Saturday, 12 September 2015

Connections UK 2015: Conference report

The three days I spent at Connections UK 2015 were memorable for all sorts of reasons. By the end I felt that the synergy between professional and recreational wargames is finally beginning to be developed within a proper framework and its value is being recognised.

Professor Philip Sabin (of the King's College, London, War Studies Department) welcoming everyone to the first day of Connections UK 2015.

Day 1 - Morning Session
Aim and Purpose of a Wargame
Major Tom Mouat (SO2 Modelling and Simulation, UK Defence Academy) gave a brief outline of the aims and purposes of wargames.

Designing a Wargame to meet a Requirement
Jim Wallman (Past Perspectives) and was a development of the session he ran at COW2015.

How to Analyse Wargames
Dr Stephen Downes-Martin (US Naval War College) talked about the role of analysts in the wargaming process.

Using Data in Wargames
A panel drawn from DSTL (Defence Science and Technology Laboratory) presented a number of different ways in which DSTL uses wargaming and wargaming techniques.

Day 1 - Afternoon Session
Participation Game (adversarial)
The game was organised and run by Tom Mouat and Jim Wallman, and concerned operations to capture an enclave (New Dover) that had been seized by a religious faction within a small country. The country had called upon a larger neighbouring country for military assistance to recapture the enclave.

Jim Wallman briefing the players about the adversarial participation game.
Players were allocated to teams that represented the various command levels within the three organisations involved in the conflict as well as the UN and relief agencies. The highest command levels had resources they could allocate to their lower command levels in order for them to undertake various actions
Participation Game After Action Review
I was allocated a role within one of the more extreme elements within the religious faction, and although we were notionally under the command of the ruling council, we regarded what they asked us to do as advice rather than a direct order. We also saw them as a means to gain resources that we needed to pursue our own agenda.

Despite the fact that the game was originally intended to be player by 50 people and there were nearly twice that number in the lecture theatre, the game zipped along. The tiers of the lecture theatre prevented too much wandering about (a feature of some large wargames that can seriously slow things down at times) and tended to reinforce the hierarchy of the teams.

The result ... well the neighbouring country took the main share of the military operations, and were gradually beginning to re-take New Dover ... but at a price. In military terms they were winning but in political terms their position on the political 'track' was dropping whereas that of their opponents (the religious faction) remained high.

Day 2 - Morning Session
After a welcoming speech from Professor Frans Berkhout, the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Social Science & Public Policy, the morning's sessions began.

Global Wargaming Developments
This session was chaired by Dr Swen Stoop who is one of the organisers of Connections NL. The panel consisted of Peter Perla, Matt Caffrey, and Devin Ellis.

Peter Perla
Peter Perla began by quoting the opening lines of Charles Dicken's A TALE OF TWO CITIES ...
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
... and then went on to discuss the series of four memos that had been issued about wargaming by - in turn - The US Secretary for Defence (Chuck Hagel), the US Deputy Secretary of Defence, the US Deputy Secretary of Defence (again!), and the US Secretary of the Navy. Whereas the first three had set out the reasoning behind the need to 'Reinvigorate the wargaming effort' and idetified the main reasons why, the last actually set out four tasks for the US Navy and Marine Corps. These are:
  • To create a virtual community for wargaming
  • To play iterative wargames
  • To use wargames to influence procurement and budgeting
  • To restart the Office of Naval Research TIGs (Technology Initiative Games)
  • To look at emerging technologies
  • To share insights
Matt Caffrey
The main points covered by Matt Caffrey were:
  • If disease is a bad thing, and we study it to help eradicate it, then we should study war using wargames to help to achieve the eradication of war
  • Wargames provide users with an 'edge' (e.g. it helps them to anticipate consequences)
  • Wargames can help users to innovate faster than their opponents can copy or develop counter-measures to new strategies, tactics, weapons, and technologies
Devin Ellis
Devin Ellis examined what could be termed the Red Team view, and drew upon his experiences working with the PLA (People's Liberation Army) in China.

Games Fair Briefing
Each of the people/teams that were presenting a wargame at the Games Fair gave a very brief description of the nature and subject of the wargame, after which attendees were given the opportunity to sign-up for which they wished to attend. The wargames on offer included:
  • Cyber Matrix Game
  • Aftershock
  • The Great Crossing political-military game
  • CHACR Camberley Kriegsspiel
  • 2015 Election
  • RMAS Aldershot Skirmish
  • 16 Air Assault Bde Kestrel’s Hover
  • Out of the Blue (contemporary ASW)
  • The Royal Navy's Longest Day)
  • RCAT: Falklands
  • Mech Bn
(I signed up for The Royal Navy's Longest Day as my first choice.)

Day 2 - Afternoon Session
UK Wargaming Developments
Before the Games Fair began, the conference was addressed by Rob Solly (Head of the Defence & Security Analysis Division, DSTL) and the newly-appointed Commandant of the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, General Paul Nansen. Rob Solly gave a wide over-view of the role of DSTL and the use it makes of wargaming and General Nansen explained how wargames were going to form part of the training that all officers (from RMA Cadets to aspiring Generals) would undertake in the future.

Games Fair

One of the three rooms where the Games fair took place.
I was lucky enough to get my first choice, The Royal Navy's Longest Day. It was run by Stevie Ho of DSTL, and I was partnered with Dr Rob Burks (Colonel, US Army (retired)), a Senior Lecturer in the Defence Analysis Department of the Naval Postgraduate School. Our task was to try to prevent the British landings at Sword Beach on D-Day, and we both decided to opt to try to defeat the invading fleet before it reached the beach. This involved the use of submarines (three U-Boats), laying three minefields, and deploying seven groups of S-Boats for Le Havre.

The Royal Navy's Longest Day is about to begin.
Did our strategy succeed? Well our opponents found out that we had laid mines ... and promptly stopped in order to move their minesweepers into position ahead of the main fleet. They then slowly moved forward ... right into the paths of our three U-boats. Unfortunately were seemed unable to deal the British fleet a decisive blow, although we did manage to reduce the number of units in the first attack wave. (It must be said that our dice throwing seemed to be more than normally atrocious; luckily the British players were doing no better.) Our U-boats harried the invaders until they ran into our minefields ... and then our S-Boats moved in and harried them even more. Eventually the British managed to land some troops, and from then on our situation very rapidly become untenable. That said, the British were supposed to have achieved a successful landing within twenty game moves ... and only just managed to do that.

The Allied invasion fleet getting itself organised.
The Allied invasion fleet off the coast of Normandy. Heavy units (HMS Warspite and HMS Belfast) are already pounding the defences whilst the minesweepers move forward. Under the counter are three groups of German S-Boats, which have just attacked the transports bringing forward the follow-up waves of attackers.
The situation towards the end of the battle. Almost all the German coastal defence batteries have been captured by Allied troops ... but they have only just managed to do so by the deadline they had been set.
Lessons to be learnt? Well the game is very repeatable and it would be nice to see how different defensive strategies might have worked. It also enabled the participants to have a great time, and to 'bond' in ways that would not happen at a traditional conference.

Day 3 - Morning Session
Wargaming Best Practice
This session was chaired by Amanda Coleman (QinetiQ) and the panel consisted of: David England (Niteworks), Jeremy Smith (Cranfield University), Rex Brynen (McGill University), and Lieutenant Ed Farren (British Field Army).

David England
David England explained the involvement of Niteworks in assisting in the Army Force development programme that will see the current force move towards the force that will be required in five, ten and twenty year's time.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith has been heavily involved in the development of RCAT (Rapid Campaign Analysis Toolset), a simple, manual wargame. The wargame has been validated and verified by extensive testing using historical data (e.g. First Gulf War), and proven to be accurate and robust.

Rex Brynen
Rex Brynen posed two questions:
  • What is the purpose of the wargame you are designing?
  • Do you need to use a wargame to achieve this purpose?
He advocated the view that different types of wargame should be seen as part of a toolkit, and that it was important to use the appropriate tool (i.e. type of wargame design) where needed. He also strongly reiterated the need for proper debriefing of any participants and the recording of the results.

Lieutenant Ed Farren
Ed Farren explained how wargaming was going to be used in future Officer development in the British Army as well as forming part of the training process for all soldiers.

Synergies between Hobby and Professional Wargaming
This session was chaired by Erik Nordstrand (Swedish Defence Research Agency). The panel consisted of Professor Philip Sabin (King's College, London, Department of War Studies) and John Curry (Editor of the 'History of Wargaming' project).

Philip Sabin
Professor Sabin began by stating that whereas most hobby wargamers tend to play historical wargame, professional wargamers concentrate on wargames set in the present and near future. He placed emphasis upon the fact that wargaming historical conflicts and battles enabled players to learn about the historical context and to examine the 'what ifs?'. Furthermore, he felt that by understanding history (by playing historical wargames) people gained a better understanding of the contemporary world.

John Curry
John Curry's contribution began by emphasising the close relationship that had existed between hobby and professional wargames, and he then examined the current professional use of commercial wargames.

Day 3 - Afternoon Session

Breakout introduction: Wargaming for Innovation
This session was organised by Tom Mouat. He began by explaining that attendees were going to participate in a practical session where they would help to generate game designs for one of a number of topics. These were:
  • The Ukraine
  • Elections
  • Terror attacks on schools
  • Refugee Crisis
  • City Fight
  • National Power Cut
  • Influences Activities and Operations
  • Mercenaries and their Masters (PMC)
  • Drone Wars
He also explained that each game design had to have:
  • Aim
  • Objective (i.e. educate; inform; aid decision making
  • Audience
Each group was also expected to feedback to the whole conference using the following headings:
  • Name of the wargame
  • Aim and Purpose
  • Target Audience
  • Game Type
  • Data required
The participants were organised into three groups, each group being allocated three facilitators. (I was asked to be a facilitator for one of the groups, working alongside Jerry Elsmore and Russell King.) The groups then went into nearby rooms to begin the Breakout session.

Our group voted for which of the three topics they wished to generate game designs for, and then split into three sub-groups, each sub-group dealing with a single topic.

The sub-group that I facilitated had chosen to generate a game design that dealt with 'The Ukraine'. I gave the members three minutes to come up with an aim for the wargame, and once that was decided upon I gave them a further three minutes to identify its potential audience. The group then moved on to define the game type and to identify the data that would be required.

The process moved along at a good pace, and everyone in the sub-group contributed to the final design, which was completed within the allotted time frame.

Breakout backbriefs and discussion
Each facilitator was given three minutes to outline the game design that their sub-group had developed, and once that was over a vote was taken as to which of the topics should be presented as a wargame at Connections UK 2016. Two were selected, and they were ... 'The Ukraine' and 'Refugee Crisis'.

Closing remarks
Graham Longley-Brown and Philip Sabin thanked everyone who had helped to make the conference such a great success, especially Tom Mouat and Jim Wallman. It was generally thought that real progress was being made, and that it was amazing how far things had moved forward since the first Connections UK conference in 2013. Planning for Connections UK 2016 will begin in a month or so ... and one of the targets is to increase the number of attendees to 170.


  1. Looks like a very interesting event. Your naval participation game looks good too.
    Is there a published Proceedings available containing the content of the lectures and presentations? That might be interesting to peruse for those of us unable to attend.

  2. A very interesting conference- had my academic career gone somewhere it would have been something I would like to attend.



  3. Jonathan Frietag,

    There will be recordings/transcripts of most of the sessions available on the Connections UK website sometime soon. This will probably be within a couple of months as some of the presentations may have to be 'cleared'.

    All the best,


  4. Pete.,

    There is no reason why you cannot attend a future Connections UK conference if you want to. You don't have to be invited to attend; Just sign up, pay your fee, and you can attend.

    All the best,


  5. In that case it is probably outside my budget sadly... I've yet to save up to attend a COW.



  6. It sounds like an interesting, instructive and thought-provoking event. I believe more of this sort of thing is just about essential for global-political conflict resolution, especially to discover the future roles and limitations of military solutions, and the study of alternatives. I would also be interested in reading up on some of the presentations and games.

  7. Pete.,

    Given the choice, I would chose COW before Connections UK ... but then as I help to organise it, I would say that, wouldn't I!

    All the best,


  8. Archduke Piccolo,

    I agree that one of the best ways we can move forward towards achieving the goal of a peaceful world is to use good wargaming techniques so that we can better understand those who seemingly oppose us. By understanding what makes them 'tick', and especially the social, cultural, political and economic parameters within which they have to work, can do nothing but good ... and wargaming can help us to achieve that aim.

    I understand that full reports of the sessions that took place at Connections UK 2015 will appear on the Connections UK website in due course.

    All the best,



Thank you for leaving a comment. Please note that any comments that are spam or contain phishing messages or that come from Google Accounts that are 'Unknown' will be deleted.