Although I’ve read about them since the 1990s, and have reviewed books on them here I hadn’t managed to actually play one until quite recently.
Fortunately Tim invited me down to Sheffield to play in a game he was running, naturally I jumped at the chance. Although the period in question, Napoleonics, isn’t one I’m quite clue up on I thought I should be able to manage OK- besides my friend Jerry said he’d support me and team up.
For the uninitiated a matrix game is a game where by the players make arguments on the likely hood of how successful what they want to do will be (the original iteration of the game had a matrix of prompts to choose from hence the name). An umpire then decides the odds and you roll to see if it it is successful or not. The system, invented by Chris Engle, has been much developed over the years and is a go to tool for professional gamers. The scenario Tim had decided to run was an old one dating back to 1992, as such the system relied on the player stating and action with an intended outcome and three supporting reasons why it should happen, players were given prompt cards to help them think up supporting argument, we had to use one a turn ideally.
I was given the role of Gen. Moore, who started in England and basically had to stop Arthur Wellesley (the future Duke of Wellington) doing well. With a full set of players, 2 British, 2 Spanish, 3 French, and month long turns we covered a big chunk of game time.
As I was familiar with the basic concepts I flatter myself that I picked it up fairly quickly. Most of my arguments consisted of trying to stymie Wellesley rather than doing much fighting of my own and carefully trying to manoeuvre my forces to walk in at the last moment to take Madrid. This would have worked apart from an abysmal dice throw which resulted in me getting lost on the way….
All in all I really enjoyed the game- I can see the potential of the concept but also I can see how some people that I had spoken to previously didn’t like it. The game relies entirely on the skill, knowledge and judgement of the umpire; in this regard it is more akin to a tabletop RPG rather than a standard wargame. This means someone like me who only really has a rudimentary knowledge of the Peninsular War can take part in a way that I’d find difficult in a more conventional wargame. There are other versions of the game and more info can be found here, here and here.
I left the game thinking up my own scenarios and I hope to be able to have another crack at a Matrix game soon.