Back in the mid nineties I began to move away from the GW flavored gaming that dominated my teenage gaming and started to dabble with historicals. I remember merrily jumping in at the deep-end by buying loads of Airfix and Revell plastic to play the Napoleonic set ‘Empire’, a rather detailed set of rules that came in a giant ring binder, oddly that didn’t put me off but I did move to Rapid Fire a few years later and found my ‘home’ in 20th century gaming….
What’s the point of this rather brief history of mine you ask? Well around this time I started to buy copies of Wargames Illustrated and Miniature Wargaming, and it was in one of these early purchases of mine that I was first introduced to the idea of Matrix games. I’m pretty sure that it was a colonial game entitled ‘Save Gordon’, I remember that the idea looked interesting and I fancied giving it a go but as of today I have still yet to try a game.
At it’s simplest a matrix game uses the knowledge and Dialectic skills of the players to generate the ‘story’ of the game rather than any numbers based statistical system. A qualitative approach rather than quantitative if you will. Have an idea or declare an action, say why it should happen and a learned umpire will judge how likely it will be to succeed or fail: that’s pretty much it.
This slim A4 volume seeks to introduce the very simple mechanics of the system and provide five modern (Falklands, Bosnia, Syria, Crimea and Afghanistan) scenarios, it has to be said at this point that the book is aimed at the professional gamer in academic/ military spheres rather than the casual hobbyist. Accordingly whilst I’m very glad I got the book, as it covers everything I was wanting to know, it is not the kind of book that will be immediately useful nor do I expect running any of the games from it anytime soon. Given that the usual numbers of roles in a game is greater than my usual gaming group is just one problem, I feel that the assumed knowledge of the players needs to be of the same level and fairly high lest one player dominates with an unfair advantage given his or her knowledge of the scenario/ period in question. Likewise I don’t feel I know enough personally to try and run the game given the type of judgement call an umpire needs to make in every round (though not to completely talk myself down I could probably make a good go of two of them if not a third as well). However having read the brief piece on the history of the matrix game by the originator, Chris Engle, I looked up his own page and found plenty of games there that would be a better introduction should I want to try something on my usual game night. The only thing I think that the book lacked was an extended example from at least one of the scenarios giving a fully turns worth of arguments and umpire decisions from each of the roles in the game; though this is only a minor quibble.
All in all a great read that should be for anyone who wants to try wargaming beyond the usual line-them-up-and-roll-the-dice.