Matrix Game Archive Project

In the Spring Hamster Press got dropped by my sales guy. We just hadn’t made anything new and sales on the old game was not strong. I fully understood the decision. It spurred me to let go of the idea of running a game company. I’ll still write games but I’ll sell them in a small way, on line or in very small handmade print runs. But only the stuff I’m interested in. I’m done with chasing the dream of commercial success. It has eluded me, for a lot of reasons…

This letting go means changing my role with Matrix games. Previously I’ve felt a mission to push them. Now they can take care of themselves. Others can take up the cause or it can end. It’s up to God.

To clear the decks I’m going back over all the work I’ve done in the last 27 years. I’m making a collection of all the drafts of Matrix game rule to put into a volume set. It will show the complete history of my work on Matrix games. Once I’m done I can fully let them go and move on to new projects. I hope to have the documents collected by the end of December 2015. There will be some editing work to do after that. Hopefully it won’t take too long.


Here are the rules I used in my convention games this year…


This is a story telling game and you are the game host. You’ve gathered
together one to six people and are ready to play. Great! Here is how you
do it.


The rule book which includes characters, locations, and shadows.

Characters do thing. They are who the story is about.
Locations are where things happen. Place characters in locations.
Shadows are unknown things. Players define what they are during the

Components not included:

A Scene token to show where action is happening.
Two six-sided dice for when players disagree about what happens.
Miniature figures to represent characters.
A Map to show where locations are.
Blank tokens to show where shadows are.
Use at least six characters and three locations per game. Put two shadows
in each location. Other characters, locations and shadows may be added
during play.


Here is what you do as host.

Set up the game. Lay out characters, locations, and shadows on a table.
Pick a problem for the players to solve.
You pick one player to be the trouble maker, everyone else works for success.
Start playing immediately. Teach by doing.
Help the players come up with ideas and keep things moving.
And occasionally add in new problems to guide the story to a climax.
Above all else be a good party host and a fun game will follow.


Players do not run characters in Matrix games. Everyone works together
to make a good story. Most of the players work for success. They try to
make different character’s plans succeed. One player is the trouble maker.
They point out problems in plans and make the other players work for
success. Trouble making doesn’t mean being a jerk. Make the players work
but also work with them because that makes for the best stories.
Players may secretly pick a character they want to win but keep it secret
till the end of the game!


This is a story telling game which means players make up what happens
and then add to it. Bit by bit a story builds up. The story is about the
characters and how they solve the opening problem of the game. There is
no right way to do this so be prepared to see extreme creativity.

Here are all the rules the players need to know.

Put a scene token next to a character, location or shadow and say what happens.
Move characters and shadows as you speak.
Say what everyone does, not just what one character does.
Anyone can grab the scene token and start a new scene.
Use shadows to keep everyone guessing.
Try to connect what you say to what’s happened before.
Interrupt at any time to add to or change another player’s scene.
What you say happens unless someone asks you to roll for it.
Roll 7 or more on two six-sided dice to win.
If you win the roll, your action happens and cannot be changed.
If you fail the roll, your action does not happen but may happen in the next scene.
Keep on adding to a scene as long as you wish.
The scene ends when the scene token is moved.
Be polite, don’t hog play. Let other people speak.

So basically the players talk their way through the game. There are no
winners or losers. Everyone wins if the story is good.


Five players gather for a game: the Host, Ann, Bob, Cathy, and David.
The host picks a problem for the game. For this example the problem is
“Who is in charge?”

The Host hands the scene token to Ann.
Ann places the token next to a group of characters and makes up a scene.
A: The hero walks up to a potential ally and tells them what is happening.
The ally is amazed. (Ann moves the hero as she speaks).
Bob jumps in with an addition.
B: The villain overhears them and realizes the hero is lying about them.
Boy are they angry.
Cathy jumps in with a change.
C: No actually the villain is happy and the characters aren’t alone. (Cathy
moves a shadow up to the group.)
David adds to that.
D: The villain moves up and joins the conversation. (David moves the
villain and moves the shadow behind the hero). This unnerves the hero.
The Host adds to that but gets challenged and has to roll for it.
H: The hero makes an excuse and leaves. (Host moves The hero out of
the scene.) Once the hero is gone the villain tells the ally a lie that makes
the hero look bad.

Ann doesn’t like this because she is working for the success of the hero.
She tells the host to roll. The host rolls a 6 on two six-sided dice. They
need 7 or better to succeed so the action fails and will not happen in this
scene. Ann moves the hero back where they were.

Players continue adding to the scene till someone moves the scene token
and starts a new scene. There is no particular turn order, jump in when
you have an idea.


Simply put, the players talk their way through a story, making up actions
inspired by the idea of trouble or success, trying to solve problems and
make a fun tale.

The host does have a few more powers which they can trot out as needed.
Make up new problems to keep the game focused.

Outright veto any action that is socially unacceptable. Use this sparingly.
Pause the game for breaks and socializing.
Ask a player to start a new scene.
Move the scene token for them when players slide into a new scene through additions.
The scene token focuses play. Keep a close eye on it.
Ask players to make arguments to save hurt characters. They must roll 7+ to succeed.
The host is the voice of reason, keep the peace and keep things moving.
And lastly, the host is also a player. They add to scenes just like everyone else.

This is a game like few others. It may take a while to get used to.

Here are some suggestions to help players start.

Nothing happens in the game except what you say happens.
You are not one character. Say what everyone does.
You may use a shadow to make up new locations, characters, and shadows as needed.
Replace revealed shadows with new figures.
Use shadows to cover up who is doing what until you reveal it.
Make actions that change things. Solve or create problems.
When in doubt think about your role: success or trouble.
Don’t overlook peaceful solutions. They complicate the hell out of things!
Keep actions simple. Don’t try to do everything at once.
You can create tension by telling half a story, leaving it for someone else to finish.
Always remember, everyone wants the hero to win. But you might not agree on who
the hero is.
And once the opening problem is solved, the game can end.

Matrix games are fast. They usually only last a hour so you can play
several in a day. Link games together by using the same characters and
locations but giving them a new problem. Each game is a episode in a
bigger story.


Players move characters and shadows as they speak but how far can they

As far as you want them to.

If a character moves away from the scene token, they move out of the
scene. Characters within a hand span of the scene may move into it. (A
hand span is the distance from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little
finger.) Move the scene token to move people outside that circle.


The game is written to be played face to face, with miniatures on a map but that is
not the only way it can be done. Players may dispense with the map and miniatures
and describe where characters are. This approach works well for play by mail or on
line games. Another approach is to move the map and miniatures on line and play
on any available virtual reality platform. No matter what the medium the game
plays the same.


Games are about solving a problem. The host makes up a problem and picks a cast
of characters and locations for the players to use. Problems fit the genre. In a mystery
it may be “Who committed the crime?” In a horror game it may be “What is
going on? And how do we stop it?” In a spy game it may be “Steal the plans for the
new fighter plane.” The book includes pre-written scenarios but after a few games,
creative hosts may begin making up their own problems.


At the beginning of a mystery story no one knows what’s happened. Clues are revealed,
the hero detective makes brilliant deductions, and eventually it all points to
one guilty character. Players reveal clues by making them up. Without any master
plan they come together to solve the mystery. The game ends when one players
sums it up and tells how the detectives explains the crime.

Players may choose to end the game with a trial. One player presents the prosecution
case. Another player presents the defense. The remaining players form the
jury. They decide what number the prosecutor needs to roll above on two six-sided
dice to convict.


Horror games start off with a curious event that foreshadows evil. The basic problem
is to reveal the evil and defeat it. As players make up terrible events after
terrible event the evil is revealed. In this way it is a lot like a mystery game but the
game ends when the players confront the terror. They don’t have to win or survive
but they do have to face their fears. If the hero tries to run away from the terror, it
follows them. There is no escape.


Spy games and crime games are about planning and relationships. The spy has
a mission but the police and counter-intelligence have a mission to stop them.
The spy recruits agents and makes plan while the police set up defenses and try
to uncover and infiltrate spy rings. Eventually the spy makes their move and tries
to get away.

The host can up the tension of spy games by giving the players more and more
problems based on what they do. Each action suggests a negative counter-action so
player reap what they sow.


Campaign games are made up of repeated games using the same world, a few core
characters with similar opening problems. The players agree up front to not kill
any core characters and to build on the previous stories. For instance, a murder
mystery game might use Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as core characters with
a rotating cast of suspects.

Individual sessions play as described above. The linkage comes from what happens
after the game. Each player gets to make up an event in the game world. The host
uses these events as inspiration for making up the next game. Player suggest possible
characters, locations and opening problems in what they make up. The events
also put the game world in motion so nothing stays the same. Over time events
tell stories that might not come up in sessions just like currents events happen
around us now. They make the game world richer even if they don’t directly affect
the games played.

The host has final say in making scenarios but it is useful to discuss it with the
players so campaign play is a negotiation about what happens next.


Feel free to add in any extra structure that you want to to your games. There
are many ways to do this: go around the table taking turns, spend tokens to buy
additions, add “to happen” roll, rate rolls on likely hood of happening, etc. But I
don’t think you need to. If you trust your players and keep asking “What happens
next?” A good game emerges.


Major culling on the page

After a year of major re-evaluation I’ve made some decisions on what to do with Hamster Press. I now have a rules set I want to stick with for the future. This means the old stuff is going away. The card games of the last few years will remain because I can POD these from China but the old board games are going. Consequently I’m going to remove them from the products list. I’ll sell what is left on ebay to clear them out.

I realized that I can’t really make board games profitably. This means I’ll get rid of my 1000lb guillotine paper cutter and the small book press. I can still make books profitably so the smyth sewer stays. This will free up a lot of room in the workshop so I can focus on making small game books. I’ll still do the odd card game but my Matrix games will largely go back to book form (4.25×5.5 inch hardbacks). This is a technology that will last a 100 years. You can always read a book!

The other big change will be the addition of a forum to the page. Years ago I had a yahoo group on which we played games. I let it slide when I started focusing on making games for sale. The new forum will be an ongoing place to play Matrix games. I’ll run them by my rules but the forum will be open to other Matrix game rules as well (there are a lot of ways to do them). You’ll need to register with the page to use the forum but beyond that nothing else.

So, now to do some culling!


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.