The event was the place in the UK where the great and the good of professional wargaming gather to discuss, wargaming...
The conference was well attended, with people from 18 different
countries (not including undergrads and post graduates) and many serving
military or reservists. Interestingly, 50% were attending the conference for
the first time.
It is clear there is momentum behind wargaming and it is on
a roll, but the question is whether we are still on a ‘Peter Perla’s sine wave’
where the perceived value of wargaming goes up and down. OR wargaming has a
sustained momentum to keep it going. There have numerous major developments
over the last 12 months in the UK and across the world e.g. UK launched its Defence
Wargaming Handbook, the RAF doing first large-scale wargame for years, etc.
Wargaming is on a roll.
wargaming is far from institutionalised e.g. Connections
Change in leaders in USA means there is a counter
attack against value of wargaming
The aim Connections Conference is:
Share good practise
Develop international wargaming community
Institutionalise wargaming, including governing
Demo utility address real world problems in a
safe to fail environment
Show wargames save lives and save money
I was amused to find that the History of Wargaming Project
is seen as a sort of FAQ contact centre for questions about who is doing what in
professional wargaming. I was also interested to see that of the many professional
wargames mentioned at the conference, at least some have been made available
via the publications of the project. Hopefully, I will have more published over
the next 12 months.
The first day was largely taken up with a large multi-player
game, a megagame. It went as expected. It must be first said that the
organisers were experienced, unpaid volunteers who put huge effort into the
Standing Joint Force HQ Group Wargaming
This is a new HQ that includes Joint Expeditionary Force
(which is France and UK thing). Wargaming is a part of what they do. They have
been using matrix games (Baltic
Challenge, Black Sea Challenge, see the various scenario books on matrix
games books published by History of Wargaming Project). They have been playing
other games, including one where the blue players found themselves suddenly
running the battle from the other side’s perspective.
They have had some problems
Last turn madness- where players do something
daft as it is the last turn
Wrong map scale/size
Articulation of risk e.g. calculate the risk,
give players a dice and then tell them to roll.
Some players find it hard to articulate of
effect i.e. what they want to happen
Some players find Consequence management hard e.g.
thinking about consequences of actions before doing them
When to use wargaming
Some reaction about the use of name wargaming (some see it as too
Live military exercises are all fake scenarios,
but they are allowed to wargame with real scenarios involving real potential
Royal Navy starting to use wargaming (again).
Basically wargaming fell out of use in the RN since the early
innovations. (You can explore these early RN games in the book 1906 Fred Jane
including 1921 RN wargame rules published by me). However, over the last 10 months the RN has
been running wargames regularly again. Attitudes are now changing. However, my
advice is they need look at what our NATO allies in their well-developed naval
wargames, so we are not reinventing the wheel in the UK.
The navy has used TACEX/OKX which are heavily scripted games
(basically to deliver a lecture in a different form). Now RN wants adversarial
games with the other striving to win.
They are finding some problems
The RN finding the leap from someone who can
play games, to someone who can design games is huge.
Players want to win so much, they can cheat or
Not all senior officers are happy with concept
of playing games and failing (and learning from this to win next time).
Needs to be a culture of wargaming e.g. introducing
it in officer training.
Current work is Project PROTEUS wargame, with
stepped learning through each scenario. E.g. exploring River class offshore
patrol vessel (batch 2). RN not used to rolling dice, or game spinning off in
completely different direction from the planned path.
One of the issues is to capture data during the
wargame that is useful afterwards.
RN wargaming is back, but at an early stage of development.
Bringing Wargaming to Training e.g. for ASW training for helicopter squadron
Basically, it is hard to changing traditional education delivery
methods, e.g. a lecture is seen as an effective alternative to a wargame. This
ignores modern education practise which is all about doing. One of the problems
is finding people with enough skills at a unit level who can be wargaming umpires.
Another question is what does remedial training look like for someone who fails
at wargaming? Another question is how often does wargaming need to be
carried out? The basic problem is the lack
of academic literature on effectiveness of training using wargaming.
Air Warfare School Wargaming RAF
There is a computer wargame, Storm, but it is used just 3 times a year,
However, they are introducing wargaming as part of their
training system. The Winged Exile
game is about managing the air battle over the UK and was run for the first
time in air warfare course in UK in Sept 2017.. It has been used with air cadets
and university officer training corps to raise awareness for recruitment
purposes. The game is a bit strange as both sides are the RAF, but this is to
teach both sides about RAF capabilities. I was also intrigued by the accompany Control of the Air Card Game. The writing
is now on the wall, the RAF going is going to be producing games for training.
UK MOD Wagaming Surveys
UK VCDS wargaming Initiative- UK is trying to discover what
its wargaming capability actually is through a series of surveys. The UK MOD is
apparently unsure who is doing what and who can do what.
US Ongoing wargaming Initiatives
Phil Pournelle is the chair wargaming for MORS. He told us
that MORS is trying hard to develop rigorous analytics wargame practise.
Insufficient master game designers
Need to identify best practise and improve the
art and science of wargaming
Need to integrate wargaming into wider
How to set up an iterative cycle of games and
In October 2017, MORS are thinking deeply about these issues
at a big conference in Washington.
Matt Caffrey Taking the Long View
This talk illustrated issues in trying to attribute positive
outcomes to professional wargaming. Basically good wargames helped in war;
wargaming is just one edge in war fighting, but it can be overcome with other
edges. Examples of wargaming giving a military advantage were Germans in Franco
Prussian Army, WW1, WW2 (early), WWII Wolf Pack tactics, WATU Western Approaches,
Iran v Iraq, Gulf War I and II.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office Wargaming
They tried Matrix game ISIS
crisis in Sept 2016. This worked surprisingly well at the FCO. Upon
reflection, the game did offer some real insights. They also tried an African presidential
Succession Game, May 2017, but this has not progressed further. The insight
from this was players and umpires were surprised how quickly the game became
violent. The FCO has major doubts about using dice to decide the outcome of a
meeting or a conference. Currently gaming is limited due to lack of time. i.e. they
can spend their time better doing other things than wargaming.
The Defence Wargaming Handbook
Is the UK’s effort to define and justify the use of
wargaming. This is available from the web
25th May 2010 Kandahar saw OP HAMKARI wargame,
which saw the UK forces playing out their plan to occupy a piece of Afghanistan.
The red team in the game were actually ex-mujahedeen who had faced the Russians
on the same ground in the past. The UK
plan was similar to the original Russian plan that failed. So the UK
changed the plan as a result of the wargame. The actual operation worked, UK
did not lose anyone killed (but with some casualties). This was a fine example
of wargaming working. That wargame was clearly a well spent afternoon, mind you
it does help to have ex enemies being the Red team.
Basically, the UK is doing a fair amount of strategic
gaming- regional, assisting allies, options if sanctions do not work etc. It
would not be appropriate to discuss the subject for games in more detail.
Unprofessional Wargames by Charles Vasey
He has been 1 of the key figures in board game development
in UK and he was reflecting on developments in hobby wargaming from the early
games hex and counter games.
New hobby games are full of innovations:
Highly visual e.g. meeple shape pieces that
tells a story. Shape or colour passes information.
Stickles- thin kriegsspiel type counters with
Cards- full of information, a form of pre-printed
Large number of ideas comes from Eurogaming,
where there are no nasty wars but have plenty of aggression. These game are
co-operative games e.g., THUNDERBIRDS.
IRSEM is an example of the subversion of wargame
norms e.g., can attack several times with 1 unit, area movement, uses cards.
Brian Train, series of games on e.g. Ur-COIN.
Gov players, 2 guerrilla movements and drug cartels.
Colonial twilight, French train, garrison, etc…
resistance movement do different actions.
New techniques mean wargaming and peace gaming
are becoming bigger. Twilight Struggle
is a huge seller and it is encouraging new people in wargaming.
His message was professional wargaming needs to look very
carefully at what the hobby is doing.
Western Approaches Tactical Game
This was the key wargame to help Britain’s campaign against
U-boats. The actual place is now a museum the Western Approaches Command – in Liverpool.
Commander Gilbert Roberts- had experience of wargames and
could not serve at sea, so he was asked to help develop better tactics against
the U-boats. He had a team of 9 wrens and 3 staff. He interviewed those in
convoys to understand the convoy battles, then he developed a wargame. The game
had 2 mins turn and written orders. Ships moved on floor. U boat moves were
drawn in brown chalk on the floor which could not be seen by player captains.
Wrens offered tactical advice and no doubt became very proficient at tactics.
The games was used to trained 5000 captains, escort and convoy commanders
including GB, Ca, Fr and Norwegian. Curiously Prince Philip ran the games for a
two week period.
There were a tactical games and operational analysis (OA) games.
The OA games changed the tactics e.g. use of Raspberry or the importance of
attacking shadowing U-boats, tactics in the face of the acoustic torpedo. More
details of the game will be published by the HoWP in due course.
Wargaming in education
This covered the well-established ground of the use of games
in education. Games are well established as another learning tool from primary
to undergraduate education. It was amusing to hear the story of a 12 year old
‘president’ sack another child for corruption in a game set in a school.
Children love games and wargames can be a part of that. However, one must still
be careful using the term wargames in an educational school setting.
UCL are using wargames to help teach some aspects of naval
architecture e.g. a short course on submarine design. The problem was students
were making ridiculous design decisions due to their lack of understanding of naval
warfare. So they used wargames to learn about naval warfare, assess military
effectiveness of their design choices and teach vulnerability design. They play
3 different games. For example they have a very complex ship design cards, such
as the height of the radar determines the range it can detect the enemy. One
game is a double blind game on the floor, another is based on a map based game
and another uses the CROWS which is a self-coded computer game. They found that
students engage most in the floor game with ship models, the games are slower,
but hold the students interest more.
The presentation on Class
Wargames by Dr Richard Barbrook Univ of Westminster was different by any
standard. They are politically left wing, but proud to be wargamers. Guy Deboard
was a key intellectual on the left wing, but he made a wargame THE GAME OF WAR,
which he said was his most important work. He embedded military principles in
his game to teach revolutionaries how to win next time there is a revolution.
Basically teaching von Clausewitz to left wingers in the classroom. Class
Wargames created a series of games to teach principles of revolution. The
undergrads have to produce a game about political conflict. Many of the games
were not successful as games, but the learning experience was successful.
Modelling the Human Terrain
The west has been so good at conducting regular war,
opponents have switched to irregular warfare to beat us. How to model COIN is now
one of the questions. For example, the US Naval Post Graduate school has modelled
conflict extensively. There was a lot of detail which is written up on the
Connections website http://www.professionalwargaming.co.uk/2017.html
They also run wargaming courses around the world.
Simulating the Intangible
This started with a question whether politicians are trained
to deal with stress in a crisis. The military are trained, but not those giving
the political direction. Actually, in the UK, political leaders are expected to
participate in games. I remember the SAS saying that when they played their big
annual exercise in the UK, Maggie (the then prime minster) played.
‘Someone’ ran a matrix game, BLACK SEA (see the History of Wargaming project books on matrix
games) for important people. The game revealed that players needed a better
briefing on hybrid warfare, with more time to create initial plan and then play
BALTIC CHALLENGE. The actions in the game were then analysed and actions that
improved the situation were classified in green if good, red if bad. Then they
modelled the actions against the full spectrum of potential actions. Matrix
games were found to increase awareness and understanding, but not so good for
decision making. Group think can be a problem, so it is key to offer a full
range of game components e.g. military units and civilian infrastructure. If
you only have military units on the map, then players will focus on the
The megagame: A Methodological Assessment
Strengths and weaknesses are the same i.e.:
Lots of people
Fog/ imperfect info
Friction/ imperfect execution
Flexible facilitation (making it as you go
Emergent gameplay i.e. hard to predict what the
game will do, but stay within game space players expect.
There are wargames being run at
civilian professional course e.g. crisis in Baltics, low level tactics,
irregular warfare. They produce games to answer games with short notice, but
also for longer term analysis.
Designing a missile defence and nuclear risk strategic decision game
Research project using gaming as the method. The game
defined the aims and objectives, involving UK and NATO officials. The research
used games for some problems, but not others. It allowed a topic to be examined
where governments cannot do the study. Basically, it was about ABM could affect
stability e.g. in Korea. However, the games did not look at Russia as these
games could be misinterpreted by Russia and lead to unintended/ unwanted
Based on naval War Colleges games, using decision analysis
and risk analyse tools. The games were kept at the high level and avoided
operational detail. Moves were made on forms, but captured why players made the
decisions. Some were reluctant to fill in the forms (perhaps they felt they
were too important), so they had to employ support to record the decisions. The
games found some interesting results, but these results are not going to be
reported here. My only other comment, is they need to be using Confrontation Analysis as one of their
Future Dates for Connections Conferences
Nov 13th 2017 12.00-22.00
Dec 2017 in Melbourne
July 2018 Washington
Sept 2018 Connections UK KCL