Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: April 2023

Connections North 2023 conference programme

The Connections North 2023 professional (war)gaming conference will be held at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa on Friday, June 9. The conference is intended for wargamers and all other serious game professionals, and anyone else interested in how games can be used to support education, planning, and policy analysis.

Additional information and registration details can be found at the link above. Conference registrants will also receive an invitation to attend the launch of the Museum’s new wargaming exhibition on the evening of June 8.

WATU Wargame Returning to Liverpool

It’s the 80th Anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic, and back in 1943, the 6th May marked the turning-point where we stopped losing and started making life so difficult for U-Boats that for a time they withdrew from the Atlantic entirely, and when they returned (in September 1943) they never again had the upper-hand.

So what better time to recreate the Western Approaches Tactical Unit wargame at WAHQ again?

Four Indian Navy Wrens (WRINS) plot ship movements on the Bombay Tactical Table. Two are wearing saris, two are Anglo-Indians in Western clothing.

Formed in 1942 to solve the U-Boat problem in the Atlantic, WATU was staffed almost entirely by women, and men unfit for duty at sea through illness and injury. The Wrens came from all walks of life and all across (what was then) the Empire, and were responsible for teaching the Allied navies convoy escort tactics: how to find and sink U-Boats. 

Since the last time we played in 2018, I’ve found WATU Wrens alive and kicking, and learnt a lot more about how the game works, so this time we’re playing with:

Actual pieces from the WATU game:

When WATU demobbed, Cpt Roberts gifted the ships to the Wrens as souvenirs: Leading Wren Helen Coop’s ship has been scanned using photogrammetry, turned into CAD, and lovingly recreated by Ian Greig.

In grey is a test-print with a filament printer, in translucent is a print from a UV-setting resin printer, and one laser-cut from wood, ready for painting:

Three replicas of Helen Coop's ship model, in various materials.

Actual game chits:

Leading Wren Helen Coop left us a treasure-trove in her scrapbook, including chits from actual WATU wargames played by Cpt Johnny Walker’s support group:

A 1945 WATU wargame Move Chit. In pencil at the top it says Lt Cdr Wemyss Wild Goose. The Unit to move is J3, the Time is 44, the Course is 200, Speed 20, and General Intentions reads "Same, but more so. Send top priority signal to depot for new guns' crew"

Nothing changes in wargaming: after rolling a 1, Cdr Wemyss would like a new gun crew please :-P

Plotting tools:

In the 2018 game we used a crude movement template to help with plotting, and mostly ignored turning circles. This was partly a simplification to help the players (WATU had the distinct advantage that their players came knowing how to command their ship and plot it on a chart! Our players were liable to try impossible things), and partly due to a lack of data. Since then I’ve found a lot more photos with details of the plot, and hunted down data on period ships which was not easy to find. 

The result is this Rather Excellent [TM] recreation of the plotting protractor, laser-cut by Ian Greig. They work magnificently well and look amazing. Figuring out what they were from a handful of WATU photos might be my favourite bit of wargaming geekery :-)

Side-by-side comparison of the Canadian Tactical Table protractor and our recreation.

Actual adjudication tables (probably):

Chris Carlson dug up some post-war ASW tables which are probably a later version of the WATU adjudication tables. One of the big mysteries of the WATU game has been how all that stuff happened, since the pre-war (1921 & 1929) RN War Game rules are not the WATU game (it’s a fundamentally different game that’s been mistaken for the WATU game by some because it mentions “screens”, but it’s very clearly talking about putting down screens on the plot to screen the surface ships from each other when they’re out of visible contact, not viewing the entire plot from behind a screen to obfuscate the U-Boat tracks on the plot), and the contemporary descriptions forget to mention how you adjudicate an attack. Even these tables don’t really explain how they’re used, but they fit broadly with the assumptions we made for the 2018 game, which is pleasing! 

Well…all except one thing: we used D100s, and it turns out that because dice were too new-fangled (or D100s were hard to come by in 1942, or the Temperance Movement had words), WATU used a 1 to 100 tombola.

Raspberry the Wargaming bear (in WRNS uniform) for scale next to a large wooden tombola. The bear could easily fit inside.

I appear to have bought one large enough for Raspberry to go to sea in… stop by WAHQ during the game and you can draw the fate of a U-Boat, Escort, or merchant ship from the adjudication tombola :-)

U-Boat artefacts:

Big Heritage, who run the WAHQ museum, acquired a U-Boat during lockdown, and are busy renovating it and creating a Battle of the Atlantic Museum across the Mersey from WAHQ.

The original plan for this game was for the U-Boat players to play from the actual U-Boat, but the new museum is still a building site, so instead we’re bringing some of the U-Boat artefacts over to WAHQ for the day. Our U-Boat players have been practicing with attack discs to get their firing solution. We’ll see if they’re able to sink anything!

We’re also hoping to make use of the Y-Service teleprinter which has been refurbished to run off a Raspberry Pi, for sending our convoy relevant Engima decrypts.

Come to WAHQ on Saturday 6th May and you’ll get to:

  • Celebrate the remarkable achievements of the WATU Wrens!
  • Chat with the direct descendants of WATU about careers in professional wargaming: yes, you can get paid to play board/war/computer games for a living ;-)
  • See the WATU game in action, send some signals to the convoy if you’d like.
  • Explore the Western Approaches Museum, including their new Wrens exhibition, Leading Wren Helen Coop’s WATU scrapbook, and bits from their newly-acquired U-Boat.
  • Say hello to a handful of PAXsims editors :-P
  • Delight in a Derby House Principles wargame being played in the actual Derby House that the principles are named for. 

Canadians can also check out the WATU gallery at the Canadian War Museum‘s up-coming wargaming exhibition.

Read more about the Derby House Principles for diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming here.

The Derby House Principles multi-coloured D20 logo

Royal Danish Defence College: Wargame designer wanted

The Royal Danish Defence College is looking for a wargame designer.

Do you have experience with designing, developing and facilitating wargames? Would you like to further develop and utilize your wargaming skills? Do you want to be a part of the development of the Military Joint Wargames?

If so, the Royal Danish Defence College offers an opportunity to venture into the knowledge stronghold of the Danish Armed Forces and we look forward to hearing from you.

The position at its core is game design, wargames analysis, and game facilitation for military educational purposes. You furthermore represent the Institute in national and international wargaming working groups and networks.

You are at the forefront of wargames design and thus able to design anything from a matrix game that trains a specific board to a tailored seminar game. Some game and simulation analysis is to be expected when working on plan development or trying to tackle a specific tactical problem. 

Integral to the game design and game analysis task, is also facilitating games and developing the institute’s collective skills on utilization of games in a military operations context. 

You contribute to the refinement of the Danish concept for joint wargames focused on strengthening the planning and execution of military operations.

The position is anchored at the Centre for Joint Operations under the Institute for Military Operations. The centre develops plans for the joint operations frame, and you are expected to work with teams across the four centres of the Institute as the subject matter expert on wargaming. 

First and foremost you have a strong interest in and vast knowledge of wargames, and you are familiar with the method’s processes, from development to design and facilitation. 

You work independently and systematically with research, education and devel-opment activities and cooperate with relevant stakeholders.

Experience with either tactical, operational or even at the military-strategic level is a definite advantage. 

We will be evaluating your skills and experience based on below outline:

• Wargame design and facilitation experience.
• Experience with IT-based simulation and game design.

• Practical experience from a military or security organization.
• Portfolio of published research.
• Master’s degree that support your wargaming experience.
• Experience with operational planning.

The institute prefers a team player, who understands how to work independently as well as being part of a team of highly qualified colleagues

Applicants must be able to obtain a NATO SECRET clearance. English is apparently the working language of the Center. Full details can be found here.

CNAS Congressional testimony on the April 2023 China-US TTX

As we’ve previously mentioned at PAXsims, CNAS recently ran a wargame for the House Select Committee on China exploring the US response to a hypothetical Chinese invasion of Taiwan in 2027. Stacie Pettyjohn later shared some key takeaways with the committee, and these are now available from CNAS.

Three key insights emerged from last week’s TTX that are supported by extant analysis and lend themselves to clear and actionable recommendations for Congress and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2024. These three primary takeaways from the TTX are:

  • The United States will run out of preferred munitions in the early days of a conflict;
  • Bombers and submarines provide a unique and asymmetric advantage in a potential conflict with China;
  • A distributed and resilient U.S. posture in the Indo-Pacific places the United States in the best position to defend Taiwan.

These three lessons learned translate into clear steps this Congress can take to strengthen our munitions stockpiles, maximize production of advanced air and undersea capabilities, and make investments in a distributed and hardened posture that is able to withstand Chinese missile attacks. But making these changes cannot wait. Congress must push these efforts through in the FY 2024 NDAA as they will take time to take mature.

Two additional lessons learned from the TTX require more research and analysis before they can be translated into Congressional action. They are:

  • The role of economic warfare in pre-conflict and mid-conflict phases;
  • The implications of the aforementioned takeaways for a protracted conflict between China and the United States.

While this statement will touch on these two issues, the emphasis is on the insights that we have the most confidence in which are detailed in the following pages.

The full report can be read at the link above.

Reacting to the Past summer conferences

Reacting to the Past will be holding its annual Summer Institute on 8-11 June 2023 at Barnard College.

Reacting to the Past is an active-learning pedagogy of complex role-playing games. Reacting promotes engagement with big ideas, and improves critical, practical, intellectual, and academic skills.

Class sessions are run by students. Instructors advise students, and grade their oral and written work. Reacting roles and games do not have a fixed script or outcome. This is not re-enacting. In Reacting games, students are assigned character roles with specific goals and must communicate, collaborate, and compete effectively to advance their objectives. While students are obliged to adhere to the philosophical and intellectual beliefs of the figures they have been assigned to play, as well as the context and facts of the historical moment, they must devise their own means of expressing those ideas persuasively in papers, speeches, or other public presentations. Students must pursue a course of action to try to win the ‘game.’ 

Students learn by

  • taking on historical roles informed by classic texts
  • making decisions in a historical role in elaborate games set in the past
  • developing skills such as speaking, writing, critical thinking, problem solving, leadership, and teamwork
  • working to prevail (win the game) in difficult and complicated situations

There are two options for this event:

  • Two Reacting Game Workshops
    You’ll play two Reacting games in succession: one game on Thursday-Friday, and the other on Saturday-Sunday, OR
  • Reacting Game Workshop and Newbie Workshop
    You’ll play one Reacting game on Thursday-Friday, and then partake in a hands-on workshop series designed to walk you through the process of syllabus revision, assessment strategies, and curricular integration, so you’ll feel fully confident when implementing Reacting to the Past. This option is recommended for Reacting Newbies, and for cohorts from the same school.  

Regardless of which of the above options you choose, all participants can enjoy Working Sessions with Reacting students and experienced faculty.

In addition, there will be a a Game Development Conference at Oregon State University on 13-15 July. This conference ” is designed for veteran Reacting to the Pastcolleagues to test games, discuss design mechanics for active learning, and think deeply about pedagogy.”

House China committee to war-game Taiwan invasion scenario

Axios reports that “The House China Select Committee this week will be war-gaming a scenario in which China invades Taiwan

China committee chair Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.). Photo: Michael A. McCoy/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Why it matters: It’s a unique opportunity that will allow bipartisan members of Congress to walk through the potential challenges and identify the best legislative responses to deter and combat an invasion.

Driving the news: On Wednesday evening, bipartisan members of the House panel on China, led by Chair Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), will step into the shoes of U.S. officials in a war-game simulation conducted by the Center for a New American Security, a Washington-based think tank focused on national security.

(click on links for full article)

Sophia Cai, Axios, Apr 18, 2023,

Wargaming Experiences: Discussions

Natalia Wojtowicz, Wargaming Experiences: Discussions (2023). Pb USD$29.00 (Amazon).

Wargaming Experiences: Discussions is the second volume in a series by Natalia Wojtowicz (Hague University of Applied Sciences), the first having been Soldiers, Scientists, and Civilians (2020).

In this volume Wojtowicz intersperses her ideas on wargaming with a series of short interviews with wargamers such as Tom Mouat, Eric Collin, Volko Ruhnke, and others. Topics addressed include civilian and military wargaming, evaluating the effectiveness of wargaming, feedback and wargaming. The challenge of how best to define wargaming runs as a central thread through much of the content in the first part of the book. There is also some attention to gaming cybersecurity.

Jensen and Montgomery: Using games to rethink the US-Chinese relationship

At War on the Rocks, Benjamin Jensen and Mark Montgomery discuss “Competition in Inevitable, War in Not: Using Games to Rethink the US-Chinese Relationship.”

Elected leaders need tabletop exercises, crisis simulations, and wargames to help them visualize and describe modern strategy. From questions about technology and intellectual property to food securityand economic concerns, the new era of great-power competition transcends narrow bureaucratic definitions of national security that defined much of the Cold War. U.S. military might alone will not deter the Chinese Communist Party. Rather, creative combinations of military and non-military activities that cut across traditional congressional committee authorities will likely prove more effective at deterring China and capable of translating American power into enduring competitive advantage

This essay outlines our opening gambit to build a series of games designed to better understand 21st-century competition along these lines. It builds on previous calls to bring wargaming to Congress and to usher in a new era of strategic analysis. First, we review the pilot tabletop exercise we ran with the Republican Issue Conference and plan to run with House Democrats to ensure we keep foreign policy bipartisan. Second, we discuss our plan to build on this initiative to engage multiple congressional committees over the next two years. These analytical exercises do not replace the good work being done in the executive branch. Rather, we see them as a complementary way of bridging branches of government as well as engaging the American public in a larger debate about the future. 

You’ll find the full article at the link above.

Workshop on serious games (report)

On April 18, Connections North held a half day online introductory workshop on serious gaming, in collaboration with the Canadian Defence Academy, Defence Research and Development Canada, and PAXsims. The workshop was led by Dr. Ben Taylor (Defence Research and Development Canada) and myself (Rex Brynen, McGill University). There were over sixty participants, of whom about two thirds were from the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces, and the remainder attendees from other Canadian government agencies, academics, game designers, and others.

The workshop was intended as an introduction to serious gaming, in advance of the annual Connections North professional (war)gaming conference in Ottawa on June 9. Given the geographic size of Canada, we thought an online workshop would best facilitate participation from coast to coast to coast. The workshop wasn’t recorded, but most of the slides can be found below.

The first session on “why serious gaming?” provided an overview of the value (and limitations) of serious gaming, and offered a range of examples to highlight the many different applications of gaming as an analytical and educational tool.

The second session addressed serious game approaches and reviewed the centrality of balancing fidelity vs playability, as well as manual vs digital games; different ways of undertaking adjudication; players turns and actions; representing time, space, and other metrics; hidden and imperfect information; incorporating uncertainty; distributed gaming; and seminar and matrix gaming.

The third session looked at the process of serious game development.

Following this we had an hour long “show and tell” session, in which a variety of Canadian wargamers and other serious game designers discussed their work with workshop attendees. This was divided into two simultaneous breakout rooms: one devoted to wargaming of military operations, and another addressing a broad range of other serious gaming examples. We are very grateful to colleagues from the Canadian Joint Warfare Centre (CJWC), Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC), the Canadian Defence Academy (CDA), Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), Archipelago of Design, and Imaginetic for contributing to these sessions.

Finally, we identified a variety of key resources and points of contact for further learning and professional development.

Overall it seemed to go very well, and we hope to see many of the participants again in Ottawa in June at Connections North 2023.

King’s Wargaming Week

The King’s Wargaming Network will be hosting a week of wargaming talks and presentations at King’s College London from 30 May to 2 June 2023. Details can be found below.

Wargaming Week 2023: Contemporary Challenges in Wargaming will feature a range of activities that meet the Wargaming Network’s core mission of the expansion and democratization of wargaming as a method of inquiry. The events will showcase the educational wargaming work being done at King’s, including wargames designed by MA graduates of Dr David Banks’s “Designing Wargames for Education & Analysis” course and wargames designed by Anna Nettleship and other Network staff to inform dissertation and policy research and to support the institutional goals of partner organizations. Panel and moderated discussion events will feature researchers and practitioners in contemporary wargaming and workshops and working groups will showcase the wargame design and academic expertise being developed at King’s.  Dr James Smith will deliver the wargaming keynote lecture and Dr Aggie Hirst will launch her upcoming book, “Politics of Play: Wargaming with the US Military.” 

Registration is via Eventbrite.

Connections (US) 2023 registration open

Registration is now open for the Connections (US) 2023 professional wargaming conference.  This year’s conference will be hosted by National Defense University (NDU) at Ft. McNair in Washington, DC, on June 21-23.

(The above link is to a Google Form, which sometimes are difficult to access from some military networks.  If you have problems viewing or completing the form at work, please try from a personal device at home.)

More information (including a link to the draft schedule) can be found at the Connections (US) website.

Games-Based Learning Virtual Conference 2023

“Registration is NOW open for the the Games-Based Learning Virtual Conference! The (GBLVC) is the premiere professional event for designers, educators, entrepreneurs, and instructors, for games, games-based learning, gamification, serious games, and simulations. Hosted live and online June 9-11, 2023.

Claim the $50 Discount before May 6, 2023!

Registration & Info at:

Email from Dave Eng 12 April 2023

Autonomous Army Logistics Vehicles

A lot of work is going into autonomous battlefield logistics vehicles. In addition to the obvious issues of wargaming these AI based platforms, a couple of years ago Rex Brynen pointed out an issue rarely discussed up to that point (if memory serves it was at the NATO OR&A Conference 2019 Ottawa Canada).

He reminded everyone that these vehicles are laden with high value goodies that are highly attractive to the local population (who are probably in desperate need of the items being carried) as well as enemy forces. Unless troops guard these vehicles, the vehicles may have to use autonomous lethal force to protect the supply chain which introduces other problems.

We Tried To Steal Food From A Delivery Robot – BuzzFeed News

And then of course there’s the cardboard box method of hijacking the vehicles.

This YouTube video reminded me of Rex’s prescient warning!

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