Friday, 9 September 2016

Connections UK 2016: Day 3: Thursday 8th September

The programme for the day was as follows:
  • 8.45am – 09.00am: Arrivals and coffee.
  • 9.00am – 10.00am: Plenary 3: Computer simulations and technology.
  • 10.00am – 10.45am: Plenary 4: Strategic Gaming.
  • 10.45am – 11.15am: Drinks break.
  • 11.15am – 12.30pm: Plenary 4: Successful real-world wargames.
  • 12.30pm – 1.15pm: Lunch
  • 1.15pm – 2.35pm: Plenary 5: Wargaming Innovations.
  • 2.40pm – 2.50pm Breakout introduction: How might we institutionalise wargaming and build the wargaming capacity?
  • 2.50pm – 3.00pm: Drinks break.
  • 3.00pm – 3.45pm: Breakout Facilitated syndicates for:
    • Serving ‘front line’ personnel (military, emergency services etc.);
    • Defence Science & Technology;
    • Military education and Training;
    • Connections (global);
    • Historical Analysis/Conflict Research;
    • Academia;
    • Industry;
    • Hobby gamers.
  • 3.45pm – 4.30pm: Breakout back briefs and discussion.
  • 4.30pm – 4.45pm: Closing remarks.

The majority of the day’s sessions took place in the King’s College Great Hall.

Plenary 3 was chaired by Éric Jacopin (Saint-Cyr Military College).

It covered:
  • The use of technology in support of wargaming (Dave Robson and Samantha Black, both of whom work for NSC)
    One interesting point that was made in the opening comments to their presentation was that ‘computer simulations are not evil, just misunderstood ...’. This is probably very true, and this presentation went some way to explaining how useful such computer simulations could be.
  • The CAEn process (Mark Gould, Dstl)
    CAEn (Close Action Environment) is a low-level simulation that uses simple graphics, which on the face of it makes it look quite dated. However it has been designed with the RIGOUR principles (Repeatable, Independent, Grounded in reality, Objective, Uncertainty managed, Robust) and it certainly appeared to meet those criteria.
Plenary 4 was presented by Stacie Pettyjohn (RAND) and it examined the range of strategic games and gaming methods used by RAND.

These included:
  • Pol-Mil (Political-Military)crisis games
  • Long-term strategy games
  • Alliance games
  • Non-military games
  • Seminar games
  • BOGSATs (Bunch Of Guys Sat Around a Table)
The presentation included an interesting matrix that examined the various means by which operational-tactical games could be gamed, depending upon the degree of transparency and the type of game structure required.

Plenary 5 was chaired by Colin Marston (Dstl) and covered some of the successful real-world wargames that have taken place over recent years.

These included:
  • Wargaming at the US Naval Postgraduate School (Jeff Appleget, US Naval Postgraduate School)
    The US Naval Postgraduate School has an extensive experience of running in-house wargames for both teaching and non-teaching purposes, and has a well-developed programme of wargames that they have run for other users such as US allies and partners.
  • Wargaming in the intelligence community (Roger Mason, LECMgt LLC)
    It became very apparent from this presentation that wargaming is used extensively by organisations involved in all manner of activities where intelligence – in its broadest sense – needs to be analysed and used. It also became apparent that such wargames might not – for a variety of reasons – be called wargames, but might also appear under such headings as scenario planning or forward planning exercises.
  • Ballistic Nuclear Defence (Ivanka Barzashka, researcher at King’s College Defence Studies Department)
    The subject of this short presentation was how gaming can be used to produce a better understanding of the impact missile defence systems might have on thinking about deterrence and stability in the strategic environment that currently exists.
Plenary 6 took place after lunch and was chaired by Dr Stephen Downes-Martin (US Naval College). It looked at some of the wargaming innovations that were taking place or had taken place in the recent past.

The topics covered included:
  • Wargaming for Innovation (Paul Vebber, HQ, Naval Underseas Warfare Center)
    This examined how wargames were being used to develop underwater weapon platform and systems capabilities.
  • Resolving hidden information in open adjudication (Ellie Bartles, Pardee RAND Graduate School)
    What struck me about this presentation was the fact that some of the problems being experienced in the use of hidden information in the open adjudication process has – to a certain extent – already been solved by existing wargame designs (e.g. Megablitz and the Jane’s Naval War Game).
  • Designing wargames at King’s College, London (Laura Hoffman, recent MA graduate, King’s College)
    This presentation looked at the ways in which students on the wargame design course undertake their research and game development, and covered so of the problems and learning they experience along the way.
The final session of the conference was chaired by Phil Pournelle and Matt Caffrey, and was an opportunity for attendees to meet in common interest groups to examine how wargaming might become institutionalised (i.e. become an intrinsic, integrated, and important element) within a range of government and non-government organisations and how the ability and capacity to wargame could be built-up/enhanced.

I joined the hobby gamers group (which was chaired by Charles Vasey and Rob Cooper) ...

... and within the time were allotted we came up with what we thought that hobby wargamers could bring to the table. This included:
  • Having many years of experience of designing and playing wargames;
  • Being able to offer support to Blue teams, to form the basis of and/or support Red teams, and providing Green team inputs;
  • Acting as play-testers (If a game can be broken, hobby wargamers will find a way to do it!);
  • Having a wide range of historical knowledge upon which to draw;
  • Being outside the main organisational structures enabled us to bring a fresh set of eyes and ideas to any wargame;
  • Being deniable ... and possibly inexpensive to use!
Our ideas were then feed back to the rest of the attendees.

Other than a brief summation of how successful the conference had been and the usual ‘thank you’ statements being made, this marked the end of Connections UK 2016, and we all departed for home.

I must admit that I wondered how well such a large conference might function, and whether or not the groups of attendees would mix or not. The megagame on the first day went a long way to breaking the ice, and the opportunity over lunch and drinks breaks to meet and talk with each other really helped to make this conference the success that it was.

I really do hope to be able to attend next year, and I have already pencilled in the equivalent week in next year’s diary.

For another attendee's impressions of Connections UK 2016, visit Rex Brynen's excellent PAXsims blog.


  1. I was sorry to miss Connections-UK this year, but by June I had blown my vacation and travel budget on other conferences and speaking engagements. I hope to come next year, and spend a bit more time in London afterwards!

    1. Brian Train,

      I had hoped that you would be at Connections this year, but I can fully understand why you were not able to make it over to the UK. With luck you will be able to join us at Connections UK in 2017.

      All the best,