Comments on Matrix


Review of Matrix, a solitaire piecepack game

This review is part of the first Piecepack review contest. For more information see and


The theme of Matrix is based on William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer and won Best Theme prize in The Solitary Confinement Contest organised by Mesomorph Games. The judge’s comment: “Jeff (Barrett) and I share an enjoyment of William Gibson’s cyberpunk, and Matrix is based on the novel Neuromancer complete with Cyberspace, Ice, Data Forts and Icebreakers. Excellent idea to adapt the genre to the piecepack, Jeff.” Reading this, the game’s theme sounds promising. But reading the rules as a layman in cyberpunk novels I feel the theme is a bit confusing. As stated in the comment of the judge the author talks about ice and data forts that have to be broken by icebreakers. If you don’t succeed doing this, you get brain damage. To me this was highly illogical (if I’m allowed make an insiders joke ;)). I can understand the part about ice and icebreakers, but breaking a data fort with an icebreaker? And how can an icebreaker receive brain damage? I’m sure everything is explained in the novel, but as I said in my introduction: I’d like to have some background information first. The rules start out with a quote from the above mentioned book. Even though this is nice, I would have preferred either a short introduction or a slight change in the terms to make things more comprehensible for the average game player who is unfamiliar with cyberpunk literature. The author just presumes that you know about the concepts. Having said these negative things about the theme, I have to admit that this doesn’t hinder the game play at all. If you just ignore the theme you can play and it’s still thrilling to find out if you can make it to the end of the game.


Before explaining the game, let me first make some comments about the clarity of the rules. I know that English is not my mother tongue, but I consider my self being pretty good at it. However, when I read the first sentence of the rules about the actions (so called making a run), I almost gave up on trying the game: “Choose an ice breaker ( a pon (!!!)) and a space contiguous in the matrix contiguous to the ice breaker breaker.” Aside from the bad spelling I believe that the author has not used his spelling check. Then there’s the use of the word “contiguous”. As I said, I know my English, but in this sentence the word seemed something scientifical. Having looked it up in the dictionary, I found out that it just meant adjacent. The last point about the clarity of the rules is this: the author has written a series of steps you have to take. This a so called loop: after having gone through the steps, you restart with step one. The loop is written in such a way that you have at least gone through one already. To my girlfriend, who is not an experienced game rules reader, this was not clear. You can see all this as nagging about details, but there’s a reason why I’m lingering about all this: to make a game playable, the rules must be clear. If you want the piecepack game system to become accepted by a wider audience, the basics (the rules) must be solid. Finally the rules themselves. Your pawns are icebreakers. Your playing surface is the matrix. As they move and they don’t face already known territory (tiles), they encounter new tiles (data structures): you place a tile in front of the pawn (i.e. the direction you want the icebreaker to head) with the suit face up. The null tiles are so called data forts, the rest of the tiles are ice. When you have occupied the data forts with their corresponding pawns (i.e. the same colour/suit), the game is won. This sounds simple, but a couple of rules make it more challenging. First of all, there’s a restriction in the placement of the tiles: each tile is only allowed to be orthogonally bordered by three other tiles. As said before they are placed suit face up, together with a coin of the same suit, but I will explain this later. The strength of the tile is the same as the number on the tile. By a roll of the die you know the temporary strength of the icebreaker. If the icebreaker is of the same colour as the tile you want it to enter, its strength is your die roll plus one. Your throw must be greater than the strength of the tile. If this is the case, the ice is broken, you move the pawn onto the tile and you collect the power-up token (if still present). The strength of the data forts is six. Nothing however is said about the value of the ace tiles. I do understand that this should be one, but this wasn’t so for my girlfriend, who isn’t as familiar with the piecepack concept. Even if it seems obvious, it should be mentioned. For me this small omission is of the same category as the use of the terms in the theme: the author just presumes that you know about the (game) concept. As mentioned above, the coins (same suit as the tile) are placed upon a newly played tile. They function as power-up tokens: if you had a bad roll, you can compensate this by paying one coin for each die-pip you lack. There’s a restriction here as well: you have to pay coins of the tilesuit that you want to move onto. If you don’t have enough coins, that’s bad luck for you: when trying to break the ice, you can still move onto the tile, but you’ll receive one brain damage (something I don’t understand). If you tried to break into a data fort and you didn’t succeed, you receive one brain damage without the free movement. After ten points worth of brain damage, you are dead and the game ends. To keep track of your received brain damage you use generic counters: one counter per damage point. I used a ten-sided die, because this saves a lot of space with all the power-up tokens lying around in three places: waiting to be placed on a tile, in your collection and having been paid. The rules mentioned above already form a game that can be quite challenging to make it to the end: you are very reliant on the roll of the die. When out of luck, you will either keep receiving brain damage or keep paying power-up tokens. Both things will prove to be critical at the end of the game and you won’t survive. But if you feel that the basic game does not offer a real challenge and you like a more tactical game, the author designed custom icebreakers: for each colour breaker he thought up six different breakers. Each with a name and a special ability. Most of the times the strength is less than a basic breaker and in most cases either brain damage has to be taken or a token has to be paid to make use of the special ability of a breaker. The idea is that you can achieve more, but it will come with a cost. The judge’s comment on this variant of the game: “The customizable Icebreakers also made this game stand out.” If you like a good challenge, this is certainly a plus. I however think that it’s just over the top: 24 different custom icebreakers to choose from!!! It made me lose interest, because there are just too many choices. Besides this, I don’t have the feeling that by losing your coins quicker and gaining brain damage faster, you will make it to a better end than when playing the basic game. In many cases you still rely upon the die and it’s just too much an effort. All and all the custom breakers give an extra dimension for those who like tactical games. In my view the author however should better have spent his effort and creativity in writing more comprehensible and detailed rules.

Use of Components

There are two things that can be said about the use of the tiles and one about the use of the coins. First of all, due to the restriction, the form of the board will never be a nice square or rectangular one. The effect is that you will not be able to keep the board compact, which can be a nuisance at the end of the game. Since the rules make sure you only encounter the null tiles until the end of the game, it can happen that two or more pawns are on the wrong side of the board. This leads to a search for the shortest road with the least resistance. I have found this restriction can be fatal if you’re having a bad die rolling moment. Secondly, the tiles are placed suit up. As far as I’ve read piece pack game rules, this is less common than grid side up. I have to admit that I like the less common game approaches, so this aspect is appealing to me. The suits and numbers were designed for a reason: to be used. It’s in this aspect of the components that a game creator can show his or her creativity: by using this side the author has come up with an opponent for the player. After all: it is a solitaire game. Finally, as mentioned before, coins are used as power-up tokens. This use changes the game from being a completely random one (a die is used to determine the outcome) to a somewhat strategical one: when are you prepared to compensate for your bad die-roll and when are you willing to take brain damage? You could use your coins later, but are you certain about it? I think that the real strategy of the game is in this aspect.

Matrix in practice

It’s one thing to read about the rules, but it’s another thing to see how it works in real life. There’s one big thing that really stands out: if you place a tile, you have to move onto it. This is not always what you want, especially when it is a data fort of the “wrong” colour. If in bad luck, this could cost you four brain damage even before you try to enter the correct data forts. Knowing that it is very likely that you have already gained some brain damage and that it is very likely to receive some more, this could prove to be fatal. Another thing, is that it somehow doesn’t seem to matter how well your dice rolling is. I have had games with good rolling, collecting a lot of coins without much brain damage. But in the end you’ll see that at least two pawns are on the wrong side of the board. This means that you have to break a lot of ice (again) before you are in a position to try and infiltrate the data forts. And of course in this phase of the game, your die doesn’t do what you want it to do. This means paying a lot of coins even before you get to your real goal. Due to both factors you can say that it will be very difficult to reach your goal and win the game.


When disregarding the theme and after having figured out the rules I think this is a nice filler if you’re alone and don’t know what to do. The game plays quickly with still some decisions left to make. It’s thrilling until the end and that is always a good thing! A strong word of advice however goes to the author: please make sure that everyone understands the theme and the rules! Not only the judge of a competition (who happens to share an interest in a literary genre) or a practiced game player. The piecepack system is an interesting and fun concept that I feel should be known by more people. Clear and understandable games are important in order to make this work.

Creative Commons License This wiki is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

To save this page you must answer this question:

What is the brightest thing in the sky?