Connections Online 2021

Chris’s AAR at PaxSims

Archive page with all YouTube links & event details

AAR from the Armchair Dragoons 

sorry, but the idiotic WP block editor won’t let me remove the embed and change this back to a basic link

Continued discussions in the ACD forum

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Dragoons Assembly 2020 convention

Hi folks.  With the loss of Origins, WBC, Historicon, Adepticon, and so many other conventions this summer, we’re holding our own virtual game convention.

If anyone’s interested in getting involved, please feel free to drop me a line.  Thanks!

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Wargaming Podcasts (redux)

So the last post on here was 2-1/2 years ago, and plenty has happened since then, including the shuttering of The GrogCast.  When I left GrogHeads, there was no one there to keep it going, so even the feed is now dead.

However, we’ve launched a new podcast over at and include a variety of professionally-relevant topics in our discussions of wargaming.  This week, we’ve got one of the CGSC students talking about his program and his wargame design project.


In response to a request, here are a few other episodes of professionally-relevant content

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MUST READ! Changing DoD’s Analysis Paradigm – The Science of War Gaming and Combat/Campaign Simulation by Dr. John Hanley

There are times when the right person, who has been at the right places, puts that experience together and says something really important that “speaks truth to power” as they say. Dr. John Hanley’s piece in the new Naval War College Review is a great example. Much angst has been generated in professional wargaming and operations analysis circles about what has been characterized by some as “loss of confidence” in the current analytic support to senior leaders in the Services and DoD. Many in the operations analysis community take issue with this characterization and it may well be a case of a single tool not being sufficient any longer, rather than a particular tool becoming dulled. In any case, Dr. Hanley, who has spent decades as an expert in the uses of campaign analysis and wargaming, provides an objective assessments of the good, bad, and ugly of these two toolboxes in the context of scientific inquiry – are they OBJECTIVE, RIGOROUS, and USEFUL.

After a brief summary of “How we got here” for both wargaming and campaign analysis (using computer simulation) he takes a penetrating look at how each toolset compares on those 3 criteria. Giving that the title is a bit of a spoiler about his conclusions, it is not surprising that he challenges traditional notions that computer simulations score highly on those 3 metrics, and wargames do not. He provides well documented evidence for criticisms of computer simulations – campaign analysis in particular – that many in the wargaming community have felt were stones cast at wargaming by those in a ‘glass house’ on the analysis side. He doesn’t let wargaming off easily, however, suggesting there is much room for improvement through study of complex and chaotic systems, emerging AI techniques, and simpler, more understandable game mechanics and underlying combat models taking better account of human nature.

His prescription is one whose elements have been discussed several places recently  – but which he presents together elegantly and with copious references – campaign analysis is no more “broken” than wargaming or any other tool of operations research – the problem is we have forgotten the limitations in the “fine print” for each and are not using them TOGETHER in a systematic, scientific manner.He illustrates several cases of past failures resulting from trying to produce “universal answer machines” that gave “the right answer”. He calls it a fool’s errand to look for any tool that provides incontrovertibly what the decision-maker should do: which course of action should be followed, or what weapon to buy and how many. Even more foolish to try to predict perturbations in future battles arising from “swapping out” one weapon for another leaving all else constant.

His advice is to move from an analytic agenda aimed at drilling deeply into individual platforms and weapons systems to a more integrated mission-focused one.

If DoD is to overcome its accelerating mismatch between limited budgets and growing challenges, it requires a new analysis paradigm and a culture focused more on national security than on protecting parochial service and program priorities by withholding knowledge and data.

He recommends the following (my cutting and pasting from his much more detailed explanations):

  • Asking Essential Questions and Selecting Appropriate Methods. DoD should realize that the principal value of good analysis is in eliminating infeasible or unsuitable courses of action, and that no analyses can provide point solutions to complicated problems. The most appropriate action from pseudoexperimentation, whether war gaming or combat/computer simulation, is exploring the validity of the findings using other techniques. Analysis campaigns involve using a variety of techniques to address important issues. Cycles of research emphasize the interaction among these techniques as progress in one investigation informs others and is in turn informed by them.
  • War Gaming and Combat/Campaign Simulation. War gaming and combat/ campaign simulation are complementary to each other. Both provide insight to participants on factors governing the contingency under study and issues and data needing further study.
  • Fleet/Field Operations Analysis.Games and combat simulation should tie directly to field/fleet exercises experimenting with new concepts, using prototype systems designed to address capability enhancements, and carefully collecting data to inform important areas of ignorance and assumptions used in plans, games, and campaign simulation.
  • Intelligence Collection. War games also should be tied to intelligence collection and analysis.
  • Campaign Analysis. Rather than using war games or large campaign models that require significant amounts of time to set up, rapid, focused analyses on the eve of war have demonstrated value in anticipating important outcomes.
  • Simple versus Large Combat Models. Good analysis derives from understanding those few essential features of the subject under study that govern an outcome. 125 Although using models to understand essential features is valuable, attempting to predict outcomes by adding ever more detail without considering the implications for additional uncertainty is antithetical to analysis. Campaign analyses and manual war games employing simple, focused combat models and rules that are understood and subject to question by all participants can expose the factors that govern success—i.e., those on which commanders and capability developers should focus.
  • Complexity Sciences. Advances in complexity sciences raise questions regarding current combat models and present new opportunities for defense analyses.
  • History, Cognitive and Social Sciences, and Artificial Intelligence. The cycle of research for war gaming and combat/campaign simulation also extends to studying history and developments in social science, including experimental gaming on human behavior (such as in behavioral economics) and cognitive science studying developments in understanding the brain, etc., to explore human reasoning and dynamics.
  • Reviewing Previous Results. A final area of emphasis in a cycle of research is reviewing previous results.

At 40 pages with over 100 footnotes, it starts this new year off with much to chew on!




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Wargaming and Innovation part II


I ended part I with the slide above showing how various types of games make up the spectrum between Experimentation and Analysis. Where these games are cooperative and have players working together to solve a problem, or what in many Euro-style games amounts to “competitive solitaire” I will call them “games”. A label that includes the following sub-types: where the players compete against each other (individually or as part of teams) I consider them “wargames”; where a wargame is implemented in a strictly military context, a “kriegspiel”. Not all wargames are kriegspiels, but all kriegspiels are wargames.

My little pithy quotes are typically chosen to juxtapose with, or amplify the theme of the slide. I use Groucho Marx ‘s great quote here because it represents the sort of frame of reference shift that often characterizes the “a-ha” moments related to abductive reasoning and associative thinking. More on that below. It also illustrates differing levels of abstraction. Fruit flies (noun) being attracted to bananas is pretty much the rationale for them being called “fruit flies”. It is closely tied to direct observation. The analogy between the passage of time and the flight (verb) of an arrow is a sophisticated one that requires comparing two unrelated phenomena in a way that draws out an association that is not directly observable like the case of fruit flies and bananas. I’ll come back to the “nouns vs verbs” thing below as well.

This idea of “abstraction level” or how direct the connection is between the representation of a thing in a game and the “real thing” is a key element in keeping games representative, yet playable. In the diagram above the Exploratory type of game (or workshop) is the most abstract and as you move toward either end, the games become more closely related to reality. The following slides were hidden in my presentation to save time, but will be discussed here.


Despite Mr. Iverson’s protestations, teams are built on practice and for the military, this is particularly true. The closer you can get to “the real thing” in an exercise, the more opportunities there are for cementing teaming relationships. So, in the interest of trying to establish “where activities stop being wargames”, with the exception of some in the media, its rare for someone to consider a military exercise in the field as “a wargame”. As I go through my typology on the following 3 slides, for each I call out how forces are represented, who is making the decisions, and how are interactions are adjudicated. The next most “wargame-like” activity is the CPX/TEWT where the actual commanders and their staffs practice their “battle rhythm” with simulated troops and adjudication that can range from free to rigid kriegspiel-style. When these events feature new or “innovative” capabilities, they are usually considered “wargames”, but as these events are usually training or proficiency certification events, piggy-backing on them to see how the participants use novel capabilities is rarely productive, other to have the novel capability “validated” by having uniformed personnel say they would like to have improved capabilities.It is what I call “experimental games” where you have a situation specifically created to compare “with and without” situations using existing and novel capabilities. The two alternatives may be presented to the players within the same event, or across two or more separate play sessions. The specific situations to be compared should come from previous decision-making games exploring the more general aspects of the challenge being explored.

The key here is to limit the number of “novel capabilities” to what the players can comprehend. Too many times I’ve seen games where literally dozens of new capabilities are dumped on the players in so-called “technology games” where the quality of the briefing of the “quad-charts” determines how effectively the capability is used. These games are held at a lower level of abstraction from the point of view that you have actual or surrogate decision-makers and simulation-based adjudication of interactions between simulated or constructive forces.


At the next higher level of abstraction (and often at the operational vs tactical level as i s the case with an experimental game) you have more general “decision-making games”. These can use current or “future” capabilities, but the players focus on the decision-making involved in employing those capabilities, rather than the “with and without” that characterizes experimental games. The format of these games can take on many forms from the “BOGSAT” workshop to what looks very similar to an Experimental Game. The main difference is the focus on process and planning rather than the more specific suitability, feasibility, acceptability and related criteria experimental games try to get to concerning the proposed capability changes. These games input information from the still more  abstract Exploratory games/workshops.

The exploratory category is where the level of abstraction can cause the event to lose any real resemblance to a “wargame” with no real buy-in by the players into the decision-making or any attempt at adjudicating outcomes. These “seminar games” can be very useful for introducing new concepts to a disparate group in an attempt at “norming” the group to a highly level of understanding of the subject matter discussed. There may not be any adjudication at all – what i call “talking about what you might do if you played the game” but never being forced to commit to any course of action necessarily. Exploratory games provide the most value in my experience when the players understand they they are the start of series of efforts that roll down to a decision-making game and from there to a set of experimental games (or right to an experimental game, as the sequence of game types need not always be desirable/possible.

Now to this point we have focused on the “experimental/exercise” end of the spectrum which I characterize as being focused on decision-maker engagement. Typically this is characterized as “warfighter engagement”, though one has to be selective to choose “warfighters” carefully by position and/or experience. While folks in uniform (as I was for 22 years) have extremely valuable and specific skill sets, those who have a broad understanding of the “warfighting context” in a given geographic area, or domain can be difficult to get to attend your game, for the very reason they have that “high demand, low quantity” experience base. There is also a difference between “technical knowledge” of systems and their capabilities and knowledge and insight into the decision-making regarding their wartime employment. Nobody has the exact combination of these knowledge bases, which is why these exploratory games tend to be “the bar the wargamer, the analyst and the warfighter walk into” (see previous unfinished post for ramblings on that inspired by previous events I attended).

That leads us to the transition point in the exploratory gaming realm where we shift from the decision-focused game to the interaction-focused game. This path follows up an exploratory game with a research game, which focuses on exploration “what happens if I… (insert hypothesis to be explored here). In this case the human decision making is ofen scripted and the effect of the change to the system is explored assuming the human decision-making is held relatively constant. The Research game is still abstract enough that decision-effects are considered. just as hypothetical excursions are often considered in decision-making games. This leads us to the less abstract game forms that are increasingly analytic in nature.


Appropriately, just as the “experimental game” is defined as the “sweet spot” between abstraction of the representation of warfare with the focus on how a set of inputs affects human decision-making, the eponymous “analytic game”is at the sweet spot of abstraction balanced with exploring the complex inter-relationships between the myriad “gears of war” with the effects of those pesky “meddling humans” held constant. As the “Cycle of Research” (or in this case “Cycle of Innovation as Peter Perla often calls it  in this context), the ‘wheel” can oscillate back and forth from an Exploratory game, to an analytic game, then back to a research game, then to a campaign analysis game, and then back to a CPX. The various forms provide information that can be feed to other types of games, but their is no set sequence that guarantees success.

Just as the line where most would consider the “wargameness” aspect of an event to be nearing zero, or going past it, the area of campaign and tactical analysis can still have game-like qualities. The notion that “a human in the loop simulation is a game” is often not the case, as the human is often not “playing the game” but more “correcting for the fact the simulation behavior model (artificial intelligence) might do something stupid”. Technically that is a decision-making role, but not typically considered the same type of decision-making as a player competing with an adversary.I place campaign analysis before tactical analysis because by its nature it tends to be more abstract, and there is still room for a “player in the loop” if well designed. Tactical analysis often moves totally into the realm of “simulation-based scenario decomposition” where the interference by he pesky humans is minimized (hearkening back to the figure on slide 8).

Just as you can have “real” campaign analysis games (they are rarely used, but might be) there are tactical analysis games that of great use. In many cases these sorts of games involve linking together either actual replica tactical environments (like an airplane cockpit, or a functioning mock-up of a Control Room or Combat Information Center. This the other side of the coin of the CPX where you have actual or surrogate decision-makers but no forces, to in this case you have high fidelity representations of “Forces” but the decision-making is either scripted, or tightly controlled to hold as may possible disrupting variables constant. Like those pesky humans.

So this is my typology relating types of games based on level of abstraction and are focused on increasing fidelity of the decision-making environment while holding the structural complexity of the interactions to an appropriate level of abstraction (the experiment/exercise direction). Or, on the other hand you are holding the interactional complexity of the decision-making environment more or less constant to explore how processes, capabilities, and tactics interplay when changes to the status quo are introduced.

So now the stage is set to discuss a process of using the various types of games (or game-like events for some value of “gameness” greater than zero…) to “innovate” or as we usually mean “be creative”. This process is summarized in the slide below, which I will discussion more detail in Part III. Note that the title of the next slide is meant as a joke, but if you think it makes a better “Cover Story” to give your Boss as to what it is you plan to do, then feel free to use as many of the adjectives as you deem necessary to “get permission to game”. Just never say “role-playing” and “game” in the same sentence. Even enlightened Bosses can’t help but think:


(“Stranger Things” on NETFLIX…Great Show, particularly if you were in the AV club and played D&D in late 70s highschool!)


So all those types of sorts of games are used in various parts of the process outlined above for dealing with that gnawing feeling in your gut that you need you some innovatin’! Each step in the process is described in more detail in Part III. For those who want to read ahead, those slides are provided below:








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Wargaming and Technology Innovation


Connections UK was a tremendous experience this year. Being part of one of the panels was particularly enjoyable.  Thanks to Graham Longley-Brown and Dr. Stephen Downes-Martin for including me as a presenter and panel member! I guess it pays to know gentleman with hyphenated names in the UK! Dr. Downes-Martin’s panel discussed “Wargaming and Innovation”. Sharing the stage with a pair of phenomenal young women, Ellie Bartles and Laura Hoffman, demonstrated that professional wargaming will be in good hands long after grey-haired gents like me retire!

Using wargaming to facilitate technology innovation is one of my primary focus areas in my role as lead of the Naval Sea Systems Command Warfare Center’s Fleet Engagement Community of Practice Wargaming Line of Effort and Asst. Director for Concept Development and Wargaming in the Office of the Mission Area Director, Undersea Warfare (or as I joked given the ponderousness of all that, simply “The Wargame Dork”).slide2

The audio of the talk is up on the Connections UK website, but for those who don’t want to spend 20 minutes listening to the dulcet tones of my voice, what follows is a review and extension. I opened my talk reinforcing my mantra that to be a “game savvy” engineer, scientist or analyst, or a serious game designer, you MUST PLAY GAMES!slide3All types of games. Euro-style games, hex and counter wargames, matrix-style games, role-playing games (RPG), real-time sims (RTS) and first person shooters (FPS). Manual games and computer games. Even to be a professional player of “serious games” the more gameplay you engage in, the greater the range of game types you can contribute to, and the wider range of game-play experience you can leverage. Despite this being pretty obvious to gamers, its surprising how hard it is to create a professional work environment where members of the workforce feel “permitted to play”. Interminable “lean, six-sigma” meetings, “hack-a-thons” and “slack-a-thons” and “yellow-sticky innovation cells” are encouraged. Try to replace one of those demonstrably less effective techniques with a game-based event and the demands for “proof of ROI” echo down the hallways.A “Game-play champion” as high as possible in the organization (as I have been empowered to do in my organization) is required and even then takes a while. Adding “Gamepaly elements” to the aforementioned types of events is something I’ve found effective in waging a “gaming insurgency”.

slide4The meat of my presentation is about Innovation, Technology and Wargaming and the relationship between them as “ends”, “ways” and “means”. I opened with some discussion of what those terms mean to me. I’m a big fan of Everett Rodger’s book “Diffusion of Innovations” in which he makes a point of the centrality of changes in behavior to innovation. I thought the typology presented above from from the book, but searching my Kindle for it, I could not find it. If anyone knows the source, please let me know! Categorizing innovations in terms of the effect on the system(s) they are a part of struck me as more informative than typical “business-oriented” descriptions of innovation (which in many cases is synonymous with “creativity”.slide5

My co-worker Tom Choinski, in work he has done in his Ph.D. dissertation research placed Stephen Kline’s decomposition of the components of “technology” in the context of military application. Since that is the framework I approach the issue of technology innovation from, I like the manner in which it emphasizes that technology is an interactive activity, not a “gizmo”. The artifact is important but is only one piece of the technology puzzle. We tend to think of change in behavior of the “system” in terms of “what happens to the other parts of technology when you introduce a better (or different) artifact?”. Typical brain-storming techniques applied to technology innovation tend to approach the problem from that point of view. Either “how do I make my new gizmo achieve one or more of those types of innovation” or “In order to change my system, what kind of new gizmo do I want”. Gaming helps explore the wider scope all four components above combined incorporate.


Given the nature of the Connections UK audience, I hid the above slide to make more time for the process slides below, but given the arguments that break out at every wagaming community event about “what’s a wargame”. I often include them for information about “where I’m coming from” when I use the different terms. Despite being ambiguously lumped together in the defense community as “M&S”, I make an important distinction between models and simulations regarding time. Models are time invariate – they always give the same answer. Simulations change over time as they are frameworks to determine the interaction between models over time. I consider a “game” to be humans using simulations to achieve goals. This is often “cooperative” as players work together. Its not a “wargame” (I often use “kriegspiel” for clarity vs the various uses of wargame and war game and simulation game) unless there is competition – somebody “wins”. MOre specifically a game that uses a map of other graphic representation of the landscape upon which the competition occurs, some kind of pieces that represent the tools the players use to compete with each other (may be tokens, cards, or other means) and an agreed upon methodology to determine the outcomes of players actions (free or rigid forms). Now the importance of which side wins depends on the objectives, but the centrality of competition between multiple, interacting sides to achieve objectives is to me what makes a game a “kriegspiel”. The other important thing to a kriegspiel is the “level of abstraction” or how closely coupled the simulations upon which the game are based to reality. More on this a couple of slides down.slide7

While I hid this slide as well, I find it useful to categorize games depending on the type of interaction the players have with each other, the white cell, and control cell toward what sort of goal. Note that there can be a distinction in my mind between a “white cell” – whose job it is to mange information and communication between the players and “the rest of the world” – and the control cell which deals with adjudication of events and collecting data about player decision-making. I find Jason Rhody’s distinction between ludic and analytic goals useful in this regard. I adapted his definitions a bit in the green and yellow notes in the slide above. In my experience facilitating technology innovation, that its the games that “promote curiosity, engagement and reflection” that are more useful – particularly early in the process – than those that are highly structured to “promote analytic achievement of a well-defined, predetermined end-state”. Note that the “end-state” here is the end-state of the game event from the point of view of “why we are playing the game” not the player point of vie of “objective to be attained through game-play”.


The final introductory slide adapts Peter Perla’s “Cycle of Research” diagram adding what I believe the predominate type of reasoning is to move from one spoke to another of the cycle. This will be important in the next slide where I discuss the types of wargames and how the relate to the process I propose. I also differentiate “operations analysis” from “operations research” which encompasses all the techniques represented in the cycle of which operations analysis is one. Exercises and experimentation produce broad categories of data that can be analyzed deductively to produce specific relationships that can be explored via operations analysis techniques, and vice versa. These specific relationships are used as part of wargame design and execution to create (or adjust in future iterations) the framework in which the game design is grounded. Game execution involves “that other” form of reasoning – abduction (or as C.S. Peirce later called it “Retroduction”) – whereby new insights and hypotheses are conceived of based on patterns observed and reflected upon during gameplay. It can also floe the other way where exercises and experimentation provides the specific data that can be used in a similar way.

The the other diagram is one of my own creation to illustrate the relationship between wargaming, operations analysis and exercises/experimentation and the “levels of war”. The levels affect exercises as regards their complexity. Tactical exercises can be conducted within the lifelines of a single platform, or at the high operational or even strategic level, events like RIMPAC involve months of preparation, weeks of execution and objectives that border reach beyond the military into the diplomatic realm. Of more interest to the topic of the presentation is the “twin triangles” representing the degree to which wargaming or operations analysis is leveraged to complete the cycle of research at a given level of war. At the lowest levels, in the context of my work represented by the performance of subsystem models of system components, these are fundamentally engineering problems with little input of human decision-makers. The realm of strategic “pol-mil” problem solving is almost entirely determined by humans making decisions – something notoriously difficult to analyze. Its my experience that the high tactical/low operational level is where the partnership between wargaming and operations analysis is the most complementary. I characterize this area by the need to consider the capabilities of the individual weapons systems on the platforms represented in the context of all the “military functions” (personnel and training, intelligence operations, fires, maneuver, logistics, planning, communications, and force protection). At lower levels, fewer humans are involved in the decision-making and the context of those decisions are more easily represented through abstractions about training and education in TTP and doctrine. At the higher operational and strategic levels, the specific platform capabilities can be generalized or aggregated focusing only on those aspects relevant to the decision-making context. In that middle ground, finding the right abstraction level that doesn’t over-complicate capability representation, or hand-wave at the complexities representing the interaction between military functions.


I’ll finish this introduction with my attempt to “zoom in” on the wargaming portion of the cycle and what I have found to be a useful arrangement of types of games between the “exercise” end and the “operations analysis end”. I also indicate what I see the relationship between gaming related activities and the types of innovation. I will readily attempt to mixing “gaming” and “wargaming” in the slides and in my explanation. I think from a technical innovation standpoint narrative cooperative games can be in many ways more useful than kriegspiels. I have three slides I hid during the Connections talk that provide more detail on each type and will use those to start part II of this discussion.

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Connections UK AAR


I was privileged to participate as a panelist on “Wargaming for Innovation” this past week at King’s College in London. A wonderful set of AAR’s on the “Civil War in Binni” mega-game and the full conference are available on Rex Brynan’s PAXSIMS site.

This was an excellent event and I highly recommend attending it next year (or your soonest opportunity)! The Mega-game and the quality of the professional games run during the Games Faire were first – rate. In all, as they say across he pond – “Brilliant!!”

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Battle of Jutland Centennial #2

The Naval War College put on the truly historical Jutland game – using a version of the actual 1916 war College rules. Over at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, as the kickoff game in our Historic Naval Battles series, we put on a more “Beer and Pretzels” version. Soft pretzels were actually available from the Subway next to the “collaboration center”  we used to hold the game. Usually used as a classroom for 40+ people – this space had maybe 20 x 50 ft of usable floor space, allowing the use of a 300yds per inch and 8 turns per hour game scale.

Jutland setup

We had NUWC’s Chief Staff Officer CDR Pete Rodgers playing the role of ADM Scheer leading the High Seas Fleet. John Ackerman, one of our resident Engineer gamers, took the role of Jellico. We had about 15 players all told, each commanding a squadron of 4-8 capital ships and/or light ship formations. A lesson learned in hindsight from Pete Pelligrino over at NWC, was to give players a “Forward” command and a “Rear” command – this would have avoided the unfortunate circumstance that half the players took most of the game getting to the battle. Despite only having the opportunity to get a few licks in (if any) before we reached out collective culmination point – about 3 hours of game play following an hour of setup and rules explanation – the proverbial good time was had by all.

We used graphics from the out of print Jutland game blown up to about 4 inches long. That gave about a 1/2400 scale top down view and at the same time, at 1200 yds ground scale, took up about 600ft of ship with 500yrds for and aft. So a line of ships had 1000yds spacing  – a bit far perhaps, but not bad.

The counter dimensions were driven by the choice to use 3/16s balsa (which came in 4 in widths and 3ft lengths) for bases to which the ship graphics were affixed to  with “mod-page” fixative. This worked out really well resulting in ships that were easily handled, with the advantage of being able to record hits and torpedo salvo use with ball-tipped stick pins stuck into the balsa bases

The light cruiser and destroyer formations were similarly 1200 yrds long, but about 600 yrds wide – a bit tight for typical 2-3 CLs and 4-5 DDs, but not terrible given the limit of the number of pieces of balsa stock available at the local Micheal’s craft store. They were the source of all the other materials or the game ringing in at under $40 using a 30% off coupon courtesy of my daughter the master crafter of the family!Ship CounterWe used pipe cleaners bent into the desired path of ship movement to give orders and facilitate the movement of the ships along on the floor. To represent the time delays associated with command and control of the period, the players “gave orders” for the next turn, ten executed orders for this turn. This was a bit problematic when quarters became close – as it became difficult to avoid fudging by players who put their “orders” out after others. If we had it to be done other, we would have just had the players draw the desired pass on a yellow sticky placed near the formation. The rules have been updated to reflect that.  Using white pipe-cleaners gave a nice impression of “wakes” when seen from a distance – though also in reverse as the pipe-cleaners were placed out ahead of the counters as “orders” as well.

Giving ordersIn typical fashion we used range sticks, but as Home Depot apparently no longer make dowels longer than 3ft, Michaels came through with a bundle of decorative bamboo rods, a bit under half an inch in diameter and about 80in (24,000 scale yards) long. These worked perfectly – light weight and just stiff enough not to bend when held out. With range marks every 10 inches to 50in and every 5 after that (as effectiveness dropped off and negative DRMs to fire quickly accrue) it was quick and easier to judge distances.

Range sticksThe intention was to use cotton both for “laid smoke” and “firing smoke” but it was apparent that indicating smoke for every firing would delay things far more than it was worth, so that was cast aside and stricken from the rules. To keep things moving, each squadron fired together at an enemy squadron, totaling the firepower points from the Jutland counters. Each firepower point amounted to a roll of a d10 – with a “0” (10) required for a hit. Learning my lesson from the Okinawa game – with typical squadron firepower factors in excess of 20 to over 30 – I made a firepower table that aggregated the distribution of expected results and reduced any firing to a single d10. I stole the idea from the SPI Dreadnought game that “off the table” (i.e. greater than 9) results dramatically escalated hits – while “less than 0” rolls (typically at long range) dropped rapidly to zero.

This wide range of variation for a given firepower range depending on DRMs was a stark contrast to the NWC 1916 rules were fire did set amounts of damage with no die roll. Both have advantages and disadvantages the historical pedigree of the NWC rules being a perfect match for a scholarly recreation. For “beer and pretzel” gaming I thought a wide range from “something’s wrong with our bloody ships” to “finding the range on the first shot”. Indeed, there were several “runs of luck” each way at critical points in the battle that saw that saw players letting their virtual captains what they thought in no uncertain terms.

berating poor performanceOr matter-of-factly pointing out “oh look, I rolled ANOTHER 9” (Its gotta be the uniform!)

another 9Damage was indicated with stickpins (those with a yellow ball end were cheapest…) and an orange “belch of flame” to indicate “took damage this turn” for later DRMs. Battle cruier vulnerability to big gun fire was taken into acaount with a special die roll when a BC was hit and fired in the same turn. Germans exploded on snake eyes, while the more vulnerable British did so on a 2 or 3. Demonstrating the historical accuracy of the rules, 2 British BCs exploded, right on cue (though one was already little more than a hole in the ocean when it did so). This was indicated with a small pile of belched flame.

BC explodes(Yes this was the result of one of those “9”s…)

All told we made good progress getting through the entire Battlecruiser engagement and a few shots from the main bodies at long range) 14 turns or a an hour and 45min in 3 hours of game play. I made the rookie umpiring mistake of not letting the players do more of their own combat resolution. No matter how much you say you are not – its always SOOOO easy to get drawn in when the action gets hot and heavy and the players get competitive and want an “authoritative” ruling!

midst of battle“No, I think its really half an inch closer so I get the +2 DRM for range less than 6yds, don’t you?”

The Destroyers and Light cruisers of the Battle Cruiser force lay smoke and the Heavies speed around it to engage at close range. The German destroyer force uses the smoke to cover a quick approach and use the smoke to cover a turn of its own to break contact and speed toward the Main Body of he Grand Fleet and delay it.BC action nears culmination

Meanwhile the High Seas Fleet deliberately closes. In hindsight had they closed at full speed they might have gotten their licks in on the British Battle Cruisers. The swirling battle of flank and out-flank almost resulted in a “180” flipping the field.The British Light Cruiser squadrons and DD’s lay smoke for the Battle Cruisers (who survived) to retire behind.

Germans making a deliberate approach

Meanwhile the British Armored Cruisers and 5th Battle Squadron hot their heels, stress test their boilers to get o the fray. It gets orders to heave hard to starboard to meet the German Destroyers when they emerge from behind the smoke.

Vanguard of the Grand Fleet engages

Our photographer had to leave about that time, the battle went on about another 30 minutes after that, the result ending up pretty much as you would expect – the British battle cruisers got mauled – 2 exploded and 2 others lost, but the Germans lost a lot of destroyers in the process of torpedo attacks to finis them off. The British armored cruisers came around the smoke screen as it dissipates and ran right into the line of German pre-dreadnoughts. Neither had the firepower to do a lot , but German torpedobooten got some lucky licks in and forced the British to turn away. The Pre-dreadnoughts were than mauled themselves by the British Light Cruisers. The High Seas Fleet then approached, formed a massive line and  headed to the right in the above picture. The Grand fleet was approaching in 4 columns, and started to mass that direction as well. The German Destroyers continued to the right, but the High Seas fleet doubled back to the left (the smoke was gone by then).

As the game ended it was looking like a near run thing whether the High Sea Fleet maneuver would have been able to race around and get past the Grand Fleet before it could be brought to battle or darkness fell. The remaining British Battle cruisers and Light Cruiser squadrons, together with the 5th Battle Squadron had a decent chance of intercepting, but could it have taken the pounding of going against the entire German Fleet? Would the Brits have succumbed to the temptation to throw their individual Battle Squadrons piecemeal to attrite the Germans – risking defeat in detail themselves?

The debate was not resolved!

Endgame discussion

In case you missed the link in the midst of the above, the “print and play” package of rules and graphics is available here. Note that the graphics are from the out of print Avalon Hill Jutland game – copyrighted material at one point, but I’m not sure who owns copyright. They are used here without profit for educational purposes.

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Connections 2016 Registration Open

This blog had its origins in the Connections Interdisciplinary Wargaming Conference, an annual event which is held each summer to bring together practitioners from every segment of the wargaming community to share with and learn from one another.  To read some earlier posts about previous Connections conferences and related activities, hit the “Connections conference” tag below.

Registration for Connections 2016 is now open!  The conference will be held August 9-12 at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, AL, hosted by the LeMay Center Wargaming Institute.  This year’s theme is: “Advancing Wargaming as a Catalyst for Innovation.”

Keynotes, speaker panels, game demos, working groups, and a workshop component called the Game Lab will provide a wide-ranging experience for Connections attendees.

More information, including the current draft of the agenda, is available at the Connections website.  If you are interested in presenting at Connections, or displaying a poster or running a game demonstration, the registration page on the website also has a link to a Call for Papers, Posters, and Demos.

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GrogHeads Reviews Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming

GrogHeads Reviews Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming


“Do you need to buy this book?” is the ultimate question.  Unless you’re a single-track wargamer, who eats, sleeps, breathes, and lives & dies with one type of game – tabletop hex & counter, or digital FPS – there’s going to be more than enough reading to keep your interest.


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