Sunday 10 September 2017

Connections UK 2017: Day 3

The programme for the day was as follows:
  • 8.45am – 09.00am: Arrivals and coffee.
  • 9.00am – 10.15am: Plenary 4: Wargaming in education.
  • 10.20am – 11.05am: Plenary 5: Simulating the intangible.
  • 11.05am – 11.30am: Drinks break.
  • 11.30am – 12.30pm: Plenary 6: Wargaming design and analysis.
  • 12.30pm – 1.30pm: Lunch.
  • 1.30pm – 1.45pm: Breakout introduction.
  • 1.45pm – 3.00pm: Breakout.
  • 3.00pm – 3.15pm: Drinks break.
  • 3.15pm – 4.15pm: Breakout back briefs and discussion.
  • 4.15pm – 4.30pm: Closing remarks.
Another relatively early start, but by 9.00am the lecture theatre was full of lively and enthusiastic attendees.

Session 4: Wargaming in Education
This session was chaired by Professor Phil Sabin (Department of War Studies, King's College, London), and the contributions were made by:
  • Mauro Faina, who talked about the use of wargaming in an Italian school to give students a better understanding of certain historical events, to help expand their command of the English language, and to develop their self-confidence and leadership qualities. It was of particular interest to note that he used commercial games ('Wings of War' and Richard Borg's 'Command & Colors: Ancients') and that the use of the word 'war' when describing the activities undertaken could be problematic.
  • Paul Howarth (Story Living Games), who explained how he used gaming in schools to enhance the ability of younger pupils to work together, to take responsibility, to understand human inter-action, and to communicate. It was interesting to note that he sees little or no gender-bias amongst the pupils he games with until they reached a certain age, at which point the split between boys and girls begins to grow. He also identified how games could meet some of the goals that schools are trying to achieve.
  • David Manley (Naval Authority Group Ship Division) and Dr Nick Bradbeer (University College, London), who described the use of wargaming by warship design students to assess their ship designs
  • Dr Richard Barbrook (Politics Department, University of Westminster), who described how the organisation 'Class Wargames' evolved from the work of Guy Debord and his 'The Game of War'

Session 5: Simulating the Intangible
This session was chaired by Dr Aggie Hirst (International Relations, King's College, London), and the contributions were made by:
  • Colonel (rt) Jeff Appleget and Colonel (rt) Rob Burks (US Naval Postgraduate School), who expanded upon their work modelling the human terrain
  • Anja van der Hulst (Netherlands Research Organisation, TNO) and Major Tom Mouat, who talked about the use of Matrix and Seminar Games as a means to try to model the intangible.
Session 6: Wargaming Design and Analysis
This session was chaired by Brian Train, and the contributions were made by:
  • Jim Wallman (Past Perspectives) and Professor Rex Brynen (McGill University), who discussed the strengths and weaknesses of Megagames
  • Erik Nordstrand (Swedish Defence Research Agency, FOI), who described the quite wide-spread use of wargaming in various elements of the Swedish armed forces, including military training courses
  • Ivanka Barzashka (King's College, London), who examined the development of a strategic decision-making game about anti-missile defences

After lunch we returned to the lecture theatre to be briefed about the afternoon's 'Breakout' session. The topic ('The High North' (Arctic)) had been requested by the DCDC, and we were asked if it would be possible to concentrate out game design efforts on this or 'Failed Cities', 'Extreme Weather', 'Human Augmentation', 'Surveillance', 'Drones & Robots', and 'Corruption & Money'. Once briefed, we were split into groups and adjourned to our respective breakout rooms with our facilitators.

Breakout Session
I was very lucky in that I was allocated to the group being facilitated by Tom Mouat ...

... and that included Brian Train.

The group was split into three syndicates, each of which had to develop the basic outline of a game design. These would then be voted on, and the best would be submitted to the conference as a potential game to take place at Connections UK 2018. Our group came up with a game that examined the impact of a new northern route from Europe to Asia via the Russian Arctic on the indigenous tribes who currently occupy the area. Would they confederate to protect their existing, fragile culture ... or would they use the fact that they controlled the coastline to extract revenue (pilotage, piracy, tolls etc.) from users? Would the Russian Federation seek to stop them if they did, and what would the UN, NGOs and other governments do in these circumstances?

The end design was called 'Aurora Borealis: Fire and Light in the North', and it was selected by a narrow vote to be presented to the conference as a potential game for inclusion in the 2018 conference programme. (It is worth noting that the other two designs proposed by the other syndicates in our group were both worthy of going forward, and having to make a choice was somewhat invidious.)

The basic design for the syndicate's 'Aurora Borealis' game.
The breakout sessions ended in time for us to return to the lecture theatre to listen to the game designs that the other groups had set down, and after listening to them, I felt that 'Aurora Borealis' was one of the better and more adventurous designs that was proposed.

The conference then ended with a few closing remarks from Colin Marston and the other organisers, and the date for Connections UK 2018 were confirmed as being 4th to 6th September 2018.


  1. I feel as if I have been devouring your every sentence with gusto [and PaxSims too].

    It looked to be a very good conference.

    I would have liked to see Phil Sabin's Dogfight Air Game as that seemed a novel and brave addition too.

    It is a pity that the games are not better catalogued. Everything else seems to be captured but the games (the crux of the matter) get remembered only by the participants.

    1. Geordie an Exiled FoG,

      I wish that I had had the time to look at the other Games Fair offerings, but it was not possible to get more than a few photographs. Later this week I will try to write a short blog entry about what I did see.

      All the best,


  2. I was so glad to sopend some time talking with you Bob, and I am gald you enjoyed the conference!
    We'll see what stumbles out of the tundra fopr Aurora Borealis.
    I certainly plan to return next year.
    Thank you or the books, and your positive evaluation of Caudillo!

    1. Brian Train,

      It was great to have the chance to have a chat with you at Connections UK 2017, and I am really pleased that I chose to attend your game at the Games Fair.

      I'm not sure if you realised that David Manley and I were both of the opinion that 'Caudillo' could easily be adapted to represent the working of a government department (or departments), where different lobbies would have to compete/cooperate to achieve their ends. It might certainly make an interesting variant of your original design.

      I suspect that 'Aurora Borealis' might be developed further. Of the games that were talked about in the summary session after the breakout session, it was the one that did not concentrate on resource 'grabbing' but looked at one of the politico-military situations that might arise. Transfer the scenario from northern Russia to Canada and the North-West passage (an Inuit Confederation that resents further Canadian - and possibly US -Government 'control' and threats to their culture and life-style), and you have a game that might appeal to some of your government's agencies. That is something that might well be worth discussing with Rex Brynen the next time you are in contact.

      I certainly plan to go to next year's Connections UK, assuming that I am fit and able. If you are coming over, let me know and we'll try to have a longer chat and perhaps even play a game or two.

      All the best,


    2. See reply below. I never click the right button.

    3. Brian Train,

      We all suffer from that problem at times!

      All the best,


  3. Thanks Bob.
    For me, the main feature of designing Caudillo was precisely to get that balance between cooperation and competition, not to make a joke at Venezuela's expense... if I had wanted to do something just on a coup there, I have already designed a couple of games to do just that.
    Anyway, it seems to work in this setting, so it could do in others as well.
    I would like to do further work on Aurora Borealis.
    We'll see what does develop.
    Meanwhile, I definitely plan to attend Connections-UK next year so hope you will be there too!

    1. Brian,

      The cooperative/competitive element in game design has lots of pluses.

      Firstly life is like that; we are rarely in situations where we are either solely cooperating or competing with others. Usually we do both, with a sort of 'what's in it for me?' in there somewhere.

      Secondly it keeps all the players involved the whole time. I noticed that during 'Caudillo' none of the players was 'switching off' when it was not their turn ... just in case they missed out on getting something out of what was happening.

      Thirdly - and this is something that I have noticed in Matrix Games where the outcomes laid down in individual player briefings overlap - players have to anticipate the possible reactions of the other players in order to have something 'in reserve' with which to react. In 'Caudillo' it might be power, influence, or money, whereas in a Matrix Game it can be a 'killer argument'. Very good for developing all sorts of thought processes.

      I did a little bit of background reading about the Far North when I got home, hence my suggestion that 'Aurora Borealis' could be set in Canada as well as Russia.

      I do hope that you can attend next year's Connections UK; perhaps it will give me the opportunity to 'host' a game for you!

      All the best,


    2. Thank you for your observations Bob.
      What you observed was just what I was hoping for: players agonizing over what to do with whom, while staying constantly engaged.
      Setting Aurora in Canada is just as interesting - I was thinking northern Russia because everyone in the group but me was European.
      Either way, I have to do some research.
      I certainly plan to attend Connections-UK (should it be "Connexions-UK"?) next year; that would be fun.

    3. Brian Train,

      I certainly enjoyed observing the game and the players, and it enable me to get an insight that just playing the game wouldn't have given me.

      I suspect that the Northwest Passage will be open and useable before the route around the north of Russia, hence my suggestion that 'Aurora Borealis' could be adapted for Canada use.

      Unfortunately the name Connexions has already been used by what used to be the Careers Advice and Youth Employment Service ... so we will have to keep the name Connections UK for the foreseeable future.

      All the best,



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