Home Forums General Game Design What is a narrative wargame?

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    Avatar photoPhil Dutré

    Narrative wargaming for me is about putting the narrative first instead of winning the battle. The setup of most wargaming is two sides vs each other, and one side wins the battle and hence the game.

    A narrative game deviates from that in that the winning the battle is not the object of the game, but developing the story is.

    In my gaming group we have developed several narrative techniques that explore such setups. One succesful experiment involved many players, and to each player objectives were given that had to be reached. Objectives could be related to both armies. E.g. “Charge with cav unit x”, or “hide from the battle with inf unit y”. Each player takes turns, influencing the flow of the battle, usually through matrix-style mechanics, possibly using voting such as in committee games. But the battle is only the backdrop against which the individual story of units and officers is written. The battle is not the goal of the game, but the various objectives of all sorts of units and individuals on the field. I wrote this up for Battlegames #33 a few years ago.

    Another experiment involved the GM telling a story about an historical battle, moving the actors (units and individuals) around the table to illustrate what is happening. All players have interrupt cards, listing verbs, adjectives, etc., which they can use to interrupt the story and influence the story. It is up to the GM to incorporate these interrupts in the main storyline. Players “win” by trying to influence the story the most.

    Anyway, i do think that elements from storygames can be included in wargaming, but I also think we then need to reinvent  the classic setup and break away from the classic each-player-controls-one-army setup.


    Avatar photoPhil Dutré

    I remember reading about a concept a while back where the opposing players would make a small list of arguments why a particular encounter would be resolved to their advantage, the referee would then evaluate the reasonings and make a decision or a suitable random roll. Always wanted to try it out.


    That’s exactly what matrix-games are all about.  It can work very well, given all players have the right mindset.

    Avatar photoMcLaddie

    Narrative wargaming for me is about putting the narrative first instead of winning the battle. The setup of most wargaming is two sides vs each other, and one side wins the battle and hence the game.

    A narrative game deviates from that in that the winning the battle is not the object of the game, but developing the story is.


    Well, I can see that distinction.  A ‘tournament game’ can be the same game system as a ‘narrative game’, only the purpose of play is different, and thus all the player interactions and processes around play.   There ceratinly are ways to emphasize that story aspect of play, mechanics and processes that will enhance the narrative of the wargame vs a strictly competitive game.   I think that sometimes that is lost in discussing game design.  Why gamers engage in play has a lot to do with how the game is played, even with the same rules.

    Matrix games demand a lot of that pre-purposing of play–that mind-set you mention.   Matrix games were more about the decisions than the game, the choices than the objectives being won.

    Avatar photoChris Engle

    Here is a link to a video of a narrative war game/Matrix game that I did at the Seven Years War Association con this year. It is the first of five videos. Pretty well shows all the rules I use.


    Chris Engle

    Avatar photoChris Engle

    A bit of a flame war here.

    I just joined on referral from Jonathan Keepers. He said some good stuff was happening here.


    So, narrative war games, certainly the main focus of my work for almost thirty years. Any game has story elements to it – if just what we tell of our glorious victories. Some games are much more focused on narrative though.

    I’ve always thought narrative games were not simulations because they have little on no algorithm to them. They are useful in testing out what people can imagine, which is useful but it isn’t simulation per se.

    The Matrix games played in the UK grew out of the game I did in 1992. My own work has since gone off in very different directions. It uses a less formal dialog between the players to tell the story. But there are rules. The rules dictate how dialogues are run, rather than what the players do with them.


    Here are the rules in short:


    The game host poses a problem that is to be solved by playing the game. In a war game it might be a mission.

    A player jumps in and points to a location and says what happens there. Moving figures as they speak.

    Other players may jump in and add to that or change it. That second bit is important. If I don’t like what you’ve said I will say it didn’t happen.

    So far there are no dice rolls. All the actions happen but when people disagree (which comes up when people start shooting down other player’s additions) dice rolls happen.

    Any player can require a player to roll for their action. If they roll 7+ on 2d6 the action happens and it can not be changed. If they miss the roll, that action can never happen in that scene.

    The game host can veto world or fun destroying actions but mainly they just keep the game moving by encouraging play. They are players as well so no one if fully in charge of anything.

    And that is essentially it. Very simple rules, but not a complete absence of rules.


    What results is a game where players talk their way through a story. This is different from the UK Matrix game which is much more formal.


    Here is a link to a short video from a Sherlock Holmes game I ran last month. It shows all the rules in action.


    Chris Engle


    Avatar photoMartinR

    I remember reading about a concept a while back where the opposing players would make a small list of arguments why a particular encounter would be resolved to their advantage, the referee would then evaluate the reasonings and make a decision or a suitable random roll.

    That is a Matrix game, played (and designed) loads of those over the years. Narrative is involved, but it also involves some judgement, dice throws etc.

    I’ve also played several times actual ‘Narrative Games’ using Jim Wallmans ‘Dialogue Game’ rules – no luck, all the actions and outcomes are determined by the players, but it is still a game, and not merely a description of unfolding events.


    Bizarrely we found the latter a very good fit for ‘Dads Army’ scenarios!





    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke

    Avatar photokyoteblue

    Hey Chris thanks for joining up here. !!

    Avatar photoJozisTinMan

    Chris, it is great to see you here!  I have been a Matrix game fan for years.  I doubt if you remember, but I played in a game you ran at Millennium in Austin about 15 years ago. I think it was Valentine Baker in a duel accused of murder, I was an Anglican priest, and we convicted the scheming Russian in the end.

    Trying to adapt Matrix games for my wife’s 8th grade history classroom, I am going to work on it over the summer.

    For anyone that has not tried a Matrix game in any of it’s incarnations, I heartily recommend it.


    Avatar photoBandit


    I saw, but did not play, in your game at The Seven Years War Convention. I’d heard through the grape vine it went quite well.


    The Bandit

    Avatar photoChris Engle

    You’ve inspired me. Here are the rules to a war game Matrix game…




    Over the last nearly thirty years Matrix games have been known as about campaigns. They are little used to run battles. That is about to change. What follows are rules on how to run miniature war games with a Matrix game. Please read through the rules before playing. They are short. Watch a few videos of games played using the rules or play in a game run by an experienced player. Then dive into your own game.




    The rules are not written for any particular scale. I use them for 15mm and 25mm figures but other scales work as long as the figures look right with the terrain.


    Rulers are not used in this game. Movement is done by hand spans (a hand span is the distance from the thumb to the small finger) and cubits (the distance from the elbow to the end of your fingers).




    One player takes on the role of game host. They provide the miniatures and terrain for the game. They decide what the game is about and what missions the two sides have.


    It is important that the game table look good. One of the biggest joys in playing miniatures games is the beauty of terrain and gorgeous miniatures. Having a great set up attracts players, makes people want to know what you are doing and brings new people into the hobby.




    All Matrix game war games are meeting engagements. Two sides move scouts of the board to find out where the other side is so they can fight. The first part of the game is about scouting, then players launch attack, a side is defeated and runs, and the the survivors are pursued.


    Once players are comfortable with the rules they may try out other types of engagements.




    Unlike in other war games, the players do not run one side of the battle. Instead they run both sides at the same time. Players are divided into two groups. Most players work for “success.” They work to make plans come off right. A few players are “trouble makers.” They work to complicate plans and point out how the fall apart.


    Players secretly pick a side they want to win he game but when they act in the game they say what both sides do. Keep the side you favor a secret of the trouble makers will know exactly what to do to mess with you.




    Scouts: Units, usually cavalry, that search out the enemy. They establish each side’s forces are as the game is played, so no one knows where the sides are at the beginning of the game.


    Shadows: Blank units that represent where enemy units might be. They might also be other dangers a side might face. The players determine what the shadows stand for as the game is played. New shadows can be added to the battlefield as the game is played.


    Locations: Key terrain features or locations are marked on the battlefield. They act as un-moveable shadows because they represent potential danger.


    Infantry: Units that form the main battle line. They appear on the board where shadows or locations are. They may also appear on the side of the board or deploy from behind already placed infantry. Place one unit a turn. It may take a while to fully deploy an army. They move and fire one hand span.


    Artillery: Cannon units that can attack at long range. They appear like infantry. They move one hand span but may fire one cubit.




    Each side starts with a box of miniatures. These represent the total forces that could be at the battle. They might not all appear though. Place a goodly amount of shadows on the board. It is possible that the sides are already nearly deployed. Other shadows will move onto the board to show potential reinforcements. Each side starts with a goodly number of scouts at the edge of the board. They move up in the scouting part of the game.




    The game includes one action token. This is placed on the battlefield to show where action is happening. This token is important! Keep an eye on it at all time.




    Occasionally the game host will ask players to make a general move. When this happens players start moving all scout, shadows and already placed infantry and artillery. Each unit moves up to one hand span (the distance from the thumb to the pinky). Place your hand next to the moving unit, touching the side of the unit. Move it so it touches the other finger. Units end up pointed in whatever direction the player wants. If you don’t like a player’s move correct it. If players dispute corrections place the action token there and start play.


    General moves do not happen often. More often moves happen around the action token.


    When the action token is on the board, players may move units within a hand span of the token. If you want to move other units pick up the token and move it next to the unit you want to move. Units move one hand span.


    There is no turn order or complicated movement rules in this game. Movements happens as players speak. Players move units as they describe what happens.




    No one knows where the forces are at the beginning of the game. Players determine the placement of the armies by scouting. Move scouts to within one hand span of a shadow or location and say what you find there. If the scout finds troops place one unit on the map. If they find it empty remove the shadow unit.


    Scouts may clash with other scouts and drive them off.


    It is a good idea to scout all shadows and locations so you don’t find an unexpected force on your rear.




    They is no order of play in this game. A player grabs the action token and places it on the board. They then say a little story about what happens there. This will include what all the units do (not just what one side does) and describes the outcome. This will include movement, scouting, placing units on the board (only one at a time) and of course combat.


    The only thing that happens in the game is what the players say happens. So games consist of players talking their way through a battle.


    What players say, happens. No dice rolls needed. BUT other players may then jump in and add to or completely change what you said. No roll needed. If a player doesn’t like what another player says, they can ask them to roll. The player rolls 2d6. If they roll 7+ their action happens. It can not be changed by subsequent players. If they miss the roll, their action absolutely does not happen until the action token gets moved.


    Players can move the action token whenever they wish. This ends one scene and starts another but players may stay with a scene as long as they wish.




    Players may place the action token next to shadows or locations. They then say what happens like normal but do not need to say who is doing the action. This allows players to build up tension in the game by keeping some information secret. Other players may say who did the hidden act in later actions.




    This is the most curious war game ever. There are no specific combat rules. Combat happens but it happens inside the actions players describe. Each turn of the game players step up and describe what characters do, who moves where, where fights happen and what results from them. They describe what BOTH SIDES do. They describe how the overall fights comes out rather than say what one side does and use rules and dice rolls to determine who wins. It is a totally different way to run a game.


    Combat descriptions allow the players to geek out and show off all their knowledge of history, tactics, training, weapons, morale, and creative writing. As a general rule combat takes three descriptions to do. The first action describes the sides closing with one another. The second describes the fight. The third describes which side runs away. The exact details of what happens in each step are up to the players and they may take combat description in different directions if they wish.


    It is important to remember that players are not actively running sides. They instead work for success or trouble. Success means making the side you like win. Trouble means complicating the lives and plans of the other players. People may favor a side but should keep it secret because it tells the trouble makers just what they need to do to mess with you. In the end all the players want the battle resolved so at some point trouble makers need to let things drop.




    Anything can happen in action descriptions. This means that players can explore movie scene like exchanges between people as well as fight. Battle may rage in one action and switch to the cowardly poltroons like Sir Harry Flashman the next. Armies may come up next to one another and not fight. Sides may let opponents get away without firing or come out of their trenches at Christmas for a friendly football match. You never know what will happen.


    It is all the other things that can happen besides combat that Matrix games shine in. Regular war games do a poor job at allowing any action to be meaningful that is outside their algorithm. Since everything is description in these games that is not the case here. There is no algorithm so everything is equally meaningful.




    In stories events happen and build on one another to tell the tale. One action leads to another and we attribute it to causality. In games with algorithms this is true. In Matrix games actions are built on consensus, with a few dice rolls thrown in, so actions come from player choice rather than being a simulative prediction.


    As actions happen, results build up that eventually lead to the conclusion that one side wins or loses. When one side has been driven from the field, or both sides are held at bay in a bloody draw, the game can end.




    Matrix games are conversations between the players. The players literally talk their way through the action. There is no order of play so players jump in as the spirit of creativity moves them. This makes action fast and free flowing. You never know what will happen next. It doesn’t really matter what happens next as long as it logically flows from what happened before.


    Player can come and go from Matrix games without causing harm. Actually all the people standing or walking by the table are players. Of course those paying closer attention will have more impact.


    So Matrix games are chaos. Embrace the chaos! Enjoy the unexpected events that crop up. Be amazed by the bravery and glory of individuals. Laugh at the foolishness, cowardness and stupidity of other moves. That is the fun of these kinds of games. They poke holes in our illusion of control so if you want a game to prove you are superior to everyone else, you will not find this fun.




    One player takes on the role of the game host. They gather the gamers together, provide the terrain and miniatures, make up the mission and generally act as a party host. The host is a player like everyone else but they have a few more responsibilities and powers. They do the following:


    Encourage players to do things. Help them out with ideas and praise.

    Keep things moving by asking “What happens next?”

    Keep track of the action token and move it around as players switch when the action is happening.

    Generally keep the peace between the players.

    Call breaks as needed for snacks, socializing or going to the toilet.

    And vetoing any action that is socially unacceptable.


    The last power is the big one. The game host is ultimately in charge of their event. They can shut down any attempt to hijack or wreck it. This doesn’t come up too often but when it does the host has the power to end it.




    These rules work for historical or fantastical games. They are generic. The rules only describe how players hold the conversation that is the game. They don’t say what the game is about. The game host needs to educate the players on the genre they are playing before the game begins. That clues the players in to the matrix of that world.




    The term Matrix game dates back to 1988. The design goal was to make a game that used words rather numbers to describe the world. Action descriptions show this in action now but there is another part of the game that most seldom see. We understand the world by the information we possess about it. We form that in a matrix of memories that tell us what things are and how they interact. Each action that happens is a new bit of information that gets added to the matrix. So games are always about the matrix of what we know. Maybe at some point in the future people will be able to record what mental matrices actually contain but for now we can’t. We just accept that they are there.


    Chris Engle

    May 14, 2015


    Avatar photoIvan Sorensen

    Thanks for sharing. I’ve been fascinated by the idea since reading about it many years ago.

    Are there any order players go in or is it completely free form? I imagine you’ll have to moderate a bit to ensure that more vocal players don’t dominate over the less vocal ones?

    Could you post a short example of how a game might go?


    Avatar photoChris Engle

    I didn’t include it in this rules set but in others I have a line about “Be polite, let someone else speak before adding anything else.” That seems to work.


    The free form stuff does seem to work without a lot of game host intervention. The first video I shared shows the wargame in play but it was a guerrilla war game (reindeer herders versus Russians in the 1740’s – honestly a real war!). I’ll add some more videos of non-war games that use the free form approach so you can see it is action.


    Cthulhu Madness

    Sherlock Holmes


    I like these play the game on the map games. They are so easy to set up and run and still draw players in because of the figures.

    I do figure that the game will probably work best for 2 to 6 players. When I’ve done games for 8 players it seems a bit strained.


    Avatar photoIvan Sorensen

    Oh I missed the video. I shall educate myself.
    Thank you so much for taking the time to share with us, by the way.

    Avatar photoChris Engle

    The Chukchi video is in 5 parts so you can see the whole game. Also on my channel are lots of other videos of different ways I’ve run Matrix games (with cards and such).


    Avatar photokyoteblue

    I loved playing in Chris’s Cthulhu madness game !!!

    Avatar photoIvan Sorensen

    I am reminded a lot of the “Mythic” RPG system / GM emulator, which runs on a series of questions.

    That one uses a table where you decide what the odds are, and roll yes/no, along with a chance of something unexpected happening.

    So the players may ask “are there any guards in front of the house” Yes “Are they heavily armed” No, etc.

    Avatar photoSam Mustafa

    Hey Chris, great to see you online.

    How would you use this game to introduce a total newbie to a period?  For example, if I knew nothing about, say, Napoleonics, then I wouldn’t feel comfortable making any sort of assertions about what happens and why.  (Or if I attempted to do so, I’d get all sorts of things wrong and thus be constantly challenged by the others and probably lose the challenge every time.)  In a normal game, the rules act as a final moderator of what can and can’t happen, and thus the Newbie isn’t necessarily disadvantaged because all players, him included, are governed by the rules.

    But in this case,  are you assuming that the players must have a roughly equal understanding of the period that they’re gaming?

    Avatar photoPatrice

    o-o  I never heard about this …but it’s interesting!


    Avatar photoMartinR

    Nice to see you here Chris.

    Sam, in answer to your question, yes it helps if the players have some understanding of the period/situation however you can cover a lot in the briefings and given the relatively small number of decisions (arguments) compared to a ‘normal’ game it doesn’t have to be in enormous detail.

    The hardest thing is getting players ot understand that a) they can’t change the state of something that has happened unless some external circumstance has changed (ie the natural tendency to argue that a successful argument has actually failed) b) they can make arguments which affect any and everything, not just ‘their stuff’.





    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke

    Avatar photoChris Engle

    Jonathan was right, there are some interesting people on this forum!


    Sam: Great to hear from you! I came across my copy of your tank game last week – Battle Line? I really need to clean more often. As to your question.


    I don’t think these kinds of games are good at teaching players about a period. They really need to know about it before starting. At least read a Sharpe novel before playing Napoleonics – but no need to read War and Peace (I haven’t). Fortunately most games come with a rich knowledge of periods. We could argue that most of what they know is wrong but they know enough to string together something coherent.

    I think new players would do better in a non-historical game. I’m really interested in doing Sci Fi games (which will likely be hidden Vietnam war scenarios) with aliens. I want the players to get a “We really shouldn’t be here” vibe. If new players have seen a Sci Fi movie they know enough to play – loud booms, flashing lasers, soldiers falling down, argh. These games are not serious so people making up foolish stuff is not a problem.

    Also I don’t see this as a style of play that will appeal broadly. It is not a test of tactical skill and the crunchy bits are non-existent. It is more of an experiment to show how war games can be run in a completely different way. They work and are fun but it is a different kind of fun.


    Curiously the game is easier to teach to newbies because they don’t have the assumptions experienced gamers have. But it really isn’t hard to get experienced gamers to learn how to play. I just jump straight into play and teach the rules as I go. There aren’t many so it doesn’t take long. I guess that the games are not satisfying to players wanting a crunchy game. I remember reading Paddy Griffith’s explanation of the Mugger Game – that regular gamers felt they had been mugged and not gotten a real game. This is just a variant of that. The difference being that the dialog between players is all about the narrative, where as in a Mugger Game you discuss rules to handle situations (or at least that is what we did in the Mugger Game Howard Whitehouse ran that I played in).


    I’m presently working on making Matrix game books to sell through stores. Each book allows for a lot of different games – sort of a mix and match scenario builder. One book per genre. First up Sherlock Holmes and Lovecraft’s Cthulhu horror stories. Later on I’ll do a Nazi spy one, Sci Fi, Pulp action, maybe a political intrigue one, and a D+D like fantasy town game. Oh, and a war game, but I don’t see that having a big audience. After I’m done with these I’ll just run games and push those products. I’m really satisfied with this game. I’m hoping I can be done with the infinite re-writing of rules that has been the last 15 years.

    The books should be cool. I’m a decent book binder now so I can smyth sew them in house. They will be a pocket size book so I can print them B/W on a laser printer. Very inexpensive to make and when I put them in a hard case, should last for 50 to 100 years. Think I can make them for less that a dollar a unit. I’m excited!

    Avatar photoChris Engle


    Thanks for playing! It was a fun game. I loved how we stopped the mind controlling flat worms by increasing the amount of salt in the British diet.

    Avatar photoPhil Dutré

    I like this style of gaming a lot, and in my gaming group (as I mentioned before in this thread), we have experimented quite a lot with this format. A full account of these experiments can be read in Battlegames #33 (probably still available from Henry Hyde’s site as a back issue), but here are some highlights:

    – There is a big battle set up

    – each players gets 3 (secret and random) missions, which can tie in to both sides. E.g. “Unit x has to lead the cav charge” “Keep unit Y out of battle” “Try to perform a two-flank attack with the army …”. These are written from the point-of view of local field commanders, to add character and perspective.

    – Players in turn can make a suggestions about what happens next. We have experimented with a GM assigning probabilities, with voting systems, veto-tokens (once per game), tokens that allowed certain actions (one side or the other, general environment, both sides, …).

    – Once a course of action has been decided, the action takes place and is resovled using an underlying combat engine (if needed).




    Avatar photoChris Engle

    Sounds cool! Just the kind of game I’d like to play. Not too hard on the crunch.


    I’ve played around with the same kinds of mechanics. They all work. They each bring slightly different flavors to play. Right now I’m really liking embracing the chaos of having everything happen and only rolling when the players can’t agree but all the mechanics work.

    Avatar photoMcLaddie


    Thanks for the video and rules. In listening to the Sherlock video, the dialog process reminded me of doing role play games with my two boys when they were young. [Ghost Busters RPG was a big one with ghosts being the enemy]  Very free form.  Great player involvement and tangental thinking.] It would seem that the host/facilitator would be really necessary to give ‘form’ to the process when players can add just about anything anywhere to play.   It could be said that Matrix games are umpired games considering the roles the host has in the play process.

    I’m not clear how the two ‘groups’ operate as separate groups if both sides can pick which side they want to win and/or make decisions for either side in the game. Even after watching the videos, the roles each person plays or can play within the group isn’t clear. Is that something the host moderates? Because of this, the use of scouts and hidden pieces isn’t clear. “No one knows where the forces are at the beginning of the game. Players determine the placement of the armies by scouting.”   If no one knows, then players will want to know where ‘their side’ is as much as the other that they don’t want to win.  That is, do they attempt to scout their own ‘side’?

    I noticed in the Sherlock video that you prompted the silent players a number of times and at least one sat out the process a good portion of the time. For a fun play, that isn’t really an issue.  I notice it because as an educator, that isn’t something you want to see too often in an educational game… everyone needs a role, needs to be engaged as a group.  [such are the demands of learning…]

    Your use of ‘Matrix Games’ threw me a first because of the Game Theory term, but they are obviously different.  However, there are folks that are very deep into your form of Matrix games for wargaming purposes. Of course, for military/learning purposes, they have taken it to a more complex level.

    Review: Matrix Games for Modern Wargaming

    I don’t remember if you have been to the Connection Conferences or not.

    When the Matrix game is so dependent on what knowledge/invention the gamers bring to the table, Fantasy and SF or the fictional worlds of Sherlock Holmes would seem to the easier match.  In the Siberia game, you continued to inject information/historical context for the players.  Not a bad thing, but certainly something that makes the host all that more important.


    Avatar photoIvan Sorensen

    I imagine in an educational context, you could institute a lose turn structure where you just go around the table and let people make decisions.

    Avatar photoChris Engle

    Embrace the chaos.


    This is the thing that is helping me the most with Matrix games now. I’ve tried imposing order on them in many different ways and am finding that just going with it seems to work best.

    When I assign people sides out in the open, partisanship jumps in in a very disruptive way. When everyone is trying to tell a good story, it doesn’t come in as much. We, as players, are surprised by what emerges as much as the scouts finding them are. Everyone can guess from looking at the terrain where the enemy likely is and so they act accordingly, just like a real soldier should, but you just don’t know when things are going to go off message.

    I think the moderator is very important. I decided to just trust in expert hosts – like D+D relies on good GMs. People will have to learn it by seeing it done but once they see it, many will pick it up fast. With historical subject it is a chance to be the professor. I love geeking out this way. In Holmes games it is more just asking that same question over and over “What happens next?”


    I use Matrix games in pychotherapy (my day job). In that setting the host is the therapist, and the game is about exploring possibilities. I think it does a good job teaching cognitive behavioral therapy ideas. My alcohol clients like it.


    And Ivan is right. The lose structure allows the host to add in ad hoc structure as needed. That requires an on the ball host but as already said I think it needs that anyway.


    Got to head home now.



    Avatar photokyoteblue

    Love it that so many creative gamers are coming to TWW !!

    Avatar photoIvan Sorensen

    I’ll have something to show you guys in the next week or two, though it’ll be closer to the Mythic system, than a Matrix game (if you are familiar with the Mythic RPG).

    Still in the vein of narrative talkie talkie games. Did a test run with my 7 year old, and he cleared a German village of Wehrmacht stragglers like a champ.

    Avatar photoPhil Dutré

    I imagine in an educational context, you could institute a lose turn structure where you just go around the table and let people make decisions.

    That’s exactly what we did in our matrix-inspired games.

    Every player in turn gets to formulate the next course of action, and other players can amend to it or propose alternatives. However, there will be a vote if there is more than 1 option, with ties resolved in favour of the player whose turn it is. Since we use voting tokens, and every player can put more tokens on the table if they think it is an important issue for their missions, the original proposal can still be outvoted.

    (voting tokens are lost, but one can also skip a turn, and gain D3+3 voting tokens back).

    Avatar photoMcLaddie

    Phil:  That’s a clever way to process things. I like it.  I also can see how that would work educationally as long as the group[s] weren’t too large.  From the looks of Chris’s games, there were 3-6 players.


    Well, I wouldn’t say it is necessarily chaos, except from the host’s point of view because the players are creating the story, the chain of events for themselves rather than the rules.  It just makes it hard for an outsider to follow what’s happening when.

    All games are narrative, being a string of events created by participant decisions just as all novels are narratives.  But within that there are many different ways to tell that story.  Story tellers [and excellent teachers often are good story-tellers] see the process as a interrelated triangle: Story teller, story, and audience.   For games, it is the game designer and/or umpire/host/game master,  the game design [structured story line] and the players.

    Within that triangle relationship, who tells the story, creates the story and is the recipient of the story can change and be mixed.  With most wargames, the designer rigorously details the story processes and parameters… i.e. the decisions the players can and can’t make in living out the story.  Often what gamers do is change the story by changing the rules, applying them in different ways to different eras etc.  Some designers even encourage that by calling their designs ‘toolboxes’.  Also, because the the rules actually represent is far too often left to the players to understand, they interpret that part of the story/game mechanics in whichever way they want.

    With the Matrix game Chris and others have decribed, they’ve left a good deal of the story creation to the participants with minimal rules… even creating the rules or processes in play in response to the players’ story creation.  The military seems to have taken Chris’s Matrix format and put all the players on one side, the host/umpire handling the enemy for the most part, though the story creation process is much the same.

    Regardless of the wargame, they are all narrative games… it is just how the story is being told and by whom.   Lots of wonderful variations [or in the novel sense, genres] possible.


    Avatar photoChris Engle

    Phil: You are a Matrix game design to!

    Avatar photoIvan Sorensen

    I have something to test out, if any of you are interested.

    It’s sort of a halfway point between a straight narrative “Matrix” game and a guided narrative, ala the Mythic RPG system.
    Right now, it’s roughly 20th century themed but you can probably adapt that without too much fuss.

    Pop me an email at [email protected] if you are interested in taking a look.

    Avatar photopaintpig

    Welcome to TWW Chris and many thanks for adding to the conversation, pity we haven’t seen Bob back yet. It’s great to hear from published professionals.

    I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel
    Slowly Over A Low Flame

    Avatar photoOtto Schmidt

    Narrative wargames can mean many things. I view it in a historical sense. That is, that the game is a narrative.  There is an over-arching story.  In my own rules for  a narrative game, which I do my campaigns with it goes like this.

    After a table top battle the major participants take the results of the battle and determine what their intentions are going forward. That is what they would order their forces to do as a result of the battle, and they tell the umpire this. The umpire takes these inputs or intentions from all involved and then works out what the  conflicting (or not conflicting) intentions are and what the result would be in setting up the NEXT table top battle. That is fought out and the process repeated.

    There are rules for this. Briefly in my game, you are allowed only twenty words to frame your intentions in. It must be in complete sentences, standard English, no abbreviations, no additions, no conditions, or conclusions. No If’s and’s or butts. Simple declarative statements. The umpire then synthesizes them, composes the narrative that carries the battle from the last one to the start of the next and that takes care of the narrative. The battle is fought out, the battle report made, appended to where the umpire left off, and new intentions are taken .




    Avatar photoOtto Schmidt

    Oops, sorry double posted.

    Still getting used to the site.

    Avatar photoMike

    Oops, sorry double posted.

    Still getting used to the site.

    Sorted, no worries, any questions please feel free to ask/post.

    Avatar photoChris Birch

    Hi all I just came across this post researching what people are talking about it when  it comes to narrative wargaming. Full disclosure I’m the founder of Modiphius which started as an RPG publisher but last year launched the Fallout Wasteland Warfare miniatures game (soon Elder Scrolls Call to Arms) and we also have several other minis lines like Star Trek, John Carter and Achtung! Cthulhu.

    Now I was a solo wargamer from age 8 – playing story-driven battles with a growing collection of badly painted old citadel fantasy miniatures. I didn’t create balanced battles I’d put everything on the table (usually the evil army had plenty more orcs), I’d have the lonely village with a few men at arms, villages and a handful of brave knights out front trying to hold off the horde long enough for reinforcements to arrive. It told a story, it wasn’t about winning, it was seeing what would happen and hoping I could somehow win. I quickly learnt to play against myself using my perfect knowledge of the other sides plans against them (me!). Of course the benefit is you always won… though i was secretly rooting for the army of light of course. I would write these games up as stories and continued a campaign I’d derive ad hoc as things unfolded. I then added 15mm napoleonics, and ECW battles pretty much following the same ideas. I also remember the day my friend and I  started rolling dice with our airfix battles instead of making machine gun sounds and that later inspired the Airfix Battles introductory wargame I created.

    Fallout was the game I determined to try new things out with and together with designer James Sheahan we created  a poweful AI system that goes after the objectives, that acts different depending on the type of unit and is very capable against the best of players. What this then means is you can play co-operatively together and I  think this is going to be a growing trend  you’ll see in wargames. Because in co-operative wargames you can  really evolve the story as suddenly you’re not trying to create a balanced battle. If you look at the big co-op boardgames such  as Pandemic you often lose but have so much fun losing that you want to play again. We’re not chasing the tournament audience, I decided early on that our focus would be on story telling on the tabletop and creating the most amazing ‘narrative’ events that would draw people in just to try it.

    I think narrative is a bit like that old word from the 90’s multimedia – everyone was using it – it became the magic word that promised so much and basically delivered rubbish cd movies or point and click games where you ended up being removed from the story to make a choice. It was so over used and narrative too is now over used. In most cases ‘narrative’ is used to define a scenario where there’s a reason  for the fight, you’re  not just fighting 500 points against each other but i’m here to take the castle because of X. Often narrative is used to describe a series of linked campaigns where in between  each  battle  i see if the units I lost were truly lost or are just wounded, if my heroes or henchmen gain skills or abilities. We play a series of battles perhaps detailing a story, holding the line, trying to retake something, there’s some thin thread of reasoning behind our battles. It can also be used to define a game with a GM / referee who introduces interesting events throughout not governed by the normal rules.

    I’m going to challenge you all that simply having a reason for a battle or a having a connected series of missions isn’t really narrative. Many of us likely construct a narrative in our head as we charge a unit against another, hold out in a village etc but really that’s just imagination at work. How can we truly introduce narrative to wargames?

    What if the story in our head is part of the game set up and has a purpose on the tabletop? Can the why and where and how be important to the game and reflected in the rules and or abilities? Can long term campaigns have simple mechanics that connect you to the world and your forces? What if the story is more important than the battle. What if something you need to achieve on the table has absolutely no impact on the battle and will probably distract you from winning? But it will have a longer-term impact, and this is described in a narrative form. Let’s say I’m rescuing some villages in each battle. With each one I rescue, I can improve the chance of getting reinforcements between battles. It doesn’t affect each specific game but has a small bonus. What if with each group of villagers rescued I improve the morale of MY village. Can we connect the player to the environment, make them care about their units – they’re not just rank and file, you grew up with these guys, the outcast witch who’s summoning the spells to help us is my grandmother but we haven’t spoken for years. If during the battle my hero is adjacent and we make a test we get over our differences, she’ll be more likely to come to future battles. Just like movies, the more the audience cares about the hero the more they’re engaged with the story and will enjoy it. Of course you can do this in your head, but giving players simple ways to underscore this in their game can really work wonders. Add to that mechanics to allow players to work together and a shared storyline becomes even more powerful, plus you can really throw the worst at them, and make overcoming the enemy part of the fun. This requires powerful AI’s that don’t just attack the nearest of your units. You need intelligent behaviour that will challenge your best moves.

    Look at other games like Rangers of Shadowdeep which are flying the co-op and solo wargaming flag, and there’s plenty of others – I  truly believe there’s a big change coming to wargames which will see truly deep and engaging narrative mechanics and particular co-operative game play instead of tournaments. I’m backing this so much we’re going to be creating an imprint at Modiphius solely dedicated to these types of games and co-publishing rulesets we think are innovative and breaking new ground in narrative, solo and c0-op gameplay. However I’d love to inspire the discussion here to really dig deep in to what it means to tell a story on the battlefield and how the wider space around your wargame is important – where you’re fighting, who you’re fighting, who you are and why you’re on this battleground. These dont’ have to be airy fairy RPG rules, or complex pages of tables. There’s many ways to simulate wider choice with little effort. Video games are the best at making you think you’re in an open world when in reality you’re just on a very wide road to the end.

    I don’t pretend to have all the answers – we’re constantly pushing ourselves here to define more and more about what really makes a narrative wargame, and the kinds of mechanics that could support that. You also need to consider the modern day audience –  wargames don’t often have the luxury of referees (which make it a lot easier to introduce story driven ideas, and are usually lucky to find a regular (i was going to say opponent but let’s say player given my charge that co-operative gaming is the future). There is a truly vast growing audience of solo wargamers that can’t get the fix and they’re crying out to get their soldiers out for just an hour or two when family or work allows.

    Love to hear your thoughts





    Avatar photoOB

    In my view the game should tell a plausible story.  If it does it worked.


    Avatar photokyoteblue

    Thanks, for posting Chris.

    Avatar photoThomaston

    I first heard of the term during Warhammer 40k 3rd ed. Didn’t think anything of it at the time but in hindsight it makes total sense. If you think of 40K as a competition rule that is geared towards competition play and selling minis. Random armies faces each other without any resoning behind it (apart from that’s the opponent’s army) most of the time and people rule lawyer their way to victory. Narative wargaming is almost revolutionary.

    Tired is enough.

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