Thursday, 12 July 2018

Conference of Wargamers 2018 - Saturday Afternoon

After lunch it was time to play in a game, rather than run one.

Tom Mouat was there with his professional Matrix Game Construction Kit, which was produced at the request of DSTL to enable matrix games to be played by a variety of Government departments. The box contains a few scenarios, some maps and a whole host of coloured chips and stickers and counters and lots of other stuff to enable you to design and play matrix games. It'll cost you just shy of $300 apparently, as it is a print on demand type thing. And it has a lot of bits in it.

We played "Reckoning of Vultures" which is a game based upon the machinations around the impending death of an absolute dictator in a third world country. It comes with the kit, although Tom didn't write it. I have run several games like this in my fictional country of Zambola, so I was interested to see how the professionals might deal with it.

Everyone plays a different faction, - armed, secret service, police, oligarchs, workers - and manoeuvres to get influence in key locations and stitch up everyone else. We had one complete novice in the room who did really well.

I've not run any matrix games for a while, and the professional style has veered away from what was the accepted recreational approach. Professionals want to be able to argue why an argument might fail, rather than just allow an umpire to judge. This is useful as it enables the subject matter being evaluated to be thoroughly examined. This works well - but at the cost of slowing the game down and disrupting the narrative badly in place. Of course, this could be sour grapes. I'm good at the former style of game, and struggled to adapt to the changes.

The scenario has some issues in how things are resolved, - the final turn influence+2d6 die roll to determine the winner is out of kilter given the number of factions and the influence points available. However, I don't know why I'm moaning, - I came a comfortable second and nearly won it.

I also had some some issues with misunderstanding what I was being told. Saying a counter is "equal strength" isn't the same as saying it is equally effective, and I suppose I should have expected my groups of thugs to have come unstuck when confronted by special forces. And you will always have the issue that a poor set of dice rolls can get you stuck in a hole it is hard to get out of.

Even with all these caveats the matrix game is still a really powerful tool and the wargaming experience is unique and at its best, incomparable. Tom peppered the session with discrete anecdotes from his professional experiences with matrix games, and it is clear they are having a real effect on determining options for policy makers. Absolutely invaluable session.

Although I won't be changing the way I run games.


  1. Many thanks Trebian, as the novice "Toiler Leader" (Trade Union) I found the company of 'experienced wolves' and veteran umpire very stimulating. Actually playing a Matrix Game, as you said with experienced old hands and Tom's umpiring skills was invaluable. Reading about the theory needs to be put into practice!

    In addition: Thank you for the Ollie money that helped arm the "The Toiler's Front" as they stormed the gates of the Refinery (known forever now as The Battle of Pipe and Drum Barricades) in the name of The People to oust the Elite Government Marines (who turned out to be all hype, just wearing nice berets and sunglasses; they fought like a bunch of sissies in the end). This however did not save me, or the Secret Police Chief or the Police Chief from mysterious deaths!

    Well worth missing the first sixty minutes of the England v Sweden game, although I am indebted to the Chief of Police's wife for texting in the England Football scores - he cannot be that bad a chap after all.

    PS: I also caught the Save Gordon Matrix Game ran by Bob Cordery later that same night. The contrast was interesting as the narrative was stronger and self created around the role description - less playing pieces but as a rich a playing experience.

    1. It was good to meet up with you, although I didn't know at the time that you were GEAFOG. Did you know I was Trebian?

      Playing the game is the quickest way of learning, and having an umpire means rules don't always need to be explained if you trust the umpire. Tom's run more of these than almost anyone, so if this was your first game it was a good place to start.

      I'm glad to hear you caught "Save Gordon" as that will have made clear the points Tony & I were making about the narrative and game progress.

  2. PPS:
    Thanks for catching my fine cranial dome in full technocolour - my wife thought that highly amusing, and my "novice" label which made her laugh, but in fairness I was ;)

    Thanks for helping make it a great game and never forget "The Workers" Mr Oligarth ;)

    1. I had to turn the flash off for the arial shot of your head. Too much glare otherwise.

  3. I didn't realised it was you and in retrospect there were some obvious blogger 'tells' I missed - the 'how am I going to write this up?' look and an appealing interest in the narrative ;)

    PS: Keep posting :)
    I think you manage to keep more "on track" than me - I wander endlessly ;)

    1. Well, the write up thing pre-dates blogging, as I always try to write up each and everything I see and do at COW for the Nugget. As should you.

      It isn'r always obvious who bloggers are. f you've been following this a while you may recall I sat opposite a guy for 6 months before we realised we "knew" each other through the blog.

      And honestly, is the photo that bad a likeness?