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Sunday, 9 September 2018

Professional Wargaming Reaches Escape Velocity in the UK


UK Connections 2018, the professional wargaming conference

Around the western world, there are a series of professional wargaming conferences where the great and the good of that world gather to talk and play games. Involving a complex mix of games and traditional lectures; the conferences aim to promote and develop the use of wargames for education, training and learning. The UK one is held in London at Kings College London in September each year. The History of Wargaming Project has offered me some insights into this growing community, as they routinely ask questions as they buy books from the ever-growing publication list.

Just a few years ago, if you assembled those directly involved in professional wargaming in the UK around a large table, perhaps 6 large pizzas (with stuffed crust) and some garlic bread would have fed them all. Until perhaps 12 months ago, it was possible to more or less keep track of the main professional wargamers in the UK, what they were focussed on and how this work was progressing. This is no longer possible.

DSTL, the scientific arm of the MOD, has a wargaming team and has other staff that also use wargames on occasion. However, there are now wargamers scattered throughout the MOD, individuals and small clusters, working on a range of wargames. The RAF, Navy and the Army have wargaming teams. Individual serving officers, including in the reserves, use wargames on occasions, as just another teaching method. The Defence Academy and Cranfield University use games. The number of academics using wargames for teaching history, international relations, peace and reconstruction studies and business studies is now many dozens, probably over a hundred. Kings College London, sensing financial opportunity, is in the processing of establishing a wargaming centre. Business is using games for financial advantage. Cyber wargames are routine. Emergency planners use them all the time, for example with the emergency services, hospitals and local authorities.

There is now a pool of commercial talent to support professional wargames in the UK, notably computer software from SCS and Matrix/ Slitherine Games. Both of these companies are of a scale to be dynamic and respond to customer needs.

There is a growing pool of accessible wargaming literature and wargames for people to take up and learn from without consulting the existing wargaming community.

Even more shocking is the rise of European professional wargaming, in particular Germany, France, Sweden and boardgames in Spain. They are not just following the lead of the UK and North America, but are building on the former’s games to make their own purpose-built products. I would suggest that these European countries are rapidly developing their own professional wargaming culture that while not completely separate, is more like a distant cousin. I will give just one example, Urban Operations, designed by Sebastien de Peyret. This is published by a French gaming company, Nuts. It is a detailed modern Fighting in Built Up Areas game that is far in advance anything I have seen in from the UK and North America (https://www.nutspublishing.com/eshop/our-games).

My first conclusion is that UK professional wargaming now has a critical mass and so the method will not disappear. It is too well ingrained as a valuable tool to be neglected. As General Sharpe said, once people feel they have permission, their pre-existing inclinations are released and they can move ahead. My second conclusion is the scale of the development means it is impossible for any one individual to blithely assert they have a good working knowledge of professional wargaming. It is now just too diverse. So, if you meet anyone who says they know all about UK professional wargaming, remember, they don’t.

2 comments:

  1. One thing that struck me was the number of new attendees that were at this year's CONNECTIONS UK. This is a trend that has become more noticeable over the past few years, and would seem to indicate the growth of interest in and knowledge of wargaming within the professional community. It was also interesting that the number of attendees had been capped, and that bookings had been turned down.

    So what does this signal? Certainly it seems to show that wargaming is becoming embedded in the thinking within the professional community and that the demand for Connections-like conferences is growing, and that the demand will need to be met. Meeting that demand is something that will need to be addressed ... and addressed soon if the momentum is not to be lost. Finding a suitable location - or locations - is important, as is ensuring that the key staff (both administrative and conference deliverers) needed to facilitate such conferences are available. The initiative being taken by KCL will hopefully go some way to meet the increased demand.

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