PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Category Archives: conferences

Reminder: Ottawa workshop on serious games for policy analysis (November 22-23)

Here is a reminder that on November 22-23 I will be conducting a two day professional development workshop on serious games for policy analysis and capacity-building in Ottawa. The course will provide an overview of how games might enhance foresight, innovation, and policy-development, and will include an introduction to various game approaches, design, and facilitation techniques.

Notice - NPSIA-PT&D's Practical Certificate in Serious Games for Policy Analysis and Capacity-Building workshop - Nov 2018

You will find further details and registration information at the link here.

Registration is now open for the Serious Games Forum 2018

SGF-advert2_edited-2.pngRegistration is now open for the Serious Games Forum 2018, to be held at the War College in Paris on 3 December 2018.

This free event will bring together military, civil and academic professionals using Serious Games to share their ideas and experience. Debates with our wide range of speakers will give you a better understanding of theses tools.

Designers and users of theses games can take this opportunity to expand their network and share ideas.

Find out more about Serious Games through practice. Experiment by yourself a wide range of Serious Games on many subjects, from security and crisis management to business strategy.

Connections UK 2018 conference report

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Photo credit: Anthony Sharman (@Ant_Sharman)

The Connections UK 2018 professional wargaming conference concluded yesterday, and a very excellent conference it was. The event was hosted by the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, and cosponsored by the Defence Academy of the UK and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory. Around two hundred people were in attendance this year, making it the second largest conference of its kind ever (with Connections US having taken first spot earlier this year).

Tuesday, 4 September

As is tradition with Connections UK, the first day gave participants the option of either attending a day-long introduction to wargaming for beginners course (ably taught by Tom Mouat and Jerry Elsmore), or taking part in a megagame designed by Jim Wallman. The former included hands-on experience with Battlegroup Krieggspiel, a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) game, and a matrix game. The megagame was A Green and Pleasant Land, examining British national resilience in the face of mounting crisis and a hostile adversary employing the tools of hybrid warfare.

Together with about a hundred others, I opted for the megagame, facilitating the game as  Control for the Red Cell—a team of nefarious simulated Russians trying to destabilize the UK against the backdrop of a crisis in the Baltics and NATO mobilization. Led by the nefarious Phil Pournelle (doing his best Vladimir Putin imitation), the Read Team used social media to aggravate political tensions, secretly funded alt-right demonstrations, and engaged in sporadic arson attacks—hoping to overwhelm the overstretched British police. There was also quite a lot of hacking, including an extraction of interesting financial information from the Trump Organization, and sabotage of the Automatic Identification System (AIS) used for maritime navigation.

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The British Prime Minister speaks to the cabinet and other officials. Photo credit: Jim Wallman/Stone Paper Scissors.

The vast majority of players assumed the roles of various British government departments and officials, trying to deal with a plethora of incidents. Most incidents were simply random events that had nothing to do with Russia, but even those that were connected were rarely linked back to Moscow.

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Russian plotting underway.

There were, however, some exceptions. A GRU agent who had been hiring neo-Nazi thugs to torch British mosques was arrested by the Metropolitan Police. Even more serious, a Spetsnaz mission to sabotage Royal Navy vessels in Portsmouth was detected and blocked—ultimately resulting in the arrest of the Russian special forces. This occurred amid growing military tensions in Europe. When the British cabinet twice relocated to a secure bunker outside London—once as a continuity-of-govermnment drill, the second time in response to the discovery of Russian listening devices at Number 10 and the cabinet offices—Russia grew fearful that this might be early warning of an impending NATO first strike.

A last-minute telephone call between the Russian President and British Prime Minister (which hilariously took 10 minutes to arrange because of poor cell reception, even though the principals were in adjacent rooms) deescalated things. British mobilization went well, and the North Atlantic Council seemed near-unanimous on supporting an Article Five response in support of their Baltic allies—although the British PM seems to have offered to pull back forces, which was seen by the Russians as a major accomplishment. Bob Cordery offers his own perspective on his blog Wargaming Miscellany:

As tensions rose, so did the level of problems that we had to find solutions to. The discovery of listening devices in the Cabinet Room and the arrest of a four-man team of Speznatz in Portsmouth precipitated matters, and we – the Cabinet – moved to the secure bunker, along with representatives (usually the PUS) of the ministerial teams. I think that I shocked my Cabinet colleagues when I ordered that all means – however extreme they might be – should be used to extract information from the captured Russian Special Forces Team. I asked that it be done by contractors and that it should take place outside the UK. I then told the Cabinet that this was a decision that I alone would make, and that they bore no responsibility for it.

As events moved close and closer to the possibility of open conflict with the Russians, I received a message that the President of the Russian Federation wished to speak to me on the telephone. There then proceeded to be what can only be described as a farcical situation. Although he was physically in an adjoining room, the phone link just would not work properly. At one point I said ‘Hello, Vladimir’ … and was greeted by a recorded announcement that the person I wanted to talk to was not available and that I could leave a message after the tone! (One hopes that in real-life, this could not happen!)

Once we did manage to talk, we were able to de-escalate the situation, with both sides agreeing to pull back … although I suspect that we withdrew more than they did! At this point the game ended, and we moved to the de-brief.

A Green and Distant Land was not intended to be a hyper-realistic simulation of British emergency preparedness. Rather, it was intended as a conference ice-breaker, an opportunity to network, and a demonstrator for various gaming techniques. This it did very well, and there were several game elements that I am likely to steal borrow from Jim in my own future game designs.

Wednesday, 5 September

Day 2 of Connections UK—and the first day of conference panels and presentations—started off with a formal welcome from Wyn Bowen, Head of the School of Security Studies at King’s College London. Conference coorganizer Graham Longley-Brown (LBS) then outlined the conference programme..

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Graham Longley-Brown discusses the wargaming process and the structure of the conference.

Graham noted that this had been designed around the cycle of wargaming, as identified in the UK Defence Wargaming Handbook:

  • Initiation
  • Design (to a purpose)
  • Development (and playtesting)
  • Execution (and facilitation)
  • Validation
  • Refinement

He noted a number of areas in which he felt that wargame project management and validation was much more advanced in the US than in the UK and elsewhere.

This was followed by a session on wargame design, introduced and chaired by Matt Caffrey (US Air Force Material Command).

Phil Sabin (King’s College London) talked about dilemmas and trade-offs in wargame design. These include:

  • the dilemmas faced by designers (rigid vs open rules/adjudication, open vs hidden information, detail vs abstraction, complexity vs accessibility, manual vs digital, and luck vs skill);
  • the need to capture real world-dilemmas (such as resource scarcity and prioritization, attack vs defence, concentration vs dispersion, efficiency vs surprise/unpredictability, boldness vs caution, inherent cost-benefit trade-offs, cooperation vs self-interest);
  • incorporating these into a game by providing players with choices and options.

Dilemmas may be rooted in incalculability (the sheer number of possible approaches), uncertainty (for example, hidden information), and incommensurability. Wargames also have the potential to reveal previously unidentified dilemmas and elicit creative approaches.

Game designer Brian Train spoke on game design as a form of journalism, focusing on “news games.” He noted that while the scholarly literature on such games has largely focused on digital games, there is a rich tradition of manual games that have editorial/advocacy/social awareness or documentary/educational/informative content. His earliest example was a 1791 roll-and-move game of the French Revolution. Another example was Occupation, a game that was secretly produced during WWII on German-occupied Jersey. Today, TerrorBull Gamesis well-known for its satirical and educational games. Brian also discussed the Strategy & Tactics model of games coupled with accompanying magazine analysis. Finally, Brian addressed the rapid development of games to explore contemporary or ongoing conflicts.

Anna Nettleship addressed challenges in wargame design. In historical games, she noted, one must abstract real events in-game mechanics, and to do so in a way that remains appropriately playable for the players. The game design, rules, and supporting material must communicate effectively with the player. The game system should incentivize appropriate play. She stressed the importance of intensive playtesting in identifying weaknesses and fixing them. Regarding future conflict simulations, she noted the importance of linking the game design to design objectives. Players need to think how they can best get players to act within their game roles.

During subsequent discussion, several audience members raised the challenges of wargaming future conflict, including hybrid warfare. Phil highlighted the need to couple the lessons of the past with an appreciation of the possible effects of technological change as well as leaving scope for innovative play by players. Brian stressed the importance of exploring how different actors might exploit various mechanisms of hybrid warfare, even if the game is necessarily speculative. Anna and Phil also noted that wargames can be useful in telling us what might happen, even if there can be no certainty the games are indeed predictive.

The next series of presentations, chaired by Graham Longley-Brown, examined wargame development.

Col Richard Taylor (British Army) and Nigel Paling (UK MoD) spoke on analysis in experimentation wargaming, looking at the EX SPECTACULAR STRIKE wargames. These examined how the new British STRIKE brigade might operate in contemporary European high-intensity operations. They emphasized that capabilities cannot be characterized solely in terms of modelling and simulation of equipment, since much depends on the development of innovative tactics and approaches. A bespoke wargame is thus needed, rather than simply using existing collective training systems, and an integrated analysis and experimentation “campaign” is required. The Rapid Campaign Analysis Toolset (RCAT) was used to explore the relevant questions, using a standard defence scenario. The STRIKE! Manual game was developed by Dstl and employed to explore higher resolution assessment of tactics and alternative approaches. The games highlighted the asymmetric value of unpredictability, that speed of assembly allows you to fight faster, that multi-domain integration is key, dispersion and “swarming” can enhance tempo, and that self-reliance enhances reach and flexibility, but is dependent on austerity, mobility, and accuracy. They noted that accurate assumptions are critical for credible outputs, wargaming offers insight into the human element, and that a “safe to fail” environment is useful—since one often learns the most from “losing.”

Nick Reynolds spoke about developing the KCL crisis simulation, an annual weekend crisis game run by KCL students. Many participants had significant prior professional experience in defence and related areas. The simulation has tried to move beyond a model UN negotiation model, and enhance the wargaming and other simulated operational elements. Free kriegsspiel adjudication was used. His comments on the dangers of “breaking immersion” during the game. He felt that free kriegsspiel in inappropriate for complex operations (although I’m not sure I entirely agree—adjudication in Brynania is largely free kriegsspiel, and I would argue that it especially well-suited for complex POL-MIL games). Key to his presentation was the importance of managing the flow of information and game decisions in a large, complex game. He also noted the importance of signally public relations, political, legal, and similar non-tangible considerations and constraints, in order the prevent the game from devolving into an unrealistic hard power “hyper-realism”

Dave Manley (UK MoD) reviewed the High Northseries of nested games. The project grew out of Connections UK 2017 conference, and the interest in future arctic issues by the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre. A matrix game was used to explore strategic and political issues, RCAT was used to explore operational issues, and the ASUW game was used to explore tactical issues. He helpfully identified a series of risks, difficulties, and mitigations. One was the necessity of keeping players on (analytical) target, which was mitigated by the game controller nudging and “critical thinker” SME comments. Another was unexpected flow-down factors, where a higher-level game would introduce issues and challenges that needed to then be incorporated into a lower-level game. Free kriegsspiel seemed most appropriate for the higher level game, becoming more rigid in the more operational and tactical games. One observation that came out of the games was the unlikelihood of open military confrontation in the High Arctic.

Highly regarded wargame designer (and former CIA instructor) Volko Ruhnke spoke about model calibration. He started with the challenge of building harpsichords at home to highlight how to develop a finely tuned instrument, noting that tuning is a different skill than both design and play. He differentiated between calibration (model outputs are useful for intended purpose) and accuracy(the model reflects real-world dynamics)—essentially, processes of validation and verification. He ran a quick live-action game that was, in essence, a pandemic model.

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Volko Ruhnke discusses wargame calibration.

He then used this to highlight how, by changing the rules and rates and tweaking the model, rather different outcomes would result. There is value in “bracketing the target” by making adjustments that both overrepresent and underrepresent the desired effect, thereby enabling one to narrow down the required changes. In response to questions, he noted that calibration occurs throughout the design and playtest process.

The broader panel discussion addressed how to engage involuntary players who did not choose to, and may not want to, play—for example, military personnel assigned to a wargame. Questions were raised about how to recruit appropriate players, especially for the Red cell in an analytical game. Panelists highlighted the value of innovative and diverse opponents. In concluding comments, Graham underscored the importance of scenario development, and warned against pre-scripted scenarios that heavily constrain player choice

Lunch followed, and the first session of the Connections Game Fair, with twenty or so games on display,. These ranged from a Dstl hybrid warfare matrix game and their STRIKE! battlegroup board game, to a Swedish National Defence University operational-level game, through to Brian Train’s Second Lebanon War and a game on Future Artillery Concepts. A second session followed in the evening.

Juliette Le Ménahèze, Harrison Brewer, and I ran two games of We Are Coming, Ninevehour wargame-in-development of Iraqi operations against Daesh in West Mosul (2017). I’ll post a full update on the playtesting to PAXsims in the near future.

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Demonstrating Playing We Are Coming, Nineveh.. Photo credit: Harrison Brewer.

Unfortunately, because I was busy overseeing bitter street-fighting in West Mosul, I did not get much of a chance to look at the others.

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Mike Young demonstrates the STRIKE! wargame from Dstl. Photo credit: Tom Mouat.

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James Halstead and Fog on the Somme. Photo credit: Tom Mouat.

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Brian Train demonstrates Second Lebanon War. Photo credit: Tom Mouat.

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Tom Mouat’s Section Commander. Photo credit: Tom Mouat.

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The WATU wargame was also on display (photo credits: Katie Bramwell).

The other activity of Day 2 was a keynote address by Volko Ruhnke and Brian Train.

Volko spoke about wargames and systems thinking, reprising many of his comments from Connections US in July. He identified various sources of analytical surprise—deliberate hostile action, tectonic shifts, and system shifts in which the dynamics of complex systems interact to produce major change. From this he went on to explore the challenge of modelling complex systems, noting both that such models are inevitably simplified and full or errors—yet also essential to make some sense of the world. He emphasized the importance of harvesting the wisdom of crowds and incorporating diversity. Wargames capture a particular model, often in a way that is accessible to players. Rigid games have very explicit model specification but may be too bound. Open games incorporate opportunities for innovation, but the model is often much less clear. Matrix games are a hybrid approach, which incorporate flexibility and leverage the expertise of participants. Computation and agent-based modelling can offer considerable insight into outcomes of complex systems, but the underlying model may not be accessible (and the user interface may be very important to allow the user to know what is going on). Volko also offered advice on game development, much of which hinged on the importance of repeated playtesting and encouraging feedback and critique.

A stimulating on-stage conversation between Volko and Brian followed, examining the question of creativity. Martin Mull once said that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” making the point that you also need to listen to and experience music. Brian amended this to remark that “Game design is like dancing through architecture,” allowing one to experience the flow and form—although one also needs to game too. Brian’s usual design process isn’t always linear, but it is iterative. He has to have some initial interest. There then follows a period of incubation, which is followed in turn by moments of insight and inspiration during which the game subsystems develop. There are usually lots of ideas, and over time the bad ones get thrown out and the good ones are refined. Novelty is something which always attracts him to game topics and designs. At the same time, designs often borrow and adapt mechanisms pioneered by others in other games. Brian admitted to a certain degree of imposter syndrome at times, feeling that his work is less elegant or otherwise not as good as games designed by others (a remarkable admission from one of the world’s leading and most innovative wargame designers). The question and answer period followed, much of which focused on their favourite game systems and mechanics. It was a terrific session and format.

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Volko Ruhnke and Brian Train. Picture credit: Tom Mouat.

Thursday, 6 September

The final day began with a panel on wargame execution, chaired by Howard Body (UK MoD).

Aggie Hirst (KCL) spoke about play as pedagogy, examining the use of wargames for educational and training purposes in the US DoD military. She emphasized three main themes: play as a pedagogical tool, the role of immersion and player agency, and the value of critical thinking and “dialectical play.” She raised the question of whether immersion can interfere with learning, to the extent that reflexivity is undermined and players become objects, rather than subjects, of the game. It is important to use games to teach how to think, not what to think. This may involve punctuating immersion, thereby ensuring that players are engaged in a dialectic with the game. Her research will ultimately be published as a book (to which I am certainly looking forward).

Next, Erik Elgersma (FrieslandCampina) spoke on wargaming as a hidden driver behind cheese market victories, highlighting the value of business wargamimg, whereby potential commercial courses of action are stress-tested. This approach serves as a team-building process that ultimately enhances capabilities. Participants start by playing Red, outlining the objectives and strategy of a commercial competitor. Having done this, they develop and then test their own plans from a Blue perspective. He stressed the importance of recruiting a strong project leader, choosing a suitable topic/scenario, ensuring commitment and support from principals, and ensuring the wargame has a clear focus. Good timing is important—wargames can be premature or stale, with limited shelf-life. A good team of participants is important, as is a good organizational culture in the room that encourages everyone to voice ideas. Good preparations (such as suitable pre-reads) pay off. Analysis and reporting must be clear, and not ambiguous. The findings need to be effectively integrated into business strategy. Finally, he stressed communications, communications, communications.

Erik also mentioned how things can go off the rails, through poor representation of reality, hidden (political or organizational) agendas, or a mismatch between the game and the authority of participants. In the later question period, he noted that cheese marketeers are as vulnerable to mirror-image biases as any other analysts or game participants.

Karl Selke (Group W) presented on empowering defense wargaming through automation, focusing on the Standard Wargame Integration Facilitation Toolkit (SWIFT) produced for the US Department of Defense. The software captures all aspects of the game. A user builds their game space (map/board), including layers and overlays, and builds their units and assets. The game can be adjudicated externally or can be automated. He discussed some of the expectations and challenges when developing and promoting technological supports and solutions.\

Appropriately enough, digital wargame and wargame support tools were on display during the coffee and lunch breaks. These included SWIFT, as well as a Dstl demonstration on adapting augmented and virtual reality tools; NSC and iNet; Conductrr and TeamXp; and several games from Slitherine and Matrix Games.

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Using SWIFT to display, document, and facilitate a wargame.

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VR tools in wargaming.

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Conductrr on display.

The next panel, chaired by Brian Train, explored wargame validation.

LtCol Neil Stevens (British Army) and LtCol Ranald Shepherd (British Army) discussed selecting, playing, and assessing a commercial off-the-shelf wargame (in this case, A Distant Plain). They discussed how to convince the players that a COTS wargame was worth their time. After playing, participants reported that A Distant Plain had given them better appreciation of the broader context of counter-insurgency in Afghanistan (4.2/5.0 in a post-game survey), although it was somewhat less effective in offering insight into COIN warfare (3.78). Positive effects were noted in terms of practicing risk-taking, decision-making, and collaboration. Overall the exercise scored high (4.67) as an overall experience, both in terms of learning and enjoyment. 

John Curry (History of Wargaming Project) talked about wargaming and reality: a case study of the Ukrainian crisis, 2014-present. He questioned whether wargames had always had the positive effects reported. The interwar US Naval War College wargames, for example, were rather different from the way naval engagements were actually fought during WWII. He also quickly reviewed several wargames on modern warfare used for training during the Cold War era. There was not only significant variation in their assumptions, but also were wrong in some respects, or missed key issues (such as Soviet supply constraints).

He used such observations as a preamble to examination the Ukrainian war. Fighting has highlighted the value of UAVs and indirect fire. MANPADS proved effective against rotary assets. Tanks remained powerful on the battlefield. Matrix games, he suggested, had limits in anticipating black swans and future developments such as encountered in the Ukraine. Some pre-crisis board games (such as Millennium Wars: Ukraine) placed too much emphasis on large formations, or otherwise failed to predict important developments. Digital games often made inappropriate assumptions too. John stressed that wargaming does have value, but that appropriate caution needed to be exercised in using them to anticipate future military challenges. In response to questions, he called for more research on what games proved prescient, and why. In a follow-up question I asked how we avoid demonstrating the value or weakness of wargaming by cherry-picking vignettes. He (quite rightly) responded by stressing the need to more systematically survey wargame outputs.

Another comment noted that the benefit of wargames is also the cognitive development it encourages, quite apart from tactical/operational/strategic insights. It was also noted by panelists that wargames may contribute to networking and agility that proves of value when the unexpected is encountered. Also, the problem in some cases may be one of how game lessons are interpreted, (mis)applied, or missed, rather than the game itself.

Phil Pournelle (LTSG) looked at refinement of wargames throughout the wargaming lifecycle. He emphasized that game methodology needs to be matched to the questions being asked, and what the designer or sponsor thinks about a game is not always what the audience (or the sponsors’ boss) thinks. Games need to be supported by a joint planning process prior to the game, and teams will have to adjust plans as they interact with adversaries. Insights from the game should then inform refinement of the next game. He also discussed capturing lessons, through rapporteurs, surveys, hotwash, and structured analytical techniques—and the strengths and weaknesses of each. He noted the particular value of critical event analysis to understand game trajectories and their drivers. These critical events may generate questions for future examination.

Phil also discussed the Defense Wargame Alignment Group (DWAG) in the US Department of Defense, including the role of the Wargame Incentive Fund and Wargame Repository. In subsequent discussion, Phil stressed the importance of playing games widely to develop wargame design skills, and to acquaint oneself with the various techniques, methods, and game mechanics that are available.

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Phil Pournelle highlights the strengths and weaknesses of different wargaming approaches.

LtGen Sir David Capewell offered a (retired) senior officer’s perspective in a presentation on wargaming to win in a volatile future. He stressed the value of wargaming as a method for fostering critical thinking skills. He argued that we are in the midst of a new and emerging geostrategic environment, characterized by the emergence of new issues and dynamics. He underscored the changing information environment, the challenged posed by (volatile) adversaries, and the “hybrid conundrum” whereby it is difficult to know how to respond to irregular challenges. He suggested that it was difficult to find Red Team players that could effectively represent this.

There was much here I agreed with, and it was good to have such a senior (former) officer speaking to the group to offer a wargame-user’s perspective. However, it is also important to move beyond catch-phrases. Some aspects of change, it seemed to me, were overemphasized: geopolitics has always been complex and dynamic, especially outside the Cold War paradigm. Much of what is termed hybrid warfare is composed of tools and approaches that have been in use for decades, even centuries. I am not suggesting that there is nothing new—there absolutely is. However, what is key is to determine what has changed (irregular actors using UAVs) and what has not (massed artillery fires kill infantry), in a context of both continuity and innovation.

For me, the most important contribution of the presentation was to underscore the need for wargame designers to wrap their games in appropriate jargon if they are to attract the attention of some senior decision-makers.

In the subsequent question and answer, Sir Capewell was asked if he had ever changed his mind as the result of a wargame. He said he had. In the case of Afghanistan, wargames suggested that troops could be disengaged quickly and quietly at night, rather than having to first reinforce forward. He also pointed to the 2014 West Africa Ebola crisis, where wargaming highlighted the importance of cultural practice (notably body-washing and handling) in limiting the spread of disease. I found this a somewhat interesting response, given that this was understood by many public health professionals well before the epidemic, the issue being noted (for example) in humanitarian guidance sponsored by the UK Department for International Development in 2002. This suggests that planning wargames for senior staff may actually serve an educational function too, flagging issues that they might otherwise fail to appreciate from briefing or other materials.

After lunch, a panel chaired by Colin Marston (Dstl) discussed various issues of wargame analysis. I was one of the panelists, so my notes here are a little more hurried.

LtCol Rob Burks (US Army) spoke on US/DoD best and worst practices. He warned of the challenges posed by wargame teams without the necessary skills, unclear objectives and questions, and weak data collection and management plans. He stressed the importance of dialogue with the sponsor to clarify objectives and key questions, noting that while you can’t always get what you want, if you try sometime you find you get what you need. He stressed the importance of playtesting—and not only playtesting the game design, but the data collection and analysis plan too. Knowing who the players are is important, before the game design is finished. He also noted that games are at risk of being sidetracked, and that contingency plans and parking lots can be useful tools in game facilitation (“let’s park that issue now and get back to it later” so that you can focus on main issue).

Peter Williams (DST) addressed designing analytical games with a view to successful data capture, management, and analysis. He outlined a holistic wargame design process, whereby understanding the client problem leads on to designing an appropriate wargame, collecting good data, undertaking good analysis to produce good answers. He emphasized the value of break-point analysis, which seeks to determine where and when the capability of force X is likely to work, and why—and the point at which it is no longer effective. A wargame needs to enable smart people to be smart (and innovative and devious),  and the tools need to be present in the game to allow them to do this.

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Peter Williams discusses the holistic wargame process/

I delivered my report on the DIRE STRAITS experiment from Connections 2017, addressing cognitive bias in wargame analysis (slides here). This was similar to the presentation I made in July at the Connections US conference. Our findings suggested that different analytical teams assigned to report on the same wargame might reach very different conclusions. Various types of cognitive bias (such as confirmation bias) might be responsible for this. The implication was that greater attention needed to be paid to how game analysis was developed and aggregated, including the possible use of a Red Team analytical cell to provide a possibly alternative perspective on the findings.

The next session of the conference was an informal panel discussion on wargame facilitation, featuring Tom Mouat, Jim Wallman, and Paul Strong (Dstl), and myself. Various questions had been gathered from conference participants over the past two days, and Graham-Longley Brown acted as questioner. Some important issues were raised, including dealing with difficult players, the dangers of assuming a too-active role, and various mistakes we had made in the past.

Finally, it fell to Phil Sabin (KCL) to make some concluding comments on the conference. The main thrust of his remarks was the need to increase the diversity of the wargaming community, in terms of gender, ethnic and national background, age, and experience. Connections UK did very well in attracting an international audience, with participants from 19 different countries. Judging from the sixty or so people who opted for the introduction to wargaming course, the conference also did well at bringing newcomers into the community. Half or more of those in attendance were not hobby wargamers, highlighting how effective Connections UK has been in expanding the community beyond the usual gaming geeks.

Regarding gender, however, there remains considerable room for improvement. By my rough estimate, around 10-15% of participants (and fewer than 5% of presenters and panel chairs) were women—a somewhat lower proportion than at American version. This is, of course, an issue we have discussed before at PAXsims, and to the organizers’ credit the issue was raised and recognized repeatedly. Half of the PAXsims contingent (comprising myself and Tom Mouat, plus research associates Harrison Brewer, Kia Kouyoumjian, and Juliette Le Ménahèze, and volunteer Keiko Ivinson) were women, so I would like to think we made our own modest contribution in that direction.

Overall, it was a very productive and stimulating three days. Having attended Connections US in July, it is interesting to reflect on the subtle differences between the two events. The focus and composition of the latter can vary a little depending on where it is held, but in general there are significantly more serving military folks with wargaming somewhere in their job descriptions or on their to-do lists. Connections UK seems to attract more with POL-MIL interests, as well as gamers who have some position or interaction with government but aren’t necessarily doing much official gaming. Given that US defence expenditures are around 13 times higher than those of Britain, that is to be expected. There is also a certain eccentricity to many British (hobby) wargamers that affects the official side too—I’m not sure that the UK megagame opener would necessarily translate well to a US professional setting. The US conference often delves deeper into issues of methodology (in part because of the efforts of people like Yuna Wong and Stephen Downes-Martin to deepen the intellectual and research foundations of wargaming). However, many UK (and European) wargamers are operating in more austere resource environments, and in some cases things that work in well-funded US wargames may be less feasible elsewhere in NATO and beyond.

 

UPDATE: the conference presentations are all now available at the Connections UK website.

Connections UK approaches!

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The Connections UK professional wargaming conference at King’s College London is fast approaching on 4-6 September, and several of the PAXsims team will be there: myself and Tom Mouat, plus research associates Harrison Brewer, Juliette Le Ménahèze, and Kia Kouyoumjian. Be sure to say hello!

Among other things, I’ll be talking about cognitive challenges in wargame analysis, and Tom and I will be taking part in a panel session on game facilitation.

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As for games, Harrison and Juliette will be running demonstration games of We Are Coming, Nineveh!, a tactical/operational-level game of the Iraqi government campaign to liberate western Mosul from the forces of Daesh in February-July 2017. Tom will be demonstrating Section Commander, a small-unit role-playing game intended to explore tactics, techniques, procedures, and equipment selection.

Oh, and have you been dying to buy a copy of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game but didn’t want to pay postage to the UK? Email me before I leave, and I’ll put one (maximum) in my luggage for you.

Connections Oz 2018

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This year’s Connections Australasia professional wargaming conference will be held on 10-12 December 2018 at the University of Technology Sydney.

You’ll find further information and updates at the Connections Oz blog.

Connections US 2018 report

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This year’s Connections US professional wargaming conference—the 26th since the series began—was held at National Defense University on July 17-20. It was the largest meeting yet, with some 280 or so registered, and around 210 attendees. Amongst those registered for the conference were several students (Keiko Ivinson, Kia Kouyoumjian, Jason Li, Caroline  Wesley) from my game design seminar at McGill University this past term, and some of them will be posting their own perceptions to PAXsims in the near future.

The conference started off with a welcome from Vice Admiral Fritz Roegge, the President of National Defense University. He discussed the use of gaming for education and outreach at NDU, notably through the activities of the Center for Applied Strategic Learning. Later, COL Voris W. McBurnette, the Director of CASL, also welcomed the group and said a little more about the work of the Center.

This was followed with a general presentation by Matt Caffrey (Air Force Research Laboratory) on wargaming. He argued for the utility of wargaming, offering a brief overview of defence wargaming in the US and elsewhere and historical examples of when and where wargaming had made a clear difference. He then went on to define key elements of wargaming.

The conference next split into a choice of conference sessions—I attended a session on wargaming counterinsurgency, by Brian Train (slides). Brian noted the relative paucity of commercial wargame designs exploring insurgency and irregular warfare, despite this being the most common form of armed conflict since WWII. He also noted the ways in which counterinsurgency game designs typically differ from wargames about more conventional kinetic operations.

“Conventional” wargame “Irregular” wargame
binary, zero-sum opposition multiple though frictional points of view/ factions
ordered situations chaotic and nonlinear game states
rigid treatments of time, space and force flexible, malleable scales, non-representational units
symmetry of information, methods and objectives asymmetry of these

After lunch, fellow PAXsims coeditor Tom Mouat (Defence Academy of the UK) and I offered a seminar session on matrix gaming (slides). We provided an overview of the technique and had two games set up (ISIS CRISIS and HIGH NORTH) to illustrate game processes and take a few sample actions.

The rest of the afternoon was devoted to game demonstrations. In addition to having AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game and the Matrix Game Construction Kit on display, Brian and I also showed off We Are Coming, Nineveh!, an operational-level game of the 2017 battle for West Mosul, which we are developing with my former students Juliette Le Ménahèze and Harrison Brewer.

Day 2 started with a keynote presentation by John Lillard on US naval wargaming during the interwar period, drawing upon his book on the topic. He highlighted how lessons were learned from both regular wargaming at the Naval War College and the fleet exercises. Games were either STRAT (chart), TAC (board), or QR (quick reactions). Games either focused against a superior (Red/UK) in opponent in the Atlantic, or a weaker (Orange/Japan) opponent in the Pacific. The opposing side was always played by students, as well as Blue. John took us through a series of game vignettes from the 1920s and 1930s, showing how the games addressed new issues and innovations, including air and submarine assets, amphibious operations, logistics, and allied operations. The games included such experiments as different approach routes, formations, amphibious operations, anti-submarine escorts, airships, chemical warfare, floating drydocks, and converted (cruisers, merchantmen) aircraft carriers.

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John Lillard discussing interwar wargaming at the US Naval War College.

After a coffee break, attention turned to game design. Goor Tsalalyachin (Dado Center, IDF General Staff) offered an overview of strategic wargaming in the Israeli Defence Force. He emphasized the need to move beyond simplistic, two-dimensional thought. In the IDF, wargames are used for critical decision support and knowledge development, as well as training—often involving personnel at the most senior levels. He highlighted the dynamic and changing nature of the strategic environment (which demands a constantly agile conceptual/operational design process), and the value of wargames in developing and challenging new ideas and concepts. The method he described was largely that of a two-move seminar game. In many cases, I suspect, this produces structured scenario discussion rather than a great deal of iterative gaming.

Becca Wasser (RAND/Georgetown) and Stacie Pettyjohn (RAND/Johns Hopkins) addressed this issue in their presentation on “Beyond the BOGSAT: the case for structured strategic games.” Becca argued that despite the reinvigoration of wargaming, POL-MIL gaming has somewhat languished, in part due to the “squishiness” of the political dimension. Given this, it could be useful to add greater structure to such games by drawing from design features of some commercial games. Unstructured games can tend to opinion-discussion, rather than making choices with consequences. Stacie suggested that too many designers default to free-form seminar games, which end up being non-game BOGSATs or low-quality games. The latter involve unfocused team deliberations, hasty decisions, and an abundance of semi-relevant background materials that are often ignored by players.  Game validity excessively depends on ad hoc, undocumented “expert” adjudication. Seminar games are thus often overly dependent on players and experts, adjudication is based on unexpressed, undocumented mental models, and games are difficult to replicate. They also produce too few innovative ideas.

Stacie suggested drawing upon commercial game mechanisms, pointing to Brian Train’s game designs and PAXsims’ very own AFTERSHOCK as good examples, as well as the Countering ISIL game developed by RAND (based on a design first prototyped at a MORS wargaming workshop). There are, she noted, challenges to developing such games, such as the up-front challenge of producing game models and rules. Such games often do not scale well to large audiences. They might also face problems of acceptability (with strategic boardgames looking too “gamey”).

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Becca and Stacey discuss adding more structure to strategic games.

Frans Kleyheeg (TNO) presented on “gaming and VR technology as a game changer,” noting the utility of virtual simulation for both wargaming and design development/experimentation.

Subsequent discussion explored issues of communication and information in games, the use of formal planning tools, and what to do about indecisive players.

After lunch it was time for the Connections Game Lab. Essentially, this consisted of a series of topical issues, questions, or design challenges which had been identified based on input before the conference. Each of these was assigned a table and facilitator where they could be discussed more fully. I led a session on gaming unpredictable adversaries (and allies), which touched on the sources of unpredictability (is the behaviour genuinely pathological and irrational, or does apparent unpredictability simply stem from inadequate information and models?), as well as why and how this might be embedded in a game design. My thoughts on the topic can be found in an earlier piece at The Strategy Bridge, as well as my presentation last year at Dstl.

I also attended a very useful session on wargaming mass atrocity, where we discussed how and why this might be undertaken. I mentioned the work that Kia and Keiko are doing on gaming the Darfur conflict, the purpose of which is to teach about the logic of mass atrocity as well as possible mechanisms for mitigation and prevention. A session later in the conference focused on wargaming and the analysis of human decision-making. Participants noted that not only can games be used to examine human factors and decision-making dynamics, but also that understanding (and manipulation of these through structure, information, and player engagement) is essential to good game design.

Back to panel presentations in the main auditorium, Hyong Lee (NDU) talked about “educating future cyber strategists through wargaming.” He talked about several different cyber games they have used at NDU and elsewhere. He identified several challenges: an excessive sponsor focus on technical solutions (when there may be useful no tech/low tech solutions); incorporating technology issues at a strategic level; gaming the non-technical effects of cyberattacks (political impact, etc.); and gaming the “shaping” (left-of-boom) phase of cyber.

Phillip Reiman (USAF) and Colby Sullins (USAF) discussed the training of attorneys in strategic decision-making through gaming. Rush to Judgment is a boardgame they developed to train Air Force lawyers on moving cases through to resolution using the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals. They found the game improved knowledge but also underscored to participants the challenges involved in dispute resolution.

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Who knew that military contracting dispute resolution could be so fun?

Finally, Patrick Schoof (US Army National Simulation Centre) presented on “Battle for Atropia: Army Division Level Wargaming.” Battle for Atropia is a 45 minute-hex-based wargame inspired by Battle for Moscow. The design for this then sparked a request for an enlarged and revised version, Land Power, for classroom use. The game uses 6 hour turns, with command points limiting activity, and a card system for enablers and supports.

Asked what surprises they had encountered, panelists noted the importance of playtesting, and the surprising directions players sometimes take a game (especially in a matrix game). One audience question raised the issue of information flows in games. There was also discussion of assessing educational utility.

The evening was Connections game night, with an opportunity to play in a variety of games. I ran a game of Reckoning of Vultures, from the Matrix Game Construction Kit.

Thursday began with a panel on “perspectives and tools.” My presentation was the first up, on “In the Eye of the Beholder? Cognitive Challenges in Wargame Analysis” (slides), based on the DIRE STRAITS experiment at the Connections UK 2017 wargaming conference. In this, we asked three separate analytical teams to provide independent assessments of game methodology and findings. Their finds were quite divergent—suggesting that wargame analysis might depend as much on the analysts as the game. I went on to suggest ways of addressing this, including red teaming game analysis and attention to cognitive bias training.

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David Ross (US Air Force Research Lab) discussed the challenges of effectively integrating emerging technologies into wargames He noted that it is not enough to simply present the technology to participants—it helps to also highlight how it operates as a system, interacts with other systems, and to suggest some preliminary concept of employment.

Ben Connable (RAND) made an excellent presentation on “The Will to Fight: Adding Brutal Realism to the Military’s Games and Simulations.” The emphasis here was not on immersive realism, but rather the modelling of willpower, morale, and cohesion effects. He noted that commercial/hobby wargames generally do a much better job of representing morale effects on battle performance than military wargames, where this key psychological aspect is often completely ignored—resulting in units fighting to the death or failing to react to battlefield events or context. Together with colleagues at RAND, they are in the process of developing models that can represent willpower effects in both strategic and tactical/operational levels. He mentioned the Close Combat series of the digital games as one of their inspirations for their own modelling. In later comments I also pointed to This War of Mine as doing a superb job of representing morale and psychological factors, albeit in a game about civilian survival rather than war-fighting.

After the morning coffee break, attention turned to the importance of narrative in wargame. Anja van der Hulst (TNO) made a presentation on wargaming hybrid warfare, in which she warned about the excessive assumptions of rationality and strategic behavior in most games. Anja noted the importance of grievance in conflict and emphasized that this has an emotional as well as rational or material component. Emotional reactions tend to be less rational/strategic, and anger and humiliation can be a powerful driver of behavior. She discussed how she had explored such issues in a variety of game settings, including a modified version of the Baltic Challenge matrix game.

J. Furman Daniel III (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University) presented on “fiction as a wargame.” His research (with Paul Musgrave) found that fiction has measurable impact on policymakers and hence policy. He explained this, in part , with reference to Peter Perla and ED McGrady’s narrative-based argument on why wargaming works. He also suggested that fiction can help wargamers better design games that engage participants, and is a useful way of encouraging reflection and analysis.

John Derosa (George Mason) and Lauren Kinney (George Mason) explored narrative analysis of wargaming, based on an experiment that they conducted at the 83rdMORS Symposium, where they performed actant analysis of three parallel games of Drive on Metz. Their findings focused such issues as tactical vs strategic preoccupations, more active or passive approaches to the enemy, and differences in inter-group dynamics.

Last year, Connections presented its first lifetime achievement award to Peter Perla for his important contributions to the art of wargaming. This year, Connections founder Matt Caffrey was the well-deserved recipient of this honour, which came complete with a banana-trophy. (Last year, late arrival of the trophy had forced the organizers to present Peter with a banana instead).

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Matt receives his award, with a picture of last year’s award ceremony in the background.

Working Group sessions followed next. I took part in the group on in-stride adjudication, defined as “adjudication performed simultaneously with play over a period of hours or days.”

It was quickly evident that experience with in-stride adjudication varied widely, in terms of resource availability, time and decision pressures, and (of course) game purposes.  In-stride adjudication is a key part of many of my own games, including the Brynania peace operations game as well as most megagames. Matrix gaming also involves another type of in-stride adjudication.

There were eight presentations, based on eleven short papers that had been written for the session before the conference. Among these was a very good presentation on “player perspectives” by Jason Li, developed from ideas discussed earlier in the year by members of the McGill student team.

My own written piece represented a few hastily-written reflections, but I departed from these in my verbal comments, and instead focused on the notion of adjudicators as both game technicians and theatre directors. In the former capacity they are responsible for making sure the game runs smoothly and stays on-course to achieve its objectives. In the latter capacity they are responsible for keeping the players engaged in the game narrative—maintaining the immersive illusion of a fictional or “what if” universe. It is important not to “break the fourth wall” by having players think more about adjudication than the emerging narrative and the embedded choices it presents.

This issue of directness (or indirectness), intensity, and social dynamics of interaction between players adjudicators—and the impact of these on trust, buy-in, and potential player alienation/grievance—emerged as a frequent theme during the subsequent discussions at my working group table.

The final day of the conference featured a terrific keynote address by Volke Ruhnke on “(War)gaming for complexity.” He started by noting the differences between complicated phenomenon and complex phenomenon. Warfare (and politics) falls into the latter category. Forecasting the latter is difficult because of systemic shocks and other non-linear effects. Model-building—purposeful (but inevitably imperfect) simplification—is essential to understanding and forecasting. If you construct a dynamic model, you can then see how the system might behave under differing circumstances.  Constructing a model also provides an opportunity to see what might be missing, and assists in moving from analysis to synthesis of many interacting parts.

Volko also discussed the impact of diversity (and the “wisdom of crowds”) on analysis. External model-building (and hence game design) provides a mechanism for explaining and synthesizing implicit mental models. He used the CIA training game Kingpin (a game about high value targeting) to show how a collaborative process of game design helped to identify gaps in, and facilitate refinement of, the underlying model. Modelling also forces you to make decisions about what is causally important.

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Volko says many clever things about games and analytical modelling, with an image of the Kingpin game in the background.

 

He compared various modelling approaches (graphic, role-play, manual gaming, computational) across five criteria (ease of use, accessibility to the underlying model, dynamism, iteration, and granularity). Each approach has different strengths and weaknesses. Computational modelling , for example, is powerful, but it may be difficult to understand and assess the underlying (largely black-boxed) model.

For game designers, he emphasized the importance of keeping game designs simple, warned against falling in love (too quickly) with your game model, and you ought to be prepared to combine modelling media. For educators, he noted that it teaching systems thinking requires teaching models. Students, he noted, make great playtesters—and you should invite student critique. For analysts, you might want to pre-coordinate (and illustrate) your models. Feel free to tabletop it—it is a relatively cheap way to explore model. Everyone should consider their mix of both approaches and talent/participants (“diversity is your friend”).

In the subsequent Q&A period, Volke noted the value of teaching game-making. Building the game (even if you don’t get to running the game) can produce valuable insight into issues.

Working Group reports followed, for which I wrote down notes as quickly as I could:

  • The wargaming in education group offered a variety of insights:
    • Regarding cyber education, the group noted that cyber information is often (unnecessarily) classified or highly technical—both of which impede accessibility and hence broader education. While technical experts are best supported by existing resources, managers/policymakers and those working on general purpose games/scenarios are less well served.
    • Looking at wargaming with technology, it was noted that education “does not have deep pockets.” Transparency can be an issue in computer games. Web-based games have advantages in development and accessibility.
    • On the topic of gaming, education, and low-intensity conflict, it was noted that there are several interesting current games at NDU, NPS, and elsewhere. Several gaps and shortcomings were noted, including information operations, cultural misunderstanding, and the existence of ineffective games and exercises. Finally, the group asked how willing we are to game these issues (especially with political or cultural sensitivities). They noted that less structured games (like matrix games) may be especially useful for low-intensity and hybrid warfare topics.
    • The working group offered some thoughts on teaching game design. The noted the value of having students play a game (perhaps even a bad game) and suggest modifications, and generally encouraging critical game play. A “petting zoo” approach can be useful in quickly demonstrating different game mechanisms and approaches.
    • Finally, there was brief mention of CWAR—Collaboration for Wargames in Academics Research—a best practices and information sharing group for those within the Department of Defense and US government. The contact person for this is Scott Chambers (NDU).
  • The working group on linking game purpose to game design was based on PhD dissertation working currently being conducted by Ellie Bartels (RAND) on analytical and discovery games. She noted that attention tended to focus on the topic of a game and game design/format, but there was usually less attention to how to link these two. Her draft framework suggests that the information generated can be fitted into four general archetypes: understanding the problem; structured comparison; innovation; and evaluation. Each type, she suggested, are differentiated by several distinguishing characteristics. The working group tried applying her framework to hypothetical games, to assess its utility in aiding a designer. She noted the challenges posed by differing understanding of terminology (validity, verification, confidence, etc.) across the community.
  • The report from the working group on in-stride game adjudication summarized the process we had used, invited additional feedback on the papers, and encouraged the submission of post-conference reflections too. Revised papers and synthesized analysis from the working group session will be available online (via PAXsims) later in August. Watch this space for further details.
  • The working group on wargaming as a catalyst for innovation was the final one to report. It started by noting the erosion of America’s (military, economic, and technological) edge, and the dynamics of competitive innovation in warfare. This group also had several formal papers/presentations to spark discussion (eventually to be posted on the Connections website). Wargames can expose hidden assumptions and provide a forum for trying new ideas. Difficult gaming challenges may help to force innovation by players. They noted the need to make games flexible and user-friendly. There is a need to bring more cognitive diversity to bear on problems (“not just middle-aged white guys”). There is also a need for more rigour in some areas. More use might be made of alternative political futures. (There was a lot more here too, but I could only type so quickly as the brief-back slides flashed by!)

The final session was a conference hot-wash. Connections 2018 had been flawlessly organized, and there had been a great many very valuable presentations, so feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Some of the audience comments and suggestions included:

  • Game lab feedback and reflections are welcome and will be included in the online conference proceedings. I thought the small, participant-suggested, topic-oriented game lab sessions had worked very well.
  • More time for game demonstrations/play.
  • How best to engage students and early career professionals, especially outside the military?
  • Hosting a panel of wargame consumers/clients, to better understand their perspectives.
  • There is now a Connections US Facebook page.

Before the conference closed for a year, I also reminded everyone of the Connnections conferences to come over the next year:

Connections North will be held at McGill University in Montreal on 16 February 2019, so that everyone can enjoy our balmy winter weather.

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Serious Games Forum 2018 (Paris)

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On 3 December 2018 the École Militarie (Paris) will host a Serious Games Forum, devoted  to the use of wargames and other serious games in the defence, civil, and research domains. Think of it as Connections France.

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You’ll find further details at the Serious Games Network France website.

Save the dates: CONNECTIONS NORTH 2019 (and McGill Megagame)

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PAXsims is pleased to announce the dates for the 2019 CONNECTIONS NORTH professional wargaming conference, as well as the 2019 McGill Megagame.

CONNECTIONS NORTH: Saturday, 16 February 2019

McGill Megagame: Sunday, 17 February 2019

Both events will be held at McGill University, in Montréal.

A call for papers for CONNECTIONS NORTH will be issued closer to the date, and registration information will be posted here in the fall.

The megagame will be APOCALYPSE NORTH, an game of emergency response, national survival, and federal-provincial politics during a zombie armageddon. (We are also referring to it as Bon Zombi/Bad Zombie, for the Canadian cinephiles amongst you). In keeping with post-G7 world, Canada will face undead threat from across its southern border. While the scenario will be very fictional (we hope), the emergency management/aid to civil powers elements of the game will be realistic—and challenging.

Gaming for Peace conference (Dublin, January 2019)

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A Gaming for Peace conference will be held at Trinity College, Dublin on 10-11 January 2019.

Project background

GAP is an EU H2020 funded project which is developing a curriculum of soft skills derived from interviews with experienced military, police and civilian peacekeeping personnel, and the state of the art in peacekeeping relevant soft skills and serious games.  GAP is embedding a selection of peacekeeping relevant soft skills in a digital role-playing game with in-game assessment. The key soft skills are: gender awareness, cultural competency, communication, cooperation, decision-making and stress management.  In-game assessment is reported in individual ‘skills passports’ for players, and the learning metrics have been standardized against international benchmarks. The GAP module (curriculum and game) provides an inexpensive, accessible to all, standardized training in soft skills for peacekeeping and is at the cutting edge of State of the Art in the domains of training for peacekeeping,curriculum development, soft skills, assessment, game design and soft skills standardization.

Call for papers

We invite academic/research/policy papers from researchers from academic institutions, international organizations, training institutes for militaries, police and civilian humanitarian workers, policy institutes, and game designers, in each of the domains and at the intersection of these domains to participate in a conference that is designed to bring together key thinkers from all these domains to share relevant research, network and brainstorm for future innovative collaboration such as GAP.

Key topics:

  • training for peacekeeping
  • curriculum development
  • soft skills
  • assessment
  • serious games design
  • soft skills standardisation
  • training for military, police, NGOs
  • peace education

Abstract submission(400 words):  by July 31st 2018 to [GamingforPeace@tcd.ie]

Notification of accepted authors: September 1st, 2018.

September 30th: Full programme available.
November 30th: Close of registration. Please register at: [link not yet available]

2019: A selection of presentations at the conference will be invited to submit full papers for publication in an edited book volume after the conference.

The conference will also host demonstrations of the GAP game, and special events to bring together key personnel in this area.

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Connections UK conference registration now open

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The Connections UK 2018 conference for wargaming professionals will be held at King’s College London on Tuesday 4 – Thursday 6 September.

Registration is open. Go to the KCL eStore website and register now! Registration closes on Friday 24 August.

Purpose. The purpose of Connections UK is to advance and sustain the art, science and application of wargaming. We help to achieve this by bringing the wargaming community together to share best practice and network. Responding to your feedback, this year we will go into greater depth than previously, with more “how to” rather than “we did this…”

Duration. The conference will last three days. Tuesday 4 September will feature a concurrent megagame and a day-long Introduction to Wargaming Course for newcomers. This is an ‘either/or’ choice, although you simply sign up for Day 1 when you register. The main conference is on Wednesday 5 and Thursday 6 September. You can pay separately for Day 1 and Days 2 & 3—see below.

Programme. The latest programme is available on the Connections UK web site at http://professionalwargaming.co.uk/  Events and plenary topics include:

  • Key note address by Volko Ruhnke: Wargames and systems thinking.
  • Megagame.
  • Introduction to Wargaming Course.
  • Wargame design plenary:
    • Dilemmas and trade-offs in wargame design.
    • Game design as a form of journalism.
    • Working within design constraints.
  • Wargame development plenary:
    • Developing the KCL Crisis Simulation.
    • Developing an Arctic High North nested games family.
    • Model calibration.
  • Wargame execution plenary:
    • Play as pedagogy.
    • Business wargaming case study: ‘Cheese, butter & milk powder.’
    • Empowering Defense wargaming through automation.
  • Wargaming validation plenary:
    • Selecting, playing and assessing a COTS wargame (A Distant Plain).
    • Wargaming and reality: a case study of the Ukraine conflict 2014 – present.
  • Wargame refinement plenary:
    • Creating and sharing best practice.
    • Lessons learned from recent MOD wargames.
  • Analysis plenary:
    • US/DoD analysis: best and worst practice.
    • Designing analytical wargames with a view to successful data capture, management and analysis.
    • In the eye of the beholder? Cognitive challenges in wargame analysis.
    • SPECULAR STRIKE experimentation analysis.
  • Games fair: two sessions, as usual.
  • Facilitation workshop: a hands-on breakout session.
  • Automation tools: stands and demonstrations.

Cost. Costs are unchanged from last year (and the year before!). Connections UK is non-profit; it is a service to the wargaming community. Charges are as small as possible, sufficient to cover food, venue hire and whatever minimal administration is required. All food and refreshments are included. The Introduction to Wargaming/megagame day has been costed separately from the main conference days:

  • Introduction to Wargaming/megagame: £60.
  • Main Days: £135.

Location. The location will be Kings College London Strand Campus. Directions are on the KCL eStore web site at the ‘Location’ tab.

Accommodation. Finding accommodation is an individual’s responsibility, but there are two Connections UK-specific deals to be aware of. The Strand Palace offers reduced rates for Connections UK delegates (£150 per night depending on room type), and KCL has cheap and cheerful student accommodation available (£59 per night). Details and links are on the KCL eStore web site at the “More Info” tab, and don’t forget to quote “King’s College London” when booking.

Points of contact and further information. Consult the Connections UK website http://www.professionalwargaming.co.uk/ for programme updates and contents of former conferences (it is a wonderful resource). Please send general questions to graham@lbsconsultancy.co.uk and detailed queries concerning registration or administration to Bisi Olulode at olabisi.olulode@kcl.ac.uk

Privacy. As a non-profit, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) does not affect us that much. There is a privacy statement on the home page of the Connections UK website.

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Serious games for policy analysis workshop

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Connections Netherlands – save the dates

The Connections Netherlands professional wargaming conference will be held on 1-2 October 2018.

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CONNECTIONS NORTH 2018 wargaming conference report

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On February 24, almost two dozen defence analysts, game designers, academics, and conflict simulation students met at McGill University for the CONNECTIONS NORTH miniconference on professional wargaming in Canada. It was a modest affair, but also a resounding success, I think—possibly the largest meeting of its kind ever held in Canada.  We were also buoyed, of course, by the official message of support and encouragement sent on in advance of our meeting by our British wargaming colleagues at Dstl. A key impetus for the meeting was the presence of a number of professional colleagues from Ottawa and Kingston who had travelled to Montreal for the DIRE STRAITS megagame at McGill on Sunday, which will be the subject of a subsequent report.

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Waiting for things to start.

The afternoon started off with three surveys of wargaming and other serious gaming. Ben Taylor (Defence Research and Development Canada) discussed the development of gaming techniques to support and enhance the Capability-Based Planning (CBP) process. DRDC CORA is exploring matrix games as a relatively simple method for exploring scenarios and scenario development, and recent games involving a former defence planning scenario have found considerable receptivity. One advantage of a matrix game approach, he suggested, is that players are not limited by game components, and therefore more likely to think broadly and creatively. In the discussion that followed, participants raised such issues as the need for senior leadership-buy in, possible limitations of matrix games for operation or tactical-level gaming, the strengths and weaknesses of more structured gaming techniques (such as RCAT) and how various gaming approaches might be integrated, and where in the CBP gaming methodologies best fitted. You’ll find a copy of Ben’s slides here.

Next, I offered an overview of various gaming initiatives that I have been involved with, whether in a teaching capacity at McGill University, in support of educational and policy research initiatives elsewhere, or through PAXsims. I also raised the issue of how best to carry forward the momentum we have seen in Canada in the past year or so, marked by the establishment of the CONNECTIONS NORTH email list for professional wargamers/policy gamers, the informal networks that have emerged from the Diplomatic Challenges in the South China Sea game that Global Affairs Canada sponsored last fall, from DRDC initiatives, and now from this conference. You’ll find the slides from my presentation here.

Connections North

Anja van der Hulst (TNO) then discussed some of the game initiatives she has been involved with recently. Of particular interest was her discussion of exploring hybrid warfare using matrix games. She noted that game design and components had a substantial impact on game play, with a preponderance of military assets predisposing players to kinetic methods. Anja also raised the important role that emotions and other psychological factors can play in shaping player behaviour and strategy. This spurred considerable discussion throughout the conference as to how best to encourage players to internalize game narratives and respond in ways that resemble either the psychology of particular actors, or their value systems, fears, and concerns.

A coffee break followed, complete with Timbits. This was a Canadian wargaming conference, after all.

After the break, Jim Wallman (Stone Paper Scissors) offered some perspectives on the UK Royal Air Force’s recent Eagle Warrior exercise, which consisted on one major wargame and  series of associated games. As noted by the RAF:

Exercise Eagle Warrior brought together the best and brightest military minds from the Royal Air Force, British Army, Royal Navy, Joint Force Command, Defence Intelligence, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, the United States Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force.

This operational-level war game was the first of its kind in eight years but was in fact much more than a game alone, it was a platform for conceptual analysis and critical thinking as well as the development of further interoperability with our Allies.

The wargame lasted two weeks with multiple games being played throughout, focussing on how wars might look in 2030.

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Exercise Eagle Warrior (picture credit: RAF)

While Jim was constrained to address only unclassified aspects of the exercise, he offered extremely valuable insight into the challenges of senior leadership engagement (both as a positive factor, and as a challenge for game facilitation), rapid game design, and the importance of game design and materials in shaping player experiences.

Grand Designs Design Thinking in Games Graphic Design Presentation

All of this led nicely into a presentation by Tom Fisher (Imaginetic) on “Design Thinking in Games,” in which he discussed how the presentation of a game shaped player experience, above and beyond the formal system represented in the game rules. Specifically, he drew upon Don Norman’s three levels of game design: visceral, behavioural, and reflective. Visceral design addresses the almost unconscious impact of graphic design and game components on how players “feel” about the game, and the intellectual and emotional associations these stimulate. Behavioural design is about usability, and how the graphic presentation of the game enhances, or detracts from, playability. Finally, the reflective element of design concerns how a player rationalizes the game experience, and the impact that it has. Throughout, Tom warned about inappropriate graphic or component choices that force players out of engagement and narrative (and also warned against the danger that beguiling graphics can result in players accepting unrealistic or misleading models of reality). Finally he emphasized the importance of making game designs as simple as possible for a given purpose, the value of “dual coding” (in which text and graphics are mutually reinforcing), and how one can use a player’s preexisting mental model to make something more acceptable and convincing. You’ll find a copy of his slides here.

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Some of the participants at CONNECTIONS NORTH.

That ended the formal activities for the day. In the evening, however, we ran a game of A RECKONING OF VULTURES from the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK) for those who wanted to stick around.

A RECKONING OF VULTURES is set in the capital of the fictional Republic of Matrixia. There, in the ornate Presidential Palace, surrounded by his most loyal Presidential Guards, the President-for-Life lies on his death-bed—and various power-hungry factions are jostling to take power themselves. Once the President passes, competition between these would-be successors will escalate into open conflict, until the Central Committee of the Ruling Party can meet and agree on a new leader.

The game was designed to show how matrix games can be used to explore a range of issues and modalities, from political maneuvering through to tactical employment of force in complex urban environments.

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In the first phase of our game, the Central Security and Intelligence Directorate (secret police) largely focused on gaining information and leverage, including control over the media. The Matrixian Armed Forces moved potentially disloyal troops away from key power centres, and focused on securing the loyalty of the armed forces. The Ministry of Interior dispatched police units to the potentially rebellious university campus, while the Oligarchs rented thugs and bribed religious leaders. The National Union of Toilers (NUT) infiltrated union organizers into the police unit guarding the prison, as well as a key armoured battalion (which had spent days parading around the city since no one wanted it outside their power base).

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Early in the game of A RECKONING OF VULTURES.

When the President-for-Life died, NUT sympathizers in the police seized the main prison, while the tank battalion declared itself a supporter of the proletarian revolution. CSID control of the media and the Oligarchs’ influence with religious establishment allowed both of them to shape public expectations. The MAF commander was successful in both ordering military reinforcements to the city and securing the loyalty of the Presidential Guard, both of which then attacked CSID headquarters with support and encouragement from NUT protesters. Although the CSID spymaster managed to escape this attack, his efforts to relocate to the Central Bank were foiled when his thuggish convoy of black SUVs was shot up by soldiers at a MAF checkpoint. At a critical moment, the NUT-controlled tanks stormed the campus, and freed the students there from the tyranny of police occupation.

Finally, the Central Committee of the Ruling Party met. The Minister of the Interior went into the balloting with a small advantage, for the police had shown the foresight to quietly occupy several key locations in the city while everyone else fought. In the end, however, it was the MAF Commander who emerged victorious and was named the new President.

 

Cunning plans: Connections UK 2017 feedback and 2018 sneak peak

Graham Longley-Brown has kindly passed on the following report on feedback from the Connections UK 2017 professional wargaming conference, and an early peek at what 2018 will look like.


Many thanks to everyone who completed the Connections UK 2017 feedback survey, and a warm welcome to those who have expressed an interest in finding out more about professional wargaming.

The Connections UK 2018 conference will be, as far as we can make it, a precise reflection of your views and requests in the 2017 feedback survey. The resulting conference outline is below. If this is of interest, please note the dates 4 – 6 September 2018 in your diary. I will distribute registration details presently. More details of Connections UK, including all previous presentations, can be found at the Connections UK website.

Connections UK 2018

If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. 91% of survey respondents found the 2017 conference useful or very useful; 85% said you would attend a future Connections UK; and 91% thought the conference was the right length. Some survey comments:

  • ‘An excellent event, a great opportunity to meet professional wargamers and those crossing over into the hobby side. An invaluable experience for the UK wargaming community.’
  • ‘Overall this was an excellent and extremely encouraging event demonstrating the high international standing of UK wargaming.’
  • ‘Looking forward to 2018!

However, as the comments below illustrate, there are compelling reasons to go into more depth at Connections UK 2018. Answers to the question ‘How do we make the event better?’ included:

  • ‘More on practical approaches, case studies and insights.’
  • ‘Deep dives on game design and data capture, versus ‘we did this.’
  • ‘More emphasis on lessons learned from developing and delivering wargames.’
  • ‘Intellectual depth into the art and science of wargaming.’
  • ‘Methodology and best practice for analysis in wargames.’

Adopting a ‘deep, not broad’ approach accords with the Connections purpose, which is to advance and preserve the art, science and application of wargaming. So, this year we will concentrate on the ‘how to’ of wargaming, from design through execution and analysis to refinement. Expert speakers will talk in detail about the practicalities of designing and delivering wargames, and will include best practice and lessons identified, both positive and negative. The Games Fair and various breakout sessions will give you a hands-on experience of a large number of game designs and tools, and there will be plenty of time to network with many of the world’s best wargamers.

Three points the organisers would like to add:

  • The ‘High North’ was briefed last year by the UK MOD’s Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC). This remains a topic of interest for Defence. Games that feature the ‘High North’ would be most welcome at the Games Fair. DCDC’s presentation can be found here.
  • There were a number of requests in the survey to feature the psychology of wargaming, human decision-making and such like. Rather than try to squeeze that – large and significant – topic into the 2018 conference, we are considering devoting most or all of Connections UK 2019 to this.
  • Games selected to be shown at the Games Fair will qualify for one free place per game. Conference fees for all three days will be waived.

Connections UK 2018 details

  • Connections UK purpose. Advance and preserve the art, science and application of wargaming.
  • Dates. Tuesday 4 – Thursday 6 September 2018.
  • Venue. Kings College London, The Strand, London, UK.
  • Cost: no change from 2017 (and 2016!): £60 for the megagame/Introduction to wargaming day; plus £135 for the two main days. Connections UK is not for profit; the cost covers administration and food, which is provided.
  • Themes. ‘How to’ wargame. Best practice, in-depth insights, and lessons identified in the wargame ‘steps’ below. You will note a striking resemblance between these and the MOD Wargaming Handbook, which is available online as a free download.
    • Design.
    • Development.
    • Execution.
    • Analysis.
    • Validation.
    • Refinement.
  • Key note speakers: Volko Ruhnke and Brian Train. We are extremely fortunate that Volko and Brian, two of the world’s leading wargame designers, have agreed to help us. Straddling recreational and serious gaming, and with decades of award-winning and high-profile game design behind them, they will participate in multiple plenary sessions, as well as deliver the key note address. For any who don’t know Volko and Brian:

Volko Ruhnke is a game designer with three decades of experience in the US intelligence community. He most recently served as an analytic instructor, making extensive use of boardgames in the classroom. He also is an award-winning creator of numerous commercial wargames, such as GMT Games’ COIN Series about insurgency and counterinsurgency.

Brian Train has been designing conflict simulation games for the civilian market for over 20 years, with over 45 published designs to date. His articles and games have been published by a wide range of large and small firms. His special interests in game design are irregular warfare, “pol-mil” games, concepts of political influence in games, and asymmetry in games generally. In his spare time, he is an Education Officer in the Ministry of Advanced Education of British Columbia, Canada.

  • Outline. Some details remain to be confirmed, but the conference structure should look like that shown below. The left-hand column includes the themes, or wargame ‘steps’, mentioned above, and shouldn’t change much. The right-hand column includes topics drawn from your feedback survey suggestions. These will be refined as we confirm speakers and chairs.
Day 1. Tuesday 4 September  
Introduction to wargaming for newcomers This will be an entirely separate event to the megagame, with a series of games interleaved with talks
Megagame This will be an engaging and fun ice-breaker on a serious and contemporary topic.
Component production Informal evening session.
Day 2. Wednesday 5 September  
Introduction Relating the conference structure to the MOD Wargaming Handbook wargame process.
Design 1. Dilemmas and Trade-Offs in wargame design.

2. Serious wargame design.

3. Design factors and choices.

Development 1. Game mechanics and processes.

2. Play-testing and Test Exercises.

3. Scenario development.

(Look forward to Execution) Scenario execution.
Games Fair session 1
Key note address Volko Ruhnke and Brian Train.
Games Fair session 2
Day 3. Thursday 6 September  
Execution 1. Wargaming uses.

2. Wargaming Case Study.

(3. Facilitation will be covered in a grand finale; see below).

4. Adjudication.

5. Automation – break out and demonstrations.
Analysis 1. Analysing wargames.

2. Data capture.

3. Lessons identified from the analysis of the 2017 Dire Straits megagame.

Validation 1. Validating wargames.

2. Applying wargaming lessons identified to the real world.

Refinement 1. Making wargames better.

2. Sharing best practice.

Facilitation (from Execution) Hands-on learning experience.

Please email me with any questions. Registration details will follow presently.

Graham Longley-Brown

Military Operations Research Society 86th symposium

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The 86th annual symposium of the Military Operations Research Society will take place on 18-21 June 2018 at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California:

This year’s sessions will be conducted at the classified and unclassified clearance level with FOUO options.  Corresponding portions of the Symposium are open to U.S. Citizens with or without a clearance and cleared “Five EYES” (FVEY) participants with some restrictions.

The 86th Symposium will include 500+ sessions taking place in 33 Working Groups, 7 Composite groups, Distributed Working Groups, Special Sessions, Demos, Tutorials and CEU Courses over the four-day program.

Take advantage of this unique opportunity at the 86th Symposium to present your work and get valuable feedback from your colleagues across the National Security community.  The submission deadline is 16 February 2018.  MORS Service Sponsors are actively working on conference approvals for the 86th Symposium.

I won’t be there, alas—the clearance procedures and restrictions for FVEY participants are just too much of a hassle—but it is a great place to interact with others in the national security gaming community, as well as to learn about relevant insights from military operations research more broadly.

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