Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Tag Archives: Connections

Connections 2019 wargaming conference — Call for presentations


Connections 2019 will be hosted by the U.S. Army War College at the Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, PA, 13-16 August 2019.

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 2019 conference theme is Futures of Wargaming, and with that in mind, presentations on wargaming future events, advances in wargaming techniques, wargaming to train future leaders, and related topics are especially encouraged.

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

It is by no means necessary to have attended a previous Connections conference to participate as a speaker.  More information about past Connections events and current updates on the status of planning for Connections 2019 can be found at the conference website:

Feel free to pass this along to those who you think might be interested, including posting this in appropriate places online.  For additional information or any questions or concerns, please contact Tim Wilkie (National Defense University).

In-stride adjudication (Connections 2018 working group report)

Stephen Downes-Martin has pulled together a 187 page (!) report on in-stride adjudication from the papers and discussion presented at the Connections US 2018 conference. You can download it here.

In-Stride Adjudication Working Group Report 20180908.jpg

How can we avoid risky and dishonesty shifts in seminar wargames?


Stephen Downes-Martin has written up the discussion from another Connections game lab session, this time on How can we avoid risky and dishonesty shifts in seminar wargames? with contributions from Stephen Downes-Martin, Korene Phillips, Ken Shogren,
Sorrel Stetson, Rosemary Tropeano:

The group identified three research questions and identified and discusses nine ways that the risky and (dis)honest shifts could be baselined, measured, controlled or mitigated.

Two Behavior Shifts During Small Group Discussions

The (Dis)honesty Shift

Research indicates “that there is a stronger inclination to behave immorally in groups than individually,” resulting in group decisions that are less honest than the individuals would tolerate on their own. “Dishonest” in the context of the research means the group decisions break or skirt the ethical rules of the organization and societal norms, involve cheating and lying. Furthermore, the group discussions tend to shift the individuals’ post-discussion norms of honest behavior towards dishonest. First the discussion tends to challenge the honesty norm, then inattention to one’s own moral standards (during the actual discussion) and categorization malleability (the range in which dishonesty can occur without triggering self-assessment and self-examination) create the effect that “people can cheat, but their behaviors, which they would usually consider dishonest do not bear negatively on their self-concept (they are not forced to update their self-concept)”. The research indicates that it is the small group communication that causes the shift towards dishonesty that enables group members to coordinate on dishonest actions and change their beliefs about honest behavior”. The group members “establish a new norm regarding (dis)honest behavior”. Appeals to ethics standards seem to be effective in the short term [Mazar et al] but there is little evidence for long term effectiveness.

The Risky Shift

Research into risky or cautious shifts during group discussion looks at whether and when a group decision shifts to be riskier or more cautious than the decision that the individuals would have made on their own. One element driving the shift appears to be who bears the consequences of the decision – the group members, people the group members know (colleagues, friends, family), or people the group members do not know. There is evidence that individuals tend to be myopically risk averse when making decisions for themselves. Research indicates however that “risk preferences are attenuated when making decisions for other people: risk-averse participants take more risk for others whereas risk seeking participants take less.” Whether the group shows a risky shift or a cautious shift depends on the culture from which the group is drawn and the size of the shift seems to depend on the degree of empathy the group feels for those who will bear the consequences and risks of the decision.

Research into leadership shows that “responsibility aversion” is driven by a desire for more “certainty about what constitutes the best choice when others’ welfare is affected”, that individuals “who are less responsibility averse have higher questionnaire-based and real-life leadership scores” and do not seek more certainty when making decisions that are risky for others than they seek when making decisions that are risky for themselves alone. However, this research says nothing about the starting risk-seeking or risk-avoiding preference of the decision making leader.

See the full paper (link above) for further discussion, including the footnotes (which have been removed from the excerpt above).

How can we credibly wargame cyber at an unclassified level?


The frighteningly-efficient Stephen Downes-Martin has been kind enough to pass on a game lab report from the recent Connections US 2018 wargaming conference on “How can we credibly wargame cyber at an unclassified level?”  (pdf) with contributions from Michael Bond, Stephen Downes-Martin, Andreas Haggman, Clayton Hutto, Michael Markowitz, Douglas Samuelson, and Joseph Saur:

A small minority of cyber experts with wargaming and research experience have security clearances. If cyber operations are researched and gamed only at high levels of classification, then we limit our use of the intellectual capital of the United States and Allies and put at risk our ability to gain edge over our adversaries. We must find ways to wargame cyber[1]at the unclassified level while dealing with information security dangers to best use the skills within academia, business and the gaming community. During the Connections US Wargaming Conference 2018 a small group of interested people gathered for about an hour to discuss the question:

“How can we credibly wargame cyber at an unclassified level?”

The group concluded that it is possible to wargame cyber credibly and usefully at the unclassified level and proposed eight methods for doing so. The group also suggested it is first necessary to demonstrate and socialize this idea by gaming the trade-offs between the classification level and the value gained from wargaming cyber.

[1]“Wargaming cyber” and “gaming cyber” are loose terms which group deliberately left as such to encourage divergent thinking and to avoid becoming too specific.

Connections US 2018 report


This year’s Connections US professional wargaming conference—the 26th since the series began—was held at National Defense University on July 17-20. It was the largest meeting yet, with some 280 or so registered, and around 210 attendees. Amongst those registered for the conference were several students (Keiko Ivinson, Kia Kouyoumjian, Jason Li, Caroline  Wesley) from my game design seminar at McGill University this past term, and some of them will be posting their own perceptions to PAXsims in the near future.

The conference started off with a welcome from Vice Admiral Fritz Roegge, the President of National Defense University. He discussed the use of gaming for education and outreach at NDU, notably through the activities of the Center for Applied Strategic Learning. Later, COL Voris W. McBurnette, the Director of CASL, also welcomed the group and said a little more about the work of the Center.

This was followed with a general presentation by Matt Caffrey (Air Force Research Laboratory) on wargaming. He argued for the utility of wargaming, offering a brief overview of defence wargaming in the US and elsewhere and historical examples of when and where wargaming had made a clear difference. He then went on to define key elements of wargaming.

The conference next split into a choice of conference sessions—I attended a session on wargaming counterinsurgency, by Brian Train (slides). Brian noted the relative paucity of commercial wargame designs exploring insurgency and irregular warfare, despite this being the most common form of armed conflict since WWII. He also noted the ways in which counterinsurgency game designs typically differ from wargames about more conventional kinetic operations.

“Conventional” wargame “Irregular” wargame
binary, zero-sum opposition multiple though frictional points of view/ factions
ordered situations chaotic and nonlinear game states
rigid treatments of time, space and force flexible, malleable scales, non-representational units
symmetry of information, methods and objectives asymmetry of these

After lunch, fellow PAXsims coeditor Tom Mouat (Defence Academy of the UK) and I offered a seminar session on matrix gaming (slides). We provided an overview of the technique and had two games set up (ISIS CRISIS and HIGH NORTH) to illustrate game processes and take a few sample actions.

The rest of the afternoon was devoted to game demonstrations. In addition to having AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game and the Matrix Game Construction Kit on display, Brian and I also showed off We Are Coming, Nineveh!, an operational-level game of the 2017 battle for West Mosul, which we are developing with my former students Juliette Le Ménahèze and Harrison Brewer.

Day 2 started with a keynote presentation by John Lillard on US naval wargaming during the interwar period, drawing upon his book on the topic. He highlighted how lessons were learned from both regular wargaming at the Naval War College and the fleet exercises. Games were either STRAT (chart), TAC (board), or QR (quick reactions). Games either focused against a superior (Red/UK) in opponent in the Atlantic, or a weaker (Orange/Japan) opponent in the Pacific. The opposing side was always played by students, as well as Blue. John took us through a series of game vignettes from the 1920s and 1930s, showing how the games addressed new issues and innovations, including air and submarine assets, amphibious operations, logistics, and allied operations. The games included such experiments as different approach routes, formations, amphibious operations, anti-submarine escorts, airships, chemical warfare, floating drydocks, and converted (cruisers, merchantmen) aircraft carriers.


John Lillard discussing interwar wargaming at the US Naval War College.

After a coffee break, attention turned to game design. Goor Tsalalyachin (Dado Center, IDF General Staff) offered an overview of strategic wargaming in the Israeli Defence Force. He emphasized the need to move beyond simplistic, two-dimensional thought. In the IDF, wargames are used for critical decision support and knowledge development, as well as training—often involving personnel at the most senior levels. He highlighted the dynamic and changing nature of the strategic environment (which demands a constantly agile conceptual/operational design process), and the value of wargames in developing and challenging new ideas and concepts. The method he described was largely that of a two-move seminar game. In many cases, I suspect, this produces structured scenario discussion rather than a great deal of iterative gaming.

Becca Wasser (RAND/Georgetown) and Stacie Pettyjohn (RAND/Johns Hopkins) addressed this issue in their presentation on “Beyond the BOGSAT: the case for structured strategic games.” Becca argued that despite the reinvigoration of wargaming, POL-MIL gaming has somewhat languished, in part due to the “squishiness” of the political dimension. Given this, it could be useful to add greater structure to such games by drawing from design features of some commercial games. Unstructured games can tend to opinion-discussion, rather than making choices with consequences. Stacie suggested that too many designers default to free-form seminar games, which end up being non-game BOGSATs or low-quality games. The latter involve unfocused team deliberations, hasty decisions, and an abundance of semi-relevant background materials that are often ignored by players.  Game validity excessively depends on ad hoc, undocumented “expert” adjudication. Seminar games are thus often overly dependent on players and experts, adjudication is based on unexpressed, undocumented mental models, and games are difficult to replicate. They also produce too few innovative ideas.

Stacie suggested drawing upon commercial game mechanisms, pointing to Brian Train’s game designs and PAXsims’ very own AFTERSHOCK as good examples, as well as the Countering ISIL game developed by RAND (based on a design first prototyped at a MORS wargaming workshop). There are, she noted, challenges to developing such games, such as the up-front challenge of producing game models and rules. Such games often do not scale well to large audiences. They might also face problems of acceptability (with strategic boardgames looking too “gamey”).


Becca and Stacey discuss adding more structure to strategic games.

Frans Kleyheeg (TNO) presented on “gaming and VR technology as a game changer,” noting the utility of virtual simulation for both wargaming and design development/experimentation.

Subsequent discussion explored issues of communication and information in games, the use of formal planning tools, and what to do about indecisive players.

After lunch it was time for the Connections Game Lab. Essentially, this consisted of a series of topical issues, questions, or design challenges which had been identified based on input before the conference. Each of these was assigned a table and facilitator where they could be discussed more fully. I led a session on gaming unpredictable adversaries (and allies), which touched on the sources of unpredictability (is the behaviour genuinely pathological and irrational, or does apparent unpredictability simply stem from inadequate information and models?), as well as why and how this might be embedded in a game design. My thoughts on the topic can be found in an earlier piece at The Strategy Bridge, as well as my presentation last year at Dstl.

I also attended a very useful session on wargaming mass atrocity, where we discussed how and why this might be undertaken. I mentioned the work that Kia and Keiko are doing on gaming the Darfur conflict, the purpose of which is to teach about the logic of mass atrocity as well as possible mechanisms for mitigation and prevention. A session later in the conference focused on wargaming and the analysis of human decision-making. Participants noted that not only can games be used to examine human factors and decision-making dynamics, but also that understanding (and manipulation of these through structure, information, and player engagement) is essential to good game design.

Back to panel presentations in the main auditorium, Hyong Lee (NDU) talked about “educating future cyber strategists through wargaming.” He talked about several different cyber games they have used at NDU and elsewhere. He identified several challenges: an excessive sponsor focus on technical solutions (when there may be useful no tech/low tech solutions); incorporating technology issues at a strategic level; gaming the non-technical effects of cyberattacks (political impact, etc.); and gaming the “shaping” (left-of-boom) phase of cyber.

Phillip Reiman (USAF) and Colby Sullins (USAF) discussed the training of attorneys in strategic decision-making through gaming. Rush to Judgment is a boardgame they developed to train Air Force lawyers on moving cases through to resolution using the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals. They found the game improved knowledge but also underscored to participants the challenges involved in dispute resolution.


Who knew that military contracting dispute resolution could be so fun?

Finally, Patrick Schoof (US Army National Simulation Centre) presented on “Battle for Atropia: Army Division Level Wargaming.” Battle for Atropia is a 45 minute-hex-based wargame inspired by Battle for Moscow. The design for this then sparked a request for an enlarged and revised version, Land Power, for classroom use. The game uses 6 hour turns, with command points limiting activity, and a card system for enablers and supports.

Asked what surprises they had encountered, panelists noted the importance of playtesting, and the surprising directions players sometimes take a game (especially in a matrix game). One audience question raised the issue of information flows in games. There was also discussion of assessing educational utility.

The evening was Connections game night, with an opportunity to play in a variety of games. I ran a game of Reckoning of Vultures, from the Matrix Game Construction Kit.

Thursday began with a panel on “perspectives and tools.” My presentation was the first up, on “In the Eye of the Beholder? Cognitive Challenges in Wargame Analysis” (slides), based on the DIRE STRAITS experiment at the Connections UK 2017 wargaming conference. In this, we asked three separate analytical teams to provide independent assessments of game methodology and findings. Their finds were quite divergent—suggesting that wargame analysis might depend as much on the analysts as the game. I went on to suggest ways of addressing this, including red teaming game analysis and attention to cognitive bias training.

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David Ross (US Air Force Research Lab) discussed the challenges of effectively integrating emerging technologies into wargames He noted that it is not enough to simply present the technology to participants—it helps to also highlight how it operates as a system, interacts with other systems, and to suggest some preliminary concept of employment.

Ben Connable (RAND) made an excellent presentation on “The Will to Fight: Adding Brutal Realism to the Military’s Games and Simulations.” The emphasis here was not on immersive realism, but rather the modelling of willpower, morale, and cohesion effects. He noted that commercial/hobby wargames generally do a much better job of representing morale effects on battle performance than military wargames, where this key psychological aspect is often completely ignored—resulting in units fighting to the death or failing to react to battlefield events or context. Together with colleagues at RAND, they are in the process of developing models that can represent willpower effects in both strategic and tactical/operational levels. He mentioned the Close Combat series of the digital games as one of their inspirations for their own modelling. In later comments I also pointed to This War of Mine as doing a superb job of representing morale and psychological factors, albeit in a game about civilian survival rather than war-fighting.

After the morning coffee break, attention turned to the importance of narrative in wargame. Anja van der Hulst (TNO) made a presentation on wargaming hybrid warfare, in which she warned about the excessive assumptions of rationality and strategic behavior in most games. Anja noted the importance of grievance in conflict and emphasized that this has an emotional as well as rational or material component. Emotional reactions tend to be less rational/strategic, and anger and humiliation can be a powerful driver of behavior. She discussed how she had explored such issues in a variety of game settings, including a modified version of the Baltic Challenge matrix game.

J. Furman Daniel III (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University) presented on “fiction as a wargame.” His research (with Paul Musgrave) found that fiction has measurable impact on policymakers and hence policy. He explained this, in part , with reference to Peter Perla and ED McGrady’s narrative-based argument on why wargaming works. He also suggested that fiction can help wargamers better design games that engage participants, and is a useful way of encouraging reflection and analysis.

John Derosa (George Mason) and Lauren Kinney (George Mason) explored narrative analysis of wargaming, based on an experiment that they conducted at the 83rdMORS Symposium, where they performed actant analysis of three parallel games of Drive on Metz. Their findings focused such issues as tactical vs strategic preoccupations, more active or passive approaches to the enemy, and differences in inter-group dynamics.

Last year, Connections presented its first lifetime achievement award to Peter Perla for his important contributions to the art of wargaming. This year, Connections founder Matt Caffrey was the well-deserved recipient of this honour, which came complete with a banana-trophy. (Last year, late arrival of the trophy had forced the organizers to present Peter with a banana instead).


Matt receives his award, with a picture of last year’s award ceremony in the background.

Working Group sessions followed next. I took part in the group on in-stride adjudication, defined as “adjudication performed simultaneously with play over a period of hours or days.”

It was quickly evident that experience with in-stride adjudication varied widely, in terms of resource availability, time and decision pressures, and (of course) game purposes.  In-stride adjudication is a key part of many of my own games, including the Brynania peace operations game as well as most megagames. Matrix gaming also involves another type of in-stride adjudication.

There were eight presentations, based on eleven short papers that had been written for the session before the conference. Among these was a very good presentation on “player perspectives” by Jason Li, developed from ideas discussed earlier in the year by members of the McGill student team.

My own written piece represented a few hastily-written reflections, but I departed from these in my verbal comments, and instead focused on the notion of adjudicators as both game technicians and theatre directors. In the former capacity they are responsible for making sure the game runs smoothly and stays on-course to achieve its objectives. In the latter capacity they are responsible for keeping the players engaged in the game narrative—maintaining the immersive illusion of a fictional or “what if” universe. It is important not to “break the fourth wall” by having players think more about adjudication than the emerging narrative and the embedded choices it presents.

This issue of directness (or indirectness), intensity, and social dynamics of interaction between players adjudicators—and the impact of these on trust, buy-in, and potential player alienation/grievance—emerged as a frequent theme during the subsequent discussions at my working group table.

The final day of the conference featured a terrific keynote address by Volke Ruhnke on “(War)gaming for complexity.” He started by noting the differences between complicated phenomenon and complex phenomenon. Warfare (and politics) falls into the latter category. Forecasting the latter is difficult because of systemic shocks and other non-linear effects. Model-building—purposeful (but inevitably imperfect) simplification—is essential to understanding and forecasting. If you construct a dynamic model, you can then see how the system might behave under differing circumstances.  Constructing a model also provides an opportunity to see what might be missing, and assists in moving from analysis to synthesis of many interacting parts.

Volko also discussed the impact of diversity (and the “wisdom of crowds”) on analysis. External model-building (and hence game design) provides a mechanism for explaining and synthesizing implicit mental models. He used the CIA training game Kingpin (a game about high value targeting) to show how a collaborative process of game design helped to identify gaps in, and facilitate refinement of, the underlying model. Modelling also forces you to make decisions about what is causally important.


Volko says many clever things about games and analytical modelling, with an image of the Kingpin game in the background.


He compared various modelling approaches (graphic, role-play, manual gaming, computational) across five criteria (ease of use, accessibility to the underlying model, dynamism, iteration, and granularity). Each approach has different strengths and weaknesses. Computational modelling , for example, is powerful, but it may be difficult to understand and assess the underlying (largely black-boxed) model.

For game designers, he emphasized the importance of keeping game designs simple, warned against falling in love (too quickly) with your game model, and you ought to be prepared to combine modelling media. For educators, he noted that it teaching systems thinking requires teaching models. Students, he noted, make great playtesters—and you should invite student critique. For analysts, you might want to pre-coordinate (and illustrate) your models. Feel free to tabletop it—it is a relatively cheap way to explore model. Everyone should consider their mix of both approaches and talent/participants (“diversity is your friend”).

In the subsequent Q&A period, Volke noted the value of teaching game-making. Building the game (even if you don’t get to running the game) can produce valuable insight into issues.

Working Group reports followed, for which I wrote down notes as quickly as I could:

  • The wargaming in education group offered a variety of insights:
    • Regarding cyber education, the group noted that cyber information is often (unnecessarily) classified or highly technical—both of which impede accessibility and hence broader education. While technical experts are best supported by existing resources, managers/policymakers and those working on general purpose games/scenarios are less well served.
    • Looking at wargaming with technology, it was noted that education “does not have deep pockets.” Transparency can be an issue in computer games. Web-based games have advantages in development and accessibility.
    • On the topic of gaming, education, and low-intensity conflict, it was noted that there are several interesting current games at NDU, NPS, and elsewhere. Several gaps and shortcomings were noted, including information operations, cultural misunderstanding, and the existence of ineffective games and exercises. Finally, the group asked how willing we are to game these issues (especially with political or cultural sensitivities). They noted that less structured games (like matrix games) may be especially useful for low-intensity and hybrid warfare topics.
    • The working group offered some thoughts on teaching game design. The noted the value of having students play a game (perhaps even a bad game) and suggest modifications, and generally encouraging critical game play. A “petting zoo” approach can be useful in quickly demonstrating different game mechanisms and approaches.
    • Finally, there was brief mention of CWAR—Collaboration for Wargames in Academics Research—a best practices and information sharing group for those within the Department of Defense and US government. The contact person for this is Scott Chambers (NDU).
  • The working group on linking game purpose to game design was based on PhD dissertation working currently being conducted by Ellie Bartels (RAND) on analytical and discovery games. She noted that attention tended to focus on the topic of a game and game design/format, but there was usually less attention to how to link these two. Her draft framework suggests that the information generated can be fitted into four general archetypes: understanding the problem; structured comparison; innovation; and evaluation. Each type, she suggested, are differentiated by several distinguishing characteristics. The working group tried applying her framework to hypothetical games, to assess its utility in aiding a designer. She noted the challenges posed by differing understanding of terminology (validity, verification, confidence, etc.) across the community.
  • The report from the working group on in-stride game adjudication summarized the process we had used, invited additional feedback on the papers, and encouraged the submission of post-conference reflections too. Revised papers and synthesized analysis from the working group session will be available online (via PAXsims) later in August. Watch this space for further details.
  • The working group on wargaming as a catalyst for innovation was the final one to report. It started by noting the erosion of America’s (military, economic, and technological) edge, and the dynamics of competitive innovation in warfare. This group also had several formal papers/presentations to spark discussion (eventually to be posted on the Connections website). Wargames can expose hidden assumptions and provide a forum for trying new ideas. Difficult gaming challenges may help to force innovation by players. They noted the need to make games flexible and user-friendly. There is a need to bring more cognitive diversity to bear on problems (“not just middle-aged white guys”). There is also a need for more rigour in some areas. More use might be made of alternative political futures. (There was a lot more here too, but I could only type so quickly as the brief-back slides flashed by!)

The final session was a conference hot-wash. Connections 2018 had been flawlessly organized, and there had been a great many very valuable presentations, so feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Some of the audience comments and suggestions included:

  • Game lab feedback and reflections are welcome and will be included in the online conference proceedings. I thought the small, participant-suggested, topic-oriented game lab sessions had worked very well.
  • More time for game demonstrations/play.
  • How best to engage students and early career professionals, especially outside the military?
  • Hosting a panel of wargame consumers/clients, to better understand their perspectives.
  • There is now a Connections US Facebook page.

Before the conference closed for a year, I also reminded everyone of the Connnections conferences to come over the next year:

Connections North will be held at McGill University in Montreal on 16 February 2019, so that everyone can enjoy our balmy winter weather.


“In-Stride Game Adjudication” Session at Connections US 2018

Invitation to participate as an expert panelist

Many multiplayer events require adjudication to be performed simultaneously with play over a period of hours or days. This session will focus on the unique challenges for success in such events. After a introduction of the topic, each participant will spend 10 minutes outlining a specific challenge/problem of their choice experienced in such events, offer approaches to how to solve these challenges and highlight the advantages/disadvantages of each approach based on logic and experience. Following the speakers we will engage in an open discussion between the speakers and the floor.

an-army-lines-up-for-battle-paul-noth.jpgEach participant will commit to providing a white paper (minimum three page text, not PowerPoint, but as long as you like) describing the challenges they are addressing, their proposed approach, the logic and experience that leads them to believe their approach might work, and the disadvantages of their approach BEFORE the conference. They may downselect to a specific challenge when speaking at the panel. They will also assist in producing the product from the session — a stand-alone report containing the panelists pre-delivered white papers, a bibliography on the topic, and notes generated from the session. Ownership and rights to sections of the product will belong to the relevent authors. Your white paper can be a previously published (relevent!) piece so long as you provide permission to include it in our report.

The objectives of the session are to start a research conversation on the topic, identify people working the topic, and create a written document for promulgation to the wargaming community.

Examples of topics could include the following when doing in-stride adjudication:

  • How to provide timely adjudication
  • Rigid versus Free adjudication
  • Inductive versus Deductive adjudication
  • Dealing with aberrant player behavior
  • Dealing with observed player agendas
  • Recovering from adjudication errors
  • Whatever else you can think of …

(1) If you are interested in being on the panel please email both of us as soon as possible along with a very brief outline of your paper and presentation for us to review.

(2) If you would like to submit a white paper for inclusion in the session report but do not want to speak, please send that to both of us.

(3) Everyone, please email both us us with your suggested items for a bibliography of the topic.

We have seats for 8 panelists.

Many thanks for your considerstion

Merle Robinson,

Stephen Downes-Martin,

Connections US 2017 Proceedings

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



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

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

Connections 1999: The long-lost AAR

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

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

Dancing With Mr. DoD

by Jack Radey


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


I Knew He’s Gonna Meet His Connection

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



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

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

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


So What In The World Is a Wargame, Anyway?

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



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

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

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

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


Playing in the Big Muddy

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

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


The Guys In The Military Shirts

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Getting Connected

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Total Confusion to Your Mind, Mind, Mind

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

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

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

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


Pushing the Envelope

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


The Dark Side of the Force

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

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

Yes, indeedy.

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

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

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


Bodies in the Sand

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

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

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

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

“No, you’re not, Jack,” said Frank.

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

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

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

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


All Work And No Play

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

A few hands went up.

“F-16? An F-18?”

A few more hands.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Different Type of Air Strike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Lord of the Dance

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

Ah, the truth, finally.

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

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

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

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

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

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


A General Farewell

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

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

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


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


Call for Papers: Connections 2018 wargaming conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connections 2017 AAR

By Major Tom Mouat (UK Army). All views expressed herein are personal ones.


This year saw a welcome return of the Connections wargaming conference to the US Marine Corps base at Quantico, Virginia. The event took place in the General Alfred M. Gray Marine Corps Research Center Conference Wing—really excellent facilities, and great on-base administration. The Connections website can be found here, and the 2017 programme is here.


Sadly, the restrictions and increased security, while less onerous than attempting to get to Maxwell Airforce Base last year, were still a significant hurdle preventing at least two European delegates from attending. Fortunately for me, the excellent support from the British Embassy and the admin staff at my home base meant the necessary paperwork was completed in time. I was also slightly alarmed to find that my NATO travel order was not sufficient alone to get me through US Customs any more, but I had to have a valid passport as well (last year I travelled without my passport because I packed my wife’s passport by mistake). Good to know in future.

I elected to travel over the weekend in order to make use of budget air fares and to recover a little from jetlag – but also to visit the simply excellent National Museum of the Marine Corps nearby. This is an extremely good museum, with free entry and is expanding every year.

This year’s theme at Connections was advancing wargaming and analysis as distinct yet complimentary tools.

Day 1

Following the usual admin and safety stuff, this started with a Wargaming 101 from Matt Caffrey. Every time Matt gives his “Wargaming 101” brief it is new and different, tailored to the conference theme and full of useful information, along with some of the old faithful points that are well worth repeating (such as: “Wargaming as a way of training allows people to practice their decision-making in a safe-to-fail environment, creating “Virtual Veterans” in their profession”).

This year took a slightly more focussed look at the analysis elements, covering Defence Secretary Robert McNamara’s drive for a “bigger bang for our buck”, General Wallace in Iraq and even President Ronald Regan’s admission that he found wargaming “useful”. He also mentioned an excellent quote that I shall steal and re-use: “Wargaming is like a powerful drug; used wisely it can do great good, but it can also do great harm”. He stressed the importance of using wargaming to communicate and clarify input on alternative resource allocations as well as a powerful tool for organisational development.

One of the most useful explanations for me, as a foreigner, was his simple explanation of the US Defence Planning Systems wargames. This helped clarify slides which I had seen in the past, but were simply covered with meaningless three and four-letter acronyms (JOPES? PPBS? JSPS?).


He also covered the wargaming cycle, but this time with an emphasis on the need for evidence and understanding of concepts with which to inform investment decisions for future investment. Finally, he covered the area of “confidence in wargames” and prediction. Wargames are seldom spot-on in their predictions, but if the wargame was properly designed they are mostly close enough to have practical utility– but badly designed games (such as where the sponsor has insisted they want a “wargame to prove I need more of a specific thing”); can generate wrong or misleading results. The principal elements that affect confidence in the outcomes are those games are dealing with “wicked problems”, as well as in the quality of planning leading up to a game and execution of the game itself.

Effective use of games can help us make more effective decisions, secure funds and better prepare today’s and tomorrow’s leaders.” Matt Caffrey 2017.

This was followed by two seminar sessions on one of three topics:

  • Wargaming in Professional Military Education Roundtable.
  • The Marine Corps Gazette Tactical Decision Games.
  • Confrontation Analysis.

Sadly, I was unable to attend the roundtable session as I was really interested in the other two sessions. The Marine Corps Tactical Decision Games have always fascinated me. I am also interested in the relatively new field of Confrontation Analysis, as I have attended a couple of games using this method.

Tactical Decision Games (TDGs) are tactical scenarios presented in text format with a map, presenting some background and a tactical dilemma/predicament. They are intended to allow users to practice decision-making and explore tactical principles. They were first included in Lt Col John F Schmidt’s “Enemy over the Bridge” scenario in the Marine Corps Gazette (April 1990), and have been included to a greater or lesser degree ever since.

The archive of TDGs are here,  but you need to be a member of the Marine Corps Association and Foundation ($35 pa) to read some of the older editions.

Colonel Chris Woodbridge (Ret), the current editor of the Gazette, explained that the TDG was in essence a “single turn wargame”. The intention of including these games in the Marine Corps Gazette was to cover a number of things:

  • What does “manoeuvre warfare” look like on the ground?
  • How do we teach it in a practical manner?
  • Cognitive skills.
  • Promote discussion of warfighting experience.
  • Practice decision-making under time pressure.

They work best under time constraints and in front of peers (with the worry about public embarrassment providing a real incentive). They also work best in force-on force scenarios rather than in the qualitative nuances of “people’s war”. He also mentioned a book (including many of the solutions to the problems) called Mastering Tactics published in 1994. There was a lot of interest in a book of these problems from those present, rather than using the website, and it is possible that additional volumes could be produced in the future. Additional plans include improving the user interface for those wishing to submit solutions (currently it has a PowerPoint file with tactical graphics in it as well as a “guidebook” with a summary of Battalion weapons, ORBAT and map graphics).

Some of these TDGs are a little difficult for the non-Marine to understand with their abbreviations and non-NATO symbology, but several of my friends have found it useful to have a selected few examples in their pockets for down-time on the range or while stuck in inevitable transport delays. They get people thinking, especially because they are deliberately dilemmas, rather than leading to an obvious solution, and so provoke debate.

Confrontation Analysis is an operational analysis technique used to structure, understand and think through multi-party interactions such as negotiations. It is the underpinning mathematical basis of drama theory.

As John Curry, editor of the History of Wargaming Project, explained the essence of the game is to identify dilemmas between the various actors in a confrontation and then propose alternative options to help explore ways to mitigate these dilemmas. The game evolves over time in a structured way with these additional options and stated positions of the parties.

There is a lot of material available on confrontation analysis, as a simple Google search will reveal – much of it dense and hideously complex. This Wikipedia article provides an overview.

The UK DSTL analyst, Mike Young, has been a leading proponent of confrontation analysis and has recently published The Confrontation Analysis Handbook: How to Resolve Confrontations by Eliminating Dilemmas. There is also a written submission to the UK Defence Committee available on “How to Understand, Plan, and Forecast Future Politics: Evidence to Support the use of Role Playing Workshops using Confrontation Analysis.

I have found that while this is a very useful technique, it has considerable cognitive barriers to initial understanding as part of a wargame. This hurdle was a real problem in the few games I was part of several years ago, and probably contributed to its remaining below the radar since then. This was swiftly identified by the audience and it was freely admitted by John that further work was needed in this area. The book publication is an attempt to make the game technique more accessible and the spreadsheet tool used is available for free download with it.

I don’t think John managed to make the explanation of the technique “clear and simple”, but he certainly managed to draw attention to what is potentially another tool in the Pol/Mil strategy toolkit. Personally, I feel that if you thought that matrix games need an experienced facilitator, confrontation analysis will probably need a real expert…

Following lunch, we travelled over to the Breckinridge Hall for some wargame demonstrations, poster sessions and facilitated events (although the only poster was one for the Matrix Game Construction Kit.

Wargame Demonstrations

I decided this year to take a different game design with me (as a change from taking a matrix game). The game was Bomber!, an educational game designed to promote discussion about military bombing, asymmetric warfare, political ideals, deception and ethical/humanitarian behaviour.

C2017bThe game was specifically designed for education and to promote discussion in the classroom and, while it was intended for use in the UK MOD Air Warfare Centre, it has had the most use at the Westminster University, Politics Department in central London.

The game ran very well with most of the discussion points coming out easily (and with such an audience I would expect that). The asymmetrical nature of the game was appreciated, although the “Advanced Western Side” caught on quickly about what was happening and managed to secure a rare victory in what was a deliberately imbalanced scenario.

The experience participants also came up with really useful additions to the game, which I have incorporated.

All the material for the game is available here.

There was a wide variety of games going on and nice to see Victory Games putting on a stand (and having a game about my favourite episode in history – the exploits of General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, the “Lion of Africa”, in German East Africa).

Of particular interest to me was a game put on by Maj Abe Goepfert from the US Army College Strategic Simulations Division, at Carlisle Barracks. This was a matrix game about the South China Sea. What was especially fascinating was that it had been developed quite independently from the game of the area that I had designed (the Nine Dash Line), and had removed much of the unnecessary additional features that I felt had marred an earlier game designed by the Army War College on the Baltic least year. The game was almost identical to my design (save for having a role for Indonesia, rather than Taiwan) despite being developed independently, which said to me that the matrix game system has matured to a point where it can be run without specialist prior experience. It was also successfully run with over 300 players in 23 simultaneous games!


My demonstration was over quite quickly and I was able to sit down with personnel from the National Guard Bureau, Joint Training and Exercise Division. This is an example of where attendance at conferences like Connections can be so valuable. They grilled me for well over an hour about my experiences of running and designing Matrix Games and I hope I was able to let them have some free “consultancy” about the subject (this being 50% of my role in the UK). I also got the chance to sketch out a design for Earthquake! A natural disaster matrix game that I hope to be able to share on PAXsims at a later date.

Day 2

Day 2 kicked off with a short presentation by Bill Lademan about the future plans for the MSMC Wargaming Division. He was concerned about the apparent divide between OA and Wargaming (hence this year’s theme) and wanted to outline plans for the new Wargaming Centre and the home of the Marine Corps. This was to be a $150-170M investment, but there was some considerable work to be done in planning to ensure that they get exactly what they want.

The purpose of the Wargaming Centre is to:

  • Carry out wargaming at Secret and above.
  • Inform budget decisions.
  • Ensure interoperability.
  • Help with the demand signal for wargaming.
  • Help the next generation of innovation.

The development certainly looks exciting and I was particularly interested in an effort to add support tools for what is essentially a manual process. There would be electronic and computerised support – but the wargames themselves would be very much human-centred and involve open “white box” processes. This was levied with a concern about technology overload and they plan a 3-year series of experiments before they actually start building anything.

Keynote Address – Peter Perla

This keynote was billed as Peter’s retirement address as, while he still wishes to remain engaged with wargaming, Peter is finally retiring (again) from his day job. Before Peter was allowed to step up to the podium, however, he was presented with a “Lifetime Achievement Award”, which turned out to be a banana (with much mirth and hilarity) since the trophy had yet to arrive. (The banana was replaced later in the conference with the formal trophy, a large chess piece – a Knight – mounted on a plinth). This was closely followed be a surprise video message from the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John M Richardson, thanking Peter for his service and contribution.

Peter’s address covered a wide range of topics taking as its theme a conversation with John Curry about “magic predictive wargames” as well as the Conference theme about Wargaming and analysis. He started with an early conversation he had with Trevor Dupuy about the usefulness of wargaming for prediction, where Dupuy point out that “if wargaming was useless for prediction, what was the point of doing it?”

This led to quoting Barney Ruble of NWC’s Center for Naval Warfare Studies that Wargames are indicative and that they “speak to us in whispers about potentials” and, of course, Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book on Black Swans. What do we mean by prediction? How can anything be incapable of prediction? Ed McGrady’s point about the differences between “precision” (meaning consistency) and “accuracy” (meaning how close to being right) was also mentioned because games tend to be more accurate than precise…

coinAnother point, well made, was the consideration of the “sample” space being examined, such as taking the toss of a coin. You might be tempted to think there were only two alternatives, heads or tails, with a 50% chance of each; but in fact, there is about a 1 in 6000 chance of it landing on its edge.  (and with the new chunky British £1 coin a much larger chance I would imagine).

Game do not predict the future, humans do and, as Roger Mason is credited with saying “They narrow the set of possible futures and the value is narrowing that set of possible outcomes.”

Peter’s presentation (here) was excellent—any presentation with pictures of the PAXsims team in it gets my vote—and I look forward to seeing the slides (and stealing many of them) in due course!

This was followed by the Defence Wargaming Panel, with Drs Ed McGrady, Jon Compton, and Margaret McCown. This panel was also very good, avoiding the expected wiring diagrams and organisational backgrounds, and instead covering useful things like the games used for many purposes within the Defense Community. Of special note was the Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) Strategic Analysis and Gaming Division (also known as the “Buck Rogers Committee”), where gaming had to have defendable results. This usually means that they are always well researched and result in a series of games (usually 8) in order to generate robust results (but take a long time and are expensive).

Ed McGrady made some very good points about the need to build a community of Wargaming to get better results for the future. The danger of a lack of consistency and skill, and the particular danger of hiring retired senior officers with an axe to grind. He also highlighted the problems with a fascination with technology, and pointed out that a good story is the best and most powerful tool.

Next up was the Game Lab with three possible options:

  • Introduction to Wargaming with Joe Saur
  • Advanced Naval Wargame Design with Paul Vebber.
  • “Gamers’ Circle” (similar to a “Writers’ Circle”) Wargame Design Workshop.

I elected to go to the “Gamers’ Circle” as I wanted to be able to get a look at a number of different ideas, despite my interest in both of the other topics. In this session, we took a look at games to examine Artificial Intelligence with Dr Yuna Wong, a policy researcher at RAND and professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. Following the inevitable discussion as to the real nature of what we mean by AI (e.g. “actual AI” involving some form of emergent neural networks as opposed to merely complex “If, Then, Else” process systems) and a nice set of comments on the ethics of having useful “Bright Slave” computers and opposed highly dangerous “Moriarty Class” AIs; we set to generating a list of possible uses of AIs for Defence purposes.

Yuna wanted to follow a proper methodology to examine the problem, but time was against us, so we forged ahead as best we could under her guidance and came up with the items below:


This discussion really did demonstrate the value of a diverse set of participants (including civilians) as there was clear evidence of “group think” from the military taking part. The idea of internet based-AI and “AI in a box” that you take to a problem to plug it in for analysis purposes (such as a city power grid) was something very different to the sort of discussions I have been involved with in the past.

I really liked the idea of “Route Proving AI” – mixing driverless cars with the Husky vehicle mounted mine detection system.

With the help of others, I was able to come up with a “one-shot” (non-repeatable to the same audience) game that could be useful in the classroom for discussing AI and Cyber-related topics. I also hope to be able to share this with PAXsims shortly.

This was followed by the Commercial Wargaming Panel, with Dr Web Ewell, Dr Chris Cummins, Uwe Eickert and Dr James Sterrett. Commercial wargames can be seen as “part-task trainers for professional wargames” and I also enjoyed this panel (although, again, I did not expect to) with insights into morale coming from the miniatures community, and call to arms from Uwe for simple, approachable rules (with no “rule exceptions”), engaging mechanics, with little or no “waiting time”; and attractive, easy to handle, components. With regard to the use of computer games for Defense, there was the admission that 90% were crap and of the 10%, 90% of those had nothing readily relevant for defense.

Games mentioned of note were: Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! (board game), Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater (board game) and Burden of Command (tactical leadership PC game).

This was followed by Wargame Playtesting (and pizza!) in Breckenridge Hall.

Day 3

This started with the International Panel with Scott Chambers, Hans Steensma, John Curry, Dr Hiro Akutsu and myself. John Curry gave a very good presentation, living up to his admission to being controversial (there was much I agreed with and much I didn’t – but it was good to provoke debate), Dr Akutsu gave a presentation about the high level games (definitely not using the word “war”) taking place in Japan. He also gave the best (and most succinct) answer to a leading question about “Whether Japan is gaming the possible options with relation to the leadership or military organisation of the Democratic People Republic of Korea”:  “Yes”.

This was followed by Dr Norman Friedman presenting on the US Navy Wargaming in the Inter-War Period. This was a fascinating presentation which highlighted the difficulties with academic understanding of wargaming, where games were themselves very difficult to preserve, as opposed to papers which were easy; giving rise to a dearth of actual Wargaming material, submerged in a sea of paper articles. He pointed out the importance of Newport being a “safe to fail” environment with “Chatham House rules” and effective security. This was an organisation where the teaching was conducted with everyone together (the instructors were mainly the same rank as the students), teaching them how to think against opposition and the students themselves were researchers into the problems being studied.

Some failures were highlighted, such as the understand of the role of fanatical bravery (Kamikaze), political factors largely left out and important economic factors being ignored. There were particular successes, such as the experiments to increase existing carrier capacity, carriers designed to be repaired, circular cruiser formations, the pipeline for replacement pilot training as well as the need for amphibious and ASW capabilities.

Next was a talk from Matt Caffrey on Wargaming Impacts.  His central theme was the question of whether wargaming provides an “edge” in warfighting. He illustrated his talk with comments on the Wars of German Unification, better quality wargaming and in greater depth, after WW1 and the decrease in Wargaming following WW2. His talk was illustrated with a number of good anecdotes, but I fear this was not the compelling evidence needed for the operational analysts in the audience.

We then had Keynote 2 with Dr John Hanley on the topic of Advancing Wargaming and Analysis as Distinct yet Complimentary Tools. This was an interesting talk, if a little hard to follow at times. I liked the thought process that took the number of possible states available to a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors (236) and worked out that in a force on force engagement using a computer the size of the Universe and computing for the length of time since the Big Bang, it would only be possible to fully analyse the totality of 12 participants. The conclusion being that there is no analytic way to calculate all possible alternatives to a problem, so wargaming is needed.


This was then followed by three Working Groups:

  • Wargaming and Analysis with Yuna Wong and Bill Lademan.
  • Wargaming for an Innovation Edge with Matt Caffrey and Tim Moench.
  • Educating Wargamers with James Sterrett, Joe Saur and Tim Wilkie.

I elected to go to the Educating Wargamers session as it was squarely in my area of interest. It turned out to include Wargames for Education as well, which made the session even better. It was conducted with a number of practiced staff presenting their experiences and advice on the subject before a general discussion.

This was one of the best sessions for me, so engaging that I forgot to take notes most of the time. There were some general guidelines, however, that came out:

  • Boardgame Geek (BGG) is your friend.
  • Don’t use a game with a BGG rating of less than 7, unless you wrote it.
  • End the game before someone wins (avoiding the “I lost therefore the game is crap” reaction).
  • Make sure the game is really simple.
  • Make sure you can run the game in the time (half the time for the game, the rest for the discussion).
  • You can use a YouTube training video as homework the night before – but be careful!
  • We need a “Wargaming for Dummies” instruction guide spelling out how to do it.

The result was that all present wanted to get a “bibliography” of commercial games for education. I volunteered to put such a thing together and publish the list, along with PAXSims, so expect a questionnaire in your inbox at a later date.

Day 4

The final day saw reports on the Working Groups.

Wargaming and Analysis divided into 6 sub-groups:

  • Concerns about Battle Damage fixation and no real focus on plan analysis.
  • Attempts to do more analysis with fewer resources.
  • Connecting the beginning and end states with a coherent narrative.
  • Analysis baked into the entire process.
  • Quantification of morale and competence.
  • synchronizing requirements between various organisations in the acquisition process.

There was a general understanding that analysis is integral and essential to the process, but not easy to achieve and especially difficult in games that focus on “soft” issues. There was a recognition that there was a tendency to measure what is easy to measure, with scant regard to the overall importance.

The Wargaming for an Innovation Edge session concluded that wargaming was good for innovation and, while not every problem is solvable, wargaming can be used to help provide mitigation. “Wargames are a wind-tunnel for innovation” (can you tell the Air Force was involved?).

This was followed by the Synthesis Group with the task of providing a summary report for the sponsors. This was run by the inimitable Dr Stephen “I may be an asshole, but that doesn’t make me wrong” Downes-Martin in his usual arresting style. If you don’t pass your slide packs to Tim Wilkie as soon as possible, you will be in trouble…

We then had Closing Remarks and the Hot Wash.

The Connection 2017 is due to take place on or about 17 to 20 July 2018 at the National Defense University in Washington. This will be a problem for foreigners like me, as currently special access clearance is required to enter the facility, and obtaining authority to travel to Washington is always an issue due to the expense of accommodation and the perception of a conference taking place in the US Capital.

Overall this year’s Connections was the best yet for me. Quantico is easy to get to, yet far enough away from the capital to make the business case easy. The facilities are excellent and the Marine Corps ethos is similar to the UK military, so I feel right at home.

There were hardly any “eyesight tests by organisational wiring diagrams”, few impenetrable slides full of US defense-specific abbreviations and no propaganda presentations about what particular organisations are doing or planning to do in the future. It was squarely on-message and, noting the comments I made last year about the scale and narrow specialisation of some areas of US wargaming needing repeated visits to make sense of it all, this was the first Connections that I would whole-heartedly recommend to a first-timer.

It still has a little “folksy charm” where the programme doesn’t quite spell out what is happening in the evenings where the more reticent participant might get left behind and miss out, but overall it was the best Connections yet!

Tom Mouat


Connections (US) 2017


Matt Caffrey and Tim Wilkie have sent around the following announcement regarding the forthcoming Connections (US) interdisciplinary wargaming conference:


Please save 1-4 August to participate in Connections US 2017, at Quantico Marine Corps Base (MCB), VA.  Please ensure your boss and colleagues who cannot participate in person reserve the morning of Friday, 4 August to connect to our out brief.

Connections is a free, annual, interdisciplinary, wargame conference.  Connections purpose is to bring together practitioners of wargaming from the military, government, defense industry, commercial, and academic communities to advance and sustain the art, science, and application of wargaming.  Each year it is hosted by a different DoD organizations, such as Air University and the National Defense University.  This year’s Connections will be hosted by the Marine Corp Combat Development Center.  Our theme for 2017 is advancing wargaming and analysis as distinct yet complimentary tools.

Day 0 of Connections (Tuesday, 1 August) will include a spectrum of seminars on the morning, with some appropriate to those new to the field and others of value to masters of the craft.  In the afternoon there will be large wargames allowing all to apply what they learned in the morning.

Day 1 will include our keynote speaker, speaker panels on each wargaming community (defense, commercial and academic) and will conclude with a set of Game Labs, again with options appropriate to every experience level.

Day 2 will include a panel on emerging wargame applications and three working groups on; wargaming and analysis, wargame education and wargaming and innovation.

Day 3 will consist of out briefs on the findings of the entire conference.  Remote participation is encouraged.

Again, mark 1-4 August on your calendar and plan to join us at Connections US.

For more information contact us or simply go to our web site at

See you at Connections,

Matt Caffrey
Tim Wilkie

Connections US 2017


Connections 2016 conference report

The following report on the recent Connections (US) interdisciplinary wargaming conference was provided by Major Tom Mouat (UK Army). All views expressed herein are personal ones.



In a moment of madness, I agreed with Rex Brynen that I would attempt to put together a report on Connections 2016 for PAXsims – and this is my attempt at such a report. It is important to warn you that Rex normally types on this laptop during the proceedings at a conference and is thus able to provide a contemporaneous report of what occurred. This was simply not possible for me; firstly, because I lack the expertise (I need to think about stuff for a lot longer than he does and I type really slowly) and secondly, because the conference took place in the excellent facilities of the Lemay Centre Wargaming Institute at Maxwell Airforce Base (which is a secure location – so no laptops, phones, etc).

This was unfortunate, as getting clearance to get on base was a significant hurdle to overcome and that, along with the added travel burden of not being on a non-stop flight location, made attendance much more difficult. If it wasn’t for the significant support from the on-site organiser, I wouldn’t have made it (but I believe I was the only “foreigner”). American Airlines didn’t help (missing my flight connections on the way in and making my return journey a 26hr marathon on the way back), but the Delta Airlines computer glitch messed up a lot of other people’s plans as well.

The conference programme is here  and the presentations should also be posted on the Connections website shortly.

Day 1

The initial session was a SECRET NOFORN (No Foreigners) brief, so I headed off with Matt Caffrey for an Introduction to Wargaming brief instead. Since the audience consisted of vastly experienced civilian wargamers and me, it turned into a feedback and support session on Matt’s briefing slides and a very pleasant chat about the best way to get the message about the importance of wargaming to an unfamiliar audience.

A number of useful things came out of this for me, one of which was the concept of tailoring Red force play in a wargame depending on the objectives of the event (What do you want Red to do? What should Red do for best value?)


Next up was Cdr Phil Pournelle with a presentation on Improving Wargaming in the DOD. I have heard several elements of his presentation before, but his arguments (and slides) are developing in a way that is very useful in helping to explain the subject and issues to an often sceptical audience. I would definitely recommend taking a look at his slide pack when it is posted on-line.

The vexed question of the actual definition of a wargame came up again and Phil had bullied Peter Perla into providing another definition (a variant on his previous one) with phrases like “a dynamic representation of conflict”, “people”, “decisions” and “consequences”. The issue of having an agreed definition of wargaming (or even general agreement on whether it should be spelled “war gaming” or “wargaming”) was mentioned several times. The concern was that the field is so broad that an all-encompassing definition is so bland as to be useless, and a more precise definition always excludes some segment of the discipline. This, in turn, leads the practitioners (who are all protective of their particular sub-discipline) to meddle and nit-pick with the definition to no useful purpose.

My personal view is that this a complete waste of time and effort. It doesn’t matter what the definition is – what matters is what wargaming does and why you would want to do it. We should therefore agree on a bland all-encompassing definition (to satisfy those who say we need one), but add “with the aim of” and then individual departments are free to mess with their personal aims to their heart’s content – and we can then all get on with some productive work.

I really don’t care what the definition is – but it isn’t a Wargame unless Blue can fail. J

This was followed by Dr Shawn Burns presenting on the Game Project Management Process. This was given from the perspective of the US DOD, whose scale and reach is orders of magnitude larger than most other countries wargaming efforts, but nevertheless the basics are applicable to all projects. The project management flow of: Task – Design – Development – Testing – Rehearsal – Execution – Analysis – Archive was clear and sensible, but his insight into the concept of Jidoka (taken from the Toyota production system) and the “5 Whys” was of particular interest.

The overall concept is summarised here, but the “5 Whys” process is simply the iterative process of asking “why” until the root cause of a problem is discovered. Shawn’s view (and I wholeheartedly support it) was that you should do the same with your Wargame Sponsor to work out what the sponsor really wants to achieve (which may be completely different to what you thought it was—or even from what he thought it was!).

The presentation on the OSD Wargaming Initiative was fascinating insight into how the Wargaming Repository project (a result of the DEPSECDEF memo) and US DOD process management was progressing. What was clear is that significant funding has been made available for wargaming initiatives (significant at least for the rest of us – they might seem small as DOD projects go), and the risk that things that weren’t really wargames would be classed as such in order to get money. There was a responsibility for those involved in wargaming to use the repository and to ensure that they get their messaging right to compensate for this.

There then followed Service briefs for the different environments which, while I was able to recognise more words after attending several Connections conferences, the majority of it went straight over my head. I can only presume that it served the vital function of maintaining “situational awareness” among the other Service branches – but from my outsider’s view it appeared to me that many of the challenges faced were very similar and that the USMC had the most coherent plan (and funding) for dealing with them. Time will tell if this is the case.

There seemed to me to be quite a lot on explaining procedural issues within the US DOD, fostering connections (!) and explaining structures and rather less on sharing best practice – but it takes a brave person to say something is “best practice” in front of this audience.

Cdr Chris Baker’s presentation on Stakeholder Management was good and matched my experiences in the UK Defence Procurement organisation. Far too many people in management positions seem to expect stakeholders merely to be asked their opinion (irrespective of whether they have any qualifications or formal training in the subject) (as opposed to just being appointed to their position) as if by aggregating these views together wisdom or innovation will magically appear. Leadership is required, as typified by the quote from Dr James Brown “Stakeholders expect you to lead… manage expectations… even if they are more powerful than you are”; if time is not to be wasted repeating work already done, or money wasted on “shiny toys” that don’t contribute to the outcomes we need.


As always Dr Stephen Downes-Martin’s talk on Wargaming Pathologies was really excellent – brutal and uncompromising in shining a light on why things go bad, but offering clear advice on what can be done. None of the advice was easy or trivial: You need deep knowledge and competence in your subject, Suitably Qualified and Experienced Personnel (SQEP), objective analysis of what we are trying to achieve and the results we gained, and above all, morale courage to ensure that we do the right thing. Too many wargames are compromised by a lack of professional ethics, competence and courage in the face of your Boss, the Sponsor and Senior Players.

We also had Lt Gen Steven L Kwast, Commander Air University, provide a particularly rousing keynote address. There might have been some criticism that his words might be somewhat lacking in practical results, but the very fact that a 3-Star Officer was taking the time to address the conference and say the right things, shows he is aware of the issues and understands the desired direction of travel. I especially liked his comments on “smart risk” and his use of the language of insurgency in order to get the message through to younger personnel. He mentioned the book Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace by Gordon MacKenzie as an example of overcoming the tangled mess of corporate rules, systems, procedures and red tape, which has had very good reviews (including by Sally Jewell the US Secretary of the Interior): .

We then had explanations about various working groups and game labs. I elected to get involved in Matt Caffery’s group on “Growing Tomorrows’ Innovators” and did a demonstration session of a Cyber Matrix Game (a simplified version is available here:!ArdcexVTLJ4Pgdle6885ZelqslZHiw).

This was followed by some extremely useful discussions in the evening at the icebreaker no-host event.


Day 2

This started with Dr Burns’ presentation on Cyber Wargaming which we missed the preceding day. This was very useful – particularly for me as at the Defence Academy of the UK, the Simulation, Modelling and Wargaming department works to the Cyber and Information Management department and we run a cyber wargame as part of the Cyber Operational Awareness Course.

A number of helpful points were raised, based on Prof Stephanie Helm’s work looking into Cyber Considerations for Wargaming:

  • What is “Cyber”? How do you define “Cyber”? (How do you define Wargaming?)
  • The relationship between Cyber and Electronic Warfare (EW) or Information Operations (IO).
  • Operational factors such as Time, Space and levels of Force.
  • What does a Cyber Common Operational Picture (COP) look like?
  • What is Offensive Cyber?
  • What is Defensive Cyber?

From this fall out important questions that need to be addressed when designing a wargame that incorporates Cyber elements. Where does Cyber fit at the strategic level? How does it fit into the game objectives? Are the issues relevant to the decisions being made? Who is the bad guy?

We then covered the vexed problem of classification. Many aspects of operational Cyber capabilities are very highly classified; not just the ways and means, but the organisations and their relationships. This severely restricts the ability to wargame (or even discuss) the issues to gain the insights so badly needed. Is it possible to separate out the classified “actors, ways and means” from the unclassified and generalised “effects”?

This was a very helpful, and I shall be briefing this presentation specifically back to my department when the slides become available.

We were then privileged to have Brig Gen Brian M. Killough, Director of Strategy, Concepts and Assessments, Dep Chief of Staff for Strategic Plans and Requirements, HQ USAF give us a presentation on the Wargaming Enterprise.

General Killough, like General Kwast, inevitably demonstrated the General officer’s ability to start things off with a politically correct joke, but struck me as having a more grounded and realistic view of wargaming (warts and all) than the relentlessly upbeat talk from General Kwast. He also provided the first easy to understand view of what the 3rd Offset Strategy actually was.

I especially liked his points about including some of the weird stuff (avoiding predictable incrementalism) and the dangers of making wargames too big (because you simply don’t learn anything new). He was challenged on some points (after all he is “only a One-Star”), but I felt he gave frank and honest responses about the difficulties to be faced in the current fiscal environment. “Show me your cheque-book and I’ll show you what is important to you.”

Wargaming is not a science but I believe that several of our senior leadership understand the value of it – but equally they realise that it is an art form, so it can’t be mandated. It also is really hard to quantify, consequently they will have extreme challenges in funding and priorities, so I suspect that the best we can really hope for is encouragement and support. As Cdr Phil Pournelle said “we really ought to be able to game the system to get what we want – if we really call ourselves wargamers…”.

This was followed by an absolutely fascinating presentation by Robert Mosher entitled “Observations from a Role Player”, giving really grounded and sensible advice on the role of role-players, their functions, how to manage and prepare them properly and some top tips, such as:

  • Don’t fight the White (the exercise scenario). (Nit picking the scenario won’t help at this stage).
  • Understand the role/training objectives. (Not all roles are created equal and you have a function to do).
  • Ask questions early. (Don’t make too many assumptions)
  • Draw on your real world experience (in context).
  • Remember you are in Atropia now! (read your brief and don’t assume it’s just like Kansas…).
  • Be there for real-world mentoring. (Experience in these roles is transferable).

He was able to draw on his great depth of experience to illustrate his points with practical examples. His brief exactly matched my experience in that having role-play and experience role-players is incredibly valuable – especially in the situations the military find themselves in today’s operations (and his experience is pretty much second to none!).

During the preparations for the NATO deployment to Bosnia in 1994 some of the most valuable lessons (such as the need for a Political Advisor to the Commander and the need for a “Joint Military Commission” to handle all communication and dealing with the factions) came directly out of role-play sessions in the work-up training exercises and had not been foreseen beforehand.

Following the Working Groups initial discussions and lunch (I have to point out here that the fresh fruit and endless coffee / iced water were are real boon and very much appreciated) we went into speaker panels.

Panel One was Chaired by Dr Downes-Martin and looked at ideas and techniques explicitly intended to test to destruction proposed “innovative wargaming concepts”, which featured Dr. Hank Brightman (Naval War College) “Employing Qualitative Methods in the Destructive Testing of War Game Designs”; Dr. Jonathan Lockwood (Lockwood Research Associates, LLC) “Strategic Free Play Wargaming as the Optimum Approach for Testing New Concepts” and Dr. Yuna Wong (RAND) “Did Your Concept or Your Wargame Fail?”.

C2016-4There were a lot of good ideas and concept in these presentations. I was struck by the idea (that matched several speaker’s comments) that before you embark on a quantitative model, you really need to explain and demonstrate a qualitative model to start with – because if you can’t then it is highly likely that your quantitative model has shaky foundations. Dr Wong, as usual was compelling in her presentation – if we pretend to be scientists or engineers, we should try to employ the scientific method, Discover, Demonstrate, Support, Refute, Replicate and examine our validity criteria: Construct validity, internal validity and external validity. Do wargames generate innovation? Or is it that innovative organisations use wargames? Is wargaming an indicator of an innovative organisation rather than a generator of innovation itself?

The second panel, to Explore the effectiveness and feasibility of options to facilitate the development of innovators, was Chaired by Matt Caffrey with Major Eric Frahm, LCWI, Back to the Future: Revisiting Small-Scale Wargames and the Integration of M&S into Wargame Design; Dr. Mel Deaile, Center for Unconventional Weapons Studies, The Risk of Wargaming and Joseph M. Saur, MS/CS, CMSP, Principal Lecturer in Cybersecurity, Regent University, “Teaching Wargaming at Marine Corps University: Lessons Learned”.

This panel was right on the money for me with discussions on the scale of wargames (we don’t need big games to be effective), the dangers of “Gamer Mode” (See Anders Frank’s doctoral thesis on the subject) and the often dreadfully biased assumptions made by many involved.

In the evening I was able to demonstrate the Sandhurst Kriegsspiel, used in teaching cadets at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (available here).

Day 3

On Day 3 we were privileged to have a presentation by Colonel John Warden (ret.) (the man responsible for starting the whole Connections conference off in the first place). He spoke without notes and laid out his vision of low cost, small footprint, short war interventions.

This was followed by the third speaker panel, Wargaming and Organizational Change, with the objective to explore ways to implement the appropriate application of wargaming. The Chair was Paul Vebber with Dr. John Tiller, John Tiller Software, Strategies for Organizational Change, A Practical Approach; Michael K. Robel, Principle Senior System Engineer, General Dynamics Information Technology, Innovations in Outcome Based Training for Seminar Wargames; and Dr. Thomas Choinski, Deputy Director for Undersea Warfare, Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Macro Perspectives on Wargame Culture and Innovation.

There were some interesting ideas, particularly on Action Theory with regards to wargaming and innovation, taking an artefact, the system of manufacture, the technique and then the system of use; translating to Science and Engineering, Acquisition, and Doctrine, to the Warfighter. When considering computer simulation, Cdr Pournelle made the observation that if we are after innovation in ends, ways, means and methods, then using a simulation, by definition, handicaps your chances as it can only do what has been programmed into it – it is simply impossible to do something new (except in the most trivial of ways). It was interesting, however, to see direct parallels when considering the success factors in computer wargame design with manual wargame designs, in that it is important it looks good, it has a serious purpose, it is easy to get started with, it is engaging to play, it is easy to modify and it needs an advocate to provide “top cover”.

I then outlined the recent advances in Wargaming in the UK which were guardedly promising but still hampered by a lack of doctrine and the Connections UK Conference taking place on 06 to 08 September 2016 (see here for details).

Further sessions of the game labs were then continued. I volunteered to run a session in which we designed and ran a Matrix Game from scratch. I am extremely grateful to my willing bunch of volunteers for jumping in so whole-heartedly and putting up with my adjudication. We managed to do a run through of a scenario set in a Mega-City in Africa to a suitable finishing point within about 2 hours and then spent some time discussing Matrix Games. I have typed up a copy of the game (with a few changes) here.


This was most useful and, in keeping with Prof Downes-Martin’s exhortation to be intellectually honest, led to the production of a short SWOT analysis of Matrix Games.


Day 4

Day 4 was really briefing back the results of the Game Labs and the Working Groups. The brief from Matt Caffery’s Working Group on “Growing Tomorrow’s Wargame Innovators” almost exactly matched the conclusion that we had come to in the UK. There is a need for a graduated set of training courses following the Awareness – Practitioner – Expert model of training, with some form of short “Master Class” for senior officers. Our proposal is to have the Awareness Training available on-line (and this is in-hand), with the rest a mix of classroom sessions and distance learning. A Training Needs Analysis is currently underway and a business case will follow early next year.

The brief from Paul Vebber about designing an educational game, for non-military, non-wargamers to do with Naval Warfare in a complex environment, was very interesting. Called “Waves of Destiny” (and winning from the title alone!) it was intended as a very simple game to educate people about capabilities. I hope to be following this up later and look forward to playtesting the results.

Essentially there was a realisation that we need simple, accessible tools in order to train and educate people about understanding capability, learning to think against real opposition and also becoming “intimately or at least casually acquainted with a number of people that they might have occasion to work with or rely on in the future” (as Tom Shelling once noted).

The hot wash-up followed. This year’s attendance was lower than previously, mainly due to the location, but hopefully this will be fixed by returning to Quanitco and the Marine Corps next year. There were suggestions that we should put out a “Call for Papers”, deliberately invite or have a working group specifically for “under 35s”, and also invite the contributing authors to Zones of Control to participate.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a few quotes that I wrote in my notebook:

  • “Wargaming is a motivator to action not a quantifier of effect”.
  • “Wargaming should fix stupid”.
  • “We should play “The Game of Games” and work out how to get wargaming used more”.
  • “Games having analytically quantifiable results is necessary, but not sufficient”.
  • “The danger is that Wargaming can be taken too seriously, or not seriously enough”.
  • “Show me your chequebook and I’ll show you what is important to you”.

I was asked by a friend whether it was worth it for him to attend Connections after I returned to the UK. I was a little surprised at how difficult it was to answer the question. The problem is the sense of scale and range of professional wargaming in the USA – it is so large an enterprise and so full of specialisation that it can be difficult to find comparative value with the much smaller scale work carried out in Europe. Some of the presentations are only of interest (or be the least bit understandable) for the US DOD participants (but this is entirely fair). It also has somewhat of a “folksy charm” that might infuriate some people when everyone disperses at the end of the day to participate in game sessions in various rooms without some formal notice. The experienced attendee knows when to interrupt to announce a session and how to ferret out those individuals they want to speak with after the formal work is over. This might leave the first timer adrift and feeling left out. I found it to be full of ideas and moments of inspiration that make such an event essential to my professional development, but I think that much of the value is only gained by regular attendance – so I intend to be back next year!

Connections (US) conference registration deadline fast approaching!

Stephen Downes-Martin has asked us to post the following reminder about the registration deadline for the forthcoming Connections (US) interdisciplinary wargaming conference:
This year we have an exceptionally strong program.
The registration deadline—July 22—for the annual Connections US Wargaming Conference (9-12 August, Maxwell AFB AL) is fast approaching. Make sure you register soon in order to obtain automatic billeting on Maxwell Air Force Base! Go to and fill out the form!  We cannot guarantee getting your name to the base entry control points, so you could experience long delays the first day if you do not register by the deadline.
If you are a non-US participant see the GATE ENTRY INFORMATION section of the Registration Form.
If you have difficulty accessing the Connections US Website or if your work IT policy forbids you to connect to Google and Google docs (used by the Connections website) then please register from your home computer and account.
Our host facility, the LeMay Center Wargaming Institute, is within easy walking distance of our billets.  If you are flying into Montgomery (as opposed to flying into Atlanta or Birmingham and renting a car), you may wish to rent a cab to reach the base rather than pay for a rental car for several days.
Finally please distribute this message to any of your colleagues who might be interested but are not members of this site. Thanks!

Connections 2016 registration now open

Registration for the Connections 2016 interdisciplinary wargaming conference is now open!

Connections2016.jpgThe conference will be held August 9-12 at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, AL, hosted by the United States Air Force LeMay Center Wargaming Institute.  This year’s theme is: “Advancing Wargaming as a Catalyst for Innovation.”

The Connections interdisciplinary wargaming conference is an annual event which is held each summer to bring together practitioners from every segment of the wargaming community to share with and learn from one another.  Keynotes, speaker panels, game demos, working groups, and a workshop component called the Game Lab will provide a wide-ranging experience for Connections attendees.

More information, including the current draft of the agenda, is available at the Connections website.  If you are interested in presenting at Connections, or displaying a poster or running a game demonstration, the registration page on the website also has a link to a Call for Papers, Posters, and Demos.

Call for Panelists: Connections wargaming conference panel on “Wargaming: A Crucible for Concepts”

PAXsims is happy to post this announcement on behalf of Stephen Downes-Martin regarding the forthcoming Connections 2016 interdisciplinary wargaming conference.

This year’s annual  “Connections US” wargaming conference will be held 9-12 August 2016 at Maxwell AFB, AL. Given the Secretary of Defense-level interest at achieving a 3rd Offset Strategy through innovation and the Deputy Secretary of Defense’s personal involvement in catalyzing innovation through reinvigorated wargaming, this year’s Connections will likely be one of our most important. The Connections 2016 theme is advancing Wargaming As A Catalyst For Innovation.

For conference details see the webpage at:

The theme of Panel 1 at this year’s conference is: “Wargaming: A Crucible for Concepts”, and the objective is: “Discuss wargaming techniques that explicitly test to destruction proposed innovative warfighting concepts in order to identify those worth pursuing.”

We invite you to submit a title and abstract to be a panelist on Panel 1 at Connections US 2016!

There will be three panelists, each will speak for twenty minutes, followed by a 30 minute discussion during which the panelists will challenge their own and other panelists ideas in a collegial debate between themselves and the conference participants.

We ask panelists to organize their thoughts and talk around the four questions:

1. What wargame design techniques do we need to determine where or how an idea or concept fails?

2. What are the required player characteristics for wargames that explicitly seek to know where and how an idea or concept fails?

3. How do we generate innovation using wargames that explicitly seek to know where and how an idea or concept fails?

4. How do we know if it is the concept that fails or the wargame design has failed (for example missing input data)?

If you are interested please send your title and abstract to both of us BEFORE FRIDAY JUNE 24 at:

We will select the three panelists that best support the panel by Friday July 1. We ask that the winners provide their PowerPoint presentation—with detailed talking points on the notes page of each slide—to David and Stephen by Friday July 22.

(NOTE: if you are interested in speaking on the other panels, please contact Timothy Wilkie at for further information about those panels)
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