For this year’s Remembrance Day, I figured I’d be a little more modern with my war games. Like, current year modern. The War on Terror has been a crazy saga over the past decade or so, spanning tales of revenge, ethical warfare, evolving technology, and a bunch of other stuff. And like most of the other wars, someone made a game about it. The game is called ISIS Crisis and it’s been utilized by militaries to improve on their strategies. Some say the origins of roleplaying can be tied back to people using war games to better their military might, so it makes sense for me to try my hand at this.
The situation is this: ISIS declared itself as a caliphate to every Muslim across the world and wants to control the Muslim-dominant countries, starting with Iraq, Syria, and the Levant region, the latter causing ISIS, then standing for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria to become ISIL or Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or even Islamic State. For the sake of this game, we’ll refer to it as IS or Islamic State, as that is what they renamed themselves as after naming Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as their Caliph, now named Amir al-Mu’minin Caliph Ibrahim.
Unfortunately for the Islamic State, the United Nations deemed them to be a terrorist organization due to the war crimes it’s been accused of causing. It didn’t help that the Islamic State themselves are violent in their conquest, prompting retaliation from Sunni Iraqis and constant attacks on civilians across the globe that they claim responsibility for. With the Islamic State declaring their intent to obtain Baghdad as their next nation to annex, the events of this Matrix Game begins.
A Matrix Game, from my knowledge, plays almost like Braunstein. You have multiple factions in a wargame setting, but you’re not necessarily fighting like a wargame, but rather playing out scenarios like a roleplaying game. The name comes from a Matrix of keywords that serve as a framework, even though it eventually dropped from later editions. Resolution is solved through basic arguments like “I hit you because I can punch and you’re too busy talking to me”. An Umpire would then judge how likely the situation is and the player rolls a d6.
There’s a lot to process for this game, so let’s just begin. I’ll be using Tiny Solitary Soldiers for this game. There are six factions, each with their own agendas. The Islamic State, for instance, wants to control the Middle East by crushing Shiites and Kurds and overthrowing Baghdad which they believe is controlled by a puppet of America. America, meanwhile, just wants to make things as politically stable as it is, weaken the Islamic State’s grip, and keep Iran separated from Iraq, all while avoiding direct interference by deploying ground troops. Each faction has their own story for why they do what they do. They also have current conflicts that affect how they play. America is hesitant to use direct military action, so anything they do will be at a -1.
Due to the title of this session, I’m going to be playing as the Sunni Opposition. They’re a faction who have allied with the Islamic State because they were denied a fair share of wealth after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Making matters worse is that their government is ruled by a corrupt, hostile, and repressive prime minister. A cool thing to note is that while they ally with the Islamic State, they consider just how dangerous they could be.
However, that leaves five other players… Welp, it’s time to bust out a new tool: the Player Emulator! This was made by the same person who made the game Six Hours to Midnight and like that game, this is overly simple to utilize. So, in order, we have:
- USA: An Asocial Gambler.
- Iran: A smart and creative person.
- Islamic State: A Chatty, yet needy person.
- Haider: Demanding, yet kind and sensible.
- Kurds: A Hoarder that’s attentive and empathetic.
With that, let’s begin.
America begins the turn by sending a drone into the Middle East to survey the immediate area. They are able to do this because they have access to one and they’re trying to keep their distance while at the same time helping out. The Umpire deems it as weak and so they must roll a 5 or a 6 to succeed.
They do and a drone is sent into the area. Iran’s turn.
[Q: Are they aware of the drone? A: No, But]
No, but they send in a stealth bomber to try and attack an oil supply line that the Islamic States had. They can do this because they know where to strike, they have access to a stealth bomber, and doing so would hurt them. The Umpire declares this to be a strong idea, and so he must roll 3-6 to succeed.
He does so and the stealth bomber is sent. Islamic States’ go.
[Q: Do they detect the Stealth Bomber? A: No, And]
No, and they don’t know about the drone either. They will go secure the dam to provide clean water for their troops. They have the trained manpower, it’s close by, and doing so would help provide the troops with water. The umpire decides this is an average thing, so 4-6.
They fail to secure the dam. Now it’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abidi’s turn. He runs Baghdad and it is currently attacked by the Islamic State. He’s going to attack, which I will do Risk style. After a long and arduous battle, the armies of the Islamic State have been repelled for now. Meanwhile, Islamic State told Sunni to secure the oil, which I will do. Like them, I have the manpower and Islamic State and Sunni have made plans for this prior to the execution. The Umpire deems this too to be average.
No such luck. Finally, it’s the Kurdish turn.
[Q: Do they see the Stealth Bomber? A: No And]
No, and they don’t see the drone. They’ll begin their turn fortifying their dam and oil because they have the resources to do so and they have had them in their area from the beginning. The Umpire labels this as a very strong argument.
They succeed and now the dam and oil are fortified. It is now the end of the round and now, as a house rule, each of the six factions can bring in one resource onto the field.
- America will send a drone on the left side of the map.
- The IS will reinforce a place on the map with an army.
- I will respond with my reinforcements.
- Haider will have a stealth bomber ready to launch from Baghdad.
- Iran will also send a stealth bomber.
- Kurds will reinforce.
Now it’s Gaia’s turn. This is the turn for the miscellaneous characters. There are a bunch of them, such as the Rebels, who I presume are rebelling against IS. They’re gonna fire at them. They end up decimating them… Only for a Syrian stealth bomber to destroy their entire forces. Meanwhile, one of my armies had a standoff with four Jordan armies and I ended up winning, sure, my allying army died, but I fended them off.
[Q: Does Turkey step in? A: Yes(!)]
Yes, and plot twist time!
[Plot Twist: New NPC]
Suddenly a huge horde of MSF (AKA Doctors without Borders) comes out and aid Turkey in the invasion. The round ends. New round.
The USA begins to move in while sending in their drone, as does Iran. ISIL, meanwhile, is going to explode a dam and ensure a flood for Baghdad. They can do this because they have access to bombs, and three teams of people are doing it all under the noses of Haider. The Umpire says this is an average result.
No such luck.
[Q: Do they set up the bombs though? A: No, But]
No, but they’ve occupied the dam. Haider’s turn. He doesn’t know about the dam operation and is just continuing to defend Baghdad with all his might, complete with dropping a bomb over a base of operations.
[Q: Does the bomber see the dam operation? A: Yes But!]
Yes, but they’re shot down before he could tell Haider. Also twist.
[Twist: Positive Things Happen]
The UK steps in and helps Iran in the fight. My go. Now, the rules say I can argue for anything to happen. So, what I have in mind is that the people of the Kurdish regions will rebel against them. They do this because they’re tired of having to live in constant war and would rather have a revolution. Weak argument, but yolo swag.
Yeah, off by one. Meanwhile the Kurdish will try to get the oil and dam water from ISIL. However, that’s when they come across Turkey. Three way standoff. Turkey fires at both and takes over the area. End of the round as people place down their items. America sends a bomber, ISIL, Iraq, and Kurds all send out leaders, and I add another army. Gaia’s turn. Turkey sets up fortifications for their newly obtained oil and dam, the UK fail on a bombing run, Turkey takes over another place and easily overwhelm some rebels.
New round! USA will attempt to fortify oil.
To no avail. Their drone, however, detects us and prepares to fire. They manage to destroy one of my units. Iran moves in to help defend Baghdad. ISIL uses the dam as a makeshift army base and use it to not only recruit more people, but also eliminate some of the units. Given how ISIL’s armies grow by the day, I’ll say it’s a very strong argument.
They recruit three armies worth of people. Haider’s turn. Iraq’s bombers didn’t do anything, but the Apache is going to make swiss cheese out of ISIL army and kills the three recruits and one of the veterans. My turn now. I’m gonna say that we’re selling the oil to Syria. I’m doing this because the Sunni might be more trust worthy than if ISIL made the deal and they might need oil. This is an average.
Nope. They reject the offer.
[Q: Does anyone else take up my offer? A: Yes, But]
Yes, but it’s part of a sting operation by Americans. As soon as they find out I’m with ISIL, I’m toast. NPC Conversation time.
- NPC Mood: Neutral, 86 = Helpful.
- NPC Bearing: 8 and 6 = Belief.
- NPC Focus: 84 = Current Story.
Hmmm… Seems they’re buying the story that I’m not working with them and they buy the oil off me. Okay, that’s good, though now I have the Americans on my tail so I can’t screw up. Fortunately, I have a plan. Next is the Kurdish people.
[Q: Do they like Iran at the moment? A: No]
So war begins. They eliminate some of the Iranian armies. End of round as everyone places a unit. USA wishes to deploy AI-driven tanks. They are able to do this because Silicon Valley achieves new technology every day, it’s an improvement from Drones, and it promises a swift end to the war without needing to send troops. It’s an average, so US needs to roll.
Nope. America is forced to send something else. Everyone deploys an army with Turkey invading the upper part of the Middle East. The round begins with the USA decimating an ISIL base, taking out one of the leaders. This is followed by Iran destroying the Kurdish army. ISIL begins their turn by ambushing the US agent and stealing back the oil. They do this because the US is in their home turf, they know how agents of the US work, they were planning to sting the sting operation, and this would ensure they get their oil back. This is a good argument.
They ambush the agent, kill him in a gruesome manner, and take back the oil. Haider continues his assault on ISIL. We’re pretty much squeezed into a tight spot as we have Turkey from the north, Iraq from the south, US from the west, and soon Iran from the east. Things aren’t boding so well. Time for me to lay up my secret weapon. I argue that, using the money I made from the oil deal, that it is to fund a rocket project. Not sure how long it will take, but I assume with some help, we can get it built by next round. This is an average argument.
Cool. We build it that very turn.
[Q: Are we able to use it? A: No And]
No, and Turkey’s army catch us and try to attack us. With the MSF protecting them, they over throw our location and take over the rockets. The Kurds will try and also do something unorthodox. They’re going to make a killing argument against ISIL, saying that the reasoning being that there’s only one token left on the map and they don’t really have any sort of solid ground to recover from. They also cite Turkey gaining access to their rocket weapons and their base so they know the last location of their hideout. This is a very good argument.
And so the Islamic States is blown off the map by Turkey. Well, good news: the Islamic States is no more. The bad news? We now have a Turkey Crisis. Well, at least Sunni doesn’t have to be cowed into working with them. USA argues that with ISIL gone, they can take away the drones and replace them with Advisors to try and make peace across the Middle East. Average argument.
Yeah, agents get on the map. Turkey decides to use their rocket to destroy the Sunni as well. They destroy Sunni and more of Turkey makes their raid onto the country. So now three of the six factions remain. I think that’s a good enough place to end this session. I mean, yes, Turkey invading a good chunk of the Middle East is a bit of a bad place to end it, but I’m pretty sure America can convince them to back off. Of course, I could just play this to the end, though the problem is that my character is dead.
So I guess I’ll conclude the game by playing as the good ol’ US of A. Gonna have USA talk down Turkey. We’ve been allies for a while, the common enemy is down, and if they don’t back off, retaliation will be afoot. Now to roll.
Welp. Time to blow up the rocket I made as another person.
[Q: Do the bombers cause Turkey to back off? A: No And]
No, and they just begin their invasion even sooner. Though the invasion has been quelled just as fast. And with peace restored to the Middle East, now we can safely say the day is saved.
So onto my personal thoughts on this game. It’s very busy. The first step of the game is to figure out who rules what and distribute pieces accordingly. Were it not for a Tabletop Simulator mod I found on the Workshop, I wouldn’t have been able to play it or played the scenario very differently from the one I played. Appropriately enough, Kazhdyy Gorod, a game that advertises itself as an introductory Matrix Game, advised against playing ISIS Crisis as your first Matrix Game, as it says it is “the most complex and difficult to understand scenario ever attempted as a Matrix game”. In a way, it’s right.
Outside of the goals that each of the factions have – which, if I may add, are incredibly good and flesh out the lore – you’re practically given a map, a buttload of tokens, a turn order, and then you’re off. You’re basically thrust into a game with little to no idea on what to do. For me, I had at least a few objectives to handle. Among them was noting that ISIS was a powerful yet dangerous ally. As such, my idea was to create the rocket system so that, once ISIS got what they want, I could use it as a bargaining chip to ensure they don’t backstab Sunni. Now, this might not make sense since ISIS is also Sunni, but I didn’t want to take any chances.
However, that plan was the furthest I could go with my ideas. And that’s kinda sad. This game has almost no limits to what you can do if you decide to play solo. I say almost because you need to think of logical reasons why your plans could work. For instance, I decided to sell oil to get money for the rocket because otherwise I’d have one less reason why I was able to construct a rocket. Otherwise? Do anything you want! It’s practically a sandbox themed around the Middle East. However, I do have some problems playing this solo.
For one, and I think this is mostly my fault, I found that I ended up playing more than just my own hat, and it’s kinda hard to figure out what each faction needed to do. In fact, if you noticed, I just dropped most of the “they deploy x” ideas and just have them do it. Most of the time is spent with them trying to fire at the opposition. I didn’t have a lot of involved interactions with them that didn’t involve fighting outside of a deal I made, and even that ended in fighting.
So yeah, this game can be played solo, but if this is your first Matrix Game, I suggest playing something lighter before tacking this big boy game. And also figure out how to best solo the game. Maybe I didn’t do the Player Emulator to its best ability or got too focused on one aspect of the game. However, if you do decide to play this solo, I definitely recommend finding a means to play other players in a way that’s unique to yourself. I almost brought out the Solo System cards that I used for King of Tokyo, so maybe they would have worked.
Also, as a post-script note, apparently I was supposed to roll 2d6 since one of the rules (that I found somewhere other than the actual game) says that ISIS can act on anyone’s turn provided doubles are rolled. Yes, it sounds broken, but it fits the chaotic nature of the faction and the overall theme that fighting ISIS isn’t as simple as what I had described. Well, Bon Voyage, gamers.