Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Gaming the Irrational — Connections US 2021 Working Group 3 Report

In this working group report Ed McGrady, Justin Peachey, John Hanley and Roger Mason discussed the problem of including counter-factual, irrational, or awkward elements in game play. While there are simple solutions such as “put it in as an inject” what they looked for was:

  • a discussion of how to shape the game, and player behavior, so that these events emerge organically from the game play
  • how to include characters in the game who are manifestly “different” from the accepted liberal/neo-conservative internationalist approach that typically informs Western foreign policy in games.
  • adjudication of actions that encourage miss-behavior in games, from counter-factual2propaganda to deliberate spoofing and other shenanigans. This would include insider threats, supply chain attacks, and other actions that corrupt the decision process from the inside.
  • how to deal with common, but often ignored, elements such as morale, fratricide, fog of war,3 and battlefield chaos on a standard player/controller game.
  • how to deal with politically sensitive topics such as Congress, lobbyists, and other sensitive issues so as not to generate real-world blowback from the game.

Their discussion and papers divided into two general ways to think about the problem, which they characterize as “player centric irrationality” and “problem centric irrationality”:

  • Irrational taken literally as “not rational.” This tended to lead the discussion into areas of definitions, game theory, and ways in which the players in a game make decisions. We could also call this the game or player centric view of the problem.
  • A sweeping interpretation of the problem to include items, issues, and behaviors that are socially liminal, emotionally charged, politically difficult, or just plain crazy. Especially behaviors that violate the “polite” acceptance of a neo-conservative, liberal, western, interpretation of behavior between individuals and societies that has emerged as a consensus value during and after the Cold War. This tended to lead the discussion far afield into areas that would note easily fit into the idea of “not rational.”

Click here to download the report.

Connections UK at DSET 2022, March 9

Connections UK will hold a one-day in-person wargaming meeting on Monday 7th March at the 2022 UK Defense Simulation Education & Training Conference in Bristol UK. Click on the DSET logo for full conference programme and other details.

From the DSET website:

“DSET was set up in 2016 to facilitate military to military engagement; and to give military the opportunity to educate industry in a challenge lead approach. International military and government drive the DSET agenda and deliver the majority of presentations.”

Hungarian Warfare and Serious Games Conference

Opening speech by Brigadier General Dr. Árpád Pohl, Dean of the Faculty of Military Sciences and Military Training
(photo: Dénes Szilágyi; source: )

Our colleague Major Zoltán Harangi-Tóth recently organized the Hungarian professional wargaming conference “Warfare and Serious Games 2021” held October 5th at the Department of Military History of the National Civil Service University, Budapest.

Click here for Zoltán’s excellent report.

Although Google’s translation leaves much to be desired, it is good enough to understand the content of the conference and appreciate the conference’s important contributions to Wargaming. I look forward to next years’ conference!

Unethical Professional Wargaming final report

Click on the Image for the Report

The US Command and General Staff College, with support from the CGSC Foundation, hosted the Connections US 2021 Wargaming Conference and chose the Conference theme “Ethics and Wargaming”. An international team of 30 wargaming experts started work on October 2020 on the thought experiment “how to use unethical practices to make your wargame say what you want it to say”, where by “unethical practice” we mean any practice motivated by a desire to influence the sponsor to make a decision in the best interest of the unethical practitioner instead of the best interest of national security. We know intellectual dishonesty occurs in science and among senior civilian and military leaders. It is irresponsible to assume it does not exist within professional wargaming (or indeed any process that manages any inquiry activity).

This thought experiment is useful in three ways for:

  • discovering wargame design principles and malfeasance that wargame designers, practitioners, sponsors, players and other stakeholders might miss if one focused on best practices of well-designed games by well-intentioned competent experts.
  • inoculating wargaming against deliberate and inadvertent manipulation of wargame design by senior stakeholders
  • protecting ourselves from self-deception by our own inadvertent malign practice.

Core Conclusion: Most professional wargames are vulnerable to unethical practice due to the
presence of the three established criteria for intellectual fraud. The lack of familiarity by
senior officers or civilian executives with the unethical practices described in this report
means we cannot say that most DoD wargames are free of unethical practices.

What is to be Done? By examining the interactions between the wargame stakeholders in the
external environment, the outer game and the inner game, along with the the three criteria
for the presence of intellectual fraud, and taking culture into account, we can increase the
value and ethical probity of wargaming and ensure the decisions that the wargames are
designed to influence are in the best interest of national security. Details are in the final report.

Analytical Architecture that Includes Wargaming for Decision Makers

Dr. Jon Compton presents and discusses the process he has used to design, run and analyze analytic wargames in support of senior decision makers faced with serious national security related problems.

Click on Image to View Presentation on YouTube

“Wargames are conducted for purposes of education and training, concept exploration or development, or sometimes done to raise awareness about certain issues or concepts. Within OSD, however, the style of wargame required is referred to as Analytical Wargaming, and is nested with other analytical or Operations Research techniques to generate contextualized knowledge and recommendations for leadership.”

— Jon Compton

Distributed Wargaming Working Group Final Report Available

Click on the image for the Report.

UPDATE: I have updated the report with corrections. Delete the 22nd August version and replace with this one dated 23rd August.

COVID-19 made distributed wargaming a DOD requirement for both safety and economic reasons. One effect of DOD’s COVID-19 pandemic response has been the effort by many DOD organizations to shift their wargames to a distributed online environment. The success of some of these efforts, the likely presence of new pandemics, and some undeniable benefits of distributed wargaming makes it likely that distributed wargaming will be a growing part of the DOD toolbox. A key design decision is now “online, face-to-face, or hybrid?” It is therefore necessary to examine the theory behind distributed gaming, capture experience, design best practices, and identify practices to avoid when designing and executing distributed wargames.

In response the Simulation and Wargaming Standing Study Group of the Simulation Interoperability Standards Organization started a Working Group on “Distributed Wargaming”, the focus of which is to:

“examine how technical, social and design processes can exploit the advantages and overcome the disadvantages of professional wargaming in a distributed environment, and produce a resource document for anyone required to design and execute such a wargame”

A core international group of seventeen members, with experience in Government, Military, Industry, Academia and Education started work at the beginning of December 2020 and wrapped up at the end of August 2021. The nine month period of performance allowed the group time to think, discuss, challenge, write and refine, and to do so in depth. The group produced nine research papers covering background theory, lessons learned from research into online education, lessons learned producing and running distributed wargames with several different designs, and an overview of moving in-person events in general (including wargames) online. Deep discussions between group members dealt with the papers and introduced additional topics, all of which are reported in this document.

Connections US 2021 Game Lab Report

Connections US 2021 Game Lab Report is now available

Game Lab is an opportunity for short (40 minute) small group discussions of specific gaming-related issues among Connections participants. Originally conceived and organized by Scott Chambers, they were a highly successful feature of past face-to-face Connections conferences. This year at Connections US twenty-five wargamers brainstormed ten topics using Zoom (of course) and ConceptBoard’s “infinite whiteboard” program.

Ottocon 2021 Gaming Convention

Tracy Johnson will be running a small gaming convention in Carlisle PA called “Ottocon” from 29 July through 1 Aug 2021.  The convention name is to honor Otto Schmidt, who ran the con (then blessed with the unimpressive name “The Weekend”) for many years before passing away a couple of years ago.

For full details click here.

All inquiries to Tracy Johnson <>

Phil Sabin’s wargame designs website!

Phil Sabin has just published a website containing descriptions, pictures and convenient download links for his growing range of games and conversions.

Connections US 2021 YouTube Channel

Connections US has a YouTube Channel which is populated with this year’s conference events.

Peter Perla and Ed McGrady GameNation Part II Friday, 2 July

Join Peter Perla and Ed McGrady as they discuss AI and cyber games, and how the USAF game showed they almost had enough stuff, but not quite enough, to take on the Chinese.  Right before they released their budget.  Tune in to hear their take on the wargaming news of the day.

Game Lab discussion topics at Connections US

Short discussions on the following topics to be held online at Connections US (must be registered for Connections US) Wednesday and Thursday. Discussions run in parallel for one hour.

Wednesday 23 June 1300–1400 US EDT

Chuck Turnitsa1. How can Simulation Systems assist with traditional (or not) Wargaming?Many organizations that are currently engaging in the push for wargaming, are intrigued by the idea of using simulation systems (mostly from the LVC world) to assist in facilitating a wargame. This may or may have limits on its usefulness, but there can certainly be some overlap – as both wargaming and combat simulation are both based on combat modeling. However the devil is in the details, and discussion of how and where simulation is useful for wargaming needs to happen.
Ed McGrady3. What are the skills that professional game designers need?Lets discuss all of the different challenges we have faced as professional game designers, and what has prepared us to be successful in that position. Do game designers need to be analysts? Should they be story tellers? Good a facilitation or just plain good at improve? What skills derive from a sordid past in board game design, and what skills come from role playing? At its core wargaming exists at this weird intersection of military analysis, history, gaming, role playing, storytelling, and acting. What skills do you value, and what should we be doing differently to cultivate these skills in ourselves and others?
Hiroyasu Akutsu4. How can wargaming be used to generate ideas for (military) technological innovation?In this new era of AI or new and emerging technologies, there may be many efforts of wargaming to contribute to technological innovation in our defense and security communities, but opportunities to share those efforts and exchange views seem to be sparse especially in open-source spaces. I have seen only a few open-source examples and have actually built on one of them to develop our own very basic and simple gaming exercise. It is not necessarily the importance of this question per se, but the importance of opportunity to discuss how professional wargamers have addressed it that I wish to emphasize. I hope this Lab will provide such an opportunity.
Matt Caffrey5. What new developments in wargaming and new findings in wargaming’s history should be included in the second edition of the book “On Wargaming”?I’m writing a second edition of “On Wargaming”. Please help me identify both important developments in our field and additional history that came to light after I finished work on the first edition (or I missed). I particularly want to improve my coverage of popular wargaming world wide, post Soviet wargaming in Russia and recent developments in NATO wargaming.
Samantha Taylor6. What should a strategic level war game on Space include?Many war games especially those for space focus on getting items into space and developing new technology to further explore space. Few focus on the strategic and diplomatic areas of space considering how space is continuing to evolve what should a strategic level focused space war game focus on and how should it challenge its players to understand Space strategy, diplomacy, and other important aspects related to space policy.
Tim Moench7. How to introduce academic rigor to wargaming?Without a thorough understanding of the rich wargaming literature available, it is easy to be dismissive of the academic rigor present. A comprehensive wargaming literature review will be presented to help one appreciate what is already available and areas for further research.
Tomonori Yoshizaki8. What lessons have you learned from red teaming for wargaming?There are many different approaches to red teaming in wargaming that depend on organization, country, interest, objective, etc. It would be useful to share and learn from one another about best and worst practices in red teaming for wargaming.

Thursday 24 June 1300–1400 US EDT

Alex M Hoffendahl9. How can we use wargaming and simulation to identify the intentions behind, and calculate the likelihood of, each of the adversary’s feasible courses of action (COAs)?The doctrinal planning process calls for gaming several alternative friendly COAs against several enemy COAs. The reality is that without simulation support planners hand wargame a single professionally preferred friendly COA against a single selected enemy COA (examining a few branches and sequels) in order to identify and cure weaknesses in one’s own COA. Mission planning would be significantly improved if we could use wargaming and simulation to identify the full range of feasible enemy COAs, deduce the intention behind each, and calculate the likelihood distribution of the enemy’s potential COAs
Ed McGrady11. How do we aggregate for quick, sensible, games?The problem of aggregation, of rolling up combat results into higher-echelon units, is a perennial and inevitable problem in game design. Data on fire and casualty rates are available, but often not for the circumstances we care about. Computer simulations can give detailed results for complex situations, but they are often too much for a game with time pressures. So, the question remains, how, and when, do we roll up combat results to the brigade, division, and corps levels in modern combat. The issues go beyond 3:1 and include things like how to incorporate precision fires against enemy C3, airpower, ISR, and other factors on large formation combat results. Those who have a computer simulation background are welcome to participate, as many issues we need to discuss are also issues in simulation. However the simple solution of substituting computer sims for the combat results table is not what we are looking for. Rather, we are asking: how do we incorporate all of this complexity and data into a realistic, and usable, set of mechanics for professional games?
Hiroyasu Akutsu12. What lessons have you learned from scenario development for wargaming?Exchanging best and worst practices in scenario-writing would help especially the younger generations of wargaming professionals.
Matt Caffrey13. How can the national Connections conferences and the international community of wargamers overall work together more effectively?A side effect of the global pandemic has been an increase in awareness that there is an international wargaming community. We have participated in each other’s online conferences. In the coming post pandemic world it is important to preserve and expand our communications and work together for the betterment of all.
Pijus Krūminas14. How can wargames use social science models for educational purposes?When using wargames in classes on social sciences (e.g. political science), they have the potential to illustrate specific theoretical models that are being taught. However, such models may seem closed or solved (e.g. game theoretic). This creates a challenge, since games are more flexible in their outcomes and generally more open. Bridging this gap would facilitate the use of games in the classroom, expanding their applicability.
Tim Moench15. How to gamify the onboarding of wargame control members?Too often, control team (White Team) participants are thrown into positions they neither have trained for nor have experience doing so. While there are several parts to control, I want to examine one particular segment, the analysis team. I believe the gamification of the onboarding process for analysis can better prepare them for their duties in a shorter amount of time. This process may have application to other control segments such as adjudication.
Tim Smith16. What are the best Pedagogical designs for PME courses supported by wargame labs & practical applications?This Game Lab will explore and identify methods for combining readings, briefings, data sets, structured analytic templates (SATs) and facilitated team brainstorming in support of wargaming in order to provide the best possible PME. Methods and experience from other educational areas that use gaming to teach are also especially important.

Analytical Architecture that Includes Wargaming for Decision Makers

The Simulation and Wargaming Standing Study Group of SISO invite you to join them for a talk and discussion by Jon Compton

TITLE: Analytical Architecture that Includes Wargaming for Decision Makers

SPEAKER: Jon Compton

ABSTRACT: Wargames are conducted for purposes of education and training, concept exploration or development, or sometimes done to raise awareness about certain issues or concepts. Within OSD, however, the style of wargame required is referred to as Analytical Wargaming, and is nested with other analytical or Operations Research techniques to generate contextualized knowledge and recommendations for leadership. Jon will present and discuss the process he has used to design, run and analyze analytic wargames in support of senior decision makers faced with serious national security related problems.

DATE/TIME: 4th June 1200–1300 US EDT


Meeting ID: 889 2919 6057
Passcode: Wargaming
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SPEAKER BIO: Jon Compton began his professional career in heavy construction at age 15. By age 25 he was operations director at a structural precast heavy construction firm, and was responsible for the manufacture and construction of such projects as the J. Paul Getty Center Parking Garage, the Bridge Over Verdugo Wash, and the Kaiser Permanente Parking Garage, all in Southern California. During this period he also earned two bachelor’s degrees, one in music composition, the other in communications. In 1995 Compton retired from the construction industry and pursued IT. Beginning as an HTML developer in 1996, by 2001 he was the senior project manager for’s internal business systems in Thousand Oaks, CA. Shortly after 9/11 2001, Compton left IT and returned to school, earning a master’s degree in international relations and a Ph.D. in World Politics and Formal Mathematical Methods (as well as completing all Ph.D. level coursework in Economics). In 2009, Dr. Compton moved to the Washington DC area and joined Booz Allen Hamilton’s Modeling, Simulation, Wargaming, and Analysis shop under Mark Herman. During that tenure, Compton wrote numerous proprietary white papers on subjects ranging from non-state actor violence to creating a new theoretical framework for modeling warfare. He also designed and developed wargames for various clients, to include AFRL, NDU, ONA, and OSD. Compton was a Booz Allen contractor in OSD/CAPE/SAC from 2012 until Spring of 2016 when he joined CAPE as a civilian employee. Dr. Compton has numerous commercial wargame publications as designer, developer, and producer. He has also been editor of the commercial print publications Fire and Movement Magazine and CounterFact Magazine, and has also served as associate editor of the academic journal International Interactions. In addition to his professional life, Dr. Compton has led an active life in music, having studied with such composers as Philip Glass and George Crumb, and having composed numerous pieces for various instruments as well as one symphony. 

Edward Snowden, “What I learned from games: playing for and against mass surveillance”

Headshot of Edward Snowden from shoulders up. White man with short-cropped brown hair, wireframe glasses and goatee. Wearing black, button-up shirt.

Part of the GAM(BL)ING: Commodification of Leisure in the Digital Era symposium.

Thursday, May 13, 2021
8:30 a.m. – 10 a.m.


For Registration and further information click here.

Connections Online 2021 After Action Review

Prepared for PAXsims by Chris Weuve

Connections Online 2021 (hereafter CO21) was held 12-14 April, through the mechanisms of Discord and YouTube. This is, to the best of my knowledge, the first professional wargame conference designed not as simply a replacement for an in-person conference, but as first and foremost an online event, optimized for that environment. For that reason (and, I admit, because I am proud of what we pulled off), I’d like to tell you what we were trying to accomplish and how we went about doing it.

CO21 was really an experiment to see if a small group of people could put on a professional conference. The origins of this conference went back to May 2020, when it really became clear that we were not going to be doing in-person events any time soon. At that point I envisioned an online, recorded, 3-5 day “single room” (i.e., only one event at a time) conference, modeled after but separate from Connections US. Originally I planned to use a tool like Zoom or Go To Meeting with a direct-to-YouTube livestream, but about the same time I discovered StreamYard, a subscription website designed to do video streaming. Add in Discord to support text communications amongst conference members, including distributing StreamYard links and last second communications to panelists, and I had the technology behind a plan.

With a couple of people (largely Merle Robinson and Stephen Downes-Martin), we scoped out the rest of the format: The core conference would take place from 10am-4pm each day (“London to Los Angeles”), with events starting at 10am, 11am, 1pm, and 3pm. The early morning hour-long sessions would be generally solo talks (e.g., keynotes). The two 2-hour blocks were conceptualized as topical panel discussions of 3-4 presenters (plus a moderator) giving 10-15 minute presentations, followed by moderated discussion and Q&A. The last hour-long session each day would be 2-4 panelists who will comment on and lead a discussion on a set of previously viewed YouTube movies whose URLs have been sent out in advance. (This last format is an experiment, and I was fully prepared to declare after we tried it that “The experiment was a success — we learned to NEVER do that again!”) The conference theme of “distributed wargaming” seemed pretty obvious, as did what I call the 60-40 rule of Connections conferences: the goal is that somewhere between 40 and 60 percent of a Connections conference is about the theme, the rest is other relevant topics. In addition, we could conduct an “extended” events schedule — basically, put out a call for people who wanted to run games or other events outside of our regular hours and who could provide their own IT solutions, which we would had to the schedule.

At that point the day job intervened and, after targeting March or April 2021, the idea was largely put on hold until sometime around December 2020, at which point we re-lit the engines and got to work. As Merle Robinson and I started divvying up the work, Brant Guillory joined us. At this point I was pretty confident: Merle is a fellow Connections US committee veteran used to running large wargame events through the National Security Making Game, and was conducting his own experiments with online events; Brant and the Armchair Dragoons had run multiple game conventions (two online in 2020), and had an excellent handle on the registration side of things; and I knew how to make the technology work and had spent a LOT of time thinking about the operating procedures.

All we had to do at that point was, you know, get moderators and speakers.

In the end, we had three days of core events for 10am to 4pm EDT, plus extended events running two days before and four days after, usually in the evening.

I don’t have time to discus all of the excellent panels our moderators put together, but I do want to go back to the two experimental YouTube panels I mentioned above. The first was on Monday, when Brian Train and Mike Markowitz sat down and discussed their Georgetown University Wargaming Society videos on the practical aspects of wargame design. Brian and Mike are second to none in their field, and the panel basically designed itself.

The Tuesday YouTube panel required a little more work, and exemplifies the hands-off approach I used as conference director. Back in 2020 I had read Simon Parkin’s A Game of Birds and Wolves and Mark William’s Captain Gilbert Roberts R.N.and the Anti-U-Boat School, on the Western Approaches Tactical Unit. While reading the Parkin book I saw a name I recognized — Tom Mouat. So, when it came time to spin up for the conference, I sent Tom a note and asked him if he had the time to put together a panel on WATU; I briefly outlined an idea of a panel consisting of him, Simon Parkin, and maybe a YouTuber who had done something on WATU. I also asked Nick Bradbeer (the only other British wargamer I had met at a Connections conference) if he could back Tom up, since I knew Tom had been deployed and might be too busy.

So, an important thing to keep in mind — at this point I really didn’t know much about WATU, other than it was a wargame success story. That’s okay, because it wasn’t my panel — it was Tom’s panel, and I was specifically asking Tom to use his contacts to take charge and make it shine, as I was trying to organize the conference and didn’t want to be in the business of organizing each panel, too. I told Tom what I told all of the panel moderators — “here’s an overview of what I was thinking, but you are fully authorized to do whatever you want to do to make the panel as good as it could be.” It took about a week or so, but Tom got back to me, telling me that Sally Davis had largely reconstructucted the game rules and had actually run it sometime previously, and that some of the players might be available as well. Truth be told, I had forgotten the event and totally missed that Sally had run it, but it seemed like a no-brainer to me. (PAXsims has a lot more about WATU than I realized. I missed a lot and need to get caught up.) From the conversation during and after the panel, it’s clear Sally has thoroughly researched WATU and the Wrens who worked there, and I hope she publishes on the subject.

Overall, here are my takeaways:

  1. The “StreamYard to YouTube” model worked amazingly well. Training sessions with panelists in advance is a must.
  2. Discord is a little quirky, but will do, and we’ve got a better handle on what it should look like next time. More Discord help resources are needed, and we need to rethink how we organize the Discord server.
  3. The two YouTube panels seemed to work well, but I think I need to be more proactive about getting URLs out in advance before I declare the format to be a success.
  4. The key to making this work is writing everything down in advance. Before I created the first session in StreamYard, I had planned out all of the core events — titles, panelists, descriptions, et cetera, in a Word document, organized from the last event to the first, so that when I created an event I could take the YouTube URL and paste it into the description for the previous event. Information was grouped (and in some cases, duplicated), such that the document became the go-to reference document for cutting and pasting into Discord as well.
  5. Finally, this was essentially a proof of concept, a beta test to demonstrate that a small number of people (three core players for setup, plus a couple of people during the conference, all doing this part time) could organize and execute a professional, online (with video and chat), recorded wargaming conference for a couple of hundred dollars. That beta test was a success.

I look forward to seeing other reviews of the conference — feedback encouraged! — and I am really looking forward to doing it again next year.

Thank you again to our moderators and panelists, and to my colleagues who made it happen.

— Chris Weuve

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