Price comes yet another matrix game, War Plan Tangerine. In this, the government of the UK must prepare for the impending state visit of the rather unpopular President of the Generic Senior Ally.


This is, of course, a COMPLETELY FICTIONAL scenario. Any resemblance between the President of the GSA and any current world leader is ENTIRELY COINCIDENTAL.


 

The scenario allows for six players or teams:

  • UK Government
  • Police and Emergency Services
  • Generic Senior Ally (GSA) Government
  • Anti-POTGSA Activists
  • Pro-POTGSA and UK Alt-Right Supporters
  • UK Media

You’ll find the scenario details and player briefings here. Maps and counters are included, as is a short introduction to matrix gaming. The scenario is, of course, fully compatible with the Matrix Game Construction Kit.

MaGCK

Personally, if I were playing it I would either use two competing teams of activists (one more militant than the other), or allow the activists to make an immediate bonus move every time another player rolls a double (thus reflecting the tendency of the President of the GSA to say or tweet inflammatory things at sensitive moments).

 

Matrix Game Construction Kit User Guide

The User Guide for MaGCK is now available as a downloadable pdf from The Game Crafter for only $14.99.

MaGCK User Guide PDF.jpg

This is not the full Matrix Game Construction Kit, which you’ll find here. However, the User Guide contains extensive information on how to design, and play, matrix games.

  • 1.0 Introduction to Matrix Gaming
    • 1.1 Using MaGCK
  • 2.0 Playing Matrix Games
    • 2.1 Actions, Arguments, and Counterarguments
    • 2.2 Determining Outcomes
    • 2.3 Preparatory and Secret Actions
    • 2.4 Ongoing Effects
    • 2.5 Spendable Bonuses
    • 2.6 Privileged Arguments
  • 3.0 Maps, Tokens, and Other Matrix Game Elements
  • 4.0 Levels of Protection, Big Projects, and Planning
  • 5.0 Player Interaction
    • 5.1 Announcements
    • 5.2 Negotiations
    • 5.3 Order of Play
  • 6.0 Combat Resolution
    • 6.1 SCRUD
    • 6.2 The Efect of Winning and Losing
    • 6.3 Killer Arguments
  • 7.0 Elections and Other Contests
  • 8.0 Consequence Management
  • 9.0 Common Issues and Helpful Hints
    • 9.1 ACTIONs That Aren’t Actions
    • 9.2 Talking Too Much
    • 9.3 Doing Too Much
    • 9.4 Magical Conjuring
    • 9.5 Representing Time
    • 9.6 Goals
    • 9.7 Social Engineering
    • 9.8 Problem Participants
    • 9.9 Influential Seniors
  • 10.0 Playing ISIS Crisis and A Reckoning of Vultures
  • 11.0 Advanced Matrix Gaming
    • 11.1 Event cards
    • 11.2 Limiting Information
    • 11.3 Multiple Actions
    • 11.4 Larger or Distributed Groups
    • 11.5 Hybrid Games
    • 11.6 Data Collection and Debriefs
  • 12.0 Designing Your Own Matrix Games
  • 13.0 Concluding Comments
  • 14.0 Dedication and Acknowledgements

MaGCK launches soon at Connections UK

IMG_7835.jpg

MaGCK—the Matrix Game Construction Kit—will officially launch on September 5 at the Connections UK 2017 professional wargaming conference at King’s College London. As soon as it does, we’ll update the MaGCK page here at PAXsims with a link to the order page at The Game Crafter. It all looks excellent, thanks to the graphic artistry of our very own Tom Fisher.

As an added surprise, we will also be publishing our very first MaGCK supplement at the same time—a set of estimated probability cards. These come in seven suits, indicating probabilities of 0/10/30/50/70/90/100%. They can be used in matrix game adjudication, or in pretty much any other context where you want to quickly poll a small group for their assessment of the likelihood of an outcome. They are certainly the perfect geeky stocking-stuffer gift for the methodologically-rigorous intelligence analyst in your life!

IMG_7834.jpg

Many thanks are due to the wargaming team at Dstl (the UK MoD Defence Science and Technology Laboratory) for supporting the development of MaGCK.

Matrix game construction kit update #3

We have just had some of the components for the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK) prototype back from the printers, and we are very happy with the result.

MaGCK will contain one set of map tiles, used for A Reckoning of Vultures—a game of coup plotting, political skullduggery, and presidential succession.

IMG_6726.jpg

Part of the map for A Reckoning of Vultures. The system of tokens and stickers used in MaGCK allows for a deal of customization—here we see political leader, police, a SWAT team, riot police, helicopter, firefighters, an ambulance, and a doctor. MaGCK will contain several hundred stickers and designs,

On the flip side of these there are generic urban tiles. These have isomorphic road connections, allowing them to be assembled in many different ways.

IMG_6727.jpg

Generic urban terrain. By “many different ways” we mean to say that the map tiles can be assembled in more than 2.6 nonillion (10^30) different ways.

The kit also contains ten two-sided game tracks, which you can use for anything you want: tracking time, moves, die roll modifiers, and so forth.

IMG_6728.jpg

All of this is due to the graphics wizardry of PAXsim’s very own Tom Fisher, of course.

IMG_6721.jpg

Tom examines the latest components at my dining room table.

Many thanks to Dstl for supporting the project. Tom Mouat and I be reviewing the contents with them next month, and hope to do a public launch of MaGCK in September at the Connections UK professional wargaming conference.

You’ll find previous updates here:

MaGCK will also contain two scenarios for the ISIS Crisis matrix game, which we’ve written about extensively at PAXsims.

UPDATE:

Even more goodies arrived today! Here you can see the box, tokens, and some of the stickers.

MaGCKbox.jpeg

Prototype box, plus blank tokens (to which stickers are attached to indicate units, assets, effects, etc.), disks (used to track supply, turns, political influence—or whatever else you want), and dice.

MaGCKthungs.jpg

No gaming system would be complete without its supply of thugs (or armed civilians, survivalists, militia, or criminals). These stickers would be fixed to the coloured tokens above.

IMG_0300.JPG

Some of the box contents (minus rules, scenario briefings, tracking mats).

IMG_0301.JPG

Pssst, need some stickers for your next matrix game?

 

Matrix game construction kit update #2

IMG_4563.jpg

I was in the UK this past week for a conference and several meetings, and while I was there Tom Mouat and I took the opportunity to run a playtest of A Reckoning of Vultures. This, as I’ve noted before, will be one of the sample game scenarios included in the forthcoming matrix game construction kit that Tom Mouat, Tom Fisher, and I are putting together.

I thought it went very well, both in terms of the physical game components (map, counters) and the scenario and associated special rules. We also received some very useful feedback from the participants. In particular, John Mizon has put together an excellent playtest report at his South West Megagames website:

On Sunday I was invited to “A Reckoning of Vultures”: a Matrix game designed by Tom Mouat and Rex Brynen [1]. The game is set in the capital of the fictional Republic of Matrixia, where the President-for-Life is on his death bed, and various power-hungry factions are jostling to control important parts of the city so they can seize power upon his imminent demise.

His report includes a full account of the game, including pictures. His detailed assessment will certainly prove very useful as we tweak the scenario further—so, on both of both ourselves and the oppressed workers of Matrixia, thank you John!

I should start by saying that this isn’t the first matrix game I have played – I have previously run a matrix game called ‘Kazhdyy Gorod’ [7]. Kazhdyy Gorod is similar to Reckoning, in that it is set in a fictional city undergoing political turmoil and unpredictability of who will end up in charge. Players complete to win popularity and power, trying to improve their situation (and often try to win more potential votes if it is decided the game ends with an election). The players have a map and unit/resource counters, but other than that there is very little structure (aside from the standard matrix game turn order/arguments process).

 I think that A Reckoning of Vultures benefited greatly from additional rules. The separation into two distinct phases of the game improved the pacing and helped flesh out the narrative; the use of specific counters for money, units and influence allowed for more satisfying tactical thinking; effective rules for combat meant you could clearly anticipate the benefits of which units you have; and having key locations to control meant that players had clear objectives to plan around – whilst still allowing enough freedom in the space in between to encourage both player creativity and development of a flexible narrative.

I believe that the key locations also solved an issue that I had found in Kazhdyy Gorod. Namely that the rigid turn order structure and range of actions available caused problems as to how long each player’s turn lasted in the game’s time. For example, one player’s ambush would happen in the same round as another player’s political campaign, and things became messy and it was hard to gauge what was happening within the narrative. The key locations meant that most turns were players moving to and/or doing something important in one location – thus ensuring that the turn times felt uniform.

As someone pointed out in the post-game discussion, there’s a significant amount of random chance, especially in the final phase – but I think that’s fine considering that it’s a relatively short game. The random dice rolling at the end also means that the key locations are not the final decider – if that were the case then players would be incentivised to be doing constant mental arithmetic over key location control (and potential future control) in order to win at the end, which I believe would be stressful and tedious. Adding random chance at the end means you can just do your best when obtaining key locations, taking actions based on instinct and informed guessing.

As Rex pointed out afterwards, the final phase of the game is also meant to show how a matrix game, benefiting from its value as a simulation, can be used to provide starting points for other types of game, such as the dice rolling mechanics of the final phase.

I have three negative observations, though the first two apply to matrix games in general, so they’re more systemic weaknesses than fixable problems or mistakes.

Firstly, it’s clear that matrix games are not for everyone. This is true of any kind of game of course, but matrix games look like board games and sound slightly like RPGs, whilst actually lacking a large amount of structure compared to these. If you are intending to play a matrix game with board game or RPG players, be careful to manage expectations. Matrix games’ strengths are in their ability to simulate and to create freeform narratives, so they’re best suited to players who will be willing to engage with games in order to experience those. If your players are likely to enjoy games less when they lack a lot of structure, be careful with matrix games; relative to other games, there is a lot of doubt and uncertainty about actions’ mechanical effects, and players will need to be able to move their focus away from winning sometimes in order to allow the simulation and communal narrative to work.

Secondly, as I know from experience with Kazhdyy Gorod, matrix games need a Facilitator who is both good at managing their players and comfortable with their knowledge of the setting. The freedom allowed by matrix games can end up leading to long debates about what will work and what won’t, or about what certain aspects of the setting are or aren’t. A good Facilitator needs to be able to be both flexible and firm – allowing player creativity and taking in arguments, but also knowing when to finish things and move on to avoid further debate that slows and muddies the game. Thankfully, Rex was a great Facilitator for our game.

The third criticism is more about the game as an event than as a game. The two main phases are of unpredictable length – which I thought was very interesting in terms of decision making during the game, but if you were planning to run this game, it might cause problems, as you wouldn’t know whether it would take under an hour to play or possibly up to about 4 hours. Depending on what context you are trying to organise this game in, this may be an issue. In a way, this can be seen in our playthrough – where the first phase was only two rounds long (about as short as it can reasonably be without someone deliberately assassinating the president), so we didn’t get to experience much of it, and this meant that there was less feedback on how well the first phase worked.

Matrix game construction kit update #1

Tom Fisher, Tom Mouat, and I are currently developing a matrix game construction kit that will contain pretty much everything anyone needs to design, and run, a matrix game. Specifically, it will include:

  • coloured tokens, representing the assets belonging to each player in a game;
  • a large collection of adhesive stickers for the tokens, representing pretty much all of the military units, civilians, and effects markers one might need;
  • access to Avery-format templates to enable additional stickers to be printed on any laser printer;
  • a general set of matrix game rules and design guidelines;
  • maps (in the kit, or downloadable);
  • two complete games to serve as examples.

The idea here is to make it relatively simple for anyone to buy the construction kit, design a game or scenario, and customize the tokens as need be using the stickers provided. We hope to have the entire thing finished by the Spring of 2017. Our efforts are being supported by Dstl.

The first game to be included will be ISIS CRISIS, with game scenarios covering both the rapid expansion of ISIS control in Iraq in 2014, and the Iraqi/Kurdish/coalition counter-offensives of 2015-16. ISIS CRISIS has been extensively playtested over the last couple of years, and  nicely illustrates how a matrix game can be used to model a contemporary political-miitary campaign at the strategic and operational level.

The second game will be a newly-designed one, A RECKONING OF VULTURES.

A RECKONING OF VULTURES is set in the capital of the fictional Republic of Matrixia. There, in the ornate Presidential Palace, surrounded by his most loyal Presidential Guards, the President-for-Life is on his death-bed—and various power-hungry factions are jostling to take power themselves. Once the President passes, competition between the would-be successors will escalate to open conflict until such time as the Central Committee of the Ruling Party can meet and agree on a successor.

A Reckoning of Vultures is a fictional scenario designed to demonstrate aspects of matrix game design. Unlike ISIS Crisis, the focus here is on urban space. Additional markers are used to indicate unit status, in this case the influence that rival factions seek to exert over actors, institutions, and assets. The game has three distinct phases—As Vultures Circle, By Beak and Talon, and The Buzzards’ Banquet—each with its own rules and game dynamics. Moreover, most of the final part of the game does not use matrix game-type interaction at all—thereby highlighting the ways in which a matrix game may be linked into another game system by generating scenarios, situations, or contexts.

Five factions compete for power in A RECKONING OF VULTURES:

  1. The Central Security and Intelligence Directorate (CSID) are Matrixia’s shadowy—and much-feared—secret police, responsible for maintaining a close watch on both dissidents and potential rival power centres within the regime. Although lacking large numbers of armed personnel, covert CSID operatives are well-placed to blackmail, influence, sabotage, subvert, or spy.
  2. The Matrixian Armed Forces (MAF) can call upon large numbers of military personnel located in three major military bases around the capital. Inter-service rivalries and the influence of other factions may mean, however, that not all MAF units are loyal or obey orders.
  3. The Ministry of the Interior (MoI) has authority over police and emergency services personnel in the capital. Although MoI units are well-positioned across the city, most are inferior in combat capability to those of the regular military.
  4. Much of what happens in Matrixia is controlled or influenced by a group of rich and powerful Oligarchs, who control much of the business sector. Although they have only a few private security guards and mercenaries to safeguard their positioned, they have considerable wealth that can be used further their political ambitions—as well as ties to the country’s major criminal syndicates.
  5. The National Union of Toilers (NUT) represents the downtrodden workers of the country. NUT hopes to mobilize the workers and their allies and advance their political agenda  through strikes, demonstrations, and direct action. If they are able to arm some of their followers into a workers’ militia, they could become very powerful indeed.

Last night Tom Fisher and I playtested with the game with five volunteers from McGill University, plus a generous supply of pizza. None of the players were professional or serious hobby wargamers, although four had previously played ISIS CRISIS, and the other had taken part in some of our other political-military games.

settingup

Setting up the game. Unlike the playtest version shown here, the final version of the game will include a fictional tiled urban map that can be assembled in many different ways.

All in all, the game went very well. It was certainly very close right up to the end.

Phase 1: As Vultures Circle

In the first phase of the game it looked as if CSID were establishing a commanding lead, having heavily infiltrated army units at the main military barracks. The Matrixia Armed Forces commander responded by redeploying suspect units away from key locations. The Ministry of Interior sought to purge CSID agents from among the ranks of the police. The wealthy Oligarchs focused on raising new funds, as did the National Union of Toilers.

15241800_10154797098594602_6960023107795381444_n.jpg

Much plotting (and pizza) underway.

Phase 2: By Beak and Talon

When the President-for-Life died on turn 3, however, everything was thrown into turmoil. The loyalty of most Army units held. Moreover, the Army had secured influence in the forces guarding the CSID HQ, setting the stage for an extended battle for control there. The Oligarchs hired private security forces/mercenaries, and tried to seize the national airport—but were decimated by the MoI police units there.

presidential palace.jpeg

The President-for-Life is dead. Police units have blocked the nearest bridge, while rogue CSID and MAF units fight for control of the Intelligence Directorate. The colour of the token indicates (original) unit ownership, the adhesive graphic indicates unit type (police, infantry, leader, secret files, etc), and the smaller disks indicate units that have been subverted by another player.

MAF marines stormed the Presidential Palace, while MAF helicopter-borne paratroopers took control  of parliament. MAF aircraft also bombed the police units holding the Ruling Party headquarters, but to little effect. In retaliation MoI prison guards released NUT prisoners from the central prison, and together they sought to seize the main airforce base. They were unsuccessful.

IMG_4523.jpg

Tom Fisher looks on as MAF Marines storm the Presidential Palace and Paratroopers seize Parliament.

Phase 3: The Buzzards Feast

The final phase of the game began when the Ruling Party finally met (despite delays due to MoI control of the airport) to choose a new President-for-Life. The MAF Chief of Staff started with a slight advantage due to control of strategic locations in the capital, although MoI control of the Ruling Party headquarters would prove useful when the various rounds of voting were tallied.

The Oligarchs and CSID were quickly eliminated from competition, although the former’s superior financial resources allowed them to survive the game intact and place second overall. In Matrixia, money talks!

The leader of the National Union of Toilers fell out of consideration next.  Due to the workers’ having seized control of the main port earlier in the game, however, he was able to escape the country. The proletarian struggle is not yet dead!

In the final round of voting the Minister of the Interior managed to narrowly beat the MAF Chief-of-Staff, who promptly fled the country.

However the head of CSID was less fortunate. The former secret police chief was arrested, executed, and found guilty of treason—in that order.

Next Steps

The game was a lot of fun. We also had some very useful feedback, and in particular we’ll be adjusting some of the rules, especially regarding influence and subversion. Everyone thought the three phases of the game worked well together, and nicely illustrated the different ways matrix game mechanisms could be used.

In the coming weeks and months we’ll be writing and modifying rules, finalizing graphics, and doing some more playtesting. Watch this space!

%d bloggers like this: