I've recently run across the concept of the Engle Matrix simulation system as a basis for collective wargaming. It's a fascinating system that can lead to the collaborative construction of scenarios that are as realistic as the players and umpires are knowledgeable. It is applicable to a vast variety of scenario types, from tactical squad-level engagements to grand strategic contests and even business simulations.
Here are some links that explain the Engle Matrix system:
What are Matrix Games?
Matrix games are different to normal Wargames. In most of those games you compare lists of statistics and peer at complicated books of rules containing someone else's idea about what things are important, before rolling a dice. It takes a long time and can be very difficult to explain to a newcomer. Instead, in a Matrix Game you simply use words to describe why something should happen, the Umpire or the players (or both) decide how likely it is and you roll a dice. If you can say "This happens, for the following reasons..." you can play a Matrix Game.
Where did they come from?
The Chris Engle Matrix Game was created in the USA by Chris Engle, and published in 1992. Chris wanted to create a system by which it was possible for a player to "role play" anything from a single person to an entire country. Chris felt that previous numbers-ridden game designs essentially missed the point (and anyway were toocomplicated and boring). What he wanted was a system that could take into account anything the players though was relevant, including intangible elements such as culture, beliefs, and perceptions of themselves. Taking as his starting point the work of the philosopher Emmanuel Kant, Chris began to develop a "matrix" of cue words that would form the framework for his "model". To this he added George Hegel's idea that argument and counter-argument (thesis and antithesis) lead to a synthesis or consensus of ideas. Thus the basic idea of the Matrix Game was formulated.
Over the years the actual "matrix" of cue words has been dropped, but the name has stuck. Like all good ideas, the Matrix Game is very simple in concept, but has huge potential in that it can be adapted to fit any game setting.
Matrix Games have been used by the UK MOD with the Unmanned Underwater Vehicle capability, education of Consultants in UK MOD Procurement systems and in the preparation by HQ ARRC for the deployment into Bosnia. They have even been used by the US DOD.
The following is a well-developed ruleset for Engle Matrix simulations using the ProCon system:
Here is an example of an Engle Matrix game that simulates the situation unfolding in Ukraine, at a strategic/political/military level:
If you didn't want to go through all that, let me try to explain it in brief.
1) The main point about the Engle Matrix is that you have a Matrix of information on which player actions depend, and which in turn can be changed by player actions. The initial Matrix can consist of a specific briefing, but also includes all the real-world, hard factual knowledge that the players and umpire have about the situation (this is what makes the system so ideal for a platform like Bharat-Rakshak).
For example, the Briefing may involve a situation similar to what emerged in Keran sector along the LoC last October:
Last week, shortly after they took up their new deployment at Sarta Post near the LOC, two jawans of 20 Kumaon were beheaded by Pakistanis while on patrol near the border fence. Today we have learned that a large number of infiltrators from Pakistan seem to have taken up positions around, and possibly within, the village of Shala Batu about 30 kms northwest of Sarta Post. [This will obviously be more detailed and lengthy, but I am just giving an example here.]
In addition to this, our Matrix will also include the wealth of information that expert posters like Rohitvats, Vivek Ahuja, Jagan, Singha and others bring with their vast knowledge of military ops and the J&K LOC sector. To support game play, there would be a Map detailing terrain features and elevations, and also counters representing forces (these could be moved as necessary and new images uploaded after each successful turn).
2) There are two types of participants: the Players and the Umpire(s). The Umpires will typically be the most knowledgeable participants, and their function is to determine how the scenario develops, while adjudicating the arguments and conflicts brought up by the Players.
The Players (which can be individuals or teams) take on a slightly different role than what they would in a purely entertaining, competitive game like Chess. Firstly, they role-play either characters or factions, and try to advance the interests of the character/faction by meeting certain goals within a certain number of moves.
Examples of characters in the example scenario may be:
i) Major Vyas: CC at Sarta Post.
(a) Investigate Shala Batu and evict all infiltrators from the sector.
(b) Do not escalate beyond certain specific points (e.g. going more than 1 km over LoC)
(c) Minimize civilian casualties and takleef.
(d) Tend to the morale of your men, already damaged by the beheading incident.
ii) Majid Chaudhry, Lashkar-e-Taiba commandant in sector
(a) Infilitrate as many mujahedin as possible into Indian-administered J&K
(b) Humiliate the IA if possible, decreasing morale
(c) Try to sow FUD among civilians, undermining India's political authority in the sector
(d) Do not escalate beyond certain specific points
There may also be other characters: Pakistan Army Major of post facing Shala Batu, DG ISI, GOC-in-C IA Northern Command, Headman of Shala Batu etc. with goals of their own.
The second aspect of the Players in the Engle Matrix scenario is that they also have to play the role of *objective* observers. Always remember the facts come first, and do not get emotionally involved with the "role-play" aspect to the extent of undermining the main purpose of the simulation: to construct a realistic, believable scenario at the end of the day, utilizing the collective knowledge and experience of ALL participants. "Winning" is only half the game here.
3) How the Sim is Played:
The basic mode of gameplay is that Players go by turns making moves. Each Move consists of the following:
a) Specify an action or proposition that will change the Matrix
b) Specify the Intended Result, i.e. how the Matrix will change
c) Put forward a number of arguments as to WHY existing elements of the Matrix (both the briefings and general knowledge/expertise) support the Intended Result emerging from the action/proposition.
For example, Major Vyas might say:
a) This evening, I deploy two platoons with an HMG each to cover the two entrances to the village after 6 PM, and a third rifle squad with an MMG in the forest to the east.
b) This will prevent the movement of terrorists in and out of the village tonight, and allow me to monitor all such movements by villagers or others.
c) 1) There are only two entrances to the village shown on the map
2) The nearest water source can be reached only by passing the patch of forest to the east, as shown on the map
3) There is almost no activity in the village after sunset at 7:30, making any suspicious activity highly noticeable.
What happens after this is that everybody (the other players, but also all participants, who will hopefully include many members of BRF in our case) will chime in with COUNTER_arguments. These counter-arguments put forward reasons why Major Vyas' action may not have the intended effect.
1) It has been very foggy and hence easy for infiltrators to move under cover
2) 20 Kumaon has little experience in this particular area, especially as far as setting forest ambushes is concerned
3) Villagers regularly go outside the village enclosure for night walks at this time of the year
Once all the COUNTER-arguments have been made, the Umpires come into play. They adjudicate by giving certain weightages to the PRO-arguments, and certain weightages to the CON-arguments, using their own expertise (plus, of course, the crowdsourced expertise of people on BRF, even though the Umpires ALWAYS have the final decision.)
For example, the Umpires may throw out PRO-argument #1 because, in a previous round, the LeT player managed to build a tunnel that is a third entrance to the village. However, the Umpires may also throw out CON-argument #2 because in their opinion, 20 Kumaon has more than enough experience setting ambushes in the forest in this type of terrain. They may also throw out CON-argument #3 because it is just BS, and not supported by anything in the Matrix or from real-world information.
At this point, Major Vyas has two PRO-arguments in favour of his action and one CON-argument against him. This is used to weight the success of his action with bonuses/penalties over and above the base chance of 50%. Then, using a random number generator (such as a die) and a lookup table such as seen here http://theopenendedmachine.blogspot.com/p/rules.html
The Umpires determine what the outcome of Major Vyas' action will be. They will decide on what basis he succeeds or fails.
The key thing to remember here is that all players (at least in this version of the Engel Matrix Sim) are aware of what all the other players are doing. So Players have to consciously separate their "In Character" information from their "Matrix" information. For example, the Player who is role-playing the LeT Commander knows that Major Vyas has set a certain number of men in ambush in the forest; but when he takes his turn to specify Action/Intended-Result/Arguments as the LeT commander, he cannot take advantage of knowing something that the LeT commander would not.
Note also that the "Action" specified by a Player during his Move need not necessarily be a task or order. It can also be something that influences the Narrative in a way that might prove beneficial, and which has not yet been contradicted by anything in the Matrix.
a) ACTION: Even though it is October, there are still thunder showers nearly every afternoon. (this would be a narrative addition to the Matrix)
b) RESULT: Movement of enemy troops and heavy equipment through XYZ terrain feature will be hindered or impossible to accomplish, because of flooding.
c) 1) In the past five years there has been a consistent pattern of late monsoons stretching well into October (supporting link)
2) It is an El-Nino year
If the Player is successful, of course, then the Umpires determine a certain probability of rain every "day" of the game scenario, and this will affect all parties in the simulation going forward.
The Players take turns making moves. The first Player keeps making Action/Result/Argument presentations until one of his initiatives fails, then the initiative passes to the next Player.
Conflicts are resolved by the Umpires using a probability look-up table as and when they arise (e.g. combat engagement between units). The probabilities used are also weighted according to the Matrix.
4) Most importantly: each successful "argument" recognized by the Umpires, and the consequence of each successful Player "action", then become incorporated into the game Matrix. These factors can then be used as supporting arguments by Players for future actions.
Here is a gameplay example that is probably clearer than mine, which I'd request anyone interested to go through. It is the last section ("Sample Game") on this page: http://theopenendedmachine.blogspot.com/p/rules.html
5) The game ends at a predetermined point: either when one Player has achieved all his starting Goals, or when a certain number of turns are finished. Finally there is a debrief to review the entire scenario and see how things could have possibly been changed for an alternative outcome.
6) Why Play An Engle Matrix Simulation Wargame?
I can think of many reasons.
A) This is what we do on BRF anyway. Argue-- often based on valuable real-world knowledge and expertise, and sometimes based on BS. The Engle Matrix gives us the opportunity to formalize and structure our arguments so that they contribute to a larger open-ended narrative, and construct a scenario that is realistic and perhaps even applicable in the real world.
B ) We... all participants... end up learning a whole lot of things and how they work when applied in context. Right now BRF is full of little shards of valuable information depending on the chance contribution of various expert members in various fields. Just for example, Rohitvats may be a master of infantry TOE, Shiv an expert on terrain, Jagan very knowledgeable about helos. But if they all participate in an Engle Matrix Simulation, we all get to see how these different factors can influence one another and fit together in the context of a real-world scenario.
C) The Engle Matrix system is applicable to just about any scale of scenario. We could start out with something simple like a company-level engagement on the LoC. But as we grow more proficient, we can apply this system of collective reasoning, objective decision-making and information pooling to much more ambitious projects: Two-front India-China-Pak war, geopolitical contests, even governance and electoral politics scenarios.
D) I strongly believe that there is an opportunity for BRF to be taken seriously by the new GOI as a sort of Think Tank in the near future. However, this will ONLY happen when we develop a disciplined way of presenting and adjudicating arguments, leading to the development of collective scenarios. It will not happen if every thread disintegrates into one-line, unsubstantiated opinion posts and ego-driven pi$$ing contests over someone's technical conceit (which takes place all too often in our discussions). We have to demonstrate the ability to work together, think constructively, pool our collective strengths, and use our collective wisdom in a targeted fashion if we want to be taken seriously.
E) This is an alternative format to the Possible Indian Military Scenarios initiative. Those threads are brilliantly and knowledgeably written by Vivek Ahuja, Shankar and others; however, they have become a largely one-way platform where the onus is on a single member to produce while everyone else is essentially an audience. Using Engle Matrix, we can construct Scenarios collectively and leverage the expertise of many members collectively.
F) I think it could be fun
Please let me know if there is any interest. I would like to start an Engel Matrix sim and see how it plays out.