Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Tag Archives: Connections UK

British Forces News on the Connections UK wargaming conference

British Forces News has broadcast a short report on the recent Connections UK professional wargaming conference:

At the conference, several current and former British military personnel had rather critical comments about the under-utilization of wargames in the British military today. The fact that the title of the report hints at a certain degree of surprise that “War Games Still Used in Modern Warfare” may be an inadvertent confirmation of that concern..

Simulations miscellany, 8 September 2013


Some recent items on games and simulations that may be of interest to PAXsims readers:

* * *

gaming-research-2The folks at GrogHeads have started a new monthly column for academic-focused research on games and wargames:

Hobby games and gamers – especially in the strategy gaming and wargaming world – have rarely been the subjects of much serious published research inquiry.  And yet, some of us know from personal experience that such research is, in fact, being conducted in graduate schools and academic institutions all over.  Distinct from marketing analyses in that they are not focused on improving commercial performance, these studies are frequently conceptualized and executed by members of the broader gaming community who are seeking to fuse their love for the hobby with an academic persuit in the social sciences or humanities.

Although there are a few academic outlets for such research – the journal Simulation & Gaming springs to mind – not every paper was written with the intention of journal or conference submission.  Nevertheless, the research is still interesting and useful, and for GrogHeads everywhere it is certainly relevant.  Papers shared may inspire better research by later investigators, and the ideas discussed may help designers and developers craft better games.

Here at GrogHeads, we’re kicking off a new monthly series on Research and Gaming.  The first of these papers was published in early August, and we plan to follow with one each month.  And we’d like you to submit your research to us.  We’re not a peer-reviewed journal, but we do have some academics on our staff and among our “Friends of GrogHeads” network that include PhD’s in history, political science, and business, as well as other grad degrees in social sciences and the humanities.  So if you’ve got something interesting that you want to share, here’s your chance.  Email us your papers at research-at-grogheads-dot-com . Make sure you include all of your citations and footnotes in the document, and attach any graphics as separate files.  We will also need a short bio from you about who you are and how people can contact you.  One great way for people to contact you is to create an account in our forums, so that you can join any discussions of feedback that go on there.  We even have an area dedicated to references and research.

A few caveats, of course:

  • Do not send us something you’re hoping to see presented at a conference, or in a peer-reviewed journal
  • Do not send us something you expect to try to claim on a CV when you’re hunting for a future academic job
  • Do not send us blatant marketing, political, or religious tracts
  • Do not expect detailed, in-depth critiques of your work from our advisory team, but do expect a lot of questions from our audience, many of whom do not have a great academic background, and for whom there will need to be some gentler discussion of the finer points of how your research got to where it is.

So please send us your tired, huddled research projects yearning to breathe free, and let’s share them with the wider gaming audience.  Who knows what great insights they may spawn for someone else to build on, what feedback you’ll get to improve your own work.  Either way, it’ll be in the public and being discussed, which sure beats languishing on a digital shelf somewhere, next to the Ark of the Covenant.

Their first piece, by Brant Guillory, examines “Entrepreneurship in the Hobby Games Segment of the Publishing Industry.”

* * *

The various slides and presentation recordings from the recent Connections UK professional wargaming conference are now online at the Connections UK website.

* * *

JDMSAn article by Andrew Collins, John Sokolowski, and Catherine Banks  on “Applying Reinforcement Learning to an Insurgency Agent-based Simulation”  will appear soon in the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation: Applications, Methodology, Technology.”

A requirement of an Agent-based Simulation (ABS) is that the agents must be able to adapt to their environment. Many ABSs achieve this adaption through simple threshold equations due to the complexity of incorporating more sophisticated approaches. Threshold equations are when an agent behavior changes because a numeric property of the agent goes above or below a certain threshold value. Threshold equations do not guarantee that the agents will learn what is best for them. Reinforcement learning is an artificial intelligence approach that has been extensively applied to multi-agent systems but there is very little in the literature on its application to ABS. Reinforcement learning has previously been applied to discrete-event simulations with promising results; thus, reinforcement learning is a good candidate for use within an Agent-based Modeling and Simulation (ABMS) environment. This paper uses an established insurgency case study to show some of the consequences of applying reinforcement learning to ABMS, for example, determining whether any actual learning has occurred. The case study was developed using the Repast Simphony software package.

* * *

Strategic Crisis Simulations, a student-run organization at George Washington University, will be conducting “Shattered Resolve: A Simulation of Conflict and Cooperation on the Korean Peninsula” at GWU from 11:30 AM – 5:00 PM on 14 September 2013. You’ll find registration details here.

* * *

How might a  zombie elf help you get to college? The New York Times explains.

* * *

The University of Denver sponsored an international humanitarian crisis simulation exercise over the 2013 Memorial Day weekend. You’ll find a very good video of the event below.

Connections UK 2013 (Day 2 report)


Day 2 of the Connections UK conference started today on a sad note with news of the death of veteran wargame author Donald Featherstone.  John Curry (History of Wargaming Project) and Phil Barker (Wargames Research Group) shared their memories of Featherstone, who was in many ways the father of the modern hobby of miniature wargaming. As noted recently on PAXsims, my own entry into the hobby (and later the professional gaming field) was very much spurred by Donald Featherstone books borrowed from the local library.

ConnectionsUKThe first full panel of the day addressed “the fuzzy edges of wargaming,” that is how games might explore non-kinetic conflict dynamics. I presented an overview of my own experience of gaming peace operations, negotiations, and development in fragile and conflict-affected countries. Colin Marston discussed the Peace Support Operations Model, and the use of PSOM in Afghanistan to explore campaign plans and challenges. At the other end of the spectrum, Tom Mouat made an excellent presentation on the use of matrix games to explore conflict (or other issues). Finally, David Hockaday summarized the work of the Emergency Capacity Building Project in building disaster-response capacity in local governments and NGOs.

The next panel addressed the common faults of wargaming in the military. Graham Longley-Brown argued that 90% of military wargaming was done badly. He identified several recurrent problems: ambiguous or differing definitions of key terms and concepts; failure to make appropriate distinctions (for example, between training and education requirements); poor design (including the lack of an appropriate design team with game-design expertise, or weak design process); and weaknesses in delivery. He also pointed the need to meet the “military credibility test.” Andrew Sharpe discussed the general value of gaming, then moved on to a series of very witty and insightful observations on the institutional and cultural challenges to selling wargaming in the military. One of the most important take-aways was the need to promote wargaming by “enlightment and stealth” rather than with a sort of boundless enthusiasm that might be off-putting to senior officers. (He also managed to slip in a Warhammer snotlings reference that, as a former Orcs and Goblins player, was particularly appealing.) Another presenter talked about his own experience as a UK infantry battalion commander, expressing the view that military wargaming was too infrequent and often poorly done.

After lunch, Phil Sabin launched a discussion of the stigma and skepticism wargaming attracts. He suggested that there was a bias against games, a fear of appearing childish, as well as a a reticence among wargamers to discuss their interest in war. The fact that many government wargames are classified effectively removes them from academic or public consideration. The image of wargaming as being “fun” means it is taken less seriously. Recreational games are usually driven by entertainment considerations at some cost in historical accuracy. The use of dice to represent random events (or, more accurately, variables outside the game model) can undermine the credibility of wargames. Manual games are also difficult to repeat many times in order to develop a full understanding of the range of possible outcomes. Wargames (even professional ones) often have weak analytical foundations and questionable assumptions. All of this, he suggested, contributed to a pervasive scholarly skepticism.

My own sense is that, to some degree, this skepticism is discipline-specific to some degree—as I have noted before, I certainly don’t sense much resistance from political scientists to gaming as an instructional tool, although wargaming as a research methodology might be a slightly more difficult sell. I also think we need to work harder at reaching out beyond the current (male, middle aged) demographic of professional wargamers (most of whom who first developed their expertise playing miniature wargames and boardgames as  hobbyists) to a broader community. Although it is hardly the fault of the organizers, I couldn’t help but notice that the Connections UK audience, much like the Connections US audiences, was 95% male with a median age of 45-50. In particular we need to engage students—who, after all, are future academics and practitioners.

ConnectionsUK2The final session of the day was a wide-ranging hot-wash of the conference, addressing everything from content and format to future locations. Matt Caffrey, the driving force behind two decades of Connections conferences in the US, offered some constructive advice on future UK and European efforts.  Personally I think the organizers did an excellent job, and I found the two days very useful indeed. I hope that KCL continues to host future Connections UK conferences, that ongoing efforts are made to broaden the range of participants, and that some way is found to bring more graduate and senior undergraduate students into the meetings.

The slides and audio from the various Connections UK presentations will soon be posted to the conference website—when they are, we’ll announce it here  have now been posted to the conference website.

Connections UK 2013 (Day 1 report)


The Connections UK conference started today, with approximately seventy participants from a half-dozen or so countries. After an institutional introduction by King’s College London Principal Sir Rick Trainor, Graham Longley-Brown outlined the purposes of the conference. Like the original US Connections, Connections UK is aimed at professional wargamers but with significant input and participation from recreational gamers and commercial game designers.  While much of the conference focuses on manual (rather than computer) wargames, this was largely to enable a focus on underlying essentials—the conference itself is intended to be agnostic on manual vs digital games. Conference corganizer Phil Sabin noted that while the formal presentations would be made public, the subsequent discussions would be non-attributable under Chatham House rules.

The first panel of the day examined using games for educational purposes. Phil Sabin argued that wargames are not simply a “safe vicarious reflection” of war, but also were useful in their emphasis on “systematic interactive modeling” of conflict processes, while allowing us to explore counterfactuals and alternative outcomes through a process of active learning. He then discussed creating appropriate games, the challenges of involvement and accessibility, and finally offered a case study of his classroom use of games in teaching about air combat tactics. COL Uwe Heilmann (German armed forces) also discussed the value of teaching through games. His rich presentation highlight a great many strengths of gaming, and then looked at how games were used to develop command competence.

Among the points made in subsequent discussion was the importance of human dynamics within games, often above and beyond the dynamics that are hard-wired into the written rules or computer coding. There also seemed to be agreement that heterogeneous groups of players tended to produce better learning outcomes.

The next major session looked at using wargames for military purposes. Brian Train talked about his work using games to develop skills and maintaining ongoing networks for  the US government’s Combating Terrorism Fellowship Program. The Global Ecco website includes a multimedia magazine, a video archives, and a portal for playing abstract strategy games. Abstract strategy games (like Brian’s guerilla checkers, or classic chess) are emphasized because of their role in developing planning and cognitive skills. Graham Longley-Brown and Jeremy Smith offered an overview of the Rapid Campaign Assessment Tool (RCAT), a manual wargame for rapidly examining military campaign plans. Jim Wallman (Past Perspectives) looked at “wargaming wicked problems.” His “Crisis in Binni” game, originally designed for educational purposes, was adapted for use with senior military staff. Finally, Mike Larner (DSTL) provided an overview of wargaming at the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, largely in the context of operations analysis.

A number of interesting issues arose during the subsequent discussion. One was the challenge of integrating cultural factors into games without either mirror-imaging (that is, assuming everyone thinks like “us”) and stereotyping (viewing ethnicity or religion or national origin as an absolute predictor of behaviour). Cultural effects are quite subtle, and vary not only with ethnic/religious/national identity, but also with class, occupation, age, and other factors. Another, which I raised, was how best to integrate subject matter expertise into game design, process, and adjudication—especially when the predictive records of many SMEs is uneven at best. Part of the answer has to do with the management of subject matter expertise. As one panelist suggested, drawing upon the views of multiple experts (and providing an opportunity for views to be debated and refined) can be useful.

In the afternoon two hours were devoted to game demonstrations (with additional time for gaming after dinner). I had an opportunity to demonstrate the Carana HADR game.

The keynote address on the first day was given by Peter Perla. In it he explored his own particular trajectory as a wargamer, starting with children’s games as well as television and books about WWII. He then examined the early history of kriegsspiel, and the apparent tensions between realism and playability. He asked why it was that so many people find wargames challenging. He suggested the problem might be one of “schemas,” that is a misfit between people’s experience and the structure of the rules. Players need to understand how game mechanics relate to the things they are interested in or learning. In short, the problem is not complexity in the game, but rather the (in)ability of the players to see their reality in the game.

All-in-all, and excellent first day to the UK’s first Connections conference.

The “Fuzzy Edges of Wargaming” ? Exploring Non-Kinetic Conflict Dynamics


Tomorrow I’ll be headed off to the Connections UK interdisciplinary wargaming conference at King’s College London. As a special advance preview for PAXsims readers I am posting the slides for my presentation (click image above for pdf)—although, obviously, they’re not entirely self-explanatory without my verbal comments. For those, you’ll have to be attending the conference!

I’ll also post an AAR of the event at PAXsims too once it is all over.

Simulations miscellany, 21 August 2013

miscellanySome recent material on peace/conflict/development simulations and gaming that may be of interest to our readers:

* * *


Registration is still open until August 23 for the Connections UK interdisciplinary wargaming conference to be held at King’s College London on September 3rd and 4th. I’ll be there, as will be several other PAXsims contributors.

Registration for the conference (including lunches and dinner) costs £100, and should be done via KCL.

I’ll also be running and demo and playtest of the Humanitarian Crisis Game that I’m developing for classroom use, based on ideas from the Connections 2012 “Hati HADR Game Lab” (see here and here and here), as well as Gary Milante’s Crisis Response card game (featured on PAXsims here). I could do with a few more volunteers for the game, so if you’ll be attending Connections UK and are interested, let me know.

* * *


The McGill Humanitarian Studies Initiative as offering a multi-disciplinary program that includes both in-classroom learning (one evening per week, September 10 to December 17) as well as a 3-day Field Simulation (Spring 2014):

The course provides registered medical students, residents, public health students, and other graduate-level students with relevant backgrounds, mid-career professionals and humanitarian workers with the globally recognized competencies relevant to humanitarian work.  The course is created so course participants gained competency-based essentials in humanitarian response practice recognized by Non-governmental Organizations (NGO’s), Canadian universities and government as the standard for professional-level humanitarian training.

You’ll find further details at the HSI website. You can also find a review of the Spring 2013 version of the course by PAXsims contributor June McCabe here.

* * *

The North American Simulation and Gaming Association will be having an online discussion on Twitter (#NASAGAchat) on August 29:


Time: August 27, 2013 from 9pm to 10pm (EDT)
Location: Twitter, Twubs
Organized By: Melissa Peterson

Event Description:

One of the things we discussed last time was the large difference between the design and implementation of in-person games, board games and virtual or video games.

This time we will be delving into that in more detail. What are those differences, what are the pros and cons of each, and how do we decide what the best option is for a particular project?
Join us to learn or provide your expertise!

* * *


The annual conference of the Digital Games Research Association will be hosted by Georgia Institute of Technology at the Georgian Terrace Hotel in Atlanta on 26-29 August 2013:


This year’s proposed theme is a playful linguistic remix of the terms “frag” and “defrag.” Defragging is the computer term for reducing file fragmentation. Fragging, derived from the military term for killing a superior officer of one’s own unit, has become video game parlance for the temporary killing of another player.

In the early game studies community, a good deal of fragging (in all three senses) took place between various camps, schools of thought and disciplines. This included discussions as to whether or not game studies should split into more discipline-centered communities; however, the overall trend has been to continue to grow our field as an “interdiscipline” that includes humanities, social sciences and psychology, computer science, design studies, and fine arts.

Borrowing from the computer engineering term, the theme for DiGRA 2013 highlights this process of defragmenting, which both embraces and better articulates our diverse methods and perspectives while allowing the game studies research community to remain a coherent and unified whole.

DiGRA 2013 will take place immediately proceeding Dragon*Con, America’s largest multigenre fan convention. For more information, visit:


Questions about the conference?

Celia Pearce, John Sharp, Helen Kennedy
DiGRA 2013 Conference Co-Chairs

DiGRA Students have put together some useful research resources:

As our updated version of the Games Research Positions Map ( has received so much positive feedback, the new “Games Research Journal Map” has been structured in a similar way. It is completely searchable, sortable (by journal name, discipline, publisher, or frequency of publication), and contains a range of important information about the different academic journals in the field that regularly publish games-centric research (e.g., impact factor, word limits, link to submission guidelines, etc.). Check it out here:

We hope that this will soon become a valuable resource for students and academics alike! Please feel free to pass this information along to any other mailing lists/researchers who may be interested in such a resource.

Also, if there is a journal that has been overlooked, or see an error in one of the postings, please let us know via this thread ( on the DiGRA Student forums. As the only known list of its kind, we would like to keep it as accurate and comprehensive as possible.

* * *

In a very thoughtful review at BoardGameGeek, game reviewer (and insurgency groupie) extraordinaire Tom Grant has high praise indeed for Andean Abyss:

Volko Ruhnke’s Andean Abyss recently won the Charles S. Roberts award for best post-World War II boardgame. That deceptively simple statement means a lot more than it might seem at first glance. Andean Abyss is one of the most important wargames published in the last decade, a real watershed in the history of the hobby. And it’s a damn good game, too.

We were very positive about the game too, as you’ll see from our earlier review.

* * *

This month in Seattle, the world championships for the fantasy-themed computer game DOTA 2 featured the largest ever prize for a digital game competition, $1.4 million. As noted in the  BBC’s reporting on the competition, it follows an earlier decision by the US government to grant P1 visas to professional gamers, much like internationally renowned athletes or entertainers.

Alas, D&D never paid like that…

Connections UK professional wargaming conference


The dates have now been confirmed for the inaugural Connections UK professional wargaming conference, which will be held at King’s College London on 3-4 September 2013:

Purpose. The purpose of the event will be to bring professional wargame practitioners together to share what we are doing and spread best practice. To quote Professor Phil Sabin (Kings College London): ‘the trouble is at present that there is too little awareness of what other individuals are doing, and we are losing in terms of mutual support and the sharing of good practice.’

Aim. The aim of Connections (US) is ‘To advance and sustain the art, science and application of wargaming.’ Connections (UK) will strive to do the same but the primary purpose of the initial event will be to learn what we all do and share best practice. A significant subsidiary purpose will be to discuss future events, their format and feasibility.

Target audience. We envisage a mix of: military wargame users; military wargaming practitioners (designers and analysts); and academics. Beyond that we see selected invitees from industry and recreational wargaming. Example organisations that might be interested include: Dstl, DCDC, The Defence Academy (e.g. JSCSCS, RCDS), the Warfare Centres, various universities, QinetiQ, Corda, GD etc. The key criterion for attendees is that you have something to say! We anticipate that, as wargame practitioners, everyone will have experiences and good practice to share; expect to be a speaker! We are working closely with our US colleagues’ and Peter Perla, Rex Brynen and Matt Caffrey have all expressed a desire to attend: all are world-class wargaming practitioners and it will be worth attending solely to hear what they say!

Duration. Two days seems ideal. This allows invaluable evening demo sessions and socialising and makes travelling worthwhile. Arrival on the evening of D-1 is anticipated with a meet and greet; then a gentlemanly start on D-Day, finishing about 1500 on D+1.

Cost. Connections UK is not a money-making enterprise; it is a service to the wargaming community. Charges will be as small as possible, sufficient to cover food, venue and whatever minimal administration is required.

Dates. The dates are confirmed as Tuesday 3rd September 2013 and Wednesday 4th September 2013.

Location. Kings College London.

Connections UK is an offshoot of the original Connections conference held annually in the US, organized by Matt Caffrey. As PAXsims readers will know, that conference is being held this year on 22-25 July at Tech^Edge, Wright Brothers Institute, 500 Springfield Pike, in Dayton, Ohio (Near Wright-Patterson AFB). I’m not sure I’ll get to Connections this year because of other obligations, but I am hoping to attend Connections UK.

%d bloggers like this: