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Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Category Archives: conferences

Connections NL 2019 AAR

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The most recent Connections Netherlands wargaming conference was held on 28 October, with some fifty or so participants. You’ll find a report on the conference here.


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The Future of Wargaming working group report

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PAXsims is pleased to provide more of the impressive work done at the Connections 2019 (US) professional wargaming conference. Many thanks to Ed McGrady for passing this on for wider distribution.

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At Connections 2019 we held a working group (WG2) to explore the future of wargaming.  We approached the problem several different ways.  First, several members of the working group contributed fictional stories describing what gaming might look like in the future.  Second, we had baselining briefs on future technologies, including virtual and alternate reality technologies and artificial intelligence.  Finally, we did a scenario planning exercise with the working group attendees at the conference.  This process resulted in a wide-range of different ways to think about, and predict, the future of gaming.

The working group was co-chaired by Mike Ottenberg and Ed McGrady, with stories contributed by Sebastian J. Bae, Michael Bond, Col. Matt Caffrey (Ret.), Dr. Stephen Downes-Martin, Dr. ED McGrady, and Dr. Jeremy Sepinsky.

Wargaming the Far Future working group report

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PAXsims is pleased to present the report of the “Wargaming the Far Future” working group, ably assembled by Stephen Downes-Martin. This 276 page (!) document contains the papers written by the working group, their discussions while they wrote and refined those papers from November 2018 to June 2019, and the discussions at the workshop held during the Connections US Wargaming Conference in August 2019.

Our most potent power projection and warfighting capabilities, developed in response to current and near future threats, are technologically advanced, hugely expensive, and have half- century service lives. The first of these characteristics gives us a temporary and possibly short lived warfighting edge. The second grants our political leaders short lived economic and political advantages. The last characteristic locks us into high expenses in maintenance and upgrades for many years in order to justify the initial sunk costs as though they were investments. This combination forces us onto a high-inertia security trajectory that is transparent to our more agile adversaries, providing them with credible information about that trajectory while giving them time to adapt with cheaper counter forces, technologies and strategies.

We must therefore wargame out to service life, the “far future”, to ensure our current and future weapons systems and concepts of operations are well designed for both the near term and the far future. However a 50 year forecasting horizon is beyond the credibility limit for wargaming. The Working Group and the Workshop explored and documented ways that wargaming can deal with this horizon.

Papers and comments are contributed by Stephen Aguilar-Milan, Sebastian J. Bae, Deon Canyon and Jonathan Cham, Thomas Choinski, John Hanley, William Lademan, Graham Longley-Brown and Jeremy Smith, Brian McCue, Ed McGrady, Robert Mosher, Kristan Wheaton, and of course, Stephen himself.


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KWN: Building the future of wargaming

The Wargaming Network at King’s College London has a series of events planned for November. Details below.

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Connections Oz date and location change

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Connections Oz is on the move. The date and venue for their 2019 conference has been changed  to 9-11 December at the Australian Defence College in Canberra.

Further details at their website.

Registration open: CONNECTIONS NORTH 2020

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Registration is now open for the CONNECTIONS NORTH professional wargaming/conflict simulation/serious gaming conference, to be held at McGill University in Montréal on Saturday, 15 February 2020.

For details of past conferences, see these reports.

Further details and conference registration via Eventbrite.

CONNECTIONS NORTH is proud to be part of the globalist conspiracy anarcho-syndicalist commune international network of Connections interdisciplinary wargaming conferences.

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Wargaming and analysis: reflections on the 13th annual NATO OR&A conference

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On Wednesday, War on the Rocks published a piece by Jon Compton on the obstacles on the road to better analytical wargaming. As Jon tends to be, he was blunt in his assessment:

As an advocate for, and practitioner of, analytical wargaming within the [US] Department of Defense, I’ve witnessed some good things emerge over the past few years, but also enough poor practices to reinforce, to no small extent, the criticisms of gaming made within the operations research community. Peter Perla’s 2016 call to improve wargaming, while widely read and commented on at the time, was mostly ignored by wargame practitioners among federally funded research and development centers, universities, and defense contractors, who, frankly, seem largely content to continue on with business as usual.

Several agencies within the Defense Department, particularly within the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the combatant commands have now seen the effectiveness and impact of a complete analytical process that incorporates wargames and are now beginning to consider how they might do the same thing. The notable exception to this interest has been among more traditional wargame practitioners in the wargame community. To date not a single federally funded research and development center, contractor, or educational institution that purports to provide a wargame service has shown the slightest interest in providing a complete analytical solution that incorporates wargames, nor have they shown interest in analytical ownership of the outcome. To my knowledge, none has even been interested enough to ask what the requirements are. Apparently there is enough demand elsewhere to keep the wargame community busy, and if the reports I’ve read generated from recent wargames are any indication, the BOGSAT is alive and well.

Coincidentally, the day the piece appeared was also the final day of the 13th annual NATO Operations Research & Analysis conference, held this year in Ottawa (full programme here), with a few of the PAXsims crew in attendance. What insight did the conference offer into the issue?

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Ben Taylor (DRDC) at the start of the conference.

First of all, wargaming was very well represented. It formed one of five conference streams, the others being methodology, data-driven analysis, operations, and strategic decision-making. A total of nine presentations on wargaming were delivered:

  • Sue Collins (NATO ACT) gave an excellent presentation on NATO analytical wargaming (SAS-139). She started by making the argument for wargames, but also highlighted several serious challenges (such as rigour, cognitive overload, data collection, game analysis). She discussed where there might be value in automating the process. She also pointed to the value of more effective data visualization, as well as techniques for obtaining greater rigour. The Connections professional wargaming conferences got a prominent shout-out. She concluded with a request for participants to share their insights, issues, and concerns with the NATO SAS-139 panel.
  • Matthew Stevens (Lessons Learned Simulations and Training) presented on simulation-based humanitarian training. He noted that humanitarian organizations do not typically red team their operations, and thus make avoidable mistakes. Furthermore, military wargames tend to portray civilian actors poorly: they are often treated as injects or random events, and rarely does a game give any insight into their concerns and decision-making. He discussed a valuable approach to modelling civilian behaviour this based on 6 key steps: identify lessons to be learned; identifying relevant actors and stakeholders; identify the goals and motivations of those stakeholders; identify the kinds of decisions they take and actions they make; understand the systems and contexts that shape their behaviour and choices; and finally model those systems.
  • Dani Fenning (NATO ACT) addressed analytical wargaming in support of NATO military deterrence options, focusing on the Rising Bear matrix game. Sadly I had to miss some of this, since I was scheduled to run a game of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game at a local high school.
  • Rudy Boonekamp (TNO) outlined how a crowdsourced game could be used to generate insight into radicalization processes, in the context of a larger analytical project on opponent modelling. Psychological research provides insights, which can then be studied through experimentation using gaming techniques. The Opponent Immersion Game is an online, narrative selection (“choose your own adventure”) game in which elements of the narrative can be experimentally manipulated to assess causal relationships. Players provide feedback on their perceptions through dialogue with non-player characters and similar mechanisms. Following his presentation, audience questions addressed how artwork/graphics choices might affect gameplay, participant rewards, ethics approval, and extending the methodology to examine attitudes of other actors. (Coauthors: Vladimir Hazeleger, Lucia Tealdi, Helma van den Berg, Bob van der Vecht.)
  • Håvard Fridheim (FFI)  addressed wargaming reachback support to the headquarters planning process. Military headquarters lack reliable, processed information due to limited ,forward-desployed OR&A capability. Moreover, HQs are limited wargaming expertise and capability. Is it possible to reach back to offsite wargaming? They provided several examples of how this might be done. They also outlined a number of challenges: wargaming must offer real benefits, there may be HQ skepticism regarding the method, and games must be developed and run in a timely fashion that synchs with the planning rhythm. Headquarters may be unwilling to give up some control over the process to external providers. Classification and communication issues need to be overcome. At this point, these are a set of ideas that could be pursued in the Norwegian context. Comments from the audience emphasized the importance of trust in making reachback processes work, with one commentator suggesting that it might be too much to fight the “value of wargaming” and “value of reachback” battles at the same time. Another audience member commented on the difficulties of a remote wargaming site having adequate situational awareness. An parallel point was made about the value of participating in a wargame, versus simply reading about the results. (Coauthor: Stein Malerud.)
  • Pilar Caamaño Sobrino (NATO STO DMRE) looked at combining qualitative and quantitative wargaming approaches to support NATO analysis. She suggested that the largely qualitative outputs of many wargaming leads to problems of inadequate rigour. The combined use of qualitative and quantitative games, coupled with modelling and simulation, improves the quality of data and findings. Qualitative, human-in-the-loop  games (matrix, seminar, red teaming) can be enriched with (M&S) visualization tools. Quantitative (software-inp-the-loop) wargames can be assisted with M&S tools that expand exploration of the problem space. She discussed application of this approach in the case of an A2/AD simulation study, for the development of deployment plans, and for autonomous counter-maritime IED systems. (Coauthors: Alberto Tremori, Lucia Gazzaneo, Wayne Buck.)
  • Abderrahmane Sokri (DRDC) addressed a possible analytical wargaming approach to cyber deterrence. He discussed the logic of deterrence in general, and then applied some of this to potentially gaming cyberattacks. Members of the audience suggested that his approach would be enhanced by a more nuanced representation of the cyber realm, as well as a more complex treatment of deterrence.
  • Koen van der Zwet talked about applying OR game theory analysis to military cooperation, with a focus on logistics This was really a multi-actor optimization question, however, rather than application of a wargaming tool. (Coauthor: Wouter Noordkamp)
  • Mike Larner (Dstl) spoke on “wargaming for strategic decision-makers in the UK”—but since that formed part of the strategic decisions making panels, I missed Mike’s presentation.

Finally, one of the conference keynote addresses was by Stephen Downes-Martin (Naval War College). Stephen emphasized the analytical and ethical responsibility of analysts and sponsors, as well as the possibilities for malpractice. He noted the effect—sometime adverse—that small group dynamics can have on wargames and analysis, especially when actors have preferred outcomes that they would like the game to validate. These are issues he has raised before, notably in his important “Three Witches of WargamingNaval War College Review (2014) article, as well as his February 2019 Connections North presentation.

The non-wargaming panels I attended were good too. I very much enjoyed the keynote by Peter Singer (New America Foundation) on the impact of new technologies. The keynot by Christine Fox (Johns Hopkins APL) was awesome by all accounts, but I missed that as I watched the students of Robert Borden High School deal with a simulated earthquake in Carana.

On the third day of the conference, participants had the option of taking part in a full-day multi-domain wargame, or participating in a wargaming best practices workshop.

The former was run by Altan Ozkil (Atilim University) and Levent Berke Çapli (NATO):

The wargame is played by two teams Red and Blue with four sub-groups, with approximately two persons each sub-group. The four sub-groups represent the Tactical (Battalion) Commander, Joint Staff, STRATCOM Office and Cyber Command. Finally, the city is a green/white cell which is a non-playable character reacting to the team’s activities. All of these groups need to coordinate their activities both before and during the conflict.

The workshop was delivered me, with assistance from Stephen Downes-Martin, who skillfully role-played a problematic boss or sponsor. You’ll find the slides for the wargaming workshop here. I also provided an annotated two page bibliography of useful readings on serious wargaming.

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As to Jon’s point in War on the Rocks, he’s absolutely correct to emphasize that wargaming must form part of a broader, data-driven, methodologically-sound, and results-oriented analytical endeavour, rather than used as a stand-alone tool. Overall, I think both the workshop and the majority of the presentations at the NATO OR&A conference did this.

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Several times in my presentation I highlighted the WWII work of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit, the (predominately female) Royal Navy analysis unit that undertook both all-sources/multi method analysis and games-based professional training. If a small group working with 1940s technology on the upper floor of the Exchange Flags building in Liverpool can get it right, surely we can too?

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One of the readings I recommended was Becca Wasser’s recent New York Times Magazine piece on women in professional wargaming. By my count, around 15% of the wargaming workshop participants were women, as were 30% of the conference wargaming presenters. That’s likely far better than it would have been a few years ago, but also indicative that there is a way to go.

Finally, thanks are due to the organizers. Everything ran very well—even the weather. It  is a shame there wasn’t an even larger contingent of Canadians present, since it was an excellent opportunity to network with NATO and other colleagues. It was also an opportunity to enlighten even more folks from the Department of National Defence and other government departments on the value of OR&A, including serious gaming.


The conference proceedings will eventually be made available through NATO STO. 

Dstl wargaming “show and tell”

Dstl is being sent to Coventry!

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To be more specific, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) is seeking potential new suppliers to help influence future wargame development. A free “Show and Tell” event is planned with their partners at The Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry on 7 November .

Wargames can be used to explore tactical, operational and strategic issues across the business, security, emergency services, humanitarian and military sectors. Wargames encourage players to: think innovatively and creatively in a safe to fail environment; identify emerging issues; test hypotheses; assess alternate options and highlight the potential consequences of choices.

Under its Searchlight initiative, Dstl is looking for industry partners, especially Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to help develop innovative wargaming tools, techniques, technologies and analysis. Companies need not have any experience in the defence sector. Opportunities exist across all aspects of wargame design and analysis, especially in the field of data capture, analysis and visualisation.

Dstl will also offer the opportunity to access its expertise and peer review of the potential utility of innovative approaches and subsequently to test the best of these live in Dstl’s Defence Wargaming Centre.

The 7 November event will outline Dstl’s aims and give participants the chance to network with potential new collaborators. The dual focus will be on closed pitches from SMEs to the Dstl team of specific offers that may improve wargaming outcomes and on an open event where there will be the chance to present ‘Lightning Briefs’ to a broader audience and network informally with other participants and exhibitors.

The event is being hosted by The Manufacturing Technology Centre and supported by KTN; the UK’s Innovation Network; ADS, The Federation of Small Businesses; Team Defence Information and techUK. Dstl will also provide more information on its role in encouraging SME innovation and growth as partners in Venturefest South.

To secure a place at the event, register online at Team Defence Information.

QMUL: Emory on nuclear wargames, ethics, and the quest to quantify conflict

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Queen Mary University London is hosting a talk on 24 October by Dr. John R. Emery (University of California, Irvine) on the quantification and gamification of warfare and the ethical challenges associated with this.

Public Lecture: Nuclear Wargames: Ethics and the Quest to Quantify Conflict

Dr. John R. Emery is Tobis Fellow at the Interdisciplinary Center for the Scientific Study of Ethics and Morality at the University of California, Irvine and specialises in technologies of war and their impact on ethical theorising. His current research examines contemporary dilemmas of Artificial Intelligence and human/machine integration by drawing historical parallels to the advent of the computer and the evolution of nuclear wargaming through archival work at RAND. His previous work on drone warfare, counter-terrorism and the ethics of force short of war has been published in Ethics & International Affairs, as well as with Georgetown University Press and New York University Press.

Dr Emery’s talk is followed by a brief discussion and Q&A. There will be a drinks reception for attendees after the lecture.

Location: Queen Mary University London, ArtsOne Lecture Theatre

Time: 18:00 – 20:00

Registration for the event is via Eventbrite.

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

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

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

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

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

Connections UK 2019 report

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Picture credit: King’s Wargaming Network.

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

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

Day 1

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

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

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

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

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Super Soldiers & Killer Robots 2035 underway.

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

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

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

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Your scribe, about to start a game of AFTERSHOCK.

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

 

 

 

Day 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Keynote address by Lynette Nusbacher.

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

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

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

 

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

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We Are Coming, Nineveh!

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

 

Day 3

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

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

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

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Ben Shreeve on gaming cyber security.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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Connections NL 2019

Connections Netherlands 2019 will be held on 28 October 2019, in the Brasserskade MOD Complex (CBK),  Brasserskade 227A/B, 2497 NX Den Haag.

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Full details can be found at https://www.connections-netherlands.nl.

Call for papers: CONNECTIONS NORTH 2020 wargaming conference

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The CONNECTIONS NORTH 2020 professional wargaming conference will be held at McGill University, Montreal on Saturday, 15 February 2020.

CONNECTIONS NORTH is a one-day conference devoted to conflict simulation. It is intended for national security professionals, researchers, educators, game designers, university students, and others interested in the field of wargaming and other serious games.

Registration details will be posted to PAXsims in December. In the meantime, we welcome paper and panel proposals. These should be sent to Rex Brynen (rex.brynen@mcgill.ca).

Details of previous conferences (and the CONNECTIONS NORTH digital community) can be found here.

As is tradition, the annual McGill megagame—a separate and rather less serious event—will be held on the following day.

13th annual NATO Operations Research & Analysis Conference

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NATO Headquarters Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (ACT) and the Science and Technology Organization (STO) will be holding the 13th annual NATO Operations Research and Analysis (OR&A) Conference in Ottawa, Canada on 7 to 9 October 2019.

The 2019 theme is Challenges for NATO OR&A in a Changing Global Security Environment. The conference will kick off with a number of keynote addresses and continue in five streams:

  1. Strategic Decision Making
  2. Wargaming
  3. Methodology
  4. Data Driven Analysis
  5. Analysis in Operations

This is a professional conference, is open to participants with expertise in military operations research and professional wargaming/serious games. On Monday and Tuesday there are a series of wargaming panels. On Wednesday there are two optional full-day workshops: one involves participation in a hybrid, multi-domain wargame and the other (led by yours truly) explores wargaming best practices.

Further details can be found here. Registration is via the NATO STO events website. The conference will be conducted at an unclassified level.

Connections Oz 2019

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The Connections Oz (professional wargaming in Australiasia) conference will be held in Canberra on 27-29 November 2019.

For additional details (when available), visit the Connections Oz website or contact the organizers.

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Also, if you plan on attending and would be willing to write up a post-conference report for PAXsims, drop us a line.

 

 

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