PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Atlantic Council: Avenues for Conflict in the Gulf matrix game

Avenues_for_Conflict_in_the_GulfThe Atlantic Council has a released a new report detailing three Gulf crisis matrix games, recently conducted by John Watts, that explore how conflict might take place between Iran and Saudi Arabia:

The Gulf remains one of the most strategically critical regions in the world. Its stability and security have global implications, yet are far from certain. Along with the Arabia Foundation, the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security believes a convergence of trends in the region has created an inflection point, meaning actions today could have historic and long-lasting consequences.

Consequently, the Atlantic Council and the Arabia Foundation partnered to host a matrix game simulation with the intent to challenge commonly held assumptions of US and regional policymakers about the possibility for conflict in the Gulf, and plausible, but underappreciated, conventional and unconventional Iranian military options. The game recognized that Iran faces increasing pressure domestically and internationally, while simultaneously perceiving a historic opportunity to reshape regional dynamics through multiple regional conflicts. This convergence creates conditions that could lead to a strategic shock, and which warrant serious consideration. Moreover, throughout the region, shifting dynamics are creating new and unpredictable alignments in national interests among a variety of actors.

Because of the current uncertainty and diverse possible future permutations, the game sought to run multiple iterations of the same scenario, in order to explore a range of potential outcomes that would be deter- mined by the decisions of each key actor.

You will find further details and the main findings of the study at the report linked above. Particularly noteworthy is the heavy of covert, proxy, and “grey zone” tactics and the desire of both sides to avoid major direct armed conflict. This is also a rare case of a think-tank running multiple iterations of a game to more fully explore the problem space, so kudos to John and the Atlantic Council (together with the recently-defunct Arabia Foundation) for doing it that way. The token chips look like they might have come from the Matrix Game Construction Kit too!

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For an earlier 2016 game exploring crisis stability in the Gulf (in which John was also involved), see this Atlantic Council report and this PAXsims methodological note.

Finally, if you want to try your own hand at exploring tensions in the Gulf , have a look at A “Horrible, One-sided Deal,” a US-Iran matrix game we posted to PAXsims last month.

Connections Oz 2019

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

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

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

 

 

This War of Mine free at Epic Games

This War of Mine, the game of civilian survival during civil war, is available free from Epic Games until August 2.

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James Sterrett reviewed the game for PAXsims back in November 2014, calling it “remarkably successful at being an engrossing game that involves violence yet avoids making the situation seem remotely appealing” and “my current pick for the best game of 2014.”

 

Simulation & Gaming (June 2019)

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The latest issue of Simulation & Gaming 50, 3 (June 2019) is now available. It is a special symposium issue on human-computer interaction (HCI).

Editorial
Symposium Articles
Articles
Obituary

NPR: Girl Security brings war games to a younger generation

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Picture credit: @StaciePettyjohn

NPR’s Hannah Allam reports on an innovative project by the non-profit Girl Security to engage teen girls in thinking about national security issues—in this case, through a Korea wargame developed by a team from RAND Center for Gaming.

You can listen to the broadcast here. It sounds like a terrific initiative!

UPDATE: NPR has now posted an article version too.

The RAND game designers said the goal is to urge the teens to find the smartest strategy to guard the interests of their respective sides. But they also wanted the players to think hard about the stakes involved in a game of brinksmanship between two nuclear powers.

As the hours wore on, it became clear to the players how quickly even a measured escalation could spin out of control and expand the conflict. By the end of the game, North Korea had used chemical weapons and deployed a nuclear land mine but lost much of its ground forces. The U.S. and South Korean side also suffered heavy casualties after a chemical attack.

“The situation is not good,” Pettyjohn said, surveying the game board.

Nobody won. Nobody ever wins in this simulation, which is why policymakers complain that their North Korea options range from bad to worse. RAND’s Ellie Bartels told the players that professional military planners struggle with the same frustrations they did.

“One of the things we hope to do with war games is help people plan for wars so we never have to fight them,” Bartels said. “And this is not a pretty war. It’s a war that’s not going to be low-cost, either, in terms of money or lives.”

In the “hot wash,” war game parlance for the dialogue and recap that comes after playing, several teens said they struggled with using unconventional weapons, even if they knew the scenario was fictional. Kelly, the red team member who was amped about chemical weapons, thanked her teammates for tempering some of her trigger-happy impulses.

“It’s really easy to forget the human cost,” she said. “Too easy.”

Before they broke for the day, RAND’s Becca Wasser told the players that this war game was special to her; she called it a highlight of her career to work with smart, young leaders-in-training. She also announced that each player would take home a souvenir — a miniature tank bedazzled with glitter.

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Picture credit: NPR.

 

Forced to Fight

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Forced to Fight is a browser game developed by the Canadian Red Cross (with the support of the ICRC and Global Affairs Canada) to educate youth about international humanitarian law, child soldiers, sexual and gender based violence, and related issues.

About Forced to Fight

The Canadian Red Cross aims to protect the dignity and lives of vulnerable people affected by armed conflict by ensuring respect for International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in Canada and around the world through education, training and advocacy. We organize events across the country to educate Canadians on the importance of IHL and to encourage dialogue on issues such as child soldiers, refugees, sexual and gender-based violence, and attacks on civilians, hospitals and schools. Forced to Fight is an interactive online resource designed for students between the ages of 13-18. The resource helps facilitate understanding of IHL and humanitarian issues and allows the user to experience what it is like for young people living in situations of armed conflict around the world. Teachers can use this resource in collaboration with the lesson plans available in the teaching resources links or they can choose to use it as a stand-alone activity to trigger critical thinking and classroom discussion on issues related to armed conflict. We thank the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for permission to use their resources and photos. The design of this resource was made possible thanks to financial support from the Government of Canada through a project with Global Affairs Canada. For more information please see the Instructional Guide for teachers.

Players assume the role of one of three young persons, and then are presented with a series of choices in the context of local armed conflict.

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The website also includes a section for teachers, with additional instructional materials.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 16 July 2019

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PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) games that may be of interest to our readers.

Know of items we might want to include in future editions? Please email us!

PAXsims

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Daisy Abbott, an interdisciplinary researcher and research developer based in the School of Simulation and Visualisation at The Glasgow School of Art, has developed a useful guide for modifying (commercial, hobby) tabletop games for educational use.

This paper describes a learning-objective-centric workflow for modifying (‘modding’) existing tabletop games for educational purposes. The work- flow combines existing research for serious games design with novel systematic analysis techniques for learning and game mechanics and gameplay loops to improve the understanding and rigour of the process. A detailed worked example applies the workflow to the development of a serious tabletop game with the educational goal of increasing knowledge and confidence of performing postgraduate literature reviews. Systematic application of the workflow to a real example supports the value of this approach and provides a useful template for educators to follow for increasing the quality and feasibility of self-designed serious games.

You’ll find the full paper here. You might also want to check out her recent article on “Game-based learning for postgraduates: an empirical study of an educational game to teach research skills,” at Higher Education Pedagogies 4, 1 (2019).

PAXsims

At the Megagame Assembly website, Ben Moores discusses the challenges (and shortcomings) of megagames addressing military operations.

For anyone who has listened to our megagame podcast, Last Turn Madness, you will know that I have an issue with the manner in which we represent war in megagames. War is an incredibly intense condition yet many of our military games fail to create an experience that is relatively engaging. Many players actually find elements of the theme and the mechanics incredibly dull. This is a poor state of affairs that we need to think more about.

The bad news is that writing a game is hard, really hard. Many of us start out with a vision of throwing out the rule book and creating something unique and seminal. Breaking the chains of what we know about military gaming looks easy in practice as there are so many wargame concepts out there dying to be put out of their misery. The reality is that development is largely incremental and beset with adversity that involves some fairly humbling experiences….

See his concerns and suggestions at the link above. For a detailed discussion of Ben’s game design for Undeniable Victory (a megagame of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War), see his November 2017 piece here at PAXsims.

PAXsims

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In a recent article in Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences 19, 3 (March 2019), Galateia Terti, Isabelle Ruin, Milan Kalas, Ilona Láng, Arnau Cangròs i Alonso, Tommaso Sabbatini,and Valerio Lorini discuss ANYCare, a role-playing game to investigate crisis decision-making and communication challenges in weather-related hazards.

This study proposes a role-playing experiment to explore the value of modern impact-based weather forecasts on the decision-making process to (i) issue warnings and manage the official emergency response under uncertainty and (ii) communicate and trigger protective action at different levels of the warning system across Europe. Here, flood or strong-wind game simulations seek to represent the players’ realistic uncertainties and dilemmas embedded in the real-time forecasting-warning processes. The game was first tested in two scientific workshops in Finland and France, where European researchers, developers, forecasters and civil protection representatives played the simulations. Two other game sessions were organized afterwards (i) with undergraduate university students in France and (ii) with Finnish stakeholders involved in the management of hazardous weather emergencies. First results indicate that multi-model developments and crowdsourcing tools increase the level of confidence in the decision-making under pressure. We found that the role-playing approach facilitates interdisciplinary cooperation and argumentation on emergency response in a fun and interactive manner. The ANYCaRE experiment was proposed, therefore, as a valuable learning tool to enhance participants’ understanding of the complexities and challenges met by various actors in weather-related emergency management.

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PAXsims

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At Military Review (July-August 2019), Richard A. McConnel and Mark T. Gerges discuss “Seeing the Elephant: Improving Leader Visualization Skills through Simple War Games.”

While Command and General Staff College (CGSC) faculty members have wrestled with the challenge of how to best educate students to improve their visualization and description skills, they have hit upon a return to simple role-playing board games as a low-cost and highly effective means to repetitively improve students’ abilities. Examining the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) publications from the past twenty years has revealed that implementing war-gaming as a training technique has been a systemic challenge during combat training center (CTC) rotations.2 This challenge manifested itself in three ways: players skipped the war-game step altogether; if planners skipped the war game, then the combined arms rehearsal turned into a war game; or staffs conducted war games that resembled a rehearsal in that they did not contain an action, reaction, counteraction methodology. As the faculty scanned the CALL publications for insights, an unrelated event in a single staff group caught their attention. In the fall of 2013, CGSC students who played a simple role-playing board game for a history class, in this case Kriegsspiel (War Game), did a much better job at the war-gaming step of the military decision-making process (MDMP) in the tactics class, in particular in their ability to see (describe) the friendly situation….

(h/t Aaron Danis)

PAXsims

At The National Interest, David Banks suggests that we “Check Out the Very Best Wargames Ever (And What We Can Learn From Them).”

Want to try your hand at negotiating during a crisis? Think you have a plan that could get the U.S. out of Afghanistan? Confident you could keep a nation secure when multi-party international diplomacy is more important than warfare? Strategy-based board games let you test your political and military acumen right at your kitchen table – while also helping you appreciate how decision-makers are limited by the choices of others.

For centuries, military trainers have used board games as tools to help recruits and leaders alike understand fundamental principles of warfare. In the early 19th century, for instance, the Prussian military required its officers to play a board game called “Kriegsspiel.” The high command realized that while individual officers might understand the principles of combat, they might not know how to apply them when facing an actual opponent. And in stepping back and analyzing what happened after a game was over, they might see what factors really mattered, and how the players’ choices influenced each other.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the U.S. Navy used war games to design military plans against potential adversaries. By the time World War II arrived, U.S. Admiral Chester Nimitz observed, the conflict “had been reenacted in the game rooms at the Naval War College by so many people and in so many different ways, that nothing happened during the war that was a surprise … absolutely nothing except the kamikaze tactics toward the end of the war.”

War gaming continues to offer opportunities for scholars to better understand security dynamics. A growing cadre of experts have turned to war games to show how a Russian invasion of the Baltics might play out or how a shift to robotic warfare might lead to fewer military crises. In my own research, I have used war games to better understand and prepare for what are sometimes called “low-frequency, multi-factor” events – security scenarios that have lots of variables but have rarely, or never, happened, such as a full-scale cyber-conflict between the U.S. and China.

War games are useful intellectual aids because they force players to make decisions under pressure. While people may intellectually understand a problem, gaming forces them to think even harder. As the Nobel Prize-winning economist Thomas Schelling put it, “one thing a person cannot do, no matter how rigorous his analysis or heroic his imagination, is to draw up a list of things that would never occur to him.” By facing off against opponents over a well-designed war game, people can come to see how political and military structures interact and appreciate the trade-offs and complications that come with making decisions in a competitive environment.

With this in mind, I present some of my favorite war games. They not only are gripping to play but also offer players a window into some core elements of modern security politics. They are rated for players, time and complexity (where “Monopoly” would score a 1 out of 5). I have no financial or professional relationships with any of the game publishers listed; these games are just personal favorites.

(This article also originally appeared at The Conversation.)

PAXsims

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The Poll is an Indian board game that simulates how political parties fight and win elections.

In the game, each player takes control of the affairs of a political party: manages their finances, their policy stand and decides which seats to focus on in the run-up to the General Elections. Each player must draft an inclusive manifesto to fight constituencies all over the country, make promises through arguments and choose which campaign strategies to employ to maximise their own vote share. With the ultimate aim to win the majority of seats in the Lok Sabha.

It is currently available for pre-order.

PAXsims

KCL

The King’s Wargaming Newtwork is pleased to announce the first King’s Wargaming Alumni Weekend, which will take place during 21-24 November 2019 at King’s College London. 

It will include a public lecture on 22 November by Professor Philip Sabin on the future of wargaming to mark his 35-year service to the university and the first year anniversary of the King’s Wargaming Network.

All are welcome to register for the lecture here.
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PAXsims

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Rosenstrasse is a historical role-playing game developed by Moyra Turkington and Jessica Hammer.

Rosenstrasse is an elegaic, immersive historical role-playing game for four players and one facilitator. It explores marriages between Jewish and “Aryan” Germans in Berlin between 1933 and 1943, and culminates in the eponymous women-led protests. Each player takes the role of two characters, at least one of whom is Jewish and at least one of whom is female. As a result, players experience this story of persecution and resistance from multiple perspectives.

No prior knowledge of history is needed to play Rosenstrasse, nor does prior knowledge prevent enjoyment of the game. The game has been successfully play-tested with everyone from historians and Holocaust educators to people who knew almost nothing about the history. Similarly, you do not have to be an experienced role-player to enjoy the game. It is accessible both to long-time role-players, and to people who have never role-played before.

Instead of historical expertise, we ask players to bring human expertise to bear. Each character is paired with another as spouse or sibling. For example, Max and Annaliese are young, romantic, economically vulnerable lovers; Ruth and Izak are siblings who embody close-knit family bonds, but who are treated very differently by the Reich. These relationships are at the heart of the game. If you have cared about another person as a friend, family member, or romantic partner, then you have the expertise you need to play.

You will find further details of the Unruly Studios project at Kickstarter.

You might also want to have a look at this short Carnegie Mellon University Alumni Association webinar by Jessica Hammer, Thomas and Lydia Moran on “transformational games:” Game On! How Leveraging Gameplay Can Change Your Life

PAXsims

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At Studies in Contemporary History, Florian Grenier and Maren Röger discuss “Den Kalten Krieg Spielen: Brett- und Computerspiele in der Systemkonfrontation” (in German).

Playing the Cold War. Board and Computer Games in the System Confrontation

During the Cold War, millions of people on both sides of the Iron Curtain played board and digital games – in living rooms, barracks and schools. They played classics such as Memory or Merk-Fix, but also games with names such as Fulda Gap or Class Struggle. The latter group addressed different aspects of the confrontation between the West and the so-called ›Eastern bloc‹ and offered players a simulation of the Cold War as a battle between good and evil. Cold War Studies have so far neglected games as sources of historical research. In this article, we argue that as a relevant part of popular culture in the 1970s and 1980s, board and digital games contributed significantly to conveying to a popular audience the fundamental characteristics of the East-West conflict. We show how games on both sides of the Iron Curtain adopted a logic of competition; we analyse how they made sense of the system confrontation, which specific national characteristics they had, how they could become critical tools and where the respective authorities saw the limits of what was ›playable‹. Testing one’s own demise as a possibility for action or dystopia often seemed morally and politically questionable, because the scenarios developed in games could perhaps change people’s views of reality and intensify criticism. On the other hand, the games could also support the routinisation of the Cold War: They presented knowledge about military facts and contributed to habituation to the potential nuclear threat.

PAXsims

Dstl: Software, training & simulation and wargaming opportunities

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The UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory is looking for up to 15 new staff specializing in simulation and wargaming:

We are recruiting up to 15 talented individuals across the Simulation and Numerical Methods group to use their specialist knowledge innovatively and to work in multidisciplinary teams in the following areas:

• Training, Simulation and Synthetic Environments
• Software Engineering
• Wargaming and Simulation
• Manual Wargaming

Depending on your skills and experience you’ll be working in one of the following areas;

The Training and Transformative Technologies Team focuses on innovative methods and tools to deliver Military Training and Education. This includes representing future Operating Environments in simulation and exploiting novel training approaches such as Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality Technologies.

The Wargaming capability you would be joining uses wargaming as a structured analytical technique to understand conflict in order to provide advice to the Ministry of Defence and wider UK Government. It is a multidisciplinary capability, drawing on quantitative and qualitative operational analysis techniques, facilitation, adjudication, and player interaction in order to model warfare, conflict or adversarial scenarios to identify and assess factors that can lead to different results (e.g. failure, success or something in between) within a given setting.

The Software Modelling & Simulation team provides the software engineering expertise to our division and is leading on the development of innovative software and software models for the future. As well as building this next generation software we have the responsibility, working with industry, to maintain and improve our existing computer-based wargames & simulations.

You’ll find full details at the UK Civil Service jobs site.

Applicants must be UK (non-dual) citizens. The deadline for application is August 24.

Connections US 2019 reminder

This is a reminder that the Connections US 2019 professional wargaming conference will be held at the US Army Heritage and Education Center (Carlisle, PA) on 13-16 August.

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To see what to expect, see our PAXsims report on last year’s conference.

A “horrible, one-sided deal”: A US-Iran matrix game

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While I’m not at liberty to divulge anything about him, I recently connected up with the ever-elusive Banksy of matrix game design, “Tim Price,” to put together a quick matrix game scenario addressing current US-Iranian tensions in the Gulf. You will find the scenario description, briefing sheets, and simple map here. Also included is a quick guide on how to play a matrix game, as well as counters you can use.

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The game includes the US, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the European Union/E3, and Russia. It also includes an innovative mechanism for making some actions through allies and proxies (such as the Houthis, Hizbullah, Shi’ite militias in Iraq, Syria, Israel, the UAE, and Oman).

As this example shows, matrix games can be developed very quickly, and can be useful tools for exploring complex, multi-sided political-military (POL-MIL) issues. If you want to learn more, check out the many other matrix game postings here at PAXsims, as well as Tom Mouat’s matrix game download page.

If you’re interested in developing your own matrix games, you might find the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK) useful—after all, that’s why we developed it, with the support of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratories  (UK Ministry of Defence).

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Invicta: How did war become a game?

A recent video posted to YouTube by Invicta provides an excellent 15 minute overview of the birth of modern wargaming. It’s well worth watching—I’ll certainly be using it in class.

Setting the (wargame) stage

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I delivered a (virtual) presentation today to the Military Operations Society wargaming community of practice on the importance of “chrome, fluff” and other finer touches in promoting better game outcomes through enhanced narrative engagement. Having forgotten to set a calendar reminder I was a fifteen minutes late for my own talk, which only served to reinforce the stereotype of absent-minded professors. Apologies to everyone who had to wait!

The full set of Powerpoint slides is available here (pdf). Since the content may not be entirely self-evident from the slides, I’ll also offer a quick summary.

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First, I argued—in keeping with Perla and McGrady’s discussion of “Why wargaming works“—that narrative engagement is a key element of good (war)game design and implementation.

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In addition to their experience-based, qualitative argument, I adduced some quantitative, experimental data that shows that role-playing produces superior forecasting outcomes…

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..and that the way we frame and present games has profound effects on the way players actually play them.

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I also noted a substantial literature on the psychology of conflict and conflict resolution that points to the importance of normative and other non-material factors in shaping conflict and negotiating behaviour.

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In other words, if your games don’t have players feeling angry, or aggrieved, or alienated, or attached to normative and symbolic elements, they’re acting unrealistically. Since the selling point of wargaming is that it places humans in the loop, you need those players playing like real humans, not technocratic, minimaxing robots.

Doing that, I suggested, requires nudging participants into the right mindset. One has to be careful one doesn’t overdo it—some participants may recoil at role play fluff that makes it all look like a LARP or game of D&D.

What then followed was a discussion of some considerations and ways that I had done it, but which was also intended to spark a broader conversation. Specifically we looked at:

  • How player backgrounds and player assignment will influence how readily participants internalize appropriate perspectives.
  • Briefing materials should designed to subtly promote desired perspectives and biases (without being too obvious about this). Things like flags, maps, placards, and so forth can all be used to make players more closely identify with their role.
  • In repeated games—for example, some wargames in an educational setting that might be conducted every year)—oral traditions and tales from prior games can make the game setting richer and more authentic (although at the risk of players learning privileged information from previous players). Participants might also contribute background materials, chrome, or fluff that you can use in future games—such as the collection of songs from Brynania that my McGill University students have recorded over the past twenty years.

  • Very explicit objectives and “victory conditions” should often be used sparingly, lest they promote both an unrealistic sense of the rigidity of policy goals and promote excessively “tick-off-the-objective-boxes” game play.
  • Physical space should be used to subtly shape player interaction, whether to foster interaction, limit it, or even create a sense of isolation and alienation.
  • Coffee breaks and lunch breaks should be designed NOT to pull players out of their scenario headspace. The last thing you want is Blue and Red having a friendly hour over lunch talking about non-game matters in a scenario where they are supposed to distrust or even hate each other.
  • Fog and friction should be promoted not only to model imperfect information and imperfect institutions/capabilities, but also to subtly promote atmospheres of uncertainty, fear, crisis, panic, frustration, and similar emotional states, as appropriate to the actors and scenario.
  • The graphic presentation of game materials should encourage narrative engagement and immersion. Avoid inappropriate fonts and formats, make things look “real,” and be aware that game graphics can very much affect how players (and analysts) perceive the game and it’s outcomes.

A variety of other issues came up in the Q&A and discussion. Many thanks to everyone who participated—I hope they found it as useful as I did.

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AFTERSHOCK updates and expansions

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Over the next year or so, Tom Fisher and I will be rolling out a few updates and two new expansion modules for AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game. As we develop these we are looking for your help!

AFTERSHOCK update

We are very happy with how AFTERSHOCK plays (and users seem to be too), so we don’t anticipate any significant rule changes. However, we will be redesigning or changing some of the components, as well as clarifying a few things in the rules.

If you are an AFTERSHOCK user and you have encountered anything you feel is awkward, unclear, or could otherwise be tweaked, please drop us a line. Your input would be very helpful!

Humanitarian Assistance in Divided and Conflict-Affected Societies Expansion

Following the success of our first expansion (Gender Dimensions of Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief), we will be launching a second that examines the humanitarian operations in divided and conflict-affected societies. This will divide the Carana team into three subactors: a technocratic presidency, and two rival political groupings: the People’s Front of Carana (supporters of which concentrated in Districts 2 and 3) versus the Patriotic Union of Carana (whose constituency is found found in Districts 4 and 5). While the President will be focused on overall national goals, each of the parties will be focussed on their own constituencies and will be rivals for resources and political prestige. Otherwise, we will be using the same system of Challenge Cards we introduced in Expansion #1, allowing you to use some of both expansions in the same game, as well as new Event Cards. Local Politics cards playable by the Carana actors will add a few twists too.

Megashock Expansion

This expansion will allow you to put on 2-4 simultaneous, linked games of AFTERSHOCK, each representing a different earthquake-affected city in Carana. An additional, one additional “national” game will represent high-level decision-makers who must allocate teams and supplies across the local games. Using this expansion is should be possible to comfortably run AFTERSHOCK games with up to forty players (four games with four teams of two, plus one national game with four teams of two).

Again, we invite ideas for the expansion sets too. Our gender expansion was cosponsored by National Defense University, which contributed some funds for its development. If your organization would like to help out with one of these, let us know!

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Connections UK 2019 registration open

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The Connections UK 2019 conference for wargaming professionals will be held at King’s College London on 3 – 5 September.

Registration is open. Go to the KCL estore web site at and register now!

Purpose and approach. The purpose of Connections UK is to advance and sustain the art, science and application of wargaming. We do this by bringing together the wargaming community to share best practices formally and network informally.

This year’s conference is based entirely on your feedback and suggestions from the 2018 event. Key changes are: there will be more hands-on gaming opportunities, showing more diverse gaming approaches; we will run parallel ‘deep dives’, examining subjects you have suggested in greater depth; ‘automation’ will feature as a main-stream element of the conference; and, to keep costs down, we will not provide food other than drinks and snacks on arrival each day and during breaks. This last change has reduced the conference fees to £90, which covers the entire conference.

The Conference will last three days. Tuesday 3 September will be a concurrent series of large-scale games (which will still include a megagame) and an Introduction to Wargaming Course. As well as plenaries and deep dives, Wednesday 4 September will feature the usual Games Fair, which remains very popular.

Activities sign-up. Due to the number of concurrent activities this year, we will ask you to sign up for the Introduction to Wargaming Course, all games and deep dives in advance of the conference. We will ask you to do this later in the summer. Failing to book does not preclude you from taking part in something, but those who have signed up will get preference as some activities are limited in number. The KCL Wargaming Network are organising two evening events during the conference. Details of these, and how to sign up for them, will be promulgated separately.

Outline programme. Updates to the programme will be made available on the Connections UK web site at http://professionalwargaming.co.uk/ Key events and topics include:

  • Two keynote addresses, from Dr Lynette Nusbacher and a senior British Army officer.
  • Large-scale games on Day 1, featuring (but not limited to!) a megagame, matrix games, a workshop on ‘full-spectrum adjudication’, cyber games, various computerised simulations, an anti-corruption game, a Ukraine crisis game, a hybrid campaign game and much more.
  • Introduction to Wargaming Course.
  • Plenaries on:
    • The psychology of wargaming.
    • Wargaming hybrid operations (including cyber).
    • The selection and use of Commercial off the Shelf and Modified off the Shelf games.
    • Gaming Peace and Stabilisation Operations.
  • Deep Dives on:
    • Quantitative vs qualitative gaming.
    • Answering ‘So what?’ questions.
    • Technology to support wargaming.
    • Successful playtesting.
    • On Wargaming: Matt Caffrey’s recent tour de force on how wargames have shaped history and how they may shape the future.
    • Wargaming the future (in conjunction with a US Connections working group).
    • Data capture & analysis.
    • Space games.
  • Games Fair: two sessions on Wednesday 4 September, as usual. Games will cover anti-submarine warfare, cyber games, hybrid warfare, computerised games (including the same games in parallel manual and computerised formats), role-play, an analytical matrix game, a Commercial off the Shelf space game and many others.
  • KCL Wargaming Network events: two sessions are planned, in the evenings of Day 1 and Day 2. Details to follow.

Cost. The cost is £90 for a single ticket that covers all three days. This includes refreshments and snacks on arrival each day, but no main meals.

Location. The Connections UK 2019 location will be Kings College London Strand Campus.

Accommodation. Finding accommodation is an individual’s responsibility. One cheap approach is to use a Travelodge in the suburbs and commute on the excellent bus and tube system.

Points of Contact and further information. Consult the Connections UK website at the address block for updates, further instructions and the contents of former conferences. Please send general questions to graham@lbsconsultancy.co.uk and detailed queries concerning administration to James Halstead at james.halstead@kcl.ac.uk

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

Diversity and inclusion. Advice to all presenters can be found on the Connections UK web site.

We hope to see you in September!

Wargaming and representation

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At Vice, Rob Zacny published a thoughtful piece yesterday on representation within wargames (both digital games and serious manual hobby games), specifically regarding the sometimes sympathetic portrayal of the German army during WWII.

The issues with responsibly depicting German combat forces in World War 2, and their connections to Nazi crimes against humanity, are well-known at this point and have been a point of increasing discussion and debate among historical hobby gamers for years. EA’s flagship shooter might be on the cutting edge of mainstream video gaming, but its naive politics are years behind the state of historical research. The argument that a character fought bravely and heroically for Germany, but not the Nazis, isn’t just naive, but it’s one that was aggressively promulgated by German war criminals themselves.

There are two major tenets to the whitewashing of the Wehrmacht, one more reprehensible than the other. The first and worst is that the Wehrmacht was by and large the German army but was never a Nazi army, and did not participate in the crimes against humanity that was the bedrock of Nazi governance and expansion. This was false: Particularly on the Eastern Front, the Wehrmacht worked fist-in-glove with the SS to round up and exterminate Soviet Jews, Romani, and other groups the Nazis systematically persecuted and murdered. Whatever the different experiences and actions of the millions of soldiers (volunteer and conscript) who served in the Wehrmacht, the institution of the Wehrmacht was both complicit and participant in Nazi atrocities on a wide scale.

The second tenet is that the Wehrmacht was, in a word, awesome.

We’re not going to stop making and playing World War 2 games. For whatever reason, there are countless people (myself included) who are endlessly drawn to revisiting and refighting its battles. But that narrow framing of the history, that exclusion of all the crimes and murders that surrounded the actual fighting on the front lines, serves things beyond the purity of game design. It burnishes and reinforces myths, it divorces warfare from politics, it elevates the soldier—no matter what they serve or advance—as a kind of secular hero. And it gives cover for the idea that there was something admirable and heroic about waging war for Nazi Germany.

For the full depth and nuance of his argument, you should read the full article.

One can disagree with parts or even all of Zacny’s argument, of course. It is pretty clear, however, that he is very much writing about games, game design, game play, and the possible role of games in shaping popular culture. You would think that this would be and issue that serious wargame hobbyists would want to engage, right? After all, as Clausewitz argued, politics is central to warfighting. Moreover, many hobbyists pride themselves on their love of military history and argue that wargames offer insight into real conflict.

Except that’s not exactly what happened when well-known wargame scholar Matthew Kirschenbaum shared the piece to the large ( 11,000+ member) “Wargamers” group on Facebook.

The posting immediately sparked a heated discussion on how culpable the average German soldier was for Nazi war crimes, and some discussion of how to portray atrocity and evil in games. Sadly, however, it also quickly provoked comments that showed how unwelcoming the hobby community can be:

  • The first “snowflake/social justice warrior/political correctness” insults appeared around 15 minutes after posting (ironically, by those arguing that the topic shouldn’t be raised for discussion).
  • A racist and homophobic “Pepe” meme was posted after 24 minutes.
  • After about half an hour there were calls to lock or delete the thread because it was too controversial or divisive (that is, to discuss game design in a gaming group).
  • Less than an hour in, it was suggested that the article was part of a broader socialist/globalist/Soros conspiracy. A little later on, a couple of posters implied that this was all part of blaming white people.
  • A transphobic comment was added at 57 minutes, as well as one linking the discussion to feminism and/or insufficient testosterone.

Within two hours, the thread had been shut down by the group admins. A follow-up thread lasted about an hour. Threads were also shut down in several other gaming groups.

Now, it is important to point out that the most offensive posts were from a very small handful of people, out of the several dozen who contributed. It is also important to remember that internet discussion tends to bring out both extremists and uncivil behaviour.

Nonetheless, anyone who happened to be female, LGBTQ, liberal, a visible minority, or Jewish might well see in the thread a rather unwelcoming hobby. They would have been even more dismayed by how few people spoke out against the bigotry and insults. “Discussions” like this one inhibit growing the community, inhibit greater diversity and inclusion, and discourage thoughtful discussion of serious topics.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time we’ve encountered this at PAXsims, of course.

Professional wargamers—those in the national security community whose gaming is intended to enhance security or save actual lives—tend to be far more supportive of addressing these sorts of issues. I’ve discussed issues of wargame ethics, sensitive topics, and representation in lectures I’ve delivered to defence audiences around the world, and without exception have found them receptive and reflective. These issues are also frequently raised and discussed at Connections conferences, in the US, UK, and elsewhere.

There’s a lot that serious gaming can learn from the hobby. However, there are also some bad habits and prejudices that remain far too persistent there—and which clearly need to be resisted.

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