Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: September 2019

Wasser: I Run War Games. Too Often, I Am the Only Woman in the Room.


In today’s New York Times Magazine, Becca Wasser (RAND) discusses the endemic underrepresentation—and even marginalization—of women in professional wargaming. It’ is an outstanding piece, and should be considered a must-read for anyone involved in the national security or serious gaming fields.

As a game designer and facilitator, I have to create a believable environment and tell a compelling story that makes the players — usually United States military and government officials — take the game seriously, believe that their decisions have repercussions and play hard so that the results simulate the real world. I need to take a problem, boil it down to the basics and identify the details that really matter while still leaving enough color to make it interesting…. Too many options make the game ponderously slow, with players never getting a chance to see the results of their decisions; too few choices mean that I have potentially predetermined the game’s outcomes.

But there is something else dictating the available choices in war gaming, and that is a lack of gender diversity. War gaming — as with war more generally — has long been a male domain and has significant barriers to entry, retention and advancement. You can’t learn by reading; you have to learn by doing. Many women — myself included — find themselves doing managerial or administrative work for games in a bid to break into the field and learn about war game design and execution, but they often find themselves stuck in that track. I didn’t grow up playing Axis & Allies or memorizing all the fighter aircraft flown by the United States Air Force, like some of my male colleagues did. These are the sorts of things that started me at a disadvantage. Everything about war gaming and military operations more broadly I have learned as an adult, from scratch, whereas most of my male counterparts have been inadvertently training for this job since they were children. Even now, 10 years into my career, I am still playing catch up. This sense of disadvantage tends to discourage women from joining war gaming teams — let alone the national-security field — because many feel that there is not a clear substantive role for them to play or a path to advancement.

The unspoken gender divide that exists in the war gaming field comes out in funny ways. I know that when people arrive at most of my games, they don’t expect me to stand up and run the game, or to play judge, jury and executioner in deciding combat outcomes. I’m expected to be the note taker or the event coordinator. The number of times I have been asked where coffee is and whether I could fetch it is staggering. I will admit that there is something empowering about being able to command a room and prove my audience wrong. But the thing is, I’m tired of being a rarity. I don’t want to be the only woman in the room running a war game.

I’ve seen subtle but important differences emerge from games led by women or involving women in the design process. For a game exploring future technology, my male colleagues created a list of military capabilities — the order of battle — that focused heavily on systems that could be used to attack and destroy targets. In contrast, an order of battle created by women included more systems — like reconnaissance platforms — that provided better tools to more quickly alert war fighters of adversary activities and locations. This eye toward inclusivity can also be seen when women run games, as female facilitators are more inclined to encourage different voices to contribute to discussion and in turn gain a greater range of insights into the particular problem at hand. It is not so much that female war gamers approach the critical problems differently or focus a game on “soft” security issues like gender and humanitarian affairs. Rather, they are likely to have different perspectives, based in part on their experiences navigating a man’s world. By not having female game designers, facilitators or players, opportunities to uncover new and innovative strategies are falling by the wayside.

The article also discusses the work of Girl Security, the Leadership Council for Women in National Security and NatSec Girl Squad to address these issues, including the Korea wargame that Wasser and her colleagues at RAND recently conducted for female high school students.

In follow-up posts on Twitter, Wasser commented:

At the various Connections professional wargaming conferences only 5-10% of panelists are typically female, and about 15% of participants. In hobby wargaming, the proportions are markedly lower and the problem even more severe. In some surveys, only 1-2% or so of hobby wargamers identify as female.

At Connections North last year, 25% of our participants were women—probably because the event is held on campus, and significant numbers of students attended. The social and other barriers to entry to wargaming certainly seems to be lower at universities than in the national security field, with women making up almost half (19/40) students registered in my POLI 452 conflict simulation course next term. It probably also reflects the larger proportion of women in social sciences fields in general, as well as students whose interests are more focused serious games more broadly.

For other resources on gender and other diversity issues in (professional) wargaming, see these previous PAXsims reports:



Recent simulation and gaming publications, 21 September 2019


PAXsims is pleased to present a selection of recently-published items on simulation and serious gaming. Some of these may not address peacebuilding, conflict, or development issues at all, but have been included because of the broader perspective they offer on games-based education or analysis.

Articles may be gated/paywalled and not accessible without institutional access to the publication they appear in.

John Langreck et al, “Modeling and simulation of future capabilities with an automated computer-aided wargame,” Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation: Applications, Methodology, Technology (first online 2019).

This article explores the development and application of an automated computer-aided wargame to establish high-level capability requirements and concepts of operations for future Navy unmanned aerial vehicles and unmanned underwater vehicles. The Joint Theater Level Simulation-Global Operations serves as the modeling environment, in which a computer-aided exercise models the impact of future intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets. Automating wargame simulations permits the replication of a large-scale exercise without the continued investment of support personnel and operating units. The environment enables experimentation that provides force planners with pertinent metrics to inform decision-making.

Alex Jones, “The conceptual analysis of groups and group dynamics of graduate students using a negotiation role-play simulation,” International Journal of Development Work 9, 8 (2019).

Group dynamic is the center of attention of organizations across the world. Employers nowadays are focusing on creating a collaborative culture among employees. This research brings to the forefront a unique analysis highlighting the important of groups, group dynamics and the main characteristics while conducting a negation role-play simulation. The nature of this study is qualitative conducted on graduate students majoring in business studies at the College of Business Administration at the American University of the Emirates in the United Arab Emirates. The findings have shown that group dynamics is an essential component of educating students majoring in business and that role-play simulation plays a significant part in the development of it.

Kathleen Monahan, “Social Work Student Participation in a Mock Disaster: Brief Notes from the Field,” Best Practices in Mental Health 15, 2 (2019).

With the increase in natural disasters and violent incidents across the United States, it is imperative that social work students are educated in how to respond to survivors, family members, and communities with skill-based trauma-responsive knowledge before they enter the field. Preparedness training for these events in the form of mock disasters ensures that institutions and communities are ready for traumatic events that threaten life. Including social work graduate students in mock disasters provides an opportunity for these students to develop skills, competency, and confidence to respond to disasters, as well as to participate in interprofessional collaboration. This article will present the experiences of second year social work graduate students who participated in a mock disaster in a regional hospital/university setting.

Jonas Hermelin et al, “Operationalising resilience for disaster medicine practitioners: capability development through training, simulation and reflection,” Cognition, Technology & Work (2019).

Resilience has in recent decades been introduced as a term describing a new perspective within the domains of disaster management and safety management. Several theoretical interpretations and definitions of the essence of resilience have been proposed, but less work has described how to operationalise resilience and implement the concept within organisations. This case study describes the implementation of a set of general resilience management guidelines for critical infrastructure within a Swedish Regional Medical Command and Control Team. The case study demonstrates how domain-independent guidelines can be contextualised and introduced at an operational level, through a comprehensive capability development programme. It also demonstrates how a set of conceptual and reflective tools consisting of educational, training and exercise sessions of increasing complexity and realism can be used to move from high-level guidelines to practice. The experience from the case study demonstrates the value of combining (1) developmental learning of practitioners’ cognitive skills through resilience-oriented reflection and interaction with dynamic complex open-ended problems; (2) contextualisation of generic guidelines as a basis for operational methodological support in the operational environment; and (3) the use of simulation-based training as part of a capability development programme with increasing complexity and realism across mixed educational, training and exercise sessions. As an actual example of a resilience implementation effort in a disaster medicine management organisation, the study contributes to the body of knowledge regarding how to implement the concept of resilience in operational practice.

From the US Patent Office comes this application from the US Navy (and inventors Jeremy Arias and Chad Klay) for an abstract, hex-based unconventional warfare game.

A board game for simulating unconventional warfare. The board game of the present invention includes hexagonal teritory board pieces, resource production unit markers, and infrastructure markers for representing teritory, resource production units, and infrastructure in an unconventional warfare scenario. The infrastructure markers include (1) base markers that can be placed at intersections of the hexagonal pieces, where each base marker allows a player to collect double resources and build military units; (2)population influence markers that can be placed at the intersections, where each population marker allows the player to collect resources and conduct influence attacks on neighboring infrastructure; and (3)military unit markers that can be placed at the intersections, where each military unit marker allows the player to conduct military attacks on the neighboring infrastructure.

What’s especially unconventional here is applying for a patent—it was my understanding that, generally, you can’t patent game systems.


KWN: Sabin on “The Future of Wargaming to Innovate and Educate”


On November 22 (16:30-20:00) at King’s College London, Professor Philip Sabin (Department of War Studies, KCL) will address “The Future of Wargaming to Innovate and Educate.”

The lecture marks the first anniversary of the King’s Wargaming Network and Professor Sabin’s retirement after 35 years of service to the university.

Professor Brooke Rogers, Deputy Head, Department of War Studies, will deliver welcome remarks. Ms Ivanka Barzashka, Co-Director of the Wargaming Network, will chair the discussion.

Additional information and (complimentary) tickets can be obtained here.

Connections UK 2019 report


Picture credit: King’s Wargaming Network.

This year’s Connections UK professional wargaming conference was held at King’s College London on 3-5 September. Participants from almost two dozen countries countries took part, making it one of the most international Connections conferences ever. Of the 285 who registered for the event, about 13% were women. A very large proportion were also younger and first-time participants, underscoring the success of the conference in growing the wargaming community and reaching out to a new generation of serious gamers.

UPDATE: audio and/or slides from all of the conference presentations are now available from the Connections UK website.

Day 1

The first day of Connections UK was divided into several streams.

Some participants took part in a full day introduction to wargaming course, taught by Major Tom Mouat (Defence Academy of the UK) together with Jerry Elsmore. According to Tom:

The “Introduction to Wargaming” course was attended by over 60 people. The course included presentations on “Why Wargame”, “Types of Wargame”, Wargaming Effects, Hybrid Warfare and Influence”, “Wargame Design, Dice and Adjudication” and “Wargaming Pitfalls and Dangers”. I also demonstrated a simple Kriegsspiel based on counter IED operation in Afghanistan, a modified commercial-off-the-shelf game Air Strike (based on IAF Leader by Dan Verssen Games) and a matrix game Kazdyy Gorod about an Eastern European city on the border with Russia, faced with internal dissent and “little green men”. After the session, I also gave an additional lecture on “Game Components and Map Making”.

Jim Wallman (Stone Paper Scissors) ran a full day megagame, Super Soldiers & Killer Robots 2035, which looked at the impact of technological innovation on warfare.


Super Soldiers & Killer Robots 2035 underway.

Finally, there was an array of types of shorter games that participants could play.

  • Map and counter: Ukraine Crisis– Rik Stolk and Graeme Goldsworthy
  • Map and counter: Afghanistan Provincial Reconstruction Team(PRT) Game – Roger Mason
  • Map and counter plus negotiation: 2nd Punic War– Phil Sabin
  • Map & counter computer-assisted wargame: RCAT Full-Spectrum Adjudication– Graham Longley-Brown, Jeremy Smith, Dstl, NSC and Slitherine
  • Card-driven game: Cyber resilience game – LTC Thorsten Kodalle
  • ‘Euro-style’ board game: AFTERSHOCK Humanitarian Crisis Game–Rex Brynen
  • Board game:  Integrity: Conflict Sensitivity and Corruption– Paul Howarth
  • Matrix game: Hybrid campaign game– Anja van der Hulst

I ran two games of AFTERSHOCK, both of which saw the players do a quite good job of bringing much-needed humanitarian assistance to the earthquake-affected people of Carana.


Your scribe, about to start a game of AFTERSHOCK.

Impressively, Day 1 also saw a visit by the UK Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace, who toured some of the games in progress.




Day 2

The first plenary, chaired by Dr. Aggie Hirst (KCL), addressed the psychology of wargaming.

Captain Philip Matlary (Norwegian Army) addressed the psychology of teaching tactics. He stressed that understanding tactics is a cognitive skill, involving judgment, speed and guile. Since students construct their own understanding, teachers must attend to what students are thinking. Teaching tactics is intended to transform tactics from cognitive, “system 2” analytical thinking to more intuitive “system 1” thinking. However, system 1 thinking—although faster— is also prone to bias and systematic errors, such as confirmation bias and cognitive ease. He emphasized the importance of developing guile. Left somewhat open was how good wargaming was at developing these skills (compared to other methods), how we know this, and what best practices might be. Dr. Neil Verrall, a psychologist with Dstl, addressed the psychology of wargaming. He usefully broke down the internal dynamics of the game (intrapersonal/player characteristics interpersonal/the psychology of individual interaction, and group dynamics) and external dynamics (the context of the game). He stressed the importance of addressing these (confounding) variables, adopting an experimental mindset in game design and execution. He concluded with some food for thought, including cross-cultural gaming, organizational cultures, the role of information, understanding and deception, and responses to future threats. He also underscored the importance of interdisciplinary (or transdisciplinary) approaches to improve wargame design. Finally, Dr. Yuna Wong (RAND) addressed the importance of bringing psychological insights into wargaming. She argued that a lot of political science/international relations training was at the wrong level of analysis to address small group wargame dynamics. She also identified several barriers to bringing psychology more fully into wargaming. These included disciplinary barriers; the excessive quantitative focus of (US) social science and a corresponding atrophying of qualitative analytical skills (“some social scientists could no longer pass the Turing Test”); the lack of senior wargame mentors in psychology; and the failure to recognize psychology and an important area of subject matter expertise in games (as opposed to domain, geographic area or technological knowledge).


A packed audience listens to presentations on the psychology of wargaming.

Aggie suggested a series of question to start off the discussion period, and then threw it open to the audience to raise additional points. I raised two: first, the issue of how we can psychologically manipulate wargame participants to behave in certain desired ways, and second the psychology of wargame promotion. Regarding the later, I warned of our l own vulnerability to confirmation bias—I think, as a community, we are sometimes prone to oversell our favoured approaches.

Following the coffee break, we broke into four simultaneous “deep dive” sessions:

  1. Quantitative vs qualitative gaming (Phil Sabin)
  2. Answering “so what” questions (Jim Wallman)
  3. Successful playtesting (Graham Longley-Brown and James Bennett)
  4. Data capture and analysis (Colin Marston)

I attended the latter, although I’ll admit that my arrival in the session was delayed by extended discussions with colleagues over coffee that ran late.

The first keynote of the conference was delivered by Dr. Lynette Nusbacher (Nusbacher Associates). Entitled “There’s No Pro like an Old Pro:  Professionalism and Wargaming,” she addressed how games can more effectively shape policy processes. She discussed the value of gaming as a forming of inoculation against strategic surprise and shock. When senior leaders encounter cognitive dissonance and ideas for which they are not prepared for they may stop thinking. Challenge may be unwelcome. At its base, she stressed, simulation and gaming should introduce disruption. In the UK, she suggested, government does not really develop strategy to implement policy, but tends to reverse the direction. Strategy is just presumed to exist. There is typically no structured process to marshal ways and means to deliver ends. The US benefits from a more robust think-tank community (partly as a home for former or aspiring political appointees) that are more receptive to critical analysis.


Keynote address by Lynette Nusbacher.

The wargaming and simulation community needs to continue to sell gaming to think tanks and universities. Wargaming is still too dependent on creative and ambitious individuals adopting the technique. Gaming needs to be a fundamental part of procurement. Gaming needs to be sold not only on the internal merits of the game, but as a general antidote to some of the endemic pathologies of UK policymaking.

After lunch, there was yet more wargaming available for participants to sample.

  1. Anti-Submarine Warfare: a game for understanding the basics – Ed Oates
  2. Crisis in Zefra: An analytical matrix game – US Naval Postgraduate School
  3. The Camberley Kriegsspiel– Ivor Gardiner
  4. Signal– Sandia Labs and Berkeley
  5. Sweeping Satellites–Mike Sheehan and Mark Flanagan
  6. FITNA: The global war in the Middle East– Pierre Razoux
  7. Dogfight– Phil Sabin
  8. Decisions and Disruptions cyber game – Dr Ben Shreeve
  9. Rosenstrasse – Graham Longley-Brown
  10. Fire and Movement– Mark Flanagan
  11. Next War: Poland – Callum Nicholson
  12. Confrontation Analysis: Wargaming the US/China trade war – Dstl
  13. We Are Coming, Nineveh! –Rex Brynen
  14. A Reckoning of Vultures (Matrix Game Construction Kit) –Rex Brynen
  15. The Al Asqa Intifada – Stella Guesnet
  16. Beggars in Red: The Battle of Waterloo – James Bridgman
  17. Cyber card game– Dstl
  18. Combat Mission tactical computer wargame – Dstl
  19. STRIKE! – Dstl
  20. Strategic Wargame Verden Crisis – Dstl
  21. Canvas Aces –Phil Sabin
  22. Kursk to Kamenets: The battle for the Ukraine 1943-1944 – James Halstead


Our game of We Are Coming, Nineveh! saw Iraqi security forces liberate west Mosul after six months of heavy fighting—but at the cost of massive collateral damage. Because of this it was judged to be a Daesh victory.


We Are Coming, Nineveh!


Coup plotting underway in Matrixia—the “Reckoning of Vultures” scenario from the Matrix Game Construction Kit.


Day 3

Day 3 started off with the usual housekeeping announcements, then a short presentation on the future of Connections UK. Registrations have increased year to year, although it might soon be running up against space limitations at KCL. Moving ahead there will be some institutionalization of the organizational structures have made it all possible.



The first plenary session was on gaming hybrid warfare, chaired by John Curry (History of Wargaming Project).

Dr. Ben Shreeve (University of Bristol) delivered an outstanding presentation on “decisions and disruptions.” He first introduced a simple card game (with awesome Lego illustrations) that he uses to educate about cyber vulnerabilities and mitigation. He then discussed a study of how different groups played the game, finding that security experts actually played slightly worse than IT managers or computer scientists. Security experts tended to underinvest in basic cyber defences (such as antivirus and basic security training) and instead emphasized more sophisticated capabilities. They also analyzed the kinds of arguments used to support decisions. A full paper on their findings (by Sylvain Frey, Awais Rashid, Pauline Anthonysamy, Maria Pinto-Albuquerque, and Syed Asad Naqvi) can be found here. Next, Dr. Anja van der Hulst(TNO) examined wargaming the hybrid threat. In it she reviewed the various approaches, such as matrix games, scripted connect-the-dots games, and others. Usefully she highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of each approach. Finally, Dr. Roger Mason looked at wargaming hybrid warfare cyber operations. After a review of the role of cyber in hybrid and conventional operations, he introduced The Battle of Voru, a wargame exploring the employment of cyber in a fictional Russian attack on Estonia.


Ben Shreeve on gaming cyber security.

John led off discussion by noting that one needs to match wargaming tools to the sort of hybrid warfare issue or question that one is examining. One of the audience expressed some concern about “hybrid” warfare in that all warfare is hybrid, and that combining the terms might obscure that some “hybrid” activities might actually seek to avoid kinetic warfare. (This is rather a hobbyhorse of mine, so I was happy to hear someone raise it.) There was also discussion of the role of non-state actors. I asked about the risk that sponsors want games with exaggerated (cutting-edge, trendy hybrid and cyber threats)—especially there is some evidence from Ukraine and Syria that tactical and strategic cyberattacks have actually had fairly limited effects.

The conference again broke into “deep dive” groups, before and/or after lunch:

  • Wargaming the Future
  • Space Games
  • Technology to Support Wargaming
  • On Wargaming
  • Data Capture and Aanlysis

Once again, I found myself in side discussions and saw less of these than I wished. However, Stephen Aguilar-Millan was kind enough to provide a summary of the first of these sessions, which he cochaired and led.

The session orignated in some thinking about wargaming the future that was undertaken for Connections US. The whole point of thought is to lead to some purposeful action, so we decided to hold a session at Connections UK that would start to act out this process. We decided to examine ‘The European Battlespace 2050’ as the topic of invetstigation and we aimed at unearthing the critical strategic uncertainties that a wargame would be concerned with. The session attracted about 60 participants, with a wide variety of national, organisational, and occupational responsibilities. They were divided into ten groups of six participants and tasked with defining the Blue Team in the European Battlespace in 2050. A set of strategic assumptions were given to the participants, along with a map and a set of crayons. Their output was an annotated strategic map of Europe in 2050, which was presented to the group in the second half of the session. The plan is for the session curators to take the maps after the conference, synthesise the information contained on the maps, and to look for the key strategic uncertainties facing Europe in 2050. This output has the potential to then feed into the next stage of the process – to build a set of scenarios from which the game dynamics can be created.


In the afternoon, the next plenary session, chair by Colin Marston, addressed the selection and use of commercial off the shelf and modified off the shelf (COTS/MOTS) Games. Jim Wallman (and an absent Jeremy Smith from Cranfield University) offered an air COTS review, in which they examined 17 COTS tactical air combat wargames. Each was assessed against 32 criteria. They also asked, more generally, if the games addressed future technology insight, whether the game was useful for training or development, whether it was useful for capability, how easily it was modifiable, and the game’s learning curve (how quick and easy it was to learn to play).


Paul Beaves then discussed a land COTS review, which examined existing commercial manual urban warfare games for the purpose of supporting future Dstl wargame development. They focused on games that addressed battlegroup-level operations. They evaluated the extent to which the games addressed a variety of Ministry of Defence requirements—for example, did it address line-of-sight, varying terrain types, and command control. Among those assessed was We Are Coming, Nineveh! Not surprisingly, each of the games had strengths and weaknesses, none fully covered all UK requirements, and many had useful approaches and features.


LtCol Ranald Shepherd (British Army) addressed COTS wargames and professional development, largely focussing on A Distant Plain. When running games in Afghanistan, participants found themespecially useful in highlighting the divergent interests of the key parties. He suggested that more could be done to use COTS games to support professional development.


Finally, Wilf Owen raised someconcerns about professional wargames. He stressed at the outset that wargames were extremely valuable tools when well executed by skilled and knowledgeable personnel. However, not all wargames are good. COTS games too often use hexes, too rarely have single player/level of command issues. Digital COTS games run into blackboxing problems. Wargames are too often too different from actual military procedures, and real-world military experience should count for more than skill with the game system. Wilf noted that there was little systematic evidence of the value-added of wargaming. He suggested combat resolution models are less important than people think, and that games need to focus more on the consequences of decisions. He stressed using real maps of real terrain using real planning processes and procedures. It was an excellent presentation, although on some issues he may have underestimated the extent to which his critical views are actually quite widely held in the community.

The second keynote address of the conference was provided by Maj Gen Mitch Mitchell (Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre), who spoke about the importance of “thinking differently.” Given a changing international system, how could horizon scanning and gaming help us be better prepared? Wargaming needs to become both routine (something regularly done) and experimental (in that it examines new threats and responses).



The last plenary presentation was offered by me, on gaming peace and stabilization operations. The slides for my presentation can be found here (pdf).


This was Phil Sabin’s last Connections UK as a faculty member at KCL, since he is now embarking on a well-deserved retirement. During the conference several of us spoke to his contributions to teaching and research on wargames and military history, to wargame design, and to building a professional community. Indeed, his conflict simulation course in the Department of War Studies was the orignal inspiration for my own course at McGill university, where we use his book Simulating War as the course text.

All in all it was an excellent conference. Special thanks are due to everyone who made it happen—the organizers, the student volunteers (without whom there would have been chaos), and the Department of War Studies at King’s College London.



Simulation & Gaming (August 2019)

sgbarThe latest edition of Simulation & Gaming 50, 4 (August 2019) is now available.


Research Articles

Matrix games at the Canadian Army Simulation Centre

The following report was prepared for PAXsims by David Banks and Brian Phillips.

Dave Banks Facilitating.jpg

Dave Banks of the Canadian Army Simulation Centre facilitates the use of a matrix wargame during the 2019 Civil-Military Interagency Planning Seminar.

For the first time in its ten year history, a matrix game was employed during the Civilian Military Interagency Planning Seminar (CMIPS) conducted from 18 to 20 June 2019 at Fort Frontenac in Kingston, Ontario. The planning seminar is run annually by the Canadian Army’s Formation Training Group with support from the Canadian Army Simulation Centre (CASC).



The intent of CMIPS is to foster understanding among the interagency participants with the intent of building better relationships in advance of any future interaction overseas or domestic settings.  The CMIPS had approximately 50 participants with half coming from the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and the remainder drawn from other government departments and international and local non-governmental organizations. The participants were broken into balanced groups of military and civilians who then discussed a common scenario by way of a table top exercise (TTX). While this is a proven approach, the event organizer, Steve Taylor, felt that a matrix game could be an interesting improvement to the Seminar this year.

Dave Banks and Brian Phillips, Calian Activity Leads (ALs) at CASC, with the support of CASC and the help of the other Calian Activity Leads, designed, developed and conducted a Matrix Game for one syndicate of the CMIPS. Dave Banks served as the Controller for the activity and Brian Phillips served as the Scribe.

This matrix game was intended to:

  • foster cooperation and understanding among the players (primary goal);
  • be a proof of concept for CASC in applying matrix games as a training and education tool; and
  • introduce the players to matrix games.



The matrix game was held over two days followed by a review on the third day. Specifically:

Day 1 consisted of an introduction to matrix games,  a briefing on the specific matrix game set in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a short read-in, and concluded with two hrs of play (two turns). During Day 1 the problem faced by the actors was the likely arrival of Ebola to North Kivu province. As much as possible, the participants represented their own, or a similar agency, during the game.

Day 2 consisted of two and a half hours of additional play. During this session a random event card was played that depicted the President of the DRC dying in a plane crash on landing at Goma in North Kivu province. While foul play was not suspected, the death of the president was expected to disrupt the political environment and potentially heighten the risk of violence throughout the DRC and in North Kivu in particular.


Differences from Other Matrix Games

While there is no definitive form or format for a matrix game, there were a few features of the CMIPS game that might not be commonly found in other matrix games.

Actor Cards.  The CASC product had fairly detailed Actor cards which included:

  • a brief outline of the nature, purpose and involvement of the Actor in the situation;
  • the Actor’s objectives, both overt and covert (where applicable);
  • the Actor’s limitations (ie: actions it would never take);
  • any specific special capabilities the Actor possessed (such as the ability to provide air or ground transport, deploy medical teams, etc);
  • the number, type and general location of map counters allocated to the Actor; and
  • a recap of the basic game procedures and concepts.

Further differences included having turns divided into three phases:

  1. Negotiation Phase (10 mins). During this phase the Players had 10 minutes to negotiate any support or cooperation they required amongst themselves.
  2. Argument Phase. Each player in sequence made their argument for their Actor’s action for that turn. Actions were adjudicated using a Pro and Con system and two six-sided dice.  Each player had a maximum of five minutes for their action which was strictly enforced by the Controller.
  3. Consequence Management (10 mins). During this phase the Scribe read back the Actions for the turn and some of the consequences were articulated including some consequences that the Players were unlikely to have foreseen.



Overall, the matrix game was very well received by the participants. While the matrix game participants did not go into as much fine detail as some of the other syndicates did in their TTXs, the matrix game was immersive. One civilian participant remarked that the experience of uncertainty going into the first negotiation phase was exactly the same sort of experience that he had getting oriented on a previous humanitarian mission.


Key Findings

  • As this was the first matrix game run by ALs from CASC the three play testing sessions conducted prior to the event proved to be invaluable. Even with facilitators with significant experience in running TTXs, the specific preparation of the play testing was instrumental in successfully executing the matrix game at the first attempt. The time invested in deliberate play-testing and game development is well spent.
  • The two-person facilitation team of a Controller and a Scribe worked very well. Both the Controller and Scribe exercised firm control at different times to ensure the game stayed within the admittedly fairly wide arcs established for play. We strongly believe that this firm control is vital to the success of a matrix game: without it there is a risk that the game may degenerate, particularly if there are strong personalities around the table.
  • The key advantage of the matrix game noted by the players over a traditional TTX was the fact that the players had to participate. They could not sit at the table and just observe one or two participants dominate a TTX, rather, they had to make decisions and actively contribute.
  • There is ample reference material readily available to build matrix games from The Matrix Game Handbook(Curry et al.) to the Matrix Game Construction Kit offered by PAXsims and several online resources. As such it was fairly easy to find useful graphics for game pieces as well as ideas for rules, event cards, and game conduct through a simple web search. Tom Mouat’s website was invaluable and his Practical Advice on Matrix Games v10 was particularly useful.
  • The formal turn-structure of phased turns including, in particular, a Negotiation Phase, directly contributed to achieving the game objective of fostering co-operation and understanding amongst the players. The inclusion of a Negotiation Phase was one of the outputs of the three play-testing sessions.
  • The Consequence Management (CM) Phase was only partially successful. In future, this phase would benefit from some modification in implementation. At the end of the turn there should be a slight pause while the Controller and Scribe discuss CM and how they want it to proceed as it can function almost like a random event card. Thus CM should be implemented with some care and forethought. Whether that should be done as part of the CM phase or perhaps the CM phase should revert to a Situation Update/Summary phase. In the later case, the CM could be determined by the Controller and Scribe during the Negotiation Phase and briefed at the end of that phase. This will be play tested prior to the next running of the CMIPS matrix game.



The feedback from the CMIPS participants indicates that a matrix game proved to be a worthwhile investment of time and resources. These games take longer to prepare than a traditional TTX but the players’ active participation in the game experience made it a valuable learning event.

Matrix games have been added to the toolset offered by CASC and future serials of the CMIPS will likely continue to use this innovative activity.



Lieutenant-Colonel (Retired) David Banks served 38 years in the Infantry, both Regular and Reserve. He is a graduate of the Canadian Army Command and Staff College 1990 and is a Distinguished Graduate of the United States Marine Corps Command and Staff College Quantico 1997-98. David has completed a number of overseas operational tours including Afghanistan, and participated in several major domestic operations in Canada. He has worked as an Activity Lead for Calian in support of the Canadian Army Simulation Centre and the Canadian Army Formation Training Group since 2011.

Lieutenant-Colonel (Retired) Brian Phillips spent 27 years in the Regular and Reserve force initially as an Infantry Officer and later as an Intelligence Officer. Brian holds an MA in War Studies (1993) and an MA in Defense Studies (2015) both from the Royal Military College of Canada and he is a graduate of the Canadian Army Command and Staff College in Kingston (2005) and the Joint Command and Staff Programme in Toronto (2015). Brian’s operational experience includes the 1997 Manitoba Floods, Bosnia, Kosovo, the Middle-East, Haiti with the DART in 2010 and Afghanistan twice. He has been employed as an Intelligence Specialist and Activity Lead for Calian in support of the Canadian Army Simulation Centre since 2017.

Connections 2019 report


This year saw the Connections wargaming conference move to the US Army War College, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The event was just outside the base in the Army Heritage and Education Center, which was particularly helpful in that the administrative burden to get permission to attend for people like me (non-US citizen) was made significantly less onerous.

The event took place from Tuesday 13 Aug 19 to Friday 16 Aug 19.  Details of the programme are here.

I elected to fly over two days early because, thanks to changes in the Uk Ministry of Defence regulations, we are not permitted to drive having flown across the Atlantic until the following day. Since flying in to Washington and driving to Carlisle was considerably cheaper than trying to get closer by air (and gave me a car all week), it was an easy decision to make – and since the Battlefield at Gettysburg was on the route, I was able to get a little bit of military history on the way.

This year’s theme was: Futures of Wargaming – to which the obvious question was: was this to be about the “future of wargaming” or about “wargaming the future?” – to which the answer was “Yes!”.

Day 1

Colonel Russ Griffin welcomed us to the Heritage and Education Centre, explaining the purpose of the Center, along with the usual senior officer’s politically correct joke – but this time it was one about the fact that at the Gettysburg Cemetery, President Lincoln spoke his “few appropriate remarks” in less than 2 minutes, after former Secretary of State Edward Everett’s 2 hour oration. History remembers Lincoln, but few remember Everett – so his remarks were going to be like Lincoln’s – short and memorable, rather than long and forgetful. A fine ambition for a military officer and an anecdote that I shall steal for myself…

The programme this year was far more complex than usual, reflecting the high attendance, but the number of concurrent sessions caused frustration from the start, with Dean Cheng’s presentation on PLA Wargaming clashing with Mark Leno’s Computer-Assisted Wargaming. Since the topic of computer assistance was one that my superior headquarter was particularly interested in, I felt that duty came before personal preference and went to Mark’s session. I was not disappointed, however, as Mark gave a very interesting presentation on the practical aspects of computer assisted wargaming in a clear and frank manner, covering three separate game designs: An Information Warfare Game, a Defense Management Game and a Build the Force game.

The Information Warfare Game was a 7-Sided, blind, resource allocation game with a game map representing the cognitive space of the conflict with the aim of training the participants to think in a different way about the problem, allocating resources to discover information and apply influence. The challenge being to provide a gameboard capable of being centrally updated and delivered to different locations.

The Defense Management Board game was used to replace a written assignment as part of an existing exercise in order to make it more challenging. The requirement was intended to be part of a distance learning package using asynchronous turns, so players needed to manage their own time in planning and delivery. In essence the different roles represented by the participants had to agree 45 current and 16 future programmes going forward.


The Build the Force game was to intended to get the participants to generate a balanced force, based on political and intelligence estimates, to meet and defeat any crises that develop during the game, at the minimum cost. The types of crises were graded from “most likely” to “least likely”, and used a mechanism to re-order them each turn. I was particularly interested in the fact that the students who elected to do excessive homework for the game doing some heavy math preparation tended to do well in the early stages of the game, but poorly later. That spoke to me of a well-balance design, where experience and intuition were also important. Managing the design to use real world force elements, with “ball-park” representation of costs, and still keep it unclassified, was also quite an achievement.

Mark was frank about the challenges of project like this, operating on military systems, using software tools (mostly Microsoft Office applications) that were universally available – rather than trying for bespoke solutions that would be extremely difficult to distribute and maintain. This meant that graphics would be limited, but the training burden would be lowered due to familiarity with the products. He also emphasised that it was essential to try not to be too ambitious and to keep solutions simple. A particularly helpful presentation intended to provide practical advice, rather than trying to make the team look clever.

For the second session, I elected to attend Joe Saur’s session on Combat Modelling, rather than Operational Wargaming in Korea or a session on Logistics. As a logistician by Arm of Service, I was tempted by a session referring to Logistics as the “Red-Headed Stepchild of Wargaming“, but in the end went with the Combat Modelling.

Joe is an extremely experienced instructor and his clear exposition on Attrition Models and Lanchester were very helpful, moving forward in complexity, covering factors in the modelling, with examples like the Madden NFL video game, through deterministic and stochastic models, and the sources of data.

I particularly like Joe’s discussion about the tendency to measure what is easy to measure and the problems associated in implementation between the Coders who make things happen in a simulation, versus the subject matter experts who have a more holistic view about the effects that changes in the variables might have.

This connected directly for me with the assumptions that designers make in their models, that may consciously or unconsciously reflect their biases, and the example provided in the UK’s Defence Wargaming handbook of the the “Gulf Strike” commercial boardgame during the First Gulf War (page 41). The designer, Mark Herman had developed a simple hobby wargame model, that was far more accurate than the multi-million-dollar simulations used by the DOD, as it was based on more realistic assumptions.

This was followed by a choice between Ed McGrady on Games as a form of Play, Merle Robinson on Megagame Design and Development, or Matt Caffrey with a book talk about On Wargaming. Since I have been playing Megagames for over 40 years, I was interested in Merle’s talk but felt I couldn’t really justify it, and Matt was to be presenting at UK Connections where I could see his talk, I elected to listen to Ed’s talk about Play.

Ed’s proposition is that play is underrated and that understanding it properly will give us insights into the process of learning, understanding and make for better games. He covered the elements that make up play, the huge range and diversity of play, relating them to games.

The “Magic Circle” was also covered. In games, the “magic circle” is the space in which the normal rules and reality of the world are suspended and replaced by the artificial reality of the game world. There is a boundary with an “inside” and an “outside”, but the boundary is porous, with the inside having its own unique rules but reflecting characteristics of the real world and the player can used this different cast on the real world, in order to help understand it and learn from it.

I was especially interested in his comments outlining the fact that surprise within the scenario is important in practicing the player in reacting to change (the Israeli Dado Center for Interdisciplinary Studies view this as extremely important for building adaptability). Also, the important psychological importance of the difference between an adjudicator rolling the dice, permitting the player to roll the dice, and requiring the player to roll his own dice. This is closely linked in my mind to the relationship between dice and understanding risk – and more importantly differentiating the difference between the understanding of a calculated risk and merely gambling.


The essential point being that play is serious and has a significant impact on a wargame and removing all aspects of play from a game is a mistake – but also we can learn from a study of play about the essential elements that encourage “flow” (the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity), such as movement, haptics, surprise, challenge, etc. It was also illuminating to consider how computer games suppress many of these elements, while excessively indulging in others.

This was followed by a panel session on Wargaming Methods.

Jeremy Sepinsky started out with Programming with People about the organisation of the human component within the wargame, pointing out that whatever answer you get from a game will be meaningless unless you really understood the question the wargame was intended to answer in the first place. Players need to be organised in a way that supports answering the question and the more complex the question, the greater the number of people needed to address the question – and the greater difficulty you have in ensuring that the question is really understood.

He also pointed out that players require active management – you won’t get a second chance (unless you are really lucky), so they need to be kept focussed on the goal – but take care not to go too far to the extent that game play, or the people themselves, are adversely affected.

This was followed by Kenneth Sawka and Incorporating Structured Analytic Techniques into Business Wargaming. This was interesting – the method’s aim is to make the analytic process conscious and transparent, thus reducing the probability of errors caused by cognitive biases that go unchallenged in more usual unstructured and intuitive analysis – and the business use of the technique helped illuminate difference between that and the intelligence community. I especially liked the focus on assumptions, critical assumptions, checking assumptions and indicators of change and events that would change or invalidate assumptions.

Lastly Jim Markley talked about US Army War College Wargaming. This was the Strategic Wargaming Department and the use of games and exercises for education. What particularly impressed me was the range of diverse games and techniques (and my jealousy of their 3D printer and large-scale plotter). Chris Engle matrix games were singled out for a mention, which was nice to see as an accepted “mainstream” technique after all this time.

This was followed by another split session with the choices of Using Design Thinking for Designing Wargames by Yuna Wong, War Cry – Combat Force Cohesion and Capability Disintegration with Uwe Eickert or Gaming Urban Terrain and Megacities with Ed McGrady. Since I have been specifically asked to look at urban warfighting I elected to go with Ed again.

He covered a lot of ground in his presentation, pointing out that running this as a game was an abstraction, hoping to gain insights that would be useful, rather than an attempt to slavishly represent all aspect of urban combat.

There were a huge number of elements in urban combat that were of particular note in city environments, as well as the fact that every city presented unique terrain challenges due to the extreme diversity and that sweeping generalisations were not likely to be helpful. The terrain of course, was not limited to the surface physical domain, but covered sub-surface, cognitive and electromagnetic domains as well.

The issue was extremely challenging at all levels of representation and there are no easy answers. Many attempts at manual game structures tried in the past have been barely adequate and most computer simulations seeking to address the problem were extremely poor.

The day finished off with a Wargame Testing and Interactive Demonstration social session at the Desperate Times Brewery, which was very pleasant (but the background noise due to the building construction made communication difficult). I played Paul Vebber’s game about research and development in the production of the next generation submarine.


Day Two

Day Two started with a Keynote from Dr Steven Stoddard, Deputy Director for Force Development. He elected to give a direct view on wargaming with the assertion that wargames inform change, and change needs leaders to make decisions. He chose to illustrate this with three examples: a NEO operation in the Pacific, a game for the Resolute Support HQ in Afghanistan and a game about near-peer warfighting prior to an Army modernisation programme. As he put it – telling war stories about wargames…

He gave a whole series of fascinating insights into designing games for senior leaders and the design process when you have high level games involving very senior officers and large numbers of them. The requirement for targeted rehearsals for mentors, facilitators and the Generals’ own staff; modifying the games based on the feedback received; all intended to ensure buy-in from the participants. I really liked the way in which success could be measured by the amount that the junior Generals and staff took over the debrief to present points to the Seniors.

Dr Stoddard was very open and frank about what worked well and what didn’t, and it was an outstanding presentation.

This was followed by a panel session on Futures Gaming.

Dr John Hanley talked about the CNO Strategic Studies Group Gaming, covering new concepts, requiring new models and the problem of proper validation. He took a historical view moving forward and finished with a clear view on what worked well and what did not.

Deon Canyon looked at Matrix Gaming at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, with some compelling insights into the current standoff with the DPRK and how the issue was examined in one of their courses. There were a number of observations raised on the technique, and modifications to make it work with the specific circumstances of the course that I found especially helpful. There was also a desire to come up with a system for indicating at a “winner” for the game, but I was please to see that this did not end up distorting the open-ended Matrix Game play.

Finally, Dr Kiran Lakkaraju talked about Experimental Gaming at the Nuclear Threshold. This was looking at experimental wargaming for National Security related to nuclear weapons, breaking the “nuclear taboo” and come up with some quantitative evidence from a large number of games. The technique used both manual wargaming in order to perfect the design, but also an on-line version. The Project on Nuclear Gaming (PoNG) is available to play at specific times as announced on the website. Some users have mentioned difficulty in running the game, but it is generating useful data. The manual board-game version was available to play in the demonstration sessions.


We then went into the Game Lab sessions.

Again, as I have been given homework to do about urban operations, I went to the Future Combat in Megacities session. We were fortunate to have a diverse group discussing the topic, very capably led by Ed. The summary of the session that I gave to Yuna Wong afterwards really reflected the topic – it is hard to do – very hard. This was something of a relief to me as I had been struggling with the subject for some time. There are some good approaches, specifically the excellent We Are Coming, Nineveh! game from Juliette Le Ménahèze and Harrison Brewer at McGill (modified by Brian Train and Rex Brynen), but this was a level of abstraction that was unsuitable for many circumstances, and the equally interesting Urban Operations from Sébastien de Peyret, was seen as too complex for other circumstances.

We covered issues of gaming at the strategic, operational, tactical and detailed sub-tactical level; we looked at the difficulties of depicting structures, elevations, tunnels, line-of-sight (the game designer Jim Wallman physically modelled parts of a city using large quantities of foamboard and lasers for line-of-sight for one game); we also considered communications, cyberspace, casualty rates, logistics (drone delivery anyone?). The issue of hidden information and how that could be represented in a game was a complete topic in its own right.

An interesting point that had come out of last years’ Connections in Yuna Wong’s session on AI, was the possible use of AI “bots” not physically deployed in the city, but instead deployed “on-line” using algorithms to track down insurgents and enemy combatants from their communication interactions.

A very good point was made about the unique difficulties of representing civilians and their effect on operations at different scales – and the fact that a disproportionate amount of planning and game design made huge and often totally invalid assumptions about their behaviours and effects.

One of the fundamental issues is why a military force would wish to be involved in an urban location in the first place, since it was operationally so difficult. There are a number of possible reasons for intervention, such as vital route clearing or the destruction of enemy indirect fire assets using the terrain as cover, and it seems to me that each mission may require a slightly different approach to a possible game.

There was quite a lot of experimentation done in the UK about fighting in urban areas in the 1970s, some of the results of which are quite counter-intuitive, and are contained in the excellent book The Stress of battle: Quantifying Human Performance in Combat, by David Rowland, but it is out of print and very difficult to get hold of at a reasonable price.

In the afternoon we had the Gaming Showcase and Demonstrations. I put on a demonstration of a modification of the DSTL Cyber game that is used for training senior officers and students on Cyber courses offered at the Defence Academy of the UK. This involved the players attempting to carry out a Cyber attack on a piece of vital national infrastructure from the enemy point of view.


Following dinner, the demonstrations continued and I was asked to repeat the Cyber game demonstration until we had to depart.

Day Three

The following morning started off with Commander Phil Pournelle, Retd, from ONA, on The Challenge Before Us. He observed that Secretary Bob Work had left the building and some of the impetus behind wargaming had slackened, but that the community was extremely vibrant and it was possible that we could “keep the nose up” on our flightpath and continue to deliver what was needed.

He observed that the nature of warfare had changed, needing new operational concepts that we didn’t have yet. We are not prepared for the new threats; our models are overly simplistic and simply not good enough for the current challenges. However, the analytical community and the wargaming community were actually starting to cooperate at last, so all was not lost. It was therefore essential to maintain momentum and made a plea to support the MORS Conference and other initiatives.

We then had a panel on Modelling and Wargaming.

This started with Jon Whetzel on Online serious gaming: Developing wargames for the crowd. Jon was part of the team from Project on Nuclear Gaming (PoNG), mentioned above and it was refreshing to have a younger member of the community presenting on the subject. He covered the types of applications used to create the Signal game and provided a number of key take-aways:

  • It is possible to create a complex game with a small team using open source software.
  • There is an underlaying dichotomy between the need for complexity to provide the analytical results and the need to make it entertaining in order to to get people to play the game (especially if you were not going to pay them).
  • Fidelity across mechanisms was important and part of the development process (Boardgame version vs the on-line game).
  • The technical infrastructure for an on-line game is at least as important as the game.

He was followed by Michael Robel with a presentation Toward Automating the Course of Action Generation and Staff Wargame. This is a key area of interest for the UK currently and was of particular interest to me. The presentation was very interesting – especially as the approach is a little different to the direction we are taking and seemed to support my view that the computer assistance is not there to select courses of action, but to highlight the ones that were most likely to fail and could therefore be discounted.

Brian Kirkpatrick followed with War Game Networks for Digital Distribution and Collaboration. He highlighted obstacles to technology transfer, from the concepts to the actual deployment, and the time it takes. In order to do digital distribution effectively, you need common platforms, services and data (matching Mark Leno’s comments from Day One).

Then we had Karl Selke with Modelling the player: A requisite for structured wargaming. The aim was empowering wargames through the automation of much that it was possible to automate, in order to get to a point where the wargames could generate robust analytical data.

We went on to the next group of seminar sessions: Data Collection and Analysis with Chris Weuve, A Wargaming Approach to Computational International Relationswith Karl Selke, and How to Improve your Communication Skills with Dana Lombardy.

I chose Chris, rather than Dana (despite, as an educator, wanting a view on improving my communication skills), because I felt that since the OR function in the UK MOD was now wholly the responsibility of the Defence Science and Technical Laboratory (Dstl), I had not had enough exposure to Data Collection and Analysis and this was an area of weakness.

Chris started with the comment that “A Wargame is often an act of Political Theatre” and carried on in a refreshingly candid style. He pointed out that wargames were full of stated and unstated assumptions, where best at posing questions rather than definitive answers and needed to be approached with realism rather than cynicism.

He also pointed out that the main purpose of the game report was normally to limit the claims made about the game results—so, in designing data collection and analysis, it was essential to plan for failure. You cannot analyse data that you didn’t capture and you cannot capture data that you didn’t generate.

Analysts need to be involved with the design of the wargame from the beginning as attempting to suddenly “bolt on” analysis afterwards was bound to end in failure. Data collection should be a mechanism of the game if it was not going to become intrusive and distort the game play (in the same way as Senior Officer “observers” often do) (interestingly there was a paper offered at the IITSEC Conference demonstrating that the physiological effects of fear and the stress caused by having your actions closely watched by someone sufficiently senior, are practically identical).

He stressed in analysing a game that you should be sceptical, highlight the subtle, caveat the limitations and ruthlessly quash the irrationally exuberant. In designing the game and the data collection plan, always get the sponsor to agree in writing, be realistic and plan for failure, document and critique the process and always have lots of office supplies…

He even provided a reading list:

I was extremely impressed with the presentation. Chris was very good at explaining how things were supposed to be, while all the time being totally comfortable in providing real world examples of why they were not, with the easy confidence of someone with a huge amount of experience in the field.

The next session was working groups on: The Future of Wargaming with Ed McGrady and Mike Ottenberg, Wargaming the Future with Stephen Downes-Martin and Wargaming for Future Leaders with Mike Dunn and James Morningstar.

I elected to take a look at the Future of Wargaming, since this was also an area where I was asked to look at specifically.

The session featured Pete Swan from VT Mak, which was a truly awful propaganda presentation (delivered on-line) about their product (VR Forces). Since VT Mak are part of the team involved in the US Army Synthetic Training Environment (STE), I can understand why they are asked to contribute, but equally having listened to BG Gervais explaining the ambition of the programme that went from exciting, to very challenging, directly into magical unicorn territory (given the timelines) (it gave me flash-backs to the FCS programme for those of you who remember that), I would have appreciated some indication (however optimistic) as to how they thought they were going to deliver.

However, this was followed by a truly excellent presentation from Lucien Parsons, Director – Mixed /Augmented /Virtual Reality Innovation Center (MAVRIC). He provided a candid and engaging insight into the use of VR/AR/MR (now called “XR”) that was of direct used in the courses that I deliver at the Defence Academy.


The insights into the changing demographics of the gaming industry were especially useful as was the example of Maj Travis Sheets and Matthew Elmore in their paper Abstract to Action: Targeted Learning System Theory Applied to Adaptive Flight Training  in low cost pilot training.

There was an awful lot more in his engaging and frank presentation, including the dark side of the technological advances being made (such as privacy, eye tracking revealing hidden emotions, etc), and I would recommend checking out the slides when it is put up on the Connections website.

This led directly into the breakout session where we split into 4 sub-groups in order to examine the possible Futures of Wargaming through the mechanism of using quad charts with suitable axes such as low cost to high cost vs manual to digital techniques.

We elected to go for low cost to high cost against barely effective to very effective, but I am ashamed to say that was probably because I was influenced by the RAND paper on Collective Simulation-Based Training in the US Army that used the same axes and highlighted the problem of effective but hugely expensive and overvalued solutions, while failing to identify the cheap and effective alternatives (such as Majors Sheets and Elmore proposal for pilot training, above).

However, one of the other teams came up with the novel and interesting: Traditional to New Methods vs Physical to Cognitive. This generated quads of Physical/Traditional (Kriegsspiel), Traditional/Cognitive (Freudian) (like traditional Information Warfare and Pysops), to Physical/New Methods (Ender’s Game) and the most interesting Cognitive/New Methods (Minority Report/Inception).

This exercise was both fascinating and useful, and I shall ruthlessly steal the technique in the future.


Day Four

The final day started with an excellent keynote from Ed McGrady, The Future of Wargaming – It’s up to you!

This was a call to arms for wargaming and a stern admonition that we need to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and start making better choices. Games are about understanding a problem, about narrative rather than data, they are not a science experiment – the story is champion in the experience. He pointed out that if the wargaming community fails to properly define its value to Defence, then someone else will…

He suggested that in order to be influential, influential players were needed – but care was necessary. They need to believe in the game and you need to give them a good experience. We need to concentrate our efforts on the right subjects – precisely those that are the current, hard topics, such as social media, influence, grey zone conflict, people, etc., and get the right people (decision makers) to take part.

We should also not be concerned with sniping from the margins about wargames not being repeatable – practicing decision making, for which wargames are ideally suited, is obviously repeatable – whereas Desert Storm was the very definition of a one-off event (that really wasn’t instrumented properly) (and people took a great many questionable conclusions about the future of war from it).

The game might be unique, but themes emerge, and these provide the sorts of valuable insights that senior leaders need in order to shape the direct of the Armed Forces for the future.

Finally, we had outbriefs from the other sessions, closing remarks and a quick hotwash.

In conclusion I would say this was a truly excellent Connections Conference. My disappointment with multiple sessions running in parallel (meaning I missed out on a couple of things I wish I had experienced) was offset by the depth of the sessions,

The presenters gave the impression of being very open and candid – as if they were among friends who were interested in means and methods, rather than formally trying to impress anyone. This made them more accessible and the presenters approachable. I firmly believe that this made a significant contribution to the value of the event.

In addition, the administration for the week was simply excellent. The venue was ideal and the US Army War College were wonderful and approachable hosts. The catering arrangements were outstanding and something, as one of the organising team from Connections UK, I looked on with jealousy as it is not something we could hope to compete with in central London.

In short – something of a triumph – and a note of respect to Matt Caffrey, Tim Wilkie, the US Army War College and the rest of the team.

Tom Mouat

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