The latest iteration of Matrix game rules

Rules for Engle Matrix games.

This is the latest version of the rules. I’m constantly trying to make them simpler and easier to teach. I want to get them to a point that I can leave them alone and focus just on scenarios rather than basic rules. This version follows a number of train wreck play tests. I’m trying to take in the feedback to make things work.

Rules the players need to know:

Play goes around the table. Pick a character and say what happens. Move characters as you speak.

Interrupt at any time to challenge. Say what really happens. Both sides roll. High roll wins, re-roll ties.

You may make up to five actions a turn.

(The above are ALL the rules the players need to know. There may be scenario specific rules but this is basic play. It is like the basic rules of role play games – which I think are: Say what your character does. The GM tells you what happens.)

That is all the rules players need to know. The game host handles the rest and guides players through the game.

The host does the following:

Teaches new players how to play.
Keeps the game moving.
Encourages and helps players make up stories.

Rules the host needs to know:

The host lays out the characters and locations on the table. They then give each player five action cards.

The host runs a couple of teaching turns to set up the scenario and teach the rules to the players.

The host starts each turn by reading an Act to the players. This is a suggestion about what needs to happen that turn. If the players follow it, a coherent story will emerge. They do not have to follow it.

The host goes first. They play an action card, pick a character and says what happens. The host shows the players how to play. This is the easiest way to teach a game.

Play goes to the left around the table. Each player plays a card and adds to the story. Players may play all five cards they have in their hand. Players may pass when play comes to them. The turn ends when all the cards are played or the players pass.

When players make up stories they say what ALL the characters do, not just what their character does.

When the turn ends the players pick up their action cards so they have five cards for the next turn.

Players may interrupt play at any time to challenge what a player says. They play a card and say what really happens. Both players then roll. The high roller wins, re-roll ties. The winner’s action happens. The host should teach this rule by example. Just jump in during the first turn and challenge someone. Players are free to challenge successful challenges. When this happens players may use up their cards rapidly. Once they are out of cards they are out of the turn.

The host keeps track of how may challenges each player wins by awarding them a token. Players count up these tokens at the end of the game to see who wins – i.e. who gets the final word in the story.

Each game comes with a selection of acts. The host may use these or make up their own. The game ends after the turn of the last act. Player finish the game with one last statement to tie up loose ends. The player with the fewest tokens goes first, then the player with the next fewest tokens, etc. The player with the most tokens goes last. The players make one statement and may alter earlier player’s stories without a dice roll. This means that the last player has final say in how the game ends.

The host keeps the game moving by reminding the next player to go and asking if there are any challenges. They also help out struggling players. People are natural story tellers but most are not confident. You don’t need to be a good story teller to play the game. When players are stuck, the host should direct them to the suggestion sheet. A player may read directly from the list if they like but pretty soon players get more inventive.

This game has a winner and loser but that is not really the point. The real point is to tell a good story and have fun. If that means your favorite character has to lose then so be it. You are not your character.


Need feedback on the intro to a Sherlock Holmes game.

Sherlock Holmes murder mysteries have been a subject of matrix games since the late 1990s. Now that card matrix games are making their way into stores it’s time to bring back the Sherlock. What follows is a first draft of what I think the rules might look like. They mainly focused on how to start the game. One of the key features of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories is making Holmes looked brilliant at the beginning. Invariably he makes a few observations about Dr. Watson’s cufflinks and tells him exactly what he’s been doing for the last 5 years. That’s an exaggeration of course but basically it happens and most of the stories. For my game to be successful it needs to be able to start at that same place and then go into a fun storytelling game.

The rules

The player who brought the gain is the host. They guide players through the game set up and help things run smoothly during play.

Step one: Make Sherlock Holmes looked brilliant.

Dr. Watson has just dropped by 222B Baker Street. Holmes shows his genius by making deductions about what Watson has been up to based on a few observations. Pick one observation from the following list:

Watson has smudges of ink on his fingers.
There is distinctive tan mud on Watson’s shoes.
Watson’s pocket watch is missing.
There is an envelope sticking out of Watson’s pocket that has an Indian post mark.
Watson is walking with a pronounced limp.
Watson has a slight smell of Lavender.

Host to each player in turn: “You are Sherlock Holmes. You observe (pick one of the observations). What has Watson been up to, based on this evidence?

Each player makes up the brilliant deduction that impresses all about Holmes powers of reasoning.

Step two: the host picks a victim from the selection of cards and says how they were murder. Sherlock Holmes has been hired to look into the matter.

Step 3: Each player picks another character from the selection of character cards and champions them in the game. The host champions Sherlock Holmes but all the other players are Holmes as well. One of the player’s secondary characters is the murderer.

Host to each player in turn: “Playing an action card. Inspired by the card what is the last thing your character said to the deceased?”

The players makeup answers but we know one of them is lying because they are guilty of murder.

Step four: the host lays out location cards on the table. The players place their characters next to a location. The host places Sherlock Holmes and all unplayed characters including the murder victim.

The game is a foot!

Without realizing it you’ve just played the first turn of the matrix game. In this game you play a card and use it as inspiration to make up a little story about what happens next. Everyone gets to play one card a turn. They may say what Holmes or any other character does. Once everyone has gone the turn ends with a free move.

The rules will then go into the nuts and bolts of playing a card matrix game. Basically this boils down to playing a card, making up a story, and other players adding to that by playing cards. If they player objects to what another player says they can play a card and say what happens instead. This is the only case in which dice are rolled in the game, otherwise all the actions happen. Players will play action cards or scene cards. Scene card leads a story through a coherent set of steps and end the game when the last scene is played.

In short this is basically how it will work. What I’m wondering is if this is going to create the feel of a Sherlock home story and if it’s strong enough to make players want to play?


More on a Sherlock Holmes game

Working on a a Sherlock Holmes game. It will use cards like Fairy Tale Assassin League and Die Romeo Die. Going to do change the rules a little. First the players will make Holmes look brilliant then they tell the story of the clues and deductions.

One change will be the fewer dice rolls. When players lay down action cards no rolls are made unless someone calls for them. Need to decide how objections are done but likely it will be play one card and make one objection.


Psychotherapy simulation game actual play – Bob’s Brain

Did a variation of Bob’s Brain on Friday 9/26/14

The Staying out of Trouble group is an education meeting for people who get underage drinking tickets. The topic for the day: expressions of concern from others. This can be approached many different ways, using a simulation game to facilitate conversation is one.

The group had six people. I was there as the facilitator/therapist. Normally in Bob’s Brain the players are all the brain of Bob, and make decisions for him. Since expressions of concern is a two sided game I divided the group into two different brains. One expresses concern, the other receives it. We did two scenarios everyone got to don both roles.

The first step was to make up who the characters were. One group made up a college aged man, Jefferson. The other, a group of women, made a female character, Kendal. We decided that they were a dating couple, since the characters had to have some kind of close relationship for expressing concern. The group members made up what the characters were doing.

In the first scenario they decided that Jefferson was shooting blow darts at pizza delivery men from his dorm room. This is a very odd story and has nothing to do with drinking but apparent actually happened in the last week. First I had the Jefferson players decide what they were thinking doing this. Their discussion mimics how our brains work. They decided he thought it was fun. Since expressions of concern mean Kendal had to know I turned it over that group to say how she knew. They said he had shot darts at her to.

The game consisted of discussions between the players inside the teams and between the teams. Issues of sexism, relationship, the Bro Code, and the God awful dumb things that guys do came up. Interesting stuff.

The female team decided that Kendal was a prostitute, which they dialed back to being an escort, who is not doing sex acts. I would never have come up with this but since they did we ran with it. It spurred even better discussions.

Normally groups take weeks to reach a point where they have good discussions. This was the first day these six were together but the game got them right into great work. The game provides emotional distance. Players may project thoughts onto it but isn’t that what makes for good discussion.

A nice intervention. Lots of cognitive behavioral learning.

Chris Engle LCSW LCAC


Working on a color pallet for a Wild Wild West Coast game

At Gen Con, Will Niebling suggested I make my Roman Carnival game a Barbary Coast shanghai game. I like the idea. The game uses area control and kidnapping other people’s people to sell to ships for their return voyages or to employ in your own markets. There are a lot of photos from 1850′s San Francisco to inspire the art but I need a color pallet to unify it. So, what about the pallet from the intro to the 1960′s TV show “The Wild Wild West”?

Looking into it shows there is a nice restriction to the colors, blues, greys, red-browns, and only a splash of purple. Skin tones were mainly light shades of blue! Need to do some simplification of the range but this should work very nicely. Also I loved the show, that along with “Star Trek” and “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” were my favorites.


MatrixGames accessible to visually impaired gamers

Met with Pat Tussing at Gen Con. Pat is a blind gamer who played in some of my Matrix Games ten to fifteen years ago. She really enjoyed them and was impressed at how accessible they were to her. I know that Mark Kinney has run Matrix Games on the actual play pod cast “The Gutter Skypes” and that one of their players is blind. Since many games are not accessible to visually impaired gamers (including the most recent Matrix Games), this is a subject of potential interest.

Recent Matrix Games use cards – character cards, location cards, action cards and scene cards. They have a picture and a phrase that acts as inspiration to the player. Players have a hand of action cards which limits their choices. This is helpful activating people’s creativity because too many choices leads a lot of players to decision gridlock. The trouble with this mechanic is that it totally shuts out the visually impaired. To make things accessible I need to go back to the total freedom of action of the earlier rules and have all the scenario information be verbal. The rules need to be very simple and guide the conversation of the game rather than rigidly control it. The following scenario is a shot at doing that. I will post it as a video on You Tube so that visually impaired gamers can start playing.

First the rules:

Matrix Games are a story telling game in which players make up stories about what happens next. Players champion one character but are able to say what other characters do as well. The players are the authors of the story rather than just actors. One player acts as the host of the game. Their job is to keep things moving by encouraging players to make the next action.

Games are about specific situations called scenarios. A scenario write up includes an introduction, a short description of the characters and locations, and the type of actions that have to happen for the story to unfold. The host reads the scenario to the players before the game begins. Players then pick characters and start playing.

Each turn one player starts. They make up a story about what happens next. This may be very short or long and detailed but something in between these extremes is best. The other players (including the host) get to make one addition or make one challenge to the tale. If a player adds to the story they say what happens next or what is happening elsewhere. No dice are rolled, additions automatically happen. If a player doesn’t like the initial move or an addition, they may use their one action to challenge the story. They say what happens instead. The two players roll two six-sided dice. The high roller wins, re-roll ties. The winner decides which action happens. Usually they pick their own action but they can pick the other if the other players persuade them to. Once everyone has had a chance to make something happen the turn ends. The host picks who starts the next turn. The game continues until the story is finished.

Players may make anything happen in their stories. They say who is there, what they do, and what results from it. They may move characters to a scene, make up new characters and locations and even jump back and forth in time. It is helpful to not do everything in a single turn. Leaving blanks allows other players to fill them in and share in the action. Blanks also create suspense. Players are free to make anything happen, which can be a little daunting to some people. The host can help them by saying “If this was any other kind of game, you were your character and this was the situation, what would you want to do first?” Whatever the player says is their story.

Optional Rule: Allow players to challenge any story that says their character does something they don’t like. The challenge must say what their character would do instead of the first action. This challenge does not count as the player’s one action a turn.

Next a scenario:

Sherlock Holmes and the Missing Madona

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are sitting in the parlor of their residence at 221B Baker Street when the solicitor of Sir John Wilkes arrives. The solicitor tells them of the resent tragic death of Sir Wilkes. The death is suspicious but has been ruled of natural cause by the coroner. A priceless icon of Mary should have been in the room Sir Wilkes’ body was found in but was gone. The authorities decline to investigate further.

Holmes and Watson take the case and immediately go to the scene of the death, the home of Sir John Wilkes.


The home of Wilkes: Sir Wilkes lives in a fashionable neighborhood in London with his wife, daughter and son. As a Member of Parliament he often entertained dignitaries but the house is modest, with a main house, a nice garden and a stable.

Mortuary: Wilkes was found dead in the study of his home but the body has been removed to the mortuary. The coroner has ruled it a natural death despite the fact that Wilkes face was contorted and his tongue was swollen and black.


Lady Wilkes: A middle aged woman who once was a beauty but who is now past her prime. She is distraught about her husband’s death.

Darby Wilkes: Sir Wilkes’ 17 year old son. A student at Oxford home on break. He is reading history and is bound of a career in the Foreign Service.

Emily Wilkes: Sir Wilkes’ 16 year old daughter. A pretty girl, but not too bright. She appears to be distracted by more than her father’s death.

Bridget Jones: The Welsh housekeeper. She is an older woman who has served the family for forty years. She sees all and tells all, but is she telling the truth?

Captain Reggie Wilkes: Wilkes’ first cousin. He is a dashing army officer who is bound for greatness. He shows an unnatural interest in the families’ fortune.

Nico Papadopolis: A Greek merchant financier. He is a guest at the house. He is somehow tied up in Wilkes’ fortune which was largely made in Greece.

Holmes and Watson are also characters but they have no relationship with the family prior to the beginning of the game so they are not involved in the death.

What needs to happen in the game?

This is a murder mystery game. One of the players is guilty of murder! The goal of the game is to make Sherlock Holmes appear brilliant by revealing who did it and having them arrested. While two players may run the detectives, all the players will uncover/make up clues. They may do this by saying what Holmes finds or by having other people find them and show them to Holmes.

In the first part of the game the players will make up clues that show who had the means, motive and opportunity to commit murder. Players may offer alibis for their own character or plant clues that point suspicion elsewhere. Each new clue narrows down who could have done it. When the finger points to one or two players someone may accuse a character. They do this by saying who they think did it. So players make Holmes look good and pin the murder on one of the characters.

After the accusation the player running Holmes explains the case to the players, spelling out how the clues lead to the conclusion that the person is guilty. If the accused is championed by another player they get to point out holes in the case. If they players like they can then vote on whether they think the accused is guilty or not. Majority vote wins.

Thoughts on how this could be distributed to gamers.

When I was talking with Pat, the problems that loomed largest was how a game to the blind could be sold. Clearly the text of the game must be spoken which suggests it could go up as a You Tube file easily. The down fall of that is that it would be free. No payday for me. On thinking more, why not do the game up as a CD? It could hold the rules and many different scenarios. Each game would need appropriate background music to sound professional but I don’t see why that couldn’t work. There must be some sound engineer gamers around Bloomington I could talk to.

Anyway, the game above is ready to play. Please play and spread it on to others.

Chris Engle


Working on art games

Work on Undead America, Vanity Fair, Supply Line, and Alea Jacta Est (a Roman themed gambling game) and progressing apace. They will all be ready by Gen Con. Along with making the games I’m making frames to display them on walls. The first experiments are in and look promising. I will get some pictures up soon.


Origins 2014

I was over at Origins last week. Ran Fairy Tale Assassin League: City of Broken Dreams, Die Romeo Die, Hungry Dragon, and Bob’s Brain. I recorded a number of the games and am slowly getting them up on youtube. Things worked out well. Looking forward to Gen Con.