Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: February 2020

Malign Wargaming 2: Preference Reversal Effects and Wargaming

At this year’s Connections North I presented part 2 of a 3-part series on Malign Wargaming. This time I looked at how results from psychology research into preference reversal could be inadvertently or deliberately used to distort the valid insights from even well designed wargames, and how to guard against that happening.

For the complete papers of both parts one and two see below:

Part 3: Hopefully at Connections North 2021: will describe how to exploit Kenneth Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem to manipulate voting schemes often used by players, staffs and analysts when they prioritise the gamed alternatives during and following games.

Terror from the sea: An ATLANTIC RIM megagame report


Disaster struck Atlantic Canada on February 16—but not the real kind, fortunately. Instead, this was ATLANTIC RIM, the fifth annual McGill megagame, organized by PAXsims and cosponsored by the McGill Gamers’ Guild and the McGill Political Science Students’ Association. With some 111 participaand nts it was our largest game yet. Of these, about one half were students and one half other gamers. About one quarter were national security professionals from the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Forces, Defence Research and Development Canada, Global Affairs Canada, other government departments, the US Army War College, the US Naval War College, RAND, and the Finnish Ministry of the Interior.

Everything started off quietly enough. February 15th had been a normal day in Canada—or so it seemed…


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The rest was a devastating tsunami that struck the entire Atlantic seaboard.

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And so it began. Players represented federal, provincial, and municipal officials, RCMP, Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, Canadian Coast Guard, RCN (CANFLTLANT), RCAF (1, 3, 4, 8, 9, 12, 14 Wings), Canadian Army (5 Cdn Div, inc 36 and 37 CBG, reinforced with units from 2 Cdn Div, CSOC, and 1 Cdn Fd Hosp), university researchers, corporations, the CBC, and even foreign powers (France, the United States, and Russia) as they struggled to to deal with the after-effects of the tsunami: destroyed infrastructure, displaced populations, blocked roads, downed power lines, ships in distress, and other challenges.


The Nova Scotia/PEI tactical map.



Military mobilization underway.

But then things started to get strange. First, there were mysterious attacks on sea by a massive fish (“Codzilla”) and flocks of giant sea gulls (“Killgulls”). Then came a rampaging angry crustacean (better known as a “RAC Lobster”) and a constantly mutating sea slug (“the Zlug”).


Codzilla strikes!


The main hall with the game underway.

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The RAC Lobster attacks power lines and generating stations.


Large areas of southern Newfoundland are plunged into darkness.


The CBC broadcast live updates from their nearby studio.


A science team, escorted by reservists, discovers a Zlug in the woods.


A flock of Killgulls attacks CFB Gagetown.


The federal cabinet is informed of the latest news in the crisis. Within the day, the Prime Minister would be ousted, and the Minister of Finance would take his place.

In southern Newfoundland things were especially dire. France heavily reinforced Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon with paratroops and naval assets, while a battalion of the Royal 22e Régiment successfully undertook a 1,500km drive from CFB Valcartier, through Québec and New Brunswick, all the wy to Sydney Nova Scotia—whereupon they boarded the ferry to Channel-Port aux Basques. Their arrival in Newfoundland would be welcome relief for the RCMP, Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, local Canadian Forces reservists, and elements of Canadian Special Operations Command.


Dick Danger—star of the hit television series Survivor: Apocalypse—helps out.

Finally, when all seemed lost,  a secret weapon was deployed. It proved critical to the survival of all Atlantic Canada.


Control team HQ.

Much gratitude is due to our excellent Control team, a mix of megagame veterans and volunteers from my POLI 452 (Conflict Simulation) course.

Based on past experience we anticipate that disaster will next strike Western Canada a year or so from now, in the 2021 McGill megagame.

Connections North 2020 conference report


On February 15, McGill University hosted the annual CONNECTIONS NORTH interdisciplinary conference on conflict simulation and other professional/serious gaming. This was the fourth such conference—and the largest yet, with 79 registrants. Of these, over half were a mix of national security professionals, game designers, and researchers, and the remainder were university students (mainly from my POLI 452 Conflict Simulations course). Participants came from Canada and three other countries this year (US, Japan, Finland), and just over one-quarter were women. Some of the slide presentations are linked in the summaries below, and the full conference programme (and presenter biographies) can be found here.

Following weldoming remarks by Ben Taylor (Defence Research and Development Canada) we started off with a panel reviewing the past year or so in Canadian (war)gaming.

In the military domain, Scott Roach (Canadian Joint Warfare Centre) provided an overview of the work of the JWC’s small but growing wargaming section. This included joint wargaming (a series of a capability-based planning wargames, as well as games for the Canadian Joint Operations Command), joint experimentation (notably concerning information operations, electronic warfare, cyber, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance), and joint simulation (using KORA, MASA Sword, JCATS, and others). He noted that they hoped to expand their staff, establish a resource/data library, and move towards more digital gaming. Jonathan Evans (Canadian Army Simulation Centre) spoke about the work of CASC, together with Brian Philips (Calian). CASC is headquartered in Kingston, with distributed locations in CFB Gagetown, Valcartier, Petawawa, and Edmonton. It provides support to the Canadian Army (both digital simulation and tabletop and other exercises), as well as Canadian Joint Operations Command, the RCAF, and other organizations. The major activities of CASC include support for Divisional Simulation Centres, UNIFIED RESOLVE, the Army Operations Course and Canadian Army Command and Staff College, and the Army Experimentation Centre. He also provided an overview of current Canadian Army simulation capabilities: ABACUS, JCATS, and VBS3, linked together and to command and control systems through the Virtual Command and Control Interface (VCCI). Murray Dixson (Defence Research and Development Canada) presented on gaming force planning scenarios, reviewing the work that DRDC had done with the Joint Warfare Centre on capability-based planning. This took the form of five wargames conducted in the spring and summer of 2019 to support Department of National Defence strategic planning. Three of these were conducted as matrix games (stabilization, peace enforcement, and peer combat), one as a combination seminar and commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) game (humanitarian assistance), and one as a seminar game (domestic security and pandemic operations). He also discussed future work by DRDC’s Centre for Operational Research and Analysis (CORA), which includes continued support to strategic planning, as well as gaming for concept development and developing a DRDC wargaming community of interest.

In the foreign policy field, Anna Bretzlaff (Global Affairs Canada) discussed several games that GAC has run in recent years (on topics ranging from diplomacy in the South China Sea to global pandemics), as well as outreach efforts within GAC. The response within the department, she noted, had been very positive: this was clearly a foresight and analysis technique that officials wished to make use of. Finally, I added a few comments about gaming at McGill University, as well as some other PAXsims initiatives, including game development with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada on the African Swine Fever threat.

Subsequent discussion addressed how to better connect up the various gaming initiatives and interests across the government of Canada.

After a coffee break (kindly supplied by local serious game developer Imaginetic), our next panel explored methodological reflections on wargaming.

Stephen Downes-Martin (US Naval War College) presented on reversal effects and wargames—part of his “malign wargames series” whereby he seeks to inoculate game designers and participants against game-distorting techniques. Here he argued that the outcome of a game could potentially be distorted to suit analytical or policy preferences at the outbrief and after-action review stage. One way of doing this, he suggested, was to use insights from psychological research into probability, risk assessment, and loss aversion. Framing game outcomes in different ways could subtly render options more or less appealing. Because of this, he suggested, just “playing the game” was not good enough. It was important to also be familiar with social science and psychology theories, discuss subjective likelihoods of success using “high” through “low” text scales, describe alternatives in terms of advantages and disadvantages, use both selection and pricing techniques when framing outcomes, use both gains and losses, and identify biases of participants. Next, Andy Lee (McGill University and DRDC) reviewed methods of adjudication in matrix and seminar games. His presentation was based on a review of the available wargaming literature, together with interviews with a range of practitioners. Multiple systems were assessed (umpired, weighted probabilities, probability, voting, consensus, rigid) and he offered an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of each. Finally, David Redpath (Canadian Joint Warfare Centre/BI-5 Inc.) offered extensive thoughts on refining wargame methods, focusing on four essential “problem” areas: fog of war and situational awareness, player level and expertise, and the orders they can give in the game; move/countermove and turn order; and who loses—and why. He argued that in all four of these areas, many hobby and professional games alike suffered from serious deficiencies. He then offered a series of suggestions and techniques whereby each might be addressed.

Following lunch, Tom Fisher (Imaginetic) chaired a session on gaming civilians in conflict. He briefly reviewed the enthusiasm for gaming techniques in evidence at the recent Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Week in Geneva. Matt Stevens (Lessons Learned Simulations and Training) then talked about serious games for humanitarian capacity building, offering an overview of a current research project being undertaken by  Save the Children, Lessons Learned Simulations and Training, Imaginetic, and Kaya. This research asks whether serious games contribute to training for local humanitarian aid workers, exploring the extent to which digital or in-person tabletop exercises prompt changes in behaviour and/or attitude. They are also examining the potential barriers to engagement with mobile-based and tabletop serious games as a learning tool, as well as the practical requirements necessary to roll-out mobile and/or tabletop serious games to learners working in an emergency setting. To do this, they have undertaken experimental workshops in Amman and Nairobi using both manual games (AFTERSHOCK, The Day My Life Froze) and digital games. Participants were very positive about the use of games for humanitarian training. Manual games were preferred by participants, but it is not yet clear which is the better learning tool. He also noted that “digital games cause digital problems” (interface, bandwidth, system incompatibilities, and so forth). 

Patrick Robitaille (Laval University) then presented on the annual SimEx humanitarian field exercise organized by Laval University. He discussed how they challenge and assess participants, and changes they have made over time.

The keynote address at Connections North this year was provided by Yuna Wong (RAND), who spoke on “gaming and the unknowable future.” She addressed the challenges of gaming the future, and the difficulty game participants have in imagining the truly new. In the end, she suggested, we had to recognize that the futures we game are unlikely to come to pass in quite the way that we play them, although that does not invalidate games-based reflection and exploration.

Our final panel of the day addressed an important and sensitive topic: expanding the community. It was chaired by Matt Caffrey (US Air Force Research Lab), the founder of the worldwide Connections conferences, and the man who has probably done more than anyone to build global networks amongst professional wargamers. Many of the presentations focused on the challenges facing a field that has historically been dominated by middle-aged (and increasingly older) white males drawn from the military and wargaming hobby. Yuna Wong highlighted her own experiences as a woman and visible minority whose background was in the social sciences, not hobby gaming: while many veterans in the field have been generous with their time and support, she said, all too often she still encounters subtle biases and presumptions. Brianna Proceviat (PAXsims)—who recent graduated from McGill University and who will soon be joining the wargaming team and the Canadian Joint warfare Centre—dressed in pink to ask the rhetorical question “what does a wargamer look like?” She highlighted how subtle gendered pressures during childhood (for example, steering young girls away from conflict-themed toys and games) could leave them having to catch up with male counterparts who had a different experience of childhood socialization. Matt Shoemaker (Temple University) explored the history and design of war games in relation to gender. Independent game designer Roberta Taylor then followed up by discussing a game that she and Matt are developing which depicts the final military conflict in the French conquest of the Kabyle region of Algeria (1854-1857). This will look at the dynamics and effects of war across the entire local (Amazigh) population, and will also reflect the key role played by resistance leader Lalla Fadhma N’Soumer.

The discussion that followed was especially interesting. Several conference participants noted that the wargaming hobby—which is, surveys suggest, is more than 98% male—has had trouble reaching out to younger and more diverse demographics. A few even detailed incidents of outright misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia in online (hobby) wargaming communities. Several students made the point that they would not have even been aware that wargaming—and especially professional wargaming—existed, had they not encountered it in the classroom or through events like Connections North or megagaming. A few noted the popularity of model UN (which takes place on an impressive scale these days: the annual McMUN at McGill University involves more than two thousand participants and X days of programming—all organized by students). Several experienced professional wargamers even went so far as to say the hobby was increasingly less important as a source of new talent for professional wargaming. What was needed, they suggested, were those with social sciences backgrounds, familiar with both POL-MIL issues and rigorous analytical methods.

And this the conference came to a close. As I was busy chairing sessions and otherwise conference organizing, I’m afraid that I never did get around to taking pictures. If you attended and had any to pass on, please send them on! Feel free to many comments below too.

The following day, February 16, was our annual McGill megagame. That was a separate event, but many participants stayed on for it. A report will follow shortly!

KWN: Roberts on “The Future of Wargaming,” April 21

On 21 April 2020, the King’s Wargaming Network will be hosting a talk by Dr. Brad Roberts (Center for Global Security Research, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory) on “The Future of Wargaming: Innovating to Out-Think and Out-Compete” at King’s College London.


Additional information and registration via the link above.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, Valentine’s Day 2020 edition


No one loves conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) games more than us here at PAXsims, so here is a selection of recent items that may be of interest to our readers.

We have been a bit slow in posting recently because some of us have been busy preparing for the Connections North conference tomorrow and the ATLANTIC RIM McGill megagame on Sunday. Full reports will follow, of course!

Scott Cooper, Aaron Danis, and Mark Jones Jr. suggested material for this latest edition. We often repost stuff we first see on Brian Train’s Ludic Futurism blog too. See something interesting we might include in future miscellany? Let us know!



RED HORIZON: Force and Diplomacy in Eurasia is an immersive global crisis exercise incubated at the Negotiation Task Force of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University. It will take place 4-6 December 2020.

RED HORIZON provides seasoned and emerging leaders from national security, academia, and industry with a unique training space to push their negotiation and decision-making skills to the next level.

You will be assigned to a team (U.S., China, Russia, or NATO) and receive a confidential briefing that outlines your objectives. Your realistic actor profile is created from data-driven research, informed by political trends across the Eurasian sphere and the Indo-Pacific. You conclude the exercise with a scenario debrief led by Negotiation Task Force experts.

​Upon completion of the three-day workshop, you will receive an official Certificate of Completion issued by the Negotiation Task Force of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University.

Registration is not yet open, but you can find additional details at their website.



The US Naval War College website features an interview with Shawn Burns on their “war-gaming fundamentals” course.

For the sixth year, the U.S. Naval War College is holding a war game fundamentals course to teach the war-gaming skills that the college uses to help decision-makers shape the future Navy.

War-gaming is a time-honored role of the college, founded in 1884 as a place of teaching and research on naval issues. Currently, the college’s War Gaming Department, under the umbrella of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies, will conduct as many as eight major war games this fiscal year on behalf of the Navy and the U.S. Department of Defense.

Professor Shawn Burns sat down to discuss the Jan. 13-17 war-gaming fundamentals course, one of the rare War Gaming Department activities in the year that is unclassified. A retired Marine Corps helicopter pilot, Burns is director of the course. He also literally wrote the book on war-gaming, a slim volume called “War Gamers’ Handbook, A Guide for Professional War Gamers.”


In Time magazine, Simon Parkin discusses the important work of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit during World War II.

Using the floor as a giant board, the Western Approaches Tactical Unit, or WATU, would design a game that approximated a wolfpack attack on a convoy in the Atlantic. One team would play as the escort commanders, the other as the U-boat captains. They would take turns to make their moves, firing torpedoes, dropping depth charges, the U-boats diving and surfacing to make their attacks, the escort ships wheeling around in great arcs as each side hunted the other.

These games would be based on real battles that occurred at sea to allow participants to see why the escort commanders acted the way that they did, and whether they might have lost fewer convoy ships and sunk more U-boats had they done things differently….

His book A Game of Birds and Wolves went on sale in the US last month.


ABC News reports that three months before the current 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak, researchers simulated a global pandemic:

It began in healthy looking pigs: a new coronavirus, spreading insidiously within herds.

Farmers were the first to fall victim, succumbing to respiratory illnesses, ranging from mild, flu-like symptoms to severe pneumonia.

Flights were cancelled as the world’s sharpest minds searched in vain for a vaccine.

But it was too late. Within six months, the virus had spread around the globe. A year later, 65 million people were dead.

Unlike the most recent coronavirus outbreak, however, you probably haven’t heard of this pandemic.

That’s because it was all a simulation — developed some three months before Wuhan, China became the epicentre of a global crisis.

You can out more about the Event 201 pandemic crisis simulation at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security website.



The Marine Corps offers an update on its “invigorated approach to wargaming” in the Marine Corps Gazette:

…the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab (MCWL) is aggressively leaning into modernizing its wargaming tools, enhancing near-term capabilities, and working with Marine Corps Systems Command to develop the future Wargaming Center capabilities. This will be a multi-year effort.

In the near term, our wargaming efforts are focused on meeting assessment requirements associated with the Commandant’s new force design. The fiscal year 2020 wargame program was adjusted to orient completely on force design within the context of specified scenarios….

To support these multiple wargaming efforts, MCWL is developing a set of new tools to apply to both wargaming and analysis. It is important to note, given wargaming’s emphasis on human decision making, there remains a role for table-top wargames that enable rapid player orientation and situational awareness, flexible execution, swift adjudication, and immersive matrixed discussions. In the past, the Wargaming Division lacked a standard table-top wargaming system. During this past year, a new system called the Operation- al Wargame System was developed and was used to support the General Officer Warfighting Program and the Pacific Surprise wargame executed in October 2019….

Table-top wargames by themselves are insufficient to meet analytic require- ments. Computer-based wargames and M&S tools capitalize on computing power and databases to deliver greater wargaming rigor and quantitative analysis. Flexible and adaptable wargames that leverage the latest technology and populated with authoritative data are needed. In the near term, both the Wargaming Division and Krulak Center are leveraging the commercial wargame Command Professional Edition as a computer-based wargame tool to enhance the rigor behind testing player decisions and to deliver quantitative outputs….

These tools are available today. However, the Marine Corps has its sights set on making a revolutionary step forward in wargaming tools and analysis capabilities. In his planning guidance, the Commandant put a stake in the ground on building a new Marine Corps Wargaming Center…. This Wargaming Center will dra-matically expand the Marine Corps’ wargaming staff from around 20 to over 150. It will also merge wargaming and operations analysis associated with future force development and operations plan assessment into one organization.



Red Powell—who, in addition to being a Captain and currently attending the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, is an avid and very successful Warhammer 40K player—discusses serious wargaming with the folks at the Armchair Dragoon.


At the Conversations with Tyler podcast, Reid Hoffman discusses how wargames helped develop his appreciation for strategy and tactics more broadly.

When Reid Hoffman creates a handle for some new network or system, his usual choice is “Quixotic.” At an early age, his love of tabletop games inspired him to think of life as a heroic journey, where people come together in order to accomplish lofty things. This framing also prompted him to consider the rules and systems that guide society — and how you might improve them by identifying key points of leverage.

At first, he thought he’d become an academic and work with ideas as one of those Archimedean levers. But he ended up focusing on technology instead, helping to build PayPal, LinkedIn, and now many other ventures as an investor at Greylock Partners. But he still thinks ideas are important and tries to employ a “full toolset” when trying to shift systems.


At the end of last year, wargame designer Harold Buchanan posted a list of the 11 most influential wargame designs of the past decade. Here it is.


At the Conducttr blog, Robert Pratten suggests that you “ditch crisis exercises with PowerPoint.” He makes a short but terrific analogy, so I’m going to post the entire thing (emphasis added):

Crisis management exercises with PowerPoint will only get you so far. Let me explain.

Watch out for pedestrians. It’s an obvious precaution but illustrates there’s more to driving a car than physical mastery of the pedals.

I was late 16 when dad taught me to drive in Asda’s car park in Beckton. It was always late at night – no cars, no people – and always no ice and no rain.

By the time I took my first lesson on a proper road, I could already control the car but developing a road sense has taken a lifetime of driving on real roads in real conditions. That’s why insurance for young drivers is so high and why crisis exercises with PowerPoint won’t prepare you for real-world conditions.

Driving with an instructor is not like driving in real life. Especially when you’re a teenager in East Ham and driving means your first taste of freedom: laughing so hard with mates that you’re fighting to see through tears, changing cassette tapes on the move and shouting out the window to people on the pavement you recognise. All these real-world, real-life distractions and stresses have everything to do with being a safe pair of hands behind the wheel and very little to do with passing the driving test.

Think about this when you prepare for your next crisis exercise with Powerpoint. If you want to build a team you can trust then your exercises need to be realistic – you need to inject adventure and you need to be simulating real-world conditions. Simulation stimulates deep learning whereas crisis management exercises with PowerPoint can only muster surface learning at best.

If you’re still doing crisis exercises using only PowerPoint then you’re still in Asda’s car park. 


Playing Oppression is a forthcoming book by Mary Flanagan and Mikael Jakobsson, to be published by MIT Press.

What does the history of colonialism-themed board games look like, and what can it tell us about the situation today? What does it mean to present these historical moments in such a lavish form and then let these artifacts serve as centerpieces to gather around for social interaction at board game cafes, meetups, and conventions? By bringing in the history and materiality of the playing activity into critical readings of these games, the authors offer a new perspective on the narratives that are being simulated and reenacted and the casting of player into colonialist roles.

Orderly Adventures

In service to the forthcoming book, Playing Oppression, we have been playing various board games which use colonialist themes. As of April 2019, we have played over 150 titles and our collection has grown to over 250 board games, card games, party games, and war games that depict colonialist themes. The title for this project comes from an idea that euro games offer some of the excitement of the periods they depict (sails, discovery, heroism, fame, and fortune) but not too much through their gameplay and physical pieces, by hiding the bloody end of the sword and only engaging with foreign cultures as passive representations that can be neatly sorted into a box between plays.

Creating Counter-Colonial Games

As part of our research, we have engaged in workshops with people from the lands in which these colonial games take place, as a means to unpack the colonialist endeavor and place it in context to games’ representation of these cultures and issues of importance to modern members of these cultures. Workshops follow action research and participatory design methodologies. The focus of these workshops is to encourage participants game design practices, provide methods they can take away for use in their own work, and to inform our understanding of issues resulting from colonialist practices.

You will find more on the project at the MIT Game Lab.


On a somewhat similar subject, at Vice Matthew Gault discusses How Tabletop RPGs Are Being Reclaimed From Bigots and Jerks.

When tabletop role-playing game developer Evil Hat Productions announced it had included a content warning on page six of its recently released Fate of Cthulhu game. Many folks praised Evil Hat, but there was also the now predictable tide of hateful bullshit.

Fate of Cthulhu is an RPG where players take on the role of time travelers trying to stop a Cthulhu-style apocalypse. It’s inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, who was racist and anti-semitic—vehemently racist and anti-semitic. Because of that, Evil Hat Productions is publishing a content warning on page six of Fate of Cthulhu that calls out the author, and highlights the work of writers of color who’ve reexamined and reinterpreted the author’s work.


Mission 1.5 is a “mobile game” developed by the United Nations Development Programme to heighten awareness on climate change. According to UN News:

Mission 1.5 takes its name from the collective effort to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as agreed by world leaders meeting in Paris in 2015.

Described as the world’s biggest survey of public opinion on climate change, it aims to give 20 million people a chance to have their say. A previous survey ahead of the Paris talks canvassed 10,000 people in 76 countries.

Players will take on the role of climate policymakers who make decisions to meet the 1.5 degree goal.

Afterwards, they will vote on key climate actions that they would like to see adopted. The data will be analyzed and delivered to Governments.

As the description suggests, it isn’t really a game at all, but rather a glorified online poll. Moreover, the better choices are all a bit too simplistic and obvious as you can see below.


Yes, sure, let’s build buildings right along the coastline.

I’m not really a fan of this sort of “gamewashing” of an advocacy campaign (or “gamepaign”)—and I think UNDP missed a chance to encourage public engagement with some of the complexities and challenging trade-offs of climate change mitigation policy.


Remember that the North American Simulation and Gaming Association annual conference will be held in Montréal on 21-24 October 2020.

I’ll be delivering a keynote presentation on gaming the (former) Middle East peace process.


The deadline to submit an abstract/proposal for the Military Operations Research Society 88th annual symposium is March 2. The conference will  be held 15-18 June 2020 at the US Coast Guard Academy. Additional details here.



This one from the Institute for World Politics should have been posted some months ago: IWP intern summer gaming workshop results in conference presentation (at the Connections US conference). Better late than never!

Connections UK 2020


Feedback from the Connections UK 2019 interdisciplinary wargaming conference included:

“I didn’t think it was possible, but the conference again improved.”

“A very well organised professional event.”

“It was a great conference.  As I’m new to the community, the speakers and attendees made me feel very welcome.”

“Really interesting and useful for first-timers.”

“This was awesome!’

“👍 See you at Connections UK 2020!”

“A better venue, please, and structured networking events.”

Connections UK is evolving, with some significant changes ahead.


Date and venue. Connections UK 2020 will be hosted between 8th to 10th September at the University of Nottingham, in their brand-new Teaching and Learning Building. See the Connections UK website  for an overview. The Teaching and Learning Building comprises a plethora of co-located meeting spaces, including a 300-seat auditorium and multiple breakout areas for networking and game play. The building is within easy reach of a range of accommodation options, and it has free car parking. Nottingham is a fantastic location, with excellent national and international transport links and a wealth of culture to explore and leverage, including being an ‘industry cluster’ for gaming companies, traditional and hi-tech.


Purpose and approach. The purpose of Connections UK is to advance and sustain the art, science and application of wargaming. We do this by bringing together wargamers – and those who are keen to learn about wargaming – from across the whole world. As a community, we share best practices, showcase relevant emerging technologies – and we network.

We have carefully examined your feedback from the 2019 conference, which has prompted us to focus on the following at the 2020 event:

  • Learning-by-doing, with games and ‘deep dives’ that cater for wargaming newcomers and provide opportunities for practitioners to practise their art.
  • Community-building, by explicitly addressing issues such as diversity and inclusion and next-generation planning.
  • Governance in Defence and across government.
  • Social events and networking opportunities, making the most of the centralised venue and nearby accommodation.

Programme. We have also drawn on the feedback from our 2019 conference to shape the programme for Connections UK 2020. A detailed programme will follow once speakers start to fall into place, but key events and topics will include:

  • Educational activities for both beginners and mid-career practitioners.
  • Technology stands, demonstrating the latest relevant technologies.
  • A panel comprising individuals from academia who are using wargaming.
  • Deep dives on topics such as:
    • Wargaming the future.
    • Wargaming the past.
    • Non-Defence-related wargaming.
    • Analysing wargame findings.
    • Recreational game design.
    • The RAND perspective on current and future US wargaming initiatives.
  • A Games Fair.
  • Social events and informal gaming sessions.

Programme updates will be posted on the Connections UK website.

Cost. The cost of a 3-day ticket will be around £225. This includes lunch (served in the Technology and Learning Building) and refreshments each day.

Accommodation. This is not included in the ticket price, but there are excellent options:

  • Student en-suite accommodation (£60 per night bed and breakfast), which is a three-minute stroll from the Technology and Learning Building.
  • The De Vere Orchard Hotel, equally close to the main venue.
  • The De Vere Jubilee Conference Centre, located on the Jubilee Campus about three-quarters of a mile from the venue.
  • The Travelodge Nottingham Wollaton Park, located about a mile from the venue.

Evening meals and socialising. We have booked a central dining hall, which is suitable for both eating and gaming, and has a bar. The price of an evening meal is £20.

Registration and booking. We will let you know how to register, and when, in due course. We will also tell you how to book accommodation.

Points of contact and further information. See the Connections UK website for updates . Please send general questions to and administrative queries to

Privacy. Connections UK is GDPR compliant. Please see further details on the website.

We look forward to welcoming you at Connections UK in Nottingham. Save the date 8th – 10th September 2020 and note the location.

Serious Games Forum 2020 report

The following report was prepared for PAXsims by Clara Ruestchmann.


The second edition of the Serious Games Forum—the French version of the Connections series of wargaming conferences—was held on the 27th of January at the War College in Paris. Organized by Serious Games Network-France, the event gathered more than 250 attendees, hosted five conferences and six workshops packed in one day.

The conference was based on the same model as the first edition, with plenaries in the morning, games and workshops in the afternoon and a “gaming hackathon” during the day. Apart from the increasing number of attendees (+25%),  more students (defence-security and management mostly) took part and there a larger proportion of women (27%). There was also all-day participation of journalists coming from Le Monde, Le Figaro, and Agence France Presse, a 4-star Army General, and new partners such as Air Force School, CASDEN bank, My-Serious-Game digital training companies.

Morning Plenaries

After an introduction by Patrick Ruestchmann, president of Serious Games Network-France, who welcomed the many speakers coming from France as well as the UK, US, Belgium, Switzerland, Netherlands, Caroline Brandao (French Red Cross) and Colonel Sébastien de Peyret (Army) were invited on stage to launch the first conference regarding the opportunities resulting in the use of games. Defense journalist Meriadec Raffray helped run the morning plenaries.


The first panel started with Caroline Brandao, in charge of the humanitarian international law in the legal department of the French Red Cross, offered an overview of the use of serious games in her organization. The Red Cross developed several games in order to address the issues surrounding the violations of international humanitarian rights. Some games were coming from the gaming hackathon held during the first edition Forum. These games address both the internal training of the Red Cross organization and outsiders such as military corps or college / students. The Red Cross tends to include new technologies in serious games, creates partnership with the video game industry (e.g. Fortnite) and turns to the use of virtual reality. One of their latest projects aims to raise awareness regarding the reunification of families after a crisis (in case of armed conflicts as well as natural catastrophes) using VR to simulate situations and help prepare and train rescuers.

Colonel Sébastien de Peyret, responsible for the Army BattleLab is also the designer Urban Operations. For Sébastien, it is crucial that the player is placed in a position of decisions making in a restricted time scale/period. Only the player has a restricted knowledge of his action’s consequences as well as the unexpected hazards generated by a situation. It is essential to be facing an opponent in the game in order to oppose a real adversary’s intelligence and to gain experience. The goal isn’t to learn how to navigate the rules but to adapt to its opponents. Most importantly, Sébastien insisted on the After Action Review to analyze the game session afterwards in order to add critical views, identify the risks that have been taken and the mistakes committed in the safe environment of the game.

Both speakers pointed out this essential element: game mechanisms in serious games and wargaming are reflective supports of strategic and critical thinking of a given situation, still they are predictive tools.

The second conference introduced Matthew B. Caffrey Jr. (USAF Research Lab) who questioned how serious games can help comprehend the dynamics of conflicts. From the initial spark with the very first Connections US 26 years ago to his last book On Wargaming, Matthew developed the idea that wargaming helps make decisions more quickly and more effectively. It also helps identify the problems which should be paid attention to. If a computer program simulating a crisis can be run very fast and multiple times in order to see the different possible outcomes, in wargames the outcomes depend on the actions of others. Therefore, it can bring light to many different aspects of conflict dynamics, not only in terms of military efficiency but also in terms of economic, social or political outcomes. Matthew gave an introductory thank you to French audience, pointing out our long history as allies in time of despair.

The third panel questioned the perspectives in the future of wargaming with analysts Sarah Grand-Clement and James Black of RAND Europe. After giving an overview of their organization in the gaming community, the panelists pointed out that games can be used in a variety of ways : as analytical tool (to help think about possible futures), as stress-testing strategies (providing scenarios in a safe environment to try out situations), as policy decisions supervisors (to ensure that policy makers and decisions are adapter to the complexity of reality) or as an interactive experience (in order to allow people to educate, train and engage with the issues at hand).


RAND conducts a variety of different games, from strategic exercises for senior decisions makers (with a 3-years contract with the UK Royal College of Defense Studies), to regionally focused games to understand emerging treats and opportunities (with a game questioning threats to international cooperation and security in the Arctic) as well as table-top exercises to explore future scenarios for emergency situations (with for example the European Union CDP -capability development plan) and applications of gaming techniques to non-defense sectors (with the government of Estonia to help understand and prevent cybercrime).

According to Sarah and James, gaming remains relevant to address complex defense and security questions but needs to continue evolving, in terms of technology and application fields, in order to stay relevant. Finally, they mentioned that, beyond technologies issues, there are social issues about how to democratize gaming so that new generations will be able to take hold of it and adapt it to their problematics. Sarah and James suggest the need to expand gaming beyond the defense community, to encourage younger people to engage in gaming and to increase diversity in gaming

The fourth conference introduced Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud de Peretti, Pierre Razoux and Christophe Maresca around the question of how to talk about games in your organizations.


Pierre Razoux, research director at the IRSEM, suggested that serious games encourage a player to put him/herself in someone else’s head, thereby helping them to better understand their reasoning. He suggested games need to be as accessible as possible when introduced in a professional or educational context. The game must be fairly quickly explained for participants coming from different backgrounds and experiences.

Arnaud de Peretti, army officer currently analyzing operations in the Middle East, is also the game designer behind Normandy 1944 for iPad (Wars and Battles) and is working on a new game about The Hundred Years War with Asynchron. He postulated that wargames help to visualize and concretize tensions both inside the army (navy, army and air force) and with the opponent. He suggested that wargames have the potential to integrate a diplomatic component, even though diplomats are still most often missing from wargaming sessions.

Christophe Maresca, Gendarmerie Nationale Colonel and presently operation chief of the Region Île de France, co-edited the game Krise with Pytharec, on the problematics of public order in an urban environment. The game scenario reproduces the tragic events at the Arc de Triomphe with the Yellow Vests movement and Black Blocs violent protesters. Christophe brought focus on the danger of eurocentrism in the creation of games and what can be called the “cognitive distortion” which requires to bring to the light beforehand the possible distortions that exist with both the creator of the game and the players.

Ending the morning with a fifth session, Ivanka Barzashka (King’s College London) talked about the wargaming network started a year ago. Last year Professor Philip Sabin gave his insight, along the ones from Major Tom Mouat, regarding this soon-to-be initiative. Created in 2018 at KCL, the Wargaming Network aims to improve tools to address defence challenges and is representative of the UK’s efforts to reinvigorate wargaming. The network deploys convening functions (workshops, lectures), supports individual staff project, creates programs for analytical wargaming (in order to train students and experts), supports external partners and look for social networking evolutions by bringing communities together such as academics and policy makers. With her more academic background, Ivanka argued that moving wargaming more into the academic direction and bringing together the learning and pedagogical purpose and the innovations and research possibilities of wargaming is essential.

On to gaming

The afternoon gave the attendees opportunities to participate to 6 workshops :

  1. Gaming Antimicrobial Resistance, by RAND Europe
  2. Demos of Digital Training (ipad / PC), by My-Serious-Game
  3. Game Design, by Pascal Bernard (among many others, designer of Time of Legends: Joan of Arc
  4. Learning Strategy with games with Philippe Lepinard (University Paris-Est-Créteil, Economical Sciences) and some of his (quite) young students, Enguerrand Ducourtil with Krise by Pytharec (public order), Patrick Ruestchmannwith Resilience (public policies and crisis management), Sébastien de Peyret with Urban Operations by Nuts! and Pierre Razoux with FITNA by Nuts!
  5. CyberWar Megagame, designed by David Delbarre, putting into conflicts nations, GAFAM (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft), NGOs, and others.
  6. Cyber simulations of attacks against a bank network with Luc Mensah (ISE-Systems) and Hacklihood boardgame with David Noury.


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Second Gaming Hackathon

Throughout the day, two teams of Pantheon-Sorbonne students were asked to produce a draft for a game regarding near-Space topics. Those games should address defense, environmental or economic issues. Antoine Bourguilleau, author of a soon-to-be release book on the history of wargaming, managed the two groups in order to get the best results in only a few hours. The jury of this Gaming Hackthon (Caroline Brandao, Matthew Caffrey, Christophe Mareseca) gave its appreciation of the projects the two teams came up with. Students presented their projects, prizes were given and this event slot led us to the end of the day.


Toward next year

For the closure of the Forum, General Jean-Christophe Cardamone (vice-director for the Institut des Hautes Etudes de Défense Nationale) gave a encouraging speech with emphasis on the increasing popularity of serious gaming / wargaming among various professional sectors as well as the recognition of efforts such as Decision Defense (a wide audience game for the new take on the National Service, by Pytharec) or Matrix-game like Paris 2024 (Olympics and Paralympics in Paris) with the General Secretary for National Defense.

Overall, first edition of this Connections-France was a test to assess the interest of French organizations toward serious gaming. Second edition gives us full green signal to continue and expand, with contacts in Belgium, Switzerland, Netherlands and Germany. National press coverage is already very positive, which give Serious Games Network-France good exposure in order to prepare the next step.

Post-Conference Survey

Still on-going at this date (Feb 2nd), the results gathered about 29% replies with observations for the future edition :

  • 36% rated the content as ‘excellent’ and 41% rated as ‘very good’, 14% as ‘good’, 9% as ‘average’
  • 70% want more gaming time
  • 60% suggest a 2-Days forum
  • Topics suggestion for upcoming event loom toward economic warfare, AI, cybersecurity, education, social and humanitarian topics
  • Most attendee’s suggestions ask for more meet and greet with participants / speakers.
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