Thursday, 28 May 2015

More Bank Holiday Fun (part 1)

I have been writing this blog for over 5 years now and it came to me recently that I’ve never really written much about Matrix Games. In fact close to nothing.

Matrix games, - those games with the structured argument process that enables the players to modify the rules – were a major part of my wargaming life a few years ago. I even wrote a booklet about them for the Society of Ancients. I also used to set up a large refight of a battle at CoW each year until interest essentially died out.

(Parenthesis: A note on matrix games for those unfamiliar with them.

Matrix games in the UK utilise a structured argument process supported by a set of cards with key words on them to modify the rules or the events in the game. The cards contain words like “Terrain”, “Betrayal”, “Missiles”, “Surprise”, “Equipment” and so on. Each argument consists of an Action/Outcome supported by three reasons. A “matrix” card is played to support the argument with a numerical value and an umpire assigns a probability to the outcome and dice are rolled. So, a typical argument might be:

Action: Alexander leads his Companions into contact with the opposing cavalry
Result: All Companion bases hit with a 4-6 instead of a 6
Reason 1: The Companions are the elite unit of the Macedonian army (play “Elite” card worth 2)
Reason 2: The Companions are further inspired by being lead personally by Alexander
Reason 3: The battlefield is flat and open, perfect terrain for hard charging cavalry.

This is adjudged a very strong argument, requiring a 5+ on 2d6, with +2 from the Elite card. If the player rolls a 1,1 he fails and it is clear that the Companions are having an off day.

End of parenthesis)

Every so often I used to organise a matrix gaming day in Trebian Towers. The last one was a bit of a disaster as I tried to do it in late April in my garage and everyone nearly got hypothermia. With the advent of Shedquarters it was clearly time to resurrect the practice.

Only I never got quite round to it until Mrs T poked me and said “When are you going to do one of those games you invite all those people to then?”

So, I sat down and worked some stuff out and e-mailed the normal crew. Out of a potential 9 or 10 players I ended up with four, - you have to have an even number for matrix games mostly or they don’t work quite so well if you’re doing a two sided refight.

The main set piece was to be a Matrix Game refight of Hydaspes (well, I’ve got the figures and done the research). It was to be preceded in the morning with one of my periodic modern African games set in the country of Zambola. This is a linked series of games featuring some of the same characters and an evolving political narrative. They started quite by chance at a CoW when Bob Cordery and Tony Hawkins introduced me to “Politics by other means”, a Chris Engle quick fire table top game. I had all my AK47 kit with me and we soon broke out into another game where the President Jog(a)-Jog(a) – the spelling has never been completely agreed – emerged as the central character.

Each game often has elements of the real world usually that I want to explore or is inspired by other events. This game’s central theme was inspired by Durritti’s plan during the SCW to hi-jack the Republican government’s gold reserves and run off with them on an armoured train. It didn’t quite work out like that, but it was fun anyway.

So, some more background. Zambola has been ruled since independence by the FAZED, which is an acronym from the Portuguese and means the Freedom Party of Zambola. Power has fragmented between three elements of the FAZED, - the youth wing(Y-FAZED), the ruling council (The RC) and a social democratic faction who want more party democracy (WO-FAZED).

FAZED is opposed by the ZIPPO/KLF alliance. ZIPPO is the Zambolan Independent People’s Organisation and draws its power from the Zambolan region. The KLF is the Kalima Liberation Force who fight for the independence of the Kalima region which is ethnically different to the rest of Zambola but was included within the boundaries in some Colonial carve up during the scramble for Africa in the nineteenth century.

The player's scratch their collective heads over the briefings
To the south of Zambola is Swamibia which has had a difficult post-colonial history but is the regional powerhouse. It usually has the best trained troops and actual working equipment. The Swamibians might not feature in this game, but they’re always a threat lurking in the background.
Finally you often seen UN trucks and peace keepers scattered around.

At the start of the game Y-FAZED were in control of the City centre, including all of the main government buildings, - the Police HQ, the Central Reserve Bank and the Government Offices. As you can see I use a mixture of 2D templates and 3D props to create the game environment.

Y-FAZED's main task was to empty the bank and run off with everything. WD stalwart Tony Hawkins was in charge as the ex-president’s son (Luke Jogi-Jogi) and he set to the attendant looting with a will. Being short of wheeled vehicles they quickly commandeered the mobile broadcasting unit of the World's Press to help shift their ill-gotten gains

The other FAZED factions were heading into town in their vehicles, likewise variously aiming to seize control or at least some diamonds. Or Art. Or Gold. Or incriminating documents. Tom had control of the RC as the slightly unstable psychopath Field Marshal Condimenti and commander of the feared 1st Parachute brigade. Because Tom through his long wargaming career and for as long as I have known him has never had any proper wargaming toy soldiers I let him use his newly acquired AK47 police force, otherwise all the kit is mine.

WO-FAZED was led by MNG regular Chris A as Chairman Elliott Smith, and Phil took over the role of General “Fat Boy” Wheer-awi of ZIPPO in the absence of JB, their regular commander. JB has, alas, been very unwell  and we all hope he will have recovered in time for CoW.

Of course this is a wargame so you'd expect some fighting. But it is also a matrix game and the briefings all had a political element to them as well, and the players will often come up with some thing unexpected.

So Chris' WO-FAZED forces drove into town with improvised banners on their vehicles proclaiming a new era and peace and love and calling the towns' people to a rally in Independence Square.

The singing and dancing crowds milled about, preventing the Y-FAZED forces with their loot in the TV van getting to the train. In the confusion some of the crates of looted artefacts fell off the back of the truck, and were spirited away.

The game had been going for half an hour and no firing had broken out. Then one of the players (Phil, I think) argued that the Y-FAZED gunners outside the Government Offices panicked and opened fire. They did, and hit one of the WO-FAZED trucks.

Then everyone started firing. The RC had occupied the Police HQ, and were merrily firing at the fleeing previous occupants. It all got a bit excited and I stopped taking pictures in order to keep up with what was going on. Tony was scrambling madly to load his loot on to the train and then trying to get it to start up (Chris had argued that the train crew had run off to join the peace rally). The train had received a hit in the gun carriage and was starting to smoulder a bit.

In order to stop the train fleeing Field Marshal Condimenti sent his trusted lieutenant with the pride of the Zambolan armoured corps to block the train. Many shots were fired, but few, if any, hit the target as the metal monster got up steam.

Meanwhile the rest of Condimeti's men were making themselves at home in the police HQ, whilst the Field Marshal did a power (and loot) sharing deal with Elliott Smith of the WO.

More shots exchanged but the train starts to creep forwards.

Finally the train explodes as the fire in the gun carriage reaches the ammunition store. As this happens the RC & the WO retire, leaving the City to the Fat Boy and ZIPPO/KLF. You see whilst FAZED had been busy fighting each other the Fat Boy had taken control of the Government Offices and using the in-built TV studio had broadcast messages to ZIPPO/KLF forces to rise up as he announced his seizure of power.

So who won? Well, mostly the Fat Boy. However it was revealed in the final arguments round that Elliott Smith was a Swamibian spy who was tasked with keeping Zambola unstable so they could control the diamond fields of the south, whilst concealing his identity by laying his hands on incriminating documents held in the Government Offices. Condimenti kept his forces together and will surely be back for another shot at power. Young Luke, alas, managed to escape in a jeep with only one box of goodies, but if it's all diamonds it may be enough for a comfortable retirement.

All of the narrative of the game, pretty much, came from the players through the matrix mechanism. Everyone announced themselves happy with the proceedings and regretted that it had been so long since the last such outing (2006, if my records are correct...)

That concluded the morning's entertainment, so we all went off down the pub for lunch.

Part 2 will follow at a later date.


  1. Yes, it was me, Fat Boy, that argued for Jog-Jog's gun to open up ... I figured I needed a riot to put down (to claim to be the peace-maker) but I needed someone else to start it .... and there were Jog-Jog's men with a field gun pointing at the crowd ...

    The fluidity of the Matrix Game structure means that if you think *it would be really good if someone now started shooting into the crowd*, you can try to make it happen by making an argument.

    ('good' being a relative term within the game narrative - as a generalisation, shooting at crowds is never good)

    1. I was trying to allow you a get out from being identified as the man who caused the opening fire on civilians.

      Matrix games give so much incident and variety. They are the only system that properly marries Role Playing Games and Table Top figure games.