Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Category Archives: conferences

Serious Games Forum 2018 (Paris)


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.


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

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


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)


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 []

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.


Connections UK conference registration now open


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  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 for programme updates and contents of former conferences (it is a wonderful resource). Please send general questions to and detailed queries concerning registration or administration to Bisi Olulode at

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.



Serious games for policy analysis workshop

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

Connections Netherlands – save the dates

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

Connections NL STD.JPG

CONNECTIONS NORTH 2018 wargaming conference report


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.


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.


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.


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.


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).


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


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.

A busy year of gaming ahead


Well, 2018 is already shaping up to be a very busy year for PAXsims, and certainly for yours truly.

This term I’m teaching a small seminar on conflict simulation design at McGill University. This is really a dry run for a larger course next academic year—and, if that goes well, possibly a regular offering in the academic years ahead.

Starting this week, Hiba Zerrougui and I will be running an AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game tournament for students in my POLI 450 (Peacebuilding) course. This is an optional event, in which players pick up bonus class participation credits for taking part, and an extra bonus if they win the tournament. You’ll find a report on last year’s version here.


Next week, I’ll be in Washington DC for a couple of days to assist the International Foundation for Electoral Systems to develop serious games and simulations for training election officials. IFES does terrific work around the world helping countries with the complex procedures and mechanisms of electoral democracy, and I’m happy to lend a hand. I’ll also be doing some work with the ICONS Project over the coming months.


On February 6, it’s off to my alma mater, the University of Calgary, to talk about the use of serious games in teaching about international development, and to run a demonstration game of AFTERSHOCK.


On February 24, we’ll be holding a CONNECTIONS NORTH miniconference at McGill University on professional wargaming in Canada, with around 20 participants. Small as it will be, it is likely to be the biggest assemblage of Canadians to discuss serious wargame development in quite some time.

The following day Jim Wallman (Stone, Paper, Scissors) and I will, together with members of our elite Control team, be running the 3rd annual McGill megagame, DIRE STRAITS. This is a revised version of the game that Jim and I organized for the Connections UK wargaming conference back in September (and which received international coverage from BBC News). Anja van der Hulst (TNO) will be passing through Montreal so that she can take part in both the conference and the game, and she’s kindly offered to run her comprehensive approach game for my students on the following Monday.

In early March, I’ll be taking part in a workshop on the urban dimensions of religious conflict, being organized by my colleague Mick Dumper (University of Exeter). Mick and I have worked on other conflict simulations before—including a prescient 2013 policy simulation that explored possible US cuts to UNRWA, and an educational simulation on the Syrian refugee crisis. This time I’ll be developing a multi-part crisis simulation, set in the fictional country of Carana, that will continue throughout the event. Our hope is that it will compliment the academic papers and discussion that are the main component of the workshop with some illustrative communal flash-points, conflict, and policy challenges.


In early April, civil war will once more stalk Cyberia, as more than one hundred students in POLI 450 and POLI 650 spend a week trying to bring peace to Brynania. This will be the 19th annual running of our massive McGill University peacebuilding simulation, and I’ll spend much of the time monitoring more than 15,000 emails between the participants in my role as CONTROL. The effort that the participants put into this is truly phenomenal, especially considering how little the activity actually counts for (10% of their course grade), and is testimony to the outstanding students we have at McGill. You’ll find a detailed account of the simulation here, in an article in PS: Political Science & Politics (2010).

During the summer, things won’t be slowing down all that much. I’ve got an article, and possibly a book chapter, to write on serious gaming. There may be another return visit to Dstl—I certainly hope so, since these have been a hugely valuable opportunity to see what my UK defence colleagues are up to. I hope to be presenting at the Connections US professional wargaming conference at National Defense University in July on the results of our DIRE STRAITS experiment, and I’ll certainly be attending the Connections UK wargaming conference at King’s College London in September.

Plus there are all sorts of game ideas germinating—some of which you will hopefully see on the pages of PAXsims in 2018. And that’s just me! Associate PAXsims editors Ellie Bartels, Devin Ellis, Tom Fisher, Gary Milante, and Tom Mouat are just as busy with their own projects too, many of which you will also see here in the year ahead.

Connections North 2018


A couple of years ago we held a small CONNECTIONS NORTH miniconference on professional wargaming in Canada, bringing together game designers and national security analysts. We’ll be doing again on 24 February 2018 at McGill University, taking advantage of the fact that a number of Ottawa (and other) folks will be travelling to Montreal to take part in the DIRE STRAITS megagame the following day.


  • 13h00 – arrival and introductions
  • 13h15 – SESSION 1: Who is Doing What, Where?
    • Ben Taylor (DRDC), Canadian wargaming perspectives from DRDC
    • Rex Brynen, (McGill University), Gaming initiatives at McGill and by PAXsims
    • Anja van der Hulst (TNO, Netherlands), An overview of TNO gaming initiatives
  • 15h30 – coffee break
  • 15h45 – SESSION 2: Issues, Challenges, and Approaches
    • Jim Wallman (Stone, Paper, Scissors, UK) Wargaming large-scale air warfare: insights from RAF Exercise Eagle Warrior
    • Tom Fisher (Imaginetic), Graphic Design, Components, and Player Experience in Manual Games
  • 17h30 – end
  • 18h00 – informal discussions and gaming
    • A Reckoning of Vultures (Matrix Game Construction Kit)

Registration for CONNECTIONS NORTH free, but is limited to national security professionals, researchers, educators, game designers, and others working in the field of serious games. You’ll find further details, and the registration page, here.

Connections US 2017 Proceedings

PAXsims is pleased to make available the collected proceedings of the Connections US 2017 wargaming conference—all 342 pages worth (pdf, 12.8MB). You’ll find the Table of Contents below.



Many thanks are due to Stephen Downes-Martin for putting this document together.

The 2018 Connections (US) wargaming conference will be held on 17-20 July at National Defense University in Washington, DC.

Connections 1999: The long-lost AAR

Back in 1999, wargame designer Jack Radey attended the Connections professional wargaming conference. Shortly thereafter, and in the best traditions of gonzo journalism, he wrote an account of his experience. It was never published, however.

PAXsims is pleased to finally present Jack’s article here, seventeen years later. Enjoy!

Dancing With Mr. DoD

by Jack Radey


Pulled into Nazareth, feelin’ ‘bout half past dead…

Actually, it was Montgomery, Alabama, and after getting up at 5:40 that morning, in California, I had no idea at all what time it was. We had flown from Oakland to Atlanta to Montgomery, changing time zones in both directions. I was pretty sure it was the last week in February, and evening, and that was about it. A number of people I knew professionally had been on the same plane, and we were all “…waitin’ to meet our connection…” This turned out to be two smiling young men dressed in camouflage, carrying a sign reading, “Connections, ‘99”. Your welcome wagon is likely to be… a little bit different at an Air Force conference.


Al Nofi, Jim Dunnigan, John Hill, and Jack Radey at Connections 1999.

The bus took us to Maxwell Air Force Base (AFB), dropping us at the Air Command and Staff College (ACSC). As a former draft resister, and veteran of the Vietnam anti-war movement from its first days to the end, and this was real strange territory for me. Stranger still was the lobby of the officer’s club, full of colonels, lieutenant colonels, and majors, with a salting of white haired codgers in civvies sucking beer as they sat around the tables. A few glanced at the most recent arrivals, who were almost all hairier, stouter, and sloppier than the usual denizens of the place. And they didn’t look friendly, at all. I knew hardly a person present, and our host, Colonel Matt Caffrey, USAF, was busy elsewhere. What are my chances of getting anything to eat (a medical necessity) and getting to a place to sleep… preferably alive.

Then a big Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel strode up. Hmmm, buzz cut, 6’4”, one eye just slightly a-kilter, big wolfish grin. Staring at my name tag. “Just perhaps,” I was thinking, “wearing my Red Army star on my cap may not have been the brightest idea I’d had recently.”

“JACK? JACK RADEY?” he boomed, “I’ve been a fan of yours since 1979, I played your first game, Korsun Pocket, so many times the counters fell apart! I’m so happy to meet you…”

Hmmm. This might not be as bad as I thought… Perspective adjusted, yes indeed. Only a few wires short circuited in my brain. We’ve become very good friends since.


I Knew He’s Gonna Meet His Connection

I was in Montgomery at the invitation of the United States Air Force. Yeah, me. The get-together is called Connections, and has been run yearly by the Air Command and Staff College of the Air Force. Its stated purpose is to get together civilian wargame designers and active duty military personnel and let them trade ideas. I was specifically asked to be there to present a “different perspective” by the chief organizer of the event, Colonel Matt Caffrey.



Wargames for civilians were first introduced by the British pacifist, H.G. Wells. He wrote the first set of commercial wargame rules, designed to be played with toy soldiers, and called it, “Little Wars.” Wells would arrive at the house of some friend with boxes of toy soldiers, guns, trees and houses and proceed to set up battlefields on large tables or the floor. For the most part, like its real counterpart, the little lead figures in the red coats would fight against other little lead figures, who represented brown people who shared the naïve assumption that they would be better off ruling their own countries. Wells had the idea that if British gentlemen could get their warrior instincts satisfied pushing little lead soldiers and horsies across the floor of the study, they might be less of a danger to the planet. OK, he was a little naïve.

For a long time, the use of such rules and figures were restricted to English Gentlemen who had the time and leisure to pursue such a hobby. Eventually they spread to the British masses, or at least a few of the masses, and from there to the colonies. They never reached the status of Hula Hoops, Pet Rocks, or Nintendo games, but they have maintained a following for over a hundred years.

In 1959, a fellow in the United States, Charles Roberts of Baltimore, published two wargames for sale to the public. They featured maps mounted on thick cardboard, with die cut cardboard counters representing military units. A simple set of rules, probability tables, and dice were included. The first game, Tactics II, featured a contest between two hypothetical countries, Big Red (actually their counters were more pink – Big Pink?) and Greater Blue, with WWII style forces perfectly matched. The second game covered the battle of Gettysburg.


So What In The World Is a Wargame, Anyway?

Think of a chess game. In fact, chess is a wargame, just a very abstract one. You move your pieces one at a time. Every square is like every other square, although some pieces can only move on the black squares and some on the white. Both sides have exactly the same array of forces. You know where all your opponent’s pieces are, and you both know what you need to do to win. But… suppose some of the squares contained woods, or rough ground, or swamps? Just like in real life, they might slow movement. Maybe some units couldn’t move into such squares? Or risked getting bogged down if they did? What if there were rivers running between certain squares that could only be crossed at bridges? Or with the aid of a pontoon bridge piece? And let’s say you could move ALL of your pieces when it was your turn, not just one? What if instead of moving into an opponent’s square to take his piece, you gave various values to the pieces (pawns are worth 1, horses 3, rooks 4, etc) and when they moved adjacent, you compared the total odds and consulted a probability chart that gave you various possible outcomes to be determined by rolling a die? And suppose if you win the fight, the opponent’s piece is maybe just pushed back, or maybe couldn’t move next turn? Suppose you then substitute hexagons for squares, so you can move more or less equally in all directions? And there you have it, a board wargame.



Charles Roberts created the Avalon Hill Game Company (which subsequently passed into the hands of first his printer, and then, late in 1998, Hasbro). Its hallmark for many years was publishing a game a year or so, all with very similar and simple rules. If you were lucky enough to find another nut like yourself who was into such things, you basically both knew the rules, you could set up the game and be playing it within a few hours. On the other hand, if your interest in military history ran to anything but the most popular subjects, you might wait a long time before you saw a game on your subject. Franco-Prussian War, anyone? Napoleonic naval warfare? The campaigns of Alexander the Great? Basically, you were just out of luck. You would never see such a game. As a result, a number of people began to design their own games, either lifting the simple Avalon Hill systems, or trying to design their own.

At the beginning of the 1970s, a new company arrived on the scene. Its lead designer, James Dunnigan, had designed some VERY innovative games that Avalon Hill had published, showing us that the future might hold more than pink and blue counters trying to achieve 3-1 odds, and, in conjunction with a very talented graphic designer named Redmond Simonsen, he started a new company, called Simulations Publications Inc (SPI). They had a new approach, yes indeedy they did. Instead of a new game, with essentially old rules, published every few years, they produced a new game every six weeks! They also put out a magazine, with a game in it, and began by selling primarily through direct mail, rather than through distributors and stores. They began experimenting with rules, and came up with one new system after another. Not surprisingly, the company took off like a rocket, achieving over a million dollars in sales in short order, and hiring on a staff of very talented designers and graphic artists. And they covered every imaginable subject, from the Battle of Megido (the original Armageddon – a chariot battle in the ancient Middle East) to games set in outer space. If you had a favorite bit of military history, chances are they would get to it sooner or later, probably sooner.

But there was one subject the company avoided. Future and present wars were not the subject for games, for some time. The Vietnam War was still on, and it was not something many people wanted to play in. World War II was our father’s crusade, and in the popular imagination, a pretty sanitized one at that. In the movies, war memoirs, and comics we had grown up on, the worst that ever happened was the lieutenant stopped a slug in the shoulder, but not to worry he would be fine shortly. It was sad, it’s true, about the kid from Brooklyn who didn’t want to die, but hey, we all knew he was dead meat from the first time we met him, so it hardly came as a surprise. The war looked heroic, clean, and a simple contest between good and evil, and we, of course, were the good.

Vietnam was different. That was where the kid from down the block lost his leg. Or his mind. It was dirty, horrible, and in the struggle between good and evil, it looked suspiciously like we were the evil in this story.


Playing in the Big Muddy

But, of course, the professional military had an intense interest in future wars, and they had money to burn. They were also on the prowl for useful ideas they could pick up from the civilian sector. One day several men in suits appeared on Charles Robert’s doorstep, wanting to know the source of his Combat Results Table. Had he purloined secret Pentagon studies? Well, a Combat Results Table is simply a probability chart. Charles used a six-sided die, and so there were six possible results for each odds ratio (1-2, 1-1, 2-1, 3-1, etc). Until you got to 3-1, you were pushing your luck by attacking. He told the FBI boys, for that was who they were, that he had simply based his table on the time-honored military principle that the defense is to offense as 3 is to 1, thus an attacker needed 3-1 odds to have a decent chance of winning, and had built his table from there.

Jim Dunnigan, who had had some involvement with SDS at Columbia (where he worked as a custodian during the student strike, and designed a game called “Up Against The Wall, Motherfucker” about that action) eventually turned his imagination to the subject of future conflict, and broke the invisible wall, publishing a game called Red Star/White Star, showing tactical combat in Europe between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. The dam having broken, a flood of games followed: air games, land games, sea games; everything from tactical games where counters represented squads of 12 soldiers, to grand strategic games with counters representing corps and armies of hundreds of thousands of soldiers. All of these games shared a common theme. It was, “The Soviet Invasion of (fill in the blank)” : West Germany, Norway, China, Japan, the USA, Antarctica, you name it, the Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming!! Since none of this had happened, or was likely to happen, its main effects were to repeat the agitation of the Committee On The Present Danger, and other Cold War propaganda.


The Guys In The Military Shirts

This really got the military’s attention. Chess and other games with toy soldiers (ahem, those are military historical miniatures, for conflict simulation…) had been used since pre-Biblical days to train officers and princes. Commercial wargames looked like a very budget conscious way to do training, on the cheap, and make it fun for the young officers. So, the military began coming around commercial wargaming, looking for things they could use. They also made offers to game designers that were downright seductive. “Hey, we’ll send someone from the CIA up to your office to brief you on the characteristics of Soviet shoulder-launched antiaircraft missiles…” Wowie Zowie!! Next thing you know, James Dunnigan, who as far as I know never graduated from high school, was invited up to West Point, to lecture the Army on the subject of how to make war. It was heady. It was intoxicating. It led a number of very smart and very good people, some of whom had been active in the Vietnam antiwar movement, to contract a disease best described as “Pentagonorrhea.”

Some people designed games for the military as training aides. Some became consultants to various services. Some got jobs with beltway bandits, or worked directly as DoD civilian employees, or for the CIA. Some became talking heads, whose opinions were solicited by TV networks to explain military events for television viewers. It was no longer just about games.

I used to have a column in a wargaming magazine where I would hold forth against such practices, and other things. This angered some people, and amused others. The funniest was when I would issue one of my periodic rants against the fact that nearly every WWII game seemed to feature a heroic looking Nazi on the box cover, and got a letter from an apoplectic Reagan-Republican, who was furious that the only person raising this issue, with which he agreed, was an outspoken Communist.


Will You, Won’t You, Will You, Won’t You, Come and Join the Dance?

Since I had a very active interest in military history, from when I was in elementary school, and had been playing wargames since 1960, I decided back in 1978 to, what the hell, I would try designing and publishing a wargame. I had hoped one of the companies that had grown up in SPI’s wake would actually hire me, but no such luck, and I became a publisher. In all, I designed eight games, and published a few of other people’s, and in the process gained some fame, but no fortune. No surprise there, being a capitalist without capital isn’t all its cracked up to be. Most of the games I published contained some small antiwar statement, and in the column I wrote (“9:00”, which is, of course, to the left when using the clock system of describing directions), I would alternate game reviews and political criticism of the games and the hobby as a whole. I was well known as the “house red” in the hobby.

Every year, the hobby had a national convention, called Origins. It used to be primarily a wargamer’s show, but more recently had become primarily a show for fantasy role players and collectable card gamers. We had what was called a “War College”, where game designers, historians, and military personnel would present seminars and hold panel discussions to discuss military history, and subjects of interest to the wargamers out there. I had been asked to be one of the two “Deans” of the War College, along with a fellow wargame designer who also worked for a government agency that really resents being called the Cocaine Importing Agency.

Through the War College, I came to know one of our regular presenters, Colonel – then Major – Matt Caffrey, as charming an Irishman as you would care to meet. He was in charge of wargaming and contact with the wargaming hobby for the Command and Staff College at Maxwell AFB. He introduced me to Rich Muller, the civilian head of curriculum for the CSC, who became my co-Dean when the former fellow retired for health reasons. Matt and Rich sat me down after one Origins and tried to convince me to come to Connections. “But Matt, first of all, I don’t want to further your mission, in any way. Not only that, I have strong feelings about the USAF left over from the Vietnam War, and besides, I’d feel like a mongoose at a cobra convention!” They assured me that I would get a very friendly reception, the Air Force was far more open minded than I thought, and that they really wanted my “unique perspective” represented there. So, OK, my ego was properly polished, and I decided, what the hell? Might learn something. Might even plant an idea or two someplace. One can only try.


Getting Connected

The theme of the gathering was “Modeling Human Factors Across The Spectrum of Armed Conflict.” It ran from February 23rd (Red Army Day) through February 26th, 1998. Daytime activity consisted of about 90 or so white men seated very spread out in an auditorium designed for about 1,500, listening to presenters. These ranged from the articulate, intelligent and amusing, to those who spoke pure acroynmese, sprinkling their talks with mouthfuls of JSOWs and MOOTWs, interspersed with, “Next slide, please.” Some had put together Power Point presentations that were projected on a screen bigger than your favorite movie theater’s, but their talks would consist mostly of them reading lists of initials off the screen. (A MOOTW, by the way, is a Military Operation Other Than War – say… bombing a pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan?).

But the first morning speaker was my fan from the Marine Corps, Lt. Colonel Eric Walters, who introduced himself as the head of the USMC Intelligence School, and waited for the laughter to die away before launching into a fascinating talk. He explained that commercial wargames and Department of Defense (DoD) wargames are very different, and that he uses each for different purposes in training. He sees his job as training, and education. For training, DoD games are OK. They teach you how to follow procedures. If you want artillery fire to land someplace, here is who you call, how you designate the target, how you correct the fire, etc. You do it this way in combat, and it should work.

But DoD games are hopeless for teaching his students how to think. The games MUST reflect DoD doctrine, so if you do it by the book, you should get the book results. You will never learn to look critically at doctrine this way. DoD games are also difficult to run, because they haven’t been tested by gamers (notorious for finding glitches in the rules and things they can use to their unrealistic advantage) and, most of all, they are no fun.

Commercial games have you moving cardboard pieces, or clicking on something with a mouse; neither of them activities you are likely to do much of on a battlefield. But they are fun to play. Because the designers are not beholden to some doctrine, the games are likely to raise questions in the player’s minds. They teach you to step back, analyze the situation, and try to discern the patterns.

“Take your average 12-15 year old and put him in front of a computer wargame,” Lt. Colonel Walters said. “If he plays it two or three times, he will have figured out what the computer is doing, and beat it consistently after that. But I have Marine Corps colonels coming up to me and complaining that the same game has beaten them the first 30 times they played it, and it is clearly too hard for use in training.”

Sometimes, he says, he uses science fiction games, just to avoid having some captain put his hand up and complain, “I’ve fired a 30mm Bushmaster cannon and it should have 200 meters more effective range than the game allows and blah, blah, blah.” “Here, captain, this is a ray gun. Stop worrying about the technical specs and focus on the tactical situation, OK?”

This seminar neatly summarized the difference between models based on hardware, and those based on human factors. This theme was to recur repeatedly during the conference. For example, before the Gulf War (First Gulf War), many military think tanks and the like had run games on how the war would go. For that matter, I had some friends who adapted a game system I had designed to the situation and gamed out the war. In all cases, including the Pentagon’s own analyses, the games produced Allied casualties that were not within an order of magnitude of the actual outcome. All of them came up with far more casualties than were actually suffered by the Allied forces that cleared Kuwait and attacked into Iraq. What happened? The games were all based on assessments that focused on the hardware that Iraq possessed, not on the quality of their troops; their training, their morale, or their motivation. Which suggested that if your predictive tool couldn’t produce results that were within an order of magnitude of what actually happens, maybe you weren’t looking at the right questions?


Total Confusion to Your Mind, Mind, Mind

The matter of human factors was touched on by Air Force Colonel Goldstein, who spoke about psychological operations, or “psyops”. Psyops are not universally respected in the military. One commander told Colonel Goldstein that all that mattered was “iron on target,” and he didn’t give a damn about “bullshit bombs. (leaflets).” The Colonel then described a psyop done against US Army Rangers who were in training. The exercise was the last of a series that took the Rangers from the Arctic wastes of Alaska to the rainy hills of Georgia. They had to make a long march through the swamps of Florida and then assault an objective held by other soldiers who were playing OPFORS (Opposing Forces). The Rangers had to keep to a very tight time limit on the operation.

Before heading for the swamps, some Rangers noticed crayoned messages on the latrine walls saying that if you tuned your military radios to a certain frequency, you could pick up a commercial country music station. They tried it, and it worked. Funny thing, most of the songs played were about wives leaving, marriages breaking up, suicide, and other cheerful topics. Occasionally a newsflash would come on, describing a killer tornado that had hit a military base, but the static was too bad to hear which base it was… and many of the Rangers had families living on nearby bases… Apparently, no one noticed that the station never seemed to give its call letters. It was, of course, being run by the psyops boys.

Coming to a river they had to either ford or swim, the men could make out a very weathered sign on the other bank, warning that anyone who accidentally came into contact with this heavily polluted river should seek immediate medical attention. Other signs warned of quicksand. Not very surprisingly, the unit ended up at their objective way behind schedule, and pretty demoralized. Without firing a single (blank) shot, or committing any troops, an elite unit had been delayed and demoralized as well.

Colonel Goldstein concluded by pointing out that the chief target of psyops by Saddam Hussein was the Iraqi people, second the other Arab states, and only third the USA. I raised my hand and asked at this point if this order of priorites didn’t apply to all countries, namely that psyops were first and foremost directed at their own population. He raised an eyebrow in irritation and said that the US military never conducted psyops against its own people. Oh, right. Silly me. Several other people leaned over to ask me what I had expected for an answer?


Pushing the Envelope

The afternoon discussion was a change of pace with civilians taking the stage. The official subject was “Pushing the Envelope”, meaning innovation in commercial wargame design. It probably could better have been called, “Being pushed around by the envelope.” The sad tale goes like this:

First, board wargaming is on its deathbed. (In retrospect, it appears rumors of its death have been greatly exaggerated.) It appealed to those of us born just after the Second World War who actually read books. We are a dying breed, with less time it appears and less brain cells left to digest a new 20-40 pages of game rules every few months, and be able to play a game intelligently. Besides, how many of these games, selling for $25.00 up to $120.00 a pop can you acquire before you realize that you are hardly playing more than one or two a year? How many can you play often enough to play well? How many people do you know who are also conversant with the games you like? If you play chess, it is not hard to find an opponent who knows the rules. This is not the case with wargames.

Second, while military miniatures (aka playing with toy soldiers) is actually enjoying a renaissance, it still is a very small group involved. It is not uncommon for a new scenario book or rules set to sell 5,000 copies, whereas a new boardgame will do well to break a thousand sales. Ah, you say. But computers!! What of computers?

Well, the news here ain’t great either. Sometime around 1994, it became apparent to many that the days of the small innovative publishers was coming to an end. Ian Trout, of the SSG company, told us (in an Australian accent thick enough to cut with a chainsaw) that his company realized the majors had bought almost all the shelf space available and that the only way to still design games was to have some big outfit do the publishing. “I can get an advance of a million dollars for any fantasy title I propose. For a historical title, oh, I can easily get an advance of, say, $10,” he said.

And you can hardly blame the publishers. To get a game on the market with enough glitz to be noticed, you have to put out over a million dollars. Sooo, which do you think is going to sell better, “The Armored Clash at Brusilov in November, 1943” or “The Slime Goblins of Mars Invade to Grab The Women With The Large Bossums?” This is what is called a no-brainer. This also means that all the money invested in the game will be put into 3-D art, splattering intestines, bouncy boobs, psychedelic explosions, and away from what is called artificial intelligence (AI), that allows the game to really challenge you.

This is too bad, and not just for the military types looking for something else to use as a training aid, but also for gamers as a whole, because good AI is the most difficult (hence costly) part of a computer game design. To get a computer to play smart enough that you can’t deduce its logic and regularly beat its brains out, you need software that can analyze a situation and come up with a variety of creative ways to solve it. It needs to be unpredictable, and damned smart. That takes programming time and talent, just like 3-D animation, but it is hard to put a screenshot of the AI on the box cover, and that is what sells the box. Indeed, many publishers are very suspicious of good AI, as they assume that many of their customers are happiest beating the stuffing out of the game, not getting challenged by it. Alas, they know their market pretty well.



That night I heard a fascinating seminar by Ralph Millsap, a civilian, on human factors in insurgencies, a topic close to my heart. He made an excellent case that all insurgencies are about trying to overthrow a government or secede from one and that the central question thus is legitimacy, a question that is always determined locally. He said that the American people as a whole are enamored of violence, and have a terrible case of historical amnesia about our revolutionary roots. Consequently, we tend to go into other countries and apply military force to create government in our image. When I asked if such intervention will always undercut the legitimacy of any government the intervention establishes, he replied that one should not deal in absolutes, because there might be circumstances where this would not be the effect, but that generally this was fairly true. His theme hardly seemed to reflect the doctrine of the New World Order. I found his talk a refreshing view, unfortunately it was all too short. This is NOT what I had been expecting. Unfortunately, I had the feeling that people paid less attention to this discussion than to some of those concerned with hardware and guided munitions.

The surprises continued the next morning. The first speaker was Colonel John Warden, USAF (ret). Colonel Warden is the messiah of the air power crowd (who I later would learn are called “air heads” in the USAF). His gospel is that we now have the technological capacity to do whatever we want to bring any war to a satisfactory conclusion. Whereas before we had to fight our way through concentric “rings” of the enemy, starting with the enemy’s armed forces and then their population, and infrastructure before we got to the inner decision-making group, now we can neatly and cleanly choose what we see as the weak link and leap over the intervening rings to put ordnance on the target. His ideas are being used to train future air warriors, and are listened to raptly by the theorists of the military-industrial complex. The fact that the lessons of the Gulf War or Vietnam hardly seem to bear out his conclusions, he is highly regarded.

But right after him came Dr. Bob Pape, who came to us by telephone. He made a very convincing case that our efforts to prevent Iraq from acquiring weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) are counter productive, and we would be much better off simply dealing with containment. The idea is, Iraq could acquire or build new missiles or other delivery systems. But if they don’t test them, which we can easily detect, they are fairly useless, and impossible to develop. Proclaiming our intent to prevent activity that we simply cannot detect is to look silly and lull ourselves into thinking the problem is solved.

He also pointed out that the Gulf War was waged after Saddam Hussein had already agreed to pull his forces out of Kuwait. Our initial bombing had convinced him that he would lose too many troops if he stayed, and he had accepted Mikhail Gorbachev’s proposal that he withdraw. He needed about a week and a half to get all of his stuff out, but President Bush told him he had two days. That would have meant abandoning masses of expensive military hardware, and Saddam was unwilling. My, my, I thought, what a breath of fresh air.

The important point here is that the military must do many horrible things in order to do their job. It is essential for them to believe that they are doing them for a good reason. As a result, the official reason for a war is considered unchallengeable by many in the military. If it is the American military, it is fighting for freedom, never mind that it might be doing exactly the opposite. By definition, if its fighting, it is fighting for freedom. Any other conclusion would mean that they were killing people for no good reason, and while a small percent of the military kind of like that, most do not, and do not think of themselves as bad people. So here we were, at Maxwell AFB, listening to a speaker tell us that the first Gulf War was fought for bogus reasons.

Then Dr. William Martel spoke, discussing reasons why wars end, including everything from technological superiority to political unrest. He pointed out that the Senate vote endorsing the Gulf War was won by only one vote, and that large demonstrations had happened in a few places with very little preparation. During questioning, the point was made that political considerations often don’t even show up on the “radar screens” of military and civilian decision makers, who tend to confuse newspaper editorials with popular sentiments. I got up and pointed out that Colonel Warden might think that bombing, or cruise-missiling might seem to hold out the possibility of quick, clean wars, but we have heard that all before, and it has never worked out that way. Sometimes I really hate being right all the time. As this is written, the push is on for ground troops to be sent to Serbia…


The Dark Side of the Force

In the afternoon it was the turn of the commercial types again. Peter Perla and Ed McGrady gave a very funny discussion of the problems with DoD games. Among other things they pointed out was that the games are tightly controlled, and the unexpected or unpredictable was excluded. “They don’t recognize the Dark Side of the Force, there is no unpredictability…”

Just at that moment, James Dunnigan, dressed all in black except for his white sneakers, moved to the front of the auditorium. He strikes quite a figure; short, hunched, shaved skull, small eyes set close together. As he strode up the aisle, someone whispered to me, “THAT is the Dark Side of the Force…”

Yes, indeedy.

Matt Caffrey introduced him as the father of modern wargaming, the designer of some 180 games, author of several books, and concluded the introduction by saying that Jim needed no introduction. Not surprisingly he did not introduce Jim as the guy who broke the taboo on dealing with modern topics. Dunnigan is universally respected as a brilliant and pioneering game designer, but is not universally loved in the industry.

With the microphone in his hands, he seemed transformed. We were treated to a brilliant discourse on… well… something. I taped the whole gathering, and listened to Jim’s talk three times, and I still cannot tell you what he was talking about, although it was definitely very witty. The best line he had concerned his appearance on an NBC news show and being asked what the Iraqis were thinking, and snapping back at the interviewer, “Why the hell doesn’t NBC get some Iraqis and ask them?” Like many of his followers, Jim is no longer an active game designer, having instead specialized in books telling the military how to make war, and acting as a consultant to various news organizations and government agencies. He also runs a website on military matters from a far-right wing perspective. Sic transit gloria.

Finally, two of my favorite game designers, Frank Chadwick and John Hill, discussed “Depicting Variations in Human Capabilities” in games. Frank made the good point that human factors should not be just an element in wargame design. It must be what the design is about. He gave an example from the Gulf War in which a US tank battalion came over a ridge in line (the recommended way to cross ridge lines – you are about to see why), to find an Iraqi Republican Guard tank battalion waiting for them, less than 400 yards away, armed with T-72 tanks, the best in the Iraqi arsenal. The battalion commander grabbed his microphone and keyed the button to order, “FIRE!!” but before he could get the word out, his entire battalion (about 50 tanks), fired in unison, in what sounded like a volley. Every shot hit, and the few Iraqi tanks that hadn’t been hit, due to duplicate targeting, were dispatched as soon as the guns were reloaded. Now there is no doubt that the US M-1 Abrams tank is a more capable one than the T-72, particularly at night fighting where US thermal imaging sights make the night like day, and have a gun that can score first round hits and kills at three kilometers range. But this action took place in broad daylight, and at 400 yards range, both types of tanks are perfectly capable of shooting holes in each other. The critical factor was the American training. They were confident, aggressive and loaded for bear. The Iraqis hesitated, and died.


Bodies in the Sand

That night we went over to the Air Force Wargaming Institute for dinner, and a chance to hear a few small seminars and play some games. I found myself at dinner with a retired colonel from Army intelligence, a vice president of Boeing, an English RAF wing commander, and a couple of computer game designers. We discussed our various participation in the Vietnam War, or the antiwar movement, and somehow I ended up describing what it had been like in the antiwar movement as well as working in the national office of the Communist Party. We all had a lovely, if somewhat incongruous time.

But there was another seminar that evening by John Gresham, introduced as the chief researcher for techno-thriller fantasy writer Tom Clancy. This young, bearded, fellow presented a briefing on the most recent strikes at Iraq, dubbed Operation Desert Fox. Target by target, he showed us films, and grinning from ear to ear, triumphantly discussed the wonders of precision guided weapons. “We finally found a linear target for the B-1 bombers, they made a supersonic approach at low altitude and dug a quarter mile trench right through some barracks full of Republican Guards. Boy, there were bits of bodies for a half mile in every direction!”

For the first time that week, I was really offended. In fact, I was right pissed off. He suggested that one of the losers from the operation was the US Air Force, since the initial wave of strikes were launched by the Navy. That way you don’t have to tell your host country that you are going to be bombing their neighbors, which can compromise the surprise you plan. That meant that the Navy got their targeting films to the media on Tuesday, and the Air Force was only able to get their pictures out that Thursday. That was the same day as the vote on the impeachment of President Clinton, so the Air Force got upstaged. Several Air Force officers rose to take severe umbrage with young Mr. Gresham, causing him to retreat at high speed. But he struck back, saying that the Air Force should be thanking him, since he credited himself with having convinced Congress to pass a bill replenishing the Air Force’s stock of cruise missiles that was running low. I was thinking of asking him if he could do some lobbying for money for schools for Oakland, but realized that the targeting films probably wouldn’t be as exciting… Oh well, priorities…

No one, however, got up to take issue with him about his gloating about flying body parts. Before I started tossing chairs, I thought I’d better check in with someone more sensible than I, and thought I would ask Frank Chadwick, an old friend, game designer par excellence, and one time anti-war activist. You can always learn something talking to Frank. “Frank, am I the only one offended by that crap?”

“No, you’re not, Jack,” said Frank.

We agreed that a briefing telling us that all these precision weapons had been pretty effective in hitting what they were aimed at might have been reasonable under the circumstances, but that gloating and smirking about killing people was really out of line, especially coming from a civilian who was neither going to have those deaths on his conscience, assuming he was so equipped, nor was likely to get shot at himself any time soon.

Catching young Mr. Gresham in the hall, I confronted him in my most diplomatic manner. As I recall this included hammering my finger on his chest… Among the topics I discussed with him was the recent US bombing of a large pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan. This was a US response to bombings at the US embassy in Kenya, supposedly. Gresham responded that perhaps I thought the Kenyans wanted us to do nothing to avenge the dead at our embassy? He did apologize for his excessive enthusiasm, but claimed that the reason for his joy was not the mayhem, but the fact that it had done wonders for the “B-1 community.” They had been reviled for running an expensive weapons system with no apparent use and now they were vindicated.

The “B-1 community?” I guess I had never heard the word “community” used that way before…

That night I found myself back at the motel where some of us were being put up, walking beside an Air Force colonel who I had seen at the conference. I had noticed him at the seminars, from his dour look and the way he had raised his eyes from my hairy face to the red star on my cap, and had looked away curling his lip in displeasure. I asked him what he had thought of Mr. Gresham’s briefing that evening. He said that he had found it pretty disgusting, and that if that young fellow had ever seen a dead body he might find it a little less funny. I thanked him and told him that he was not alone. In fact, many military men will tell you that professional soldiers generally are a lot more cautious about getting into wars than the civilian wizards of the State Department, National Security Council, and beltway bandit securocrats.


All Work And No Play

On display at the Air Force wargaming center were a wide array of computer games, and one board game. The computer games were mostly flight simulators, you know, the ones where you fly a plane and the view on the screen is what you see from the cockpit (it’s a bit more complicated turning around to see who’s on your six o’clock though.) I admit it, I have a weakness for these. So I got into a game of WWII air combat, fought over a network against other people who were also flying. The guy sitting next to me and I decided to pair up, and picked Soviet Yak-9s to fly, later switching to the La-5fn, both good dogfighting aircraft of the period. I was told the game area was huge, with up to 70 planes in the air at any one time, divided into three teams. Great fun, even if I did get shot down at least twice. Then our host, Matt Caffrey, leaned over my shoulder and advised me that InfoChess was about to begin, and I would probably really like it. Yes indeed, thanks, Matt.



InfoChess had been the hit of the conference the previous year, and it was easy to see why. Take three chess boards and put them in three different rooms. One room is for the white team, one for the black team, and one for the referee team. The game is chess, but there is a big difference. Along with the usual chess pieces, you get 21 poker chips for each team. With the chips you may play information war with your opponents.

Each turn, the referee first comes to white team and asks for their move, and their info move. Understand, while you know where the other side set up their pieces to start, you can’t see their board when they move. That requires getting some information, doesn’t it? An info move works like this: by spending one chip, you can perform reconnaissance on one quadrant of the board. This will tell you what the situation is on that quadrant, but you will not get the information right away. You will get it two turns after you ask for it! So if I ask for the situation on the opponent’s Queen’s quarter of the board on the first, I will find out, but not until turn three! And what I will find is not the situation on turn three, but the situation as it was on turn one. Or will I? You see, its not so easy (this is easy?). By paying one chip, the opponent could play Operational Security (OpSec) on one of his pieces, which would mean that my reconnaissance wouldn’t spot it. Of course, if the opponent moved his Queen’s Knight out on turn one, and we reconnoitered, and they used OpSec to hide it, we could reconnoiter the quadrant a second time (on turn two) and the reconnaissance would “burn through” the OpSec, but of course we wouldn’t know that until turn four… but the opponent wouldn’t know that we had discovered him… it gets complicated, you see?

For more chips you can use Deception, which will cause the referee to inform your opponent that you have a piece right here, but in fact it is over there! “Oh jeez, look their knight is in the center of the board…” actually he’s still sitting in the back row, while someone polishes his armor… If you really want to get nasty, you can spend more chips and use Propaganda. This will have the effect of freezing one group of opposing pieces (Queen’s side pawns, King’s side pawns, knights, bishops, rooks – the royal couple are impervious to propaganda) for five turns. This is a mighty effect, but, of course, it costs more; three chips in fact. Counter propaganda reduces the effect to three turns only, and I think costs two chips. You can also replace a fallen place by paying chips, or cash in pieces to get more chips, or spend a chip to have two pieces that are adjacent change places, or you can even use the dreaded ECM (Electronic Counter Measures). Actually this is misnamed, and should be called jamming. What you do, as the referee explained it, is to “jam the King’s transmitter” so he can’t send out any orders. Which means that your opponent can’t move anything for a turn! It costs a LOT of chips.

My team consisted of Frank Chadwick, Ian Trout, an Air Force captain who had a pretty dazed expression after the briefing, and I. We all agreed that this had the makings of a great game. A well known simple system made it accessible to anyone (more on this later), while hidden movement and deception are the bread and butter to a good game design as far as we were concerned.

Ian is a serious chess player, and his thinking was clear and to the point. He said, lets play a good game of chess, then we will be in position to do our opponent damage, whether we have confused him or not. That way we could better save our chips for the mid-game, where they were likely to be more decisive. For example, you could tie up half of your opponent’s pawns with propaganda, only to discover that his attack was going to come on the other side. We settled on using reconnaissance to find out what was happening on the opponent’s Queen’s side, but nothing more. I wanted to use deception to simulate an attack on the other side, but Frank pointed out that it was not necessary to use chips to do this. We didn’t need to mess with our opponent’s minds, they would do that for us. Since you have no idea what your opponent is doing information-wise, they could even be passing on their chess move (another available option). Whatever they were told about our position, they wouldn’t know if it was real or not, at least for a while.

This turned out to be an accurate estimate of our opponent’s perceptions. They had convinced themselves that we had invested heavily in deception and were running an elaborate scam on them. On the other hand, our opponents were “not so green as they were cabbagey colored”, and they had focused on an important parameter that we had overlooked until too late. They looked at the clock.

Since the Air Force figured a great time to start a conference is 0715 hours, this meant that the bus from the motel would be departing at 0645 hours, which meant getting up and showered had best be scheduled for 0545. That’s quarter to six in the fucking morning, roughly three forty five California time. Groan. As a result, the gaming session was scheduled to end at 2200 hours, otherwise known as 10:00 in the evening. Seeing there was only an hour playing time before we all turned into pumpkins, (talk about life not being long enough for chess!), our opponents spent their chips like sailors on a spree, concealing from us the fact that their Queen was out, and setting up an attack on our King, supported by a Bishop. We managed to bag a Knight before the game ended, but their next effort was going to involve ECM to freeze most of our pieces so the attack could go in unopposed. Scary! Luckily for us time ran out first.

Wow. What a game. Would you like to get one? Oh, you want to know what it costs? Well, you get a rules book, some graphic aides (a card showing what a chip buys, an information flow chart, etc), and six chess sets (if you want to get really silly, each team can set up two boards, one to represent the situation that they know, one to represent the situation they speculate exists… but that way lies madness I think). For this, you pay… wait for it… why $7,400.00. And some change. Now along with the package they do give you training for your referees. Hey, they are marketing it to big corporations, and, of course, the DoD. Who pays $240 for a hammer, so why not? A game should cost more than a hammer, no? All of us urged them to market the game to the general public. Should it ever happen, and you like games and have a group who will play, go for it. It’ll probably be a lot cheaper then, too.

Of course, in all fairness I must note that we learned after the game that the referees were having a VERY difficult time tracking what was going on, and there were several heated discussions among the refs suggesting all was not well in the neutral room where the real board situation was set up. Given that the refs were from the company that was selling the game…



The last day of the conference, Friday the 26th, was to be only half a day, to accommodate those whose planes were leaving early. Some of the presentations could have been handled by leaflets; telling us what resources were available on base for researchers and such. They have some really nifty stuff in the library, let me tell you, but by this time I was afraid I was going to start snoring.

Then Matt introduced the next speaker as a man who did his power point presentations through the use of magic. I perked up. Colonel Wesetnhoff was supposed to speak on the subject, “Faster War/Better Peace.” This seemed like it was going to be a good spot for my “unique perspective.” Battle stations!

Instead, he gave us a very thorough briefing on the history and probable future of precision guided munitions. He started by showing two familiar-looking targeting films, showing guided weapons from the view of a pilot’s targeting scope. The first hit a concrete hanger and planes in front of it, the second smacked into the center of an oil storage tank. “OK,” said the colonel, “What sort of platform launched those weapons? The F-117? The B-1? FB-111? F-15E?”

A few hands went up.

“F-16? An F-18?”

A few more hands.

“Actually, gentlemen, these films were taken by Iraqi Mirages during the Iran-Iraq war. Before the Gulf War, the Iraqi Air Force was the world’s most experienced in delivering precision guided munitions (PGMs).” Nice one, colonel!

He was making an important point. Anything we can do, sooner or later other people will also be able to do. To us. Something to think about. With pie charts, he showed us how actually very few PGMs were used in Vietnam, or the Gulf War. Only in our most recent “Desert Fox” bombings this winter were nearly half of the weapons PGMs (so called “smart bombs.”) The future, as can be expected, will be seeing more of this. As he spoke, I felt a cold chill run down my back. It reminded me of Friedrich Engels writing in the 1860s about how advances in artillery ammunition in the 1860s had made the barricade tactics of the 1848 uprisings obsolete. The gap between the rich and the poor is getting unbridgeable, and the future looks rather poor for People’s War. I mean, they can see you from a mile or two away, at night, just from the heat off of your face. Using global positioning satellites to guide remote and unpiloted munitions, they can usually hit a target within a few yards of where they are aiming. Hitting back at them is very difficult indeed.

The colonel seemed to be conjuring up a future in which the US military could strike any point on the globe, in comfort and safety, and that every shot, or at least almost every shot, would strike home. Kind of like the Cisco Kid, who always shot the gun from the bad guy’s hand, and never so much as shot one of their fingers off. But, being a military historian, I remembered that during the Vietnam War we heard the same kind of stuff. All our bombs were meticulously targeted on only military targets, and our super zoomy techno stuff would mean every bomb would hit. We would never harm a civilian. Unh unh, Scout’s honor. For that matter, in WWII we were told that the Norden bombsight would allow our pilots to put bombs down the smokestacks of factories, and harm nary a civilian. Funny how each generation listens to this stuff and always nods its heads in awe.

I also remember how the Air Force had fed all of its wonderful data into a computer, to determine when they would completely stop the flow of supplies into South Vietnam. They calculated the number of trucks their pilots reported knocking out, the numbers they estimated arrived in Haiphong from the USSR, the rate at which damaged ones could be put back on the road, etc, etc. They asked the mighty computer to tell them at what point this attrition would bring traffic on the Ho Chi Minh Trail to a grinding halt. The computer whirred, coughed, spun its reels of tape, and informed them that they had accomplished this in 1967. Yesssss, I sssseeeee. Must be true, a computer doesn’t lie…

I was afraid that I was beginning to become a bore with my wise-ass questions, (a fellow gamer had told me that he had never heard ethics discussed at an Air Force Base before, what did I think I was doing? It was like farting in church.) I hadn’t slept well in three nights, and was having a little trouble focusing, but… aw, what the hell, once more unto the breach dear friends, commissars; for -WARD!

So I got up and asked, wasn’t there something very seductive about all this technology? That it gives you the feeling that you have a silver bullet that will only strike what you want, and bring instant gratification, and victory, without all the horror and cost of war, and that, in reality, after your precision strike, all you have is smoking wreckage, some dead and maimed, but otherwise the situation is just the same? And that to reach the goals the bombing was supposed to accomplish it may be necessary to send in ground troops, followed by the parade of body bags? That delivering ordnance on target still just leaves you with a lot of people on the ground who are now really pissed off at you? “And sir, isn’t the question we need to address ‘SHOULD we do this?’ rather than ‘CAN we do this?’”

I cited a book I had read some 30 years ago by two American Generals, Yale and White, and the retired Wehrmacht General Hasso von Manteuffel (the man who led the deepest penetration during the Battle of the Bulge) entitled The Peaceful Applications of Lightning War (I am NOT making this up). Their thesis was that a quick all-out aggressive war was the best path to peace. They expressed admiration for the exploits of Hitler’s panzers in the Second World War, but their real heroes were the Israelis. They won their wars quickly and have enjoyed nothing but peace ever since, right? Well, maybe not.

To my surprise, and pleasure, Colonel Westenhoff replied, “Excellent question, that is a very good point. We have to seriously think about whether using force is the best option, because it is far from clear that bombing alone can accomplish our objectives.”

Even more heartening were the number of active duty officers and some civilians who came up to me after the session to thank me for asking the question, and to shake my hand. Who knows? Maybe there is more thinking going on out there than I imagined.


A Different Type of Air Strike

I have to admit it. I have some prejudices. One of them is about the US Air Force. While there was widespread sabotage and rebellion in the Army and Navy and Marine Corps (the branch of the service with the strongest left-wing traditions, believe it or not) during the Vietnam War, the Air Force all through the Vietnam War seemed to be of the frame of mind of their former chief, Curtis LeMay, who wanted to bomb the country back to the stone age. It seemed to me that while the soldiers (mostly draftees) were face to face with their atrocities, the Air Force could just fly away from them.

When I went to Laney College to learn to be a machinist, the school was full of Vietnam vets, and I made a point of talking to everyone, asking them what they did and what they thought about it. There was only one who thought we should have “won,” and that was my locker mate, a Black ex-Air Force sergeant.

Now I graduated from high school in Merced, California. Which is next to Castle Air Force Base, so we were treated to the sight and sound of a B-52 coming in low to land (be careful, boys, you each are carrying four H-bombs) about every half hour. I knew the father of a friend who was a pilot (had flown B-25s in the Mediterranean in World War II) and who told me that he and his crew had discussed, voted, and decided that if they got the word to go and “drop the big one,” they would drop theirs in the first ocean they came to. But he was a bit unusual, I was sure of that.

But then, after the Vietnam War was over, I began to run into rumors. Rumors about how the war ended. Several guys who had been in the Air Force confirmed them for me, and you can find reference to it in several books (Flower of the Dragon by Boyle, The War at Home by Wells). It went like this. When the North Vietnamese Easter Offensive was blunted by US air strikes in 1972, Nixon was determined to get out of Vietnam, but was looking for some way to make it look like a victory. There were peace talks going on, and they were stuck over four issues. While the Vietnamese made some concessions, they were not enough for Nixon, so he decided to force the issue, with a display of massive violence, what else? He ordered the Linebacker II bombings that the air power advocates had long desired, carpet bombing Hanoi with B-52s, mining Haiphong harbor. He was dissuaded from using nuclear weapons, by Henry Kissinger and others explaining to him that despite the fact that most US troops had been brought home, he might not have enough Army to keep the US governable, and, of course, there was no telling how the Soviets and Chinese might react.

The bombers went in, and, as usual, the Vietnamese somehow knew what was coming, and evacuated all children and elderly from Hanoi. B-52s were sent in to dump their thousands of 2,000 lb bombs on the city, and while a lot of damage was done, casualties were kept down by the foresight of the Vietnamese. Also by their antiaircraft fire. A number of B-52s were downed, and there were complaints from crewmen that they were being sent in on the same routes day after day (not a smart idea, either in the air or on the ground – it makes your opponent’s job too easy). But there were also apparently other complaints being voiced, starting, according to rumor, among the electronic warfare officers, the men who flew in the planes and whose job was to jam the Vietnamese radars. Also among and photo interpretation officers. They questioned whether what they were doing constituted a war crime. Targeting civilians. They questioned whether “I was just following orders,” was a good enough reason to do something they thought was wrong. The idea also gained traction with pilots, bombardiers, navigators and others. It also spread to other fliers, including some in the Navy.

This is where it gets real interesting. What they did next is shrouded in secrecy, but apparently they informed their commanders that they were not going to fly these missions any more. Kind of gives the concept of an air strike a whole new meaning, doesn’t it? As far as I have been able to determine, a deal was struck. The air crews were not court-martialed, and were allowed to not fly the missions. But they were sworn to secrecy, as this was not the sort of thing that the authorities would want to have become public information.

Nixon then announced that he had forced Pham Van Dong to accept the US demands – “bombed him to the negotiating table.” The US prisoners would be released, the US troops would leave, the South Vietnamese puppet government would remain in power (for a little while, yet), the North Vietnamese troops in the south would stay there, and there would be a cease fire. It was heralded as another great triumph of American macho, technology, and violence. There was only one funny thing about the whole official story. The terms that were agreed on were strangely familiar. They were in fact exactly the same conditions the North Vietnamese and National Liberation Front had agreed to before the bombing started. The concessions that they made, that the puppet government not be required to join a coalition government with the Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG) of the National Liberation Front, etc, had been made before the first B-52 appeared over the skies of Hanoi. It was a shuck. The public all believed that Nixon’s resolve and bold stroke had settled the issue, and forced the Vietnamese to their knees. In fact, his sword had bent in his hand, his fliers had joined their brethren in the Army, Marines, and Navy and decided they had had enough.

How had this happened? Well, for one thing, there was no part of American society that was not effected by the antiwar sentiment, and the Air Force was no exception. Even more specifically, the SAC (Strategic Air Command) base in Maine, from whence many of the B-52s had been sent to Guam or Thailand to carry out their raids on Vietnam, had been a focus for its local chapter of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society). A “GI coffee house” had been set up across from the base, where some airmen had come to hear music and chat with young women. And a few ideas had been planted, that would flower in due time. Even among Air Force officers.

None of this is part of the official record of the war, it didn’t make the papers, and the Air Force denies officially that any such thing happened. That is too bad, because it is the sort of thing our country should be proud of, citizens who are willing to risk their careers in order to stand up for basic human principles. It is very American, and yet another reason why it is always a good thing to talk to people you might think wouldn’t agree with you. In fact, it was a good part of the reason I was in Montgomery, Alabama.


The Lord of the Dance

OK, we had had a very interesting, educational, and enjoyable week. But the piper didn’t want us to forget that having played for us, he was expecting something in return. The next presenter let the cat out of the bag. The real purpose of the conference, as anyone could have guessed, was to get the civilian side to do games that would be of use to the Air Force. These weren’t restricted to games that could be used for training. Games that featured new weapons systems that the Air Force was either purchasing or wanted to purchase could be helpful in getting the public to support spending the gazillions of dollars needed to buy the toys for the boys. Games about crisis areas where weapons could potentially be used were also useful in publicizing the importance of the Air Force’s mission in such wars… or MOOTWs. And in fact could be helpful in selling the idea of such wars.

Ah, the truth, finally.

I had been making the point to anyone who would listen for years in the wargaming community. Making a game about current or potential wars is not just an exercise in historical modeling, or gaming fun. You make a statement when you make your game, you say, “Reality is this way.” If you make a game that offers a justification for aggression, or tries to sell a weapons system or policy, you are an accessory, no matter how minor, to the consequences. Which often involve other people’s deaths, or at least the waste of national resources. If you work for the DoD, even indirectly, you had better face the fact that one of you in the relationship is going to be the boss. A hint. It’s not going to be you.

I remember a story I heard out of Berkeley, about a number of professors and graduate students who got DoD funding for their research on lasers in the mid-60s. They were laughing up their sleeves, insisting, “They can never make a weapon out of this, but we get the funding to do the research we love.” Within a few years, US Air Force jets were laser-guiding bombs into targets in North Vietnam.

I asked a lot of my colleagues at the conference a simple question. “What are you doing here?” Partly, of course, I was trying to answer a question that I had for myself. “What am I doing here?”

The clearest answer I got was from a friend who stated, “I’m here because I have been asked to come to deliver a paper, and I have a professional interest in current military matters.”

Others were clearly operating in what I would call, “Remora mode.” They attach their suckers just behind the jaws of the shark, and live off the scraps that dribble back from those ferocious teeth. Others, not yet involved with the DoD, were hoping for a chance to elbow their way to the trough. Uncle Sam, of course, is notoriously generous, at least when it comes to the Pentagon.

Then there were those who were simply curious, and had no interest besides getting a look at what was going on over on the military side of the gaming world. I felt a little better.


A General Farewell

The final speaker of the conference was Lieutenant General (three stars) Redden, commander of the Air University (all of Maxwell AFB). I was a little surprised when he walked up to the podium, dressed in camouflage. I know there is something about a uniform, but I have to say the Air Force sure dresses funny. Some of the officers in the auditorium were dressed in shirt sleeves, but shirt sleeves with shoulder boards. Some were dressed in sweaters, which had their rank on the shoulders. Some were in coveralls, looking like they had just climbed out of their cockpits, others were in their dress blues. The enlisted men who were serving us lunch, driving us around, minding the microphones, and generally being helpful, were all dressed in camouflage. And here is the general, commander of the base, essentially in the same job that a university president has, and he’s dressed in camouflage. Why? It seems unlikely that his daily routine involves creeping through the bushes much. Oh well, its another world, and I should hardly expect to understand all its customs and practices. [Subsequently I was informed that as a general, he has considerable latitude about what uniform he wants to wear, and fatigues, all of which come in camouflage these days, are the most comfortable. So it was the equivalent of a university president showing up in blue jeans and a sweatshirt.]

The general thanked us profusely and ended up hoping for peace for wargame designers. I’ll amen to that, General Redden, and from the bottom of my heart, the same to you.

And if not, I’ll be seeing you in the streets. And I’m certain to have a lot of company. Out here, my perspective is not really so “unique.” A few weeks after the conference, I found myself in the back seat of a police car, hands cuffed behind me, under arrest for a felony stemming out of demonstrations in Oakland, California, when the US Marines came to town to conduct maneuvers called “Urban Warrior.” But that’s a story for another day…


Jack Radey is a historian, and author with Charles Sharp of The Defense of Moscow, 1941 – The Northern Flank (Pen & Sword Press, 2012). He is currently involved in writing the second volume to the series, dealing with the defense of Moscow on the Volokolamsk, Mozhaisk, Naro-Fominsk and Maloyaroslavets axes during October, 1941.  He is also known as a game designer, having published eight designs from his People’s War Games company, five of them his own design, plus has had three others published by others.  He has been involved with military history his whole life, while at the same time been an antiwar activist, refusing induction during the Vietnam War.  He lives in Eugene, Oregon, happily married, and raising chickens and occasional hell.  He is 70 years old.


Call for Papers: Connections 2018 wargaming conference

Connections 2018 will be held at National Defense University in Washington, DC, July 17-20.

Connections is an interdisciplinary wargaming conference that has been held annually since 1993, with the mission of advancing and preserving the art, science, and application of wargaming. Connections participants come from all elements of the wargaming discipline, and include those in the military, government, academic, private sector, and commercial hobbyist fields.  By providing a forum for practitioners to share insights and best practices, Connections works to improve gaming as a tool for research, analysis, education, and policy.

Presentations on any aspect of professional wargaming are welcome.  This year, the Connections conference returns to National Defense University, and as a result, any presentations related to the use of gaming for adult education are especially encouraged.

Please submit your proposal via the Google Form at this link (which contains additional information).

It is by no means necessary to have attended a previous Connections conference to participate as a speaker.  More information about past Connections events and current updates on the status of planning for Connections 2018 can be found at the conference website.

Feel free to pass this along to those who you think might be interested, including posting this in appropriate places online.  For additional information or any questions or concerns, please contact me at

Timothy Wilkie
Research Fellow
Center for Applied Strategic Learning (CASL)
National Defense University

Connections NL 2017 AAR

PAXsims’s very own Tom Moaut recently attended the Connections Netherlands 2017 professional wargaming conference, and has written up the following report. You’ll also find some slides from the event here, courtesy of Hans Steensma.


This year I had the privilege of being invited to the Connections Netherlands conference, which took place on 13 and 14 Nov 17 at Fort 1881 in the Hook of Holland on Day 1 and in the TNO Defence and Security facility in Soesterberg on Day 2. The whole conference was in English for the benefit of international visitors (!).

The custom for Connections NL is to hold their conferences at one of the historic forts that dot the country. Fort 1881 is housed in the former armoured fortress in Hoek van Holland. Originally built in the New Waterway to defend the Rotterdam region, the building dates from 1881. The fortress is of brick construction, featuring over 3km of galleries, passages and stairs, with a complex and sophisticated system for managing the sea water, tides, drinking water and effluent in the depths of the fortification. The fresh water facilities are still operating so well that there are plans to use the 22,000 litres in the reservoir to make their own beer. The fortress is well maintained and the tour we had was fascinating, especially the two dovecotes dedicated to communication with Rotterdam and The Hague.


The Conference had about 50 international delegates and was sponsored by SAGANET, the Dutch association for simulation and gaming professionals (not to be confused with SAGANet, a science based outreach programme based on the works and ideals of the astronomer Carl Sagan).

The conference was a mix of presentations and live gaming, with the presentations given in one of the larger chambers situated under the position of one of the main batteries, and with the gaming sessions in one of the barrack rooms.

The conference opened with a keynote presentation from Major Tom Mouat, the Directing Staff Officer for Simulation and Modelling from the Defence Academy of the UK. Since that is me, I find it a little awkward to report on my own presentation – but I’ll try! I covered the characteristics of successful wargames while deciding to avoid the trap of trying to define “wargaming”. Most of this was taken from the recently published UK Defence Wargaming Handbook (I must admit to feeling a little strange to actually be quoting “doctrine”, but it is actually useful). I covered a few of the recent initiatives that are a result of efforts to address the UK government decision making shortcomings identified in the Iraq Enquiry, but devoted most of my time to talking about Matrix Games and the evidence for the superiority of group estimation and role-play in predicting the outcome of conflict situations. Since at least some of the organisers were from a scientific research establishment, I felt that it was appropriate…

This was followed by a presentation by Bas Kreuger on the history of wargaming, which included a moment on Rodney, Douglas, Clark and the “breaking of the line” at the Battle of the Saintes in 1782 and some interesting detail on the Dutch Warterlinie defensive works.

Jim Wallman then followed this up with possibly the fastest example of a megagame, by taking all the participants into another room, splitting them up into teams representing the state actors in the contemporary Baltic region and playing a representative turn. This was followed by an explanation of the Dire Straits Megagame played at Connections UK 2017 (and to be played again in late February 2018 at McGill University). This certainly got everyone on their feet, moving around and talking to each other and was a great icebreaker.

Then we had an excellent presentation by Ivo de Nooijer (RU Leiden) on “Lijnenspel”; experiential learning using seminar wargaming, for children of about 11 years old. The game was set in Flatland (an excellent way of avoiding emotional entanglements) and dealt with issues of non-linear communication, refugees, negotiation and small-town politics. I found the insight from the game, that children were concerned that many promises were made in the simulation but few were honoured, and they wanted to know “how adults solved the problem” (!), to be absolutely fascinating. The goals of the game were to demonstrate that team effectiveness is determined by individuals; to focus attention on the “us vs them” debate, to provide an understanding of the role of elections, and of the role of a national government. This looked to be a really interesting game and I look forward to seeing a report about it later.

We then had, what was for me, the most fascinating presentation of the conference: Erik Elgersma (Friesland Campina) giving a presentation about business wargaming. This was a complete revelation as to the level and commitment that the organisation put into the use of wargaming to generate a business advantage. They even include a programme to train successors in order to ensure business continuity and preserve experience and expertise (something sadly lacking in most military communities). The presentation was candid and comprehensive, including detail on strategies tried in the past that didn’t work and what was learned from them. I was quite embarrassed to have to reveal that an organisation making cheese was better organised in wargaming than the British Army.

Diederik Stolk (Goldsworthy Stolk & associates) followed this up with a presentation on rapid wargame development and covering two case studies: The recruiting of students into the Reserve Forces and a training game for senior civil servants and members of the Dutch Parliament. The process, while not necessarily what I would call especially rapid, was refreshing and the products sufficiently different from what I expected, that I was intrigued. The game design looked and felt bespoke to the problem and the audience. The presentation of components, and the delivery of briefing materials and rules as a newspaper, was inspired (and one that I shall exploit!).


I particularly liked his rule of thumb that a game needs a minimum of 3 playtests to ensure a properly playable game, but a repeatable game to be played with the same audience needs a minimum of 10 playtests. Sadly, the time and resources permitted to the last few wargaming I have been involved with recently did not permit this.

This was followed by an excellent dinner in the Officer Mess building, located outside the fortress.

Following dinner, we played some demonstration games:

  • Baltic Challenge Matrix Game – Tom Mouat/Anja v.d. Hulst
  • Wargaming in the British Army – Jim Wallman
  • MBT (Main Battle Tank), Open Source Intelligence with Wargaming – Swen Stoop
  • Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal – introductory board wargame: Bas Kreuger

On Day 2 we reconvened at the TNO facilities in Soesterberg. This was slightly unfortunate as the mix of participants was mostly different from Day 1 and I think that it might make for a better experience overall to have the conference as a 2-Day event at a single location. Whether this is financially viable or practical, of course, is another question.

The day started off with a presentation specifically on matrix gaming by me, followed up with an introductory Matrix game about a Drug Baron in a fictitious (and deliberate caricature) of a South American state. The game is used for language training in the Defence Language School in the UK and is a useful introduction. I was helped in the session by Jim Wallman offering a slightly different perspective, as someone required to deliver such games as part of his business. This reminded me that I need to watch other people deliver matrix games, in order to gain insights as to how they facilitate the games. For too long I have been the lone de-facto “expert” on matrix games in the UK, and I am only too aware that this limits my professional development. Now that these games are being exploited more widely, I need to take the opportunities to benefit from how others solve issues that arise…

Other players, more experienced in matrix Games, ran through with Anja van der Hulst, the Baltic Challenge game.

This was followed after lunch by a design session.

Jim Wallman ran a session in which resilience was examined through the lens of the different political, police, emergency and social actors in a major container port, when faced with a major problem.

I ran a session in which the participants elected to look at the emerging situation in Catalonia: CatalExit! In the few hours we had, we managed to examine the topic, take an initial look at the actors involved, and then run through a few game turns in order to see if there were any structural flaws. The actors we came up with were essentially the Government of Catalonia, the pro-independence “Catalan Republic”, and the pro-Spanish population in the Catalan Region; mirrored by the Spanish Government, the right-wing Spanish Nationalists and the left wing Spanish Socialists. We also added an additional actor representing Russia, promoting destabilisation and extremism.

The game worked pretty well, highlighting the dangers of extremism and the fragile nature of the political crisis. There appeared to us to be a large number of opportunities for dangerous mistakes that could easily lead to extremist violence. Messaging, timing and communication were all very difficult and open to manipulation by all concerned, especially foreign actors like Russia.

Some statistics: Total attendees: 55: (of which 6 were Female (11%):

  •   Government 15
  •   Business 14
  •   Education/Students 4
  •   Organisation 4
  •   Photographer 1
  •   Others 11

Overall the conference was a great success. The location for Day 1 and the quality of the other speakers was simply excellent. I am very grateful for the invitation to attend and I hope to be able to come back next year!

Tom Moaut


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