Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Category Archives: conferences

Serious Games Forum 2020 (Paris)

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The next Serious Games Forum—the French version of the Connections wargaming conferences—will take place on January 27 at the École Militaire in Paris. Over two hundred participants attended last year.

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Further information and registration details can be found at the link above. For details of the previous conference in December 2018, see this PAXsims report by Juliette Le Ménahèze.

Connections US 2020 Wargaming Conference – Call for Presentations

Connections 2020 will be hosted by the Wargaming Division of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico, VA, August 4-7.

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. The 2020 conference theme is Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in Wargaming, and with that in mind, presentations on applying current and emerging AI/ML capabilities to increase the value of wargaming (or using wargaming to better understand the implications of advances in AI/ML) are especially encouraged.

However, any presentations related to wargaming will receive full consideration. The Connections agenda is a mix of content related to the year’s theme and other topics of interest to wargaming practitioners.

Please submit your proposal via the Google Form at the following 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 2020 can be found at the conference website:

For additional information or any questions or concerns, please contact Timothy Wilkie at

McGill Library: Play On!

0.pngMcGill Library will be organizing a series of speakers and other events throughout 2020 on the topic of serious play. This includes a Play On! colloquium at McGill University on 13-15 May.

To meet the needs of students reared, nurtured, and cultivated by video games since childhood, as well as the needs of faculty instructing them, the McGill University Library seeks ways to support the increasing presence of Serious Play in higher education. Serious Play incorporates creativity, innovation and cooperation as the foundations of new forms of immersive, intellectual engagement. In addition, novel interactive strategies in education, information literacy, and instruction are emerging daily. As dynamic spaces that foster and reward intellectual curiosity, 21stcentury academic libraries can continue to be hubs of interdisciplinary collaborative experimentation by evolving to match the pedagogical demands of students educated in increasingly interactive and ‘playful’ environments.

Running throughout 2020, our program of events will bring together a cohort of interdisciplinary thinkers and industry leaders to convey best practices for academic research libraries in supporting Serious Play. Together, we will reach across disciplines to explore how play and games fit in the serious and goal-oriented adult world of the 21st century research library, and what services academic libraries can, could, and should offer.

You will find additional details and the full schedule here.

Connections US Wargaming Conference 2019 Proceedings


The Proceedings of the 2019 Connections US Wargaming Conference is now available thanks to Mark Leno, Wargame Analyst, Department of Strategic Wargaming at the US Army War College.

Gaming news, making news

The follow report has been written for PAXsims by Tristian Martinez. Picture credits:  Tristian Martinez (Jakarta Peacegame) and Dr. Lindsay Grace (others).


Scores of immigrants begin a thousand-mile trek from Mexico City to the Texas border.  A fantasy adventuring party is wiped after resolving to use plurality voting to guide combat decisions.  An anthropomorphized uterus rafts down a river of blood to a heavy metal soundtrack, lifting taboos against menstruation.  In 24 hours, these games and more were designed at the Newsjam, held jointly at the American University Game Lab and the University of Miami School of Communication.

Newsjams iterate on hackathons and gamejams, promoting games with calls for social impact as viable journalism.  Topics are left to the participant’s discretion, and digital toys, scripted interactables, and games are all encouraged.  Organizers Lindsay Grace, Andy Phelps, Lien Tran, and Clay Ewing are all veteran game designers with a talent for creating serious games that drive positive change.  Their participants are young (mostly undergrad and graduate students), socially conscious, and diverse.  Together, they represent a part of the future of serious games.

The Newsjam gathered nearly 30 designers to explore the “intersection of news, games, and community,” by “connecting people with the news and empowering citizen reporters.”  Issues of local concern like decaying Washington DC infrastructure and rolled back promises of Canadian electoral reform lept from experiences to interactive media as Dr. Ben Stoke, co-founder of Games for Change, encouraged participants to draw inspiration from innovations and subjects in local news.  Dr. Lindsay Grace followed with a crash course in rapid prototyping, advising participants to

  • Use small concepts driven by big ideas
  • Take risks and not aim for perfection
  • Tack on 30% more time to estimates
  • Discard broken elements
  • Focus on core gameplay/experience first
  • Focus on efforts with high impact/low investment
  • Use the development cycle
  • Efficiently use time by taking breaks, commenting on work, saving frequently, creating multiple versions, and reusing assets
  • Reward themselves afterward
  • Remember the 24-hour time period
  • Choose a topic that won’t lose relevance
  • Ensure that the project playfully engages audiences

Dr. Andy Phelps of the American University Game Lab delivered finishing remarks, encouraging experiential learning, engagement, and warning participants against using text-based information delivery.

Throughout the night, participants worked to design and test prototypes of their games.  Tension filled the morning; one team ran through 7 failed prototypes before splitting into mutually supportive groups at 3:00 AM to pursue related designs.  Another team started off strong and worked through the night, only to be interrupted by a game-ending bug that took 2 hours to identify and undid 4 hours of effort.  A third team, consisting of a single programmer, finished their code with only an hour to spare.

Many participants at the DC location expressed satisfaction with their product, and multiple projects were proudly published online and added to portfolios.  Unfortunately, the facilities and organizers were heavily geared to digital design, with little support for analog games.  Additionally, at the DC location, AU students were not integrated with unaffiliated participants, creating a university/town divide.  However, the demonstration of design skills and opportunity for development indicate a strong future for serious gaming, and a potential new audience for the readers and community of PAXsims.

Please take a minute to complete our PAXsims reader survey.

McGill: Gaming humanitarian crisis


On Wednesday, November 20 I’ll be speaking to the Games and Gamification for Human Development and Well-being (GHDW) working group at McGill University on “Gaming Humanitarian Crisis” (17h30-18h00). This will be followed by a demonstration game of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game (18h00-20h30).

The event will take place on the 1st floor of the Education Building (3700 McTavish).

Please take a minute to complete our PAXsims reader survey.


Connections NL 2019 AAR

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

Please take a minute to complete our PAXsims reader survey.


The Future of Wargaming working group report

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

Also, if you haven’t yet, please take a minute to complete our PAXsims reader survey.

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

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

Wargaming the Far Future working group report


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

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

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

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

Please take a minute to complete our PAXsims reader survey.

KWN: Building the future of wargaming

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

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Please take a minute to complete our PAXsims reader survey.

Connections Oz date and location change


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

Further details at their website.

Registration open: CONNECTIONS NORTH 2020


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

For details of past conferences, see these reports.

Further details and conference registration via Eventbrite.

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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



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

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

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

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

Dstl wargaming “show and tell”

Dstl is being sent to Coventry!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Location: Queen Mary University London, ArtsOne Lecture Theatre

Time: 18:00 – 20:00

Registration for the event is via Eventbrite.

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