Wargaming the Centennial of the Battle of Jutland

This was sent out Wednesday on the Society of Daisy yahoo group (bunch of older recreational wargamers more into imagi-nations…).  IIRC, the original tile floor was in the building next to the ENEWS site, was covered with picnic tables and had a coke machine behind the speaker…  Would have loved to have been there for this game!


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The Battle to Teach Wargaming

In a War on the Rocks piece a couple of weeks ago Dr. Jim Lacy  recounts the travails and successes of using wargaming as a teaching tool in his Marine Corps War College classes. It caused a bit of a dust up over on National Interest. It resonated with me as I was in a similar sort of situation a couple of weeks ago, teaching a group of 30+ scientists, engineers and analysts about wargaming, decision-making and naval operations. It seemed in the cat-herding of all of it that I was living Dr. Lacy’s quote:

Then, the big day arrived … and I failed miserably.

Well, thankfully the students didn’t seem to notice too much… While I set the bar a fair bit too high for both they and myself, most were having too much fun to notice I was whirling like dervish from table to table answering questions tearing out what little hair I have left, having insufficiently prepared them.  I even had two gentlemen from the Army War College attending to see what this “NUWC” place was doing teaching a class in wargaming?

Well, as a “Warfare Center” NUWC (Naval Undersea Warfare Center – sister to the Naval Surface Warfare Center) has broad responsibility within the Navy connecting the Science and Technology (S&T) community, the Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E) community, the Acquisition Community and the In-service Engineering Agent (ISEA) communities all to the Fleet.  We even have a nice Bridge logo appropriate to all that:


So with all that stuff going on to support the Fleet, we must be WAAAY to busy to be playing games, right? Well, argued I, if they are the right kind of games, then maybe we should MAKE time to play them if we are serious about thinking more creatively so as to get programs “across the bridge” more effectively. If the desire is to explore how technologies can be combined in new ways “building Boyd snowmobiles” yellow sticky drills and brainstorming sessions only go so far. Pitting  capabilities against each other in an operational context to see what the advantages and disadvantages provides more comprehensive insights than discussing options alone.

The idea to teach scientists, engineers and analysts about the Fleet they are supporting by teaching them to play wargames has gained traction and is one of the lines of effort in the NAVSEA Warfare center’s Fleet Engagement Community of Practice. Those efforts will hopefully complement the re-invigoration of wargaming in traditional in traditional venues and help “democratize” wargaming other places where it can provide opportunities tho think more deeply about warfighting challenges and how to address them. “High Density Learning” to go along with efforts focusing on “High Velocity Learning”.

So now enters hubris.

Connection’s game lab last year was my first attempt to teach a large group of people a wargame. I tried to make what I thought was a simple game. Simple for someone who knew what “a complicated game” was (e.g. GMT’s A World at War or Avalon Hill/MMP “Advanced Squad Leader”). The result was my A2ADventure game derived from the little “SubHunt” game I did for “Bring your Child to Work Day” at NUWC several years ago. If I could teach SubHunt to 7 -12 year olds in about 15 minues, I thought I could teach A2ADventure to a group of folks at a wargame conference in an hour. So I gave myself 90 minutes. Which was a good thing because as often happens at conferences, I lost have to time to things running late. So now, flustered and off my game, I tried to teach the game in 45 minutes. It was a LOOONG 45 minutes. A good many people seemed intrigued and I had a 3 hour timeslot the next day for actual gameplay, so I was hopeful. To make a long story shor, I had about 40 people engaged with the game, with 8 or 10 really whooping it up. A lot of tables didn’t know where to start and hadn’t really been able to get much further than “talk about what they might do if they got around to played the game”. Which is fine, that is about as far as 80% of “professional wargames” ever get. It pointed out to me a vital point to remember teaching non-wargamers about wargames:

Familiar with the rules doesn’t mean familiarity with what you do with the pieces to win!

Knowing the rules and knowing what to do with that information in the context of competition are two different things and BOTH need to be taught to new players. Having observed that issue rear its head at Connections, I of course took that into account in my new course! Well, not so much…

So now enters a bad memory as well as hubris.

As often happens when we desire to do great things and accomplish worthy deeds, or otherwise get all liquored up about something cool, we forget to remember what we did the last time. Or at least I did. Obviously. I figured I could do pretty much the same thing I did for Connections, and having learned from that experience, would do better this time. However, intervention from the rest of my day job and life in general meant my plan for using 3 games to illustrate points over 3 days got pretty compressed. I had already delayed the course once, and in hindsight should have again to be better prepared. Interest can wax and wane precipitously, and I felt I needed to get something “out there” to get the ball rolling. I pressed on. I had put together 20 odd copies of the A2ADventure game for connections, 4 copies each of 3 games didn’t sound that daunting, and I had some printing support from our graphics department this time. I forgot that the issue at Connections was not the physical components, but communicating to the players what to do with them. Again its not just giving them the rules, but insight into the strategizing process – thinking through how to accomplish an objective in the game, given the constraints of the rules.Walking through the game can help, but compounding my bad decision-making was the excitement with which I learned there were over 30 people who had signed up for the 16 slots in the course. Obviously that is great – run the course once and get the bugs out, then run the course again. Well, thought I, having a larger group see how many others interested in gaming there were, and of course secure in my knowledge of how much I learned at Connections, I said “sure”. Dopey me.

Once more into the breech…

The title of the course is “Wargaming, Naval operations, and Decision-making. Dr. Stephen Downes-Martin handled most of the “…and decision-making” while I endeavored to give an overview of wargaming, operational art and how the current navy operates. The basic syllabus was “death by powerpoint” in the morning – followed by a gaming session all afternoon. The general flow was to talk about “strategy games” in general – not “strategic level of war” on Day 1. Dr. Downes Martin the covered “what does it mean to be a professional wargamerDay 2 covered military operations in general (including a bit on the difference between the “complex” and the “complicated” in theory) and an introduction to “operational art” using slides from a US Naval War College brief – trying to get at the “what do you do with the pieces” in an operational level wargame. Then the 3rd day a bit of recap followed by a brief on the U.S. Navy and how it operates. Not connecting the lectures closely enough with teaching about associated game mechanics left many students scratching their heads. Most noodled their way through.

The games I used for the afternoon “practical” sessions were:

Day 1 “Seapowers” designed by the Center for Naval Analyses (Peter Perla and Al Nofi, developed by Chris Weuve and Mike Markowitz – many thanks to Dr. Perla for giving me permission to share it!) for the (now disestablishing) Chief of Naval Operation’s Strategic Studies Group back in 2000. It puts players in the position of developing a Fleet for one of four Great Powers (Great Britain, France, Germany, and the US) from 1875 to WWI. This period saw arguably the greatest confluence of naval innovations in naval history – from sailing ships with steam engines, to the super-dreadnought battleship in some 40 years. Players must balance building an extant fleet, with developing technology for an improved Fleet – within the context of the type of naval warfare (Sea Control, Sea Denial, Littoral Defense, or Commerce Raiding) the country’s national strategy calls for.

Day 2 I used a game on the Leyte campaign using components from GMT’s “A World at War” enlarged and mounted on foamcore. The game used a “bucket of dice” approach not unlike “Victory in the Pacific” and used pennies as “logistics tokens” (Q: gee where can I get high quality generic metal disks to use as tokens for cheap? A: Any Bank!). A used this operation at the behest of friends form the Army War College distance learning department. The idea was that the game started with a “planning phase” wherein the players collaborated on a “sketch course of action” for the first 2 weeks of operations – in particular where they were moving their logistics tokens.The US player moved first. The Japanese player watched and decided when to try and intercept US airstrikes or ship movements. Rolling a d6 less than the range in hexes to the intercept point triggered a successful intercept. I’m still updating the rules based on what amounted to a very productive play test session. I declared success when, upon telling everyone they could leave, most stayed to finish turns or to tell other groups their “war stories”.

This really brought home he connection of gaming as “narrative creation” with the story-telling afterward demonstrating new knowledge, and reinforcing lessons about the historical outcome. “The Japanese were just screwed – they have no logistics and the US had all those Task Forces”. responded to with “But if we would have worked together like we planned, we woulda wrecked the invasion force, you had to go all “Halsey” on us and send the land-based air after the US carriers!” “Well ya, they woulda shredded your heavy BB group if I hadn’t – I wasn’t going leave you hanging like Marines at Guadalcanal!”

And back and forth…! This even with a two and a half inch firehose of knowledge thrown at them and generally grouping around in the dark asking questions, which as they were answered, demonstrated some points Dr. Downes-Martin likes to make about indications that students are gaining proficiency with the rules, starting with asking questions about “how do I do (xxx)?” rather than “what can a (xxx) unit do?” indicating they have moved from trying to understand the rules, to strategizing about what the rules let them do (or don’t). When they start proposing new rules they have moved tot eh next level and the advanced level is achieved when they start trying to cheat (or catch one another cheating! (or at least catching them innocently not following the rules correctly.

Had I done a better job connecting the “operational art” slides to game mechanics, this day would have gone a LOT smoother. Fixing that oversight is one of the first things I’m going to fix for “round 2”. Connecting the “theory of combat” and “operational art”lessons directly to specific game mechanics is vital to getting non-gamers up to speed on how the theory and practice relate that I’m embarrassed not to have thought through its importance…twice now…

The third days game is an offshoot of the A2ADventure game to demonstrate current day fleet operations to show the capabilities and limitations of the ships and aircraft discussed in the “Introduction to Naval Forces” that is part of the day 3 package. I will be bringing this game back to Connections this year, at least as a demo, if not as part of the Game lab or game night. More on that as I further refine it this summer!

The “big takeaways” from all this are:

Do gaming stuff with interested non-gamers…even if you worry its not “soup yet”! – I hemmed and hawed for over 2 years all together “talking about doing a class” and kept convincing myself “it wasn’t ready”. Well, what it needed to “be ready” would never have become apparent to me had I not taken the risk and “just done it”.

Directly integrate “teaching the theory” with “teaching the game”. Splitting it into “theory in the morning” and “gaming in the afternoon” would have worked much better as “teach a little, game a little” throughout the day.

Use ringers – I assumed too much I would get more “actual gamers” to help herd cats. I got a lot more “interested non-gamers” than I expected! Had I arranged to have at least 4 experienced gamers in the class – 1 per game table – there wold have been much less frustrations at my inability to be in 4 places at the same time.

Start VERY simple. Using the SubHunt game in the initial “teach a little, game a little” would have gotten the right gears turning in peoples heads faster regarding “abstraction layers” and how you represent causes and effects by nesting the causes in nested game mechanics.

Reach out after you have events! We followed up the course with a management level “after action report” to let the bosses who let their personnel attend the course know what went on, what they got out of it and were honest about difficulties and specifics about how we would improve it the next time. Most importantly entice them into GOING THEMSELVES at least at some point in the future. A 1 day “executive level” course is in the works for that.

Don’t be afraid to Share!!!! Am I happy with the materials I used in the course – no – they could be SOOOO much better if I had unlimited “white space” in my workday, and more spare time at home. But I set a deadline, I did the best I could in that limited time and I’m more than happy to share that and get your feedback for improvement. Constantly refining to make it “more ready” but never pulling the trigger delayed my inordinately and I could have pulled off this course 1 year and a half ago and now have 3 sessions under belt rather than 1. Hopefully I can get a “virtual class” worth of comments from all  y’all!

One of the things I gave out to the class was my Bibliography for Naval Wargamers. I’m looking fro recommended additions (or deletions – much of what is there is from Amazon recommendations, so not entirely vetted, with the exception of the “asterisked” entries which I either have myself or wee recommended by other. The complete package of references and course material (including the things specifically linked to above) is available here. And I will try not leave 6 months between posts again! My Wargamer, Analyst, and Warfighter have been sitting in that bar far too long! I will try to move them along!

So there you have it! Let me know what you think!



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Connections Wargaming Conference Panel Announcements

Dr. Stephen Downes-Martin has put out a request for panel members for the panel he is chairing with Dr. David Banks. Rex Brynan has posted the announcement here at PaxSims.

The announcement for the panel I am chairing is below:

Wargames as a catalyst for innovation – Only if non-gamers are convinced of their usefulness!

Connections this year is taking on the topic of how wargaming can support changing the behavior of a target social system within the military. That is the essential characteristic of an “innovation” – adopters within a social system changing their behavior. Everett Rogers, in his seminal work “Diffusion of Innovations” characterizes the essential metric of innovation success as the percentage of the target social system whose behavior the innovation is aimed at changing, adopt it. The more “innovative” the element introduced, the faster the rate of adoption.

One of the panels at this year’s Connections deals with how wargaming can discover “failure modes” of a concept. Testing concepts – in essence hypotheses about how to synthesize capabilities to achieve an objective – is rigorously done when one attempts to collect falsifying evidence. The accumulation of confirming evidence of the hypothesis does not “prove it”, rather the lack of evidence DIS-proving it is what lends credence to its perceived advantage when implemented.

Another panel addresses developing wargamers who can change how other wargamers wargame – producing wargaming innovation and advancing the state of the art of wargaming.

In both cases, more wargaming must be done in more places, using a wider variety of wargame techniques and tools to “matter”.

There are however, only a very few places in the military where wargaming is performed and only part of that capacity is used to test concepts, and even fewer devote significant resources to “advancing the state of the art” of wargaming. For wargaming to truly impact the rate of adoption of other innovations, it must be perceived as an “innovation” in and of itself and “diffuse” more pervasively through military social systems. More correctly “re-perceived” as one, since it has gone through several cycles of adoption and abandonment.
Gamers “get it” having repeatedly experienced the “a-ha” moment when patterns observed over many games are perceived in a novel way suggesting a new hypothesis explaining “why” certain observations might have been caused. Being comfortable with abstract representations greatly simplifying a complex system into understandable chunks, gamers are comfortable thinking in terms less rigorous than induction and deduction, rather by “abduction” of the form:

The surprising fact, F, is observed.

BUT, if Hypothesis H were true, F would follow as a matter of course.

HENCE, there is a reason to suspect H is true and thus subject H to experimental scrutiny.

There is obviously much more to it than that, abductive insight being but one example of the means by which wargaming can contribute to the process of innovation. The question is, how does wargaming “diffuse” institutionally to create the plethora of venues and wide range of “wargame tools” required to permeate a sufficient body of adopters to achieve the desired goal of “catalytic” impact on other innovative concepts.

Discussion related to “Enhancing the Diffusion of Wargaming as an Innovation” is the theme of Panel 3 at this year’s Connections. Questions for prospective panelists to consider include:

  1. How do we design wargames more likely to overcome individual and organizational barriers to adoption? Particularly those related to cultural aversion to the value of “play” and “games”, together with the predilection to assume that “more abstract, lower fidelity” tools based on  “qualitative and subjective” assessments are less valuable – if not counter-productive – compared to “less abstract, higher fidelity” and “physics-based” tools.
  1. How do we employ wargames in a manner that more readily engages non-gamers in participating in the flow of “constructing the narrative” wherein the “a-ha” moments happen? Is there a difference if participants are from technical vice operational communities?
  1. How do we more effectively capture those insights and communicate them to those who did not participate in the game experience?
  1. How do we encourage and incentivize “adopters” to institutionalize wargaming and the “cycle of research” it is a part of within their social networks?

The above is not all-inclusive and those with other perspectives on the subject topic are encouraged to suggest alternative questions to address. The format will be the same as the other panels with 3 panelists, each having 20min to present their views, followed by 30 minutes of group discussion and Q&A. If you are interested in participating please submit an abstract of your remarks BEFORE FRIDAY JUNE 24th to:


I will notify the selectees by Friday July 1st and ask the selectees to provide a powerpoint presentation – with detailed talking points on the notes pages of each slide – to the email above by Friday July 22nd.

If you are interested in participating on one of the other panels, please contact Timothy Wilke at timothy.wilkie@ndu.edu

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Connections North


Connections North, a one day mini-conference on professional wargaming, will be held in Ottawa on Monday, 22 February 2016. Additional details can be found at PAXsims.

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A Wargamer, an Analyst and a Warfighter walk into a bar.

The MORS Special Meeting on Professional Gaming last week was quite interesting. Rex Brynan posted some great reporting at PAXSims. One of the undercurrents that flowed through the event was what some would call a misunderstanding, others something ranging from ignorance to arrogance. All three words were used to describe the relationship between quantitative analysis and wargaming and the practitioners of each. Keynote speaker’s remarks ranged from talking around the issue to jumping off the top rope into the fray. One took it lightheartedly and started a joke: “A Wargamer and an Analyst walked into a bar…” but admitted that the punchline eluded him. I joked to a table-mate “A barfight”, another speaker offered that they should be the same person. Upon more serious reflection, I think that to get to the heart of matter a third drinking companion was needed – the Warfighter.

My perception of the analysis vs. wargaming debate is indeed neither arrogance or ignorance, but misunderstanding. Analysts look at wargaming and see the lack of a foundation in data traceable to observables, a design and execution process at best “artful” and at worst an appeal to Oracles through Witchcraft and Shamanism. Wargamers look at quantitative analysis and see a foundation in scientism and a design and execution process that wishes away the role of humans as other than “sand in the cogs of a Newtonian War Machince”, which, but for them, would operate at maximum efficiency. More generally an attitude that “if it can’ be measured, it can’t really be that important”. I overheard (and participated in) many discussions where one side or the other tried to enlighten the other as to the above pathologies and how they needed to “turn from the Dark Side” and join the true Jedi Order. Each thought they were the Good Guys. Each has a point.

In full disclosure, I started playing wargames when I was about 8 or 9 (the American Heritage “Dogfight” game with which I spent about as much time “playing with” the pieces as “playing at” the game…) and so became a Wargamer first, a Naval Officer 2nd, and an Analyst later after earning an M.S. from the Naval Postgraduate School. Having the longest experience with the wargaming “worldview”, it resonates most strongly with me but I feel a strong connection to the arguments made on the analytic side, having practiced that discipline over 25 years. However, I also have third strand of DNA in my experience as a Naval Officer that makes me ask “Hey guys, what about ME?

(As an aside, relative to “real Warfighters” I put my own experience in the Navy in the context of someone who learned enough of the mechanics of playing a musical instrument to really appreciate the artful performance of those with virtuouso talent.)

In the set-up to the joke without a punchline, if a barfight breaks out between the Analyst and the Wargamer, its over the object of their affection…the Warfighter. There was an interesting cross section of uniformed, academic, and contractor analysts; together with uniformed, academic and even a couple commercial wargamers at the meeting last week. A respectable cross-section had significant experience in both. The only representation by Warfighters however, was by a few who happened to find themselves in leadership roles within the associated “sponsor” bureaucracy and a couple of others.

Having overheard a few of the comments from a couple them, they didn’t seem to feel like their perspective was being considered in the mix. The gist being a Yoda-like opinion to the effect of “wargamers tell me one thing, analysts another, my own counsel I will keep on what to do”. Analysts have ruled the decision support roost for quite a while. The past contributions of wargamers are being rediscovered, but are not in and of themselves a solution to the warfighter’s feelings of trepidation looking ahead to a more uncertain and competitive future. The problem is not simply between the analysts and wargamers, but how they support the warfighters sitting back shaking their heads at the two of them. So in my mind the debate between wargaming and quantitative analytics needs to be a dialectic about how to best support the warfighter – who needs the expertise of both to be successful in an increasingly dynamic, chaotic and deadly environment. Each by themselves is insufficient, a new alliance must be forged between them – with the warfighter as both a customer and a partner.

So rather than poke at perceived inadequacies in each other (many of which they share if they look hard at themselves) they need to focus on enhancing the complementary advantages they each offer.  I think we need to consider a little philosophizing to frame the pursuit of that goal. Dr. Lademan of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory offered the analogy that “assessment is to analysis as philosophy is to science”.  I would offer as a corollary, that “wargaming is to assessment as metaphysics is to philosophy” but I digress… I think it better to return to the Perla Trinity – in this case in the context of assessment – to consider as a framework for incorporating the perspectives of analysts, wargamers, and warfighters.

There was a good bit of discussion of what Dr. Lademan meant by “assessment” in his analogy and subsequent discussion. If we take his analogy at face value, what is the relationship between philosophy and science”. As an occasional student of philosophy I would offer that philosophy provides a worldview within which we assign meaning to our experiences. Science provides a mapping between objective reality and our experience. So if we carry forward the analogy, assessment in the military context looks to also provide meaning to experience – to understand what happens and why in a military operation. Military analysis would then provide a mapping between the “objective reality” – the observable, quantifiable aspects of military operations, and our experience – the results and outcome. Military assessment looked at in this way is considerably broader than what military analysts and wargamers normally consider.

Assessment Cycle

I would offer further that philosophy also offers tools to assist in applying our minds to questions. Deduction, Induction and Abduction (or retroduction) are methods by which we can apply our mental energy to form understanding. Similarly these tools can be used in military assessment in this context. If we consider that warfighters contribute direct experience, that military analysts  provide quantitative examination and wargamers provide conceptual insight, we can (in general – all three methods of reasoning are always in play) characterize the predominant form of reasoning enabling “knowledge to maneuver” (Dr. Lademan’s terminology) between them.

Assessment helix

So does any of this help in forging new relationships between the three points of view? I think it does, but have to think on it some…more later!


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MORS Wargaming Community of Practice Brown Bag – Fleet Battle School

I gave a presentation on Thursday to discuss the customization and “mod-ability” of the game.  This covered:

The database editor to create new weapons and platforms, fbdata

The OOB editor to create force structures, fbobe

The Chart Editor to create maps, with characteristics of water depth, “clutter” (propensity for false contacts”, land elevation and with “stubs” for terrain types for possible expansion into basic land interactions. fbchart

The scenario editor that lets you pick a chart, force structure and create ports, airfields and static land units (SAM, ASCM, or Radars), and place minefields. fbedit

The “rules” file that gives the user a “window” into the combat system code to change the “Combat Results Tables”, some basic “trigger and response” behaviors (i.e. “when you exceed 50% casualties, a strike mission returns to base”). You can also create new “missions” with associated aircraft loadouts, or even create new kinds of interactions. Some of the more complicated things require some knowledge of C# to ensure work properly). Rules24x3

We have finished the “beta” version of the game with basic functionality – though as with all Beta software, some bugs to squash – and we will be getting the word out in about a week as to where to go to get involved and help us refine the game over the next 6 months of the development period. fbs

Ellie Bartels has a great post on the talk I gave over at PAXSIMS.

Thanks Ellie!

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A2ADventure Update

Basic A2AD Update 2

The Game Lab at this years Connections Conference examined my “A2ADventure” game – a fairly abstract game of operational naval combat in an “Anti-Access, Area Denial” context. There was a lot of great feedback that I have attempted to incorporate in an “update 1” version of the game. The “print and play” versions of the game components is available here.

I’m currently working on update 2 with a more conventional hex-based game board and a pre-game technology development “prequel” game. The question is, what are the improvements that can be made to the game?

I’ve set up a forum here to discuss!

Takeaways from the event at Connections were helpful on a couple levels.

First was the dealing with trying to teach and then play a game in a time constrained manner with a mixed group of experienced and inexperienced Gamers. The Game Lab is an opportunity for participants at the Connection Conference to get experience learning and playing a game if they have never done so, and a chance to mentor the less experienced and discuss the game design. Several years ago, as discussed by Rex below, the game design process was conducted as part of the Game Lab. Bringing a prototype game to “jumpstart” the process was the idea this year. It always seems easier than it ends up being!

In a situation such as this it is easy to focus on improving the game design and playtesting it to make it as mature as possible. What is not emphasized is practicing teaching the game to new players. Experienced gamers get used to teaching new games to experienced gamers, but teaching even a modestly complicated game to non-gamers requires some practice to avoid confusion and frustration. Not allocating time for that in the games development was teh biggest mistake I made in preparing for the event.

The other issue when it comes to even experienced players playing a new game, is the time it takes to figure out what to do when someone says “go!”. When constructing the scenario I tried to scope the game playing time at least in general to the time available (somewhat under an hour to “Teach the game” and about 3 hours to play the 6 turn scenario). With 16 units on one side and 24 on the other and about 12 pages of rules the game at the high end of “introductory level”. Trying to consider all the factors in an asymmetric, multi-domain “penetrate the barrier and run the gauntlet” situation has a requisite complexity that sets a certain “floor” to the complexity level of the game mechanics.

What I did not fully consider was the “floor” it set on the decision-making time “just to get started”. Even with a relatively simple objective (chose one of 6 victory locations, move to it and survive there 1 turn) and a small number of units to orchestrate, the time it took to determine a strategy delayed several of the games considerably. Form the point of view of the game generating thought and discussion of the issues involved in an A2AD scenario, it was time well spent, but did not leave enough time to finish the game.

Discussion of the more conventional design issues as we develop the game can be contributed to at the forum above, but the Game Lab format provided challenges I did not expect to be so…challenging!

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A2ADventure Playtest Report

The Newport RI Game Night crew held a final playtest session for this year’s Connections Conference Game Lab game, the “Anti-Access, Area Denial” themed “A2ADventure”, mentioned by Rex Brynan in his post below from July 21st. We had a group of mostly new players and learned a lot about how to teach the game, and the design of playing aids to speed up play.

Playtest 1


The card-based activation system worked very well,  and the streamlined combat system also sped play, but was still beset by some analysis paralysis as players figure out “The Plan”. A portion of the game introduction will be devoted to the planning decisions that players need to make to “point themselves in the right direction” to get the game off and running.

Playtes 2


This game board mock-up will be modified with a larger map area and increasing the use of player aid cards, to keep the players focused on the important game decisions, and not get dragged down into procedural details. We decided to shorten the game to 6 turns and increase the speed of the units. This in conjunction with presenting some overall options for “scheme of maneuver” will get players through a complete game faster.

The Game Lab itself will be held in two sessions. The first on Tuesday afternoon for about an hour and a half to teach the game and let players familiarize themselves with “what works”. The second session will be on Wednesday afternoon for about 3 hours, the start of which will be an opportunity for the players to pick “enhanced capabilities” from a list and play with them, providing an opportunity to find out if having them “Changed the Game” in the way they expected.

We will have equipment for up to 25 games to be played simultaneously, with 2 person teams playing each other. Each game will also be an opportunity for those interested in the “observer/analyst” role to observe game play, listen to the players discuss their plans, and capture insights about whether their expectations at the start of the game for how to win panned out. This opportunity has been provided by the wargaming track at the annual MORS conference several times, and will debut this year at Connections as well.

There will also be an opportunity for those more interested in game design than game play to discuss improving the game’s design. Some examples of alternative, more complex rules will be available to foster discussion about when game complexity improves the value of the game and when it detracts from it. The goal being to have a much better game coming out of the Conference, than what is brought in!

There is still time to register for the Conference! Hope to see you there!


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Connections Keynote Speaker Alert!

We have officially confirmed the Chief of Staff to the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Dr. Zachery “Zech” Mears will be our lead keynote speaker next week at the Connections Conference.

Dr. Zachary Mears is Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor to the Deputy Secretary of Defense.

Dr Mears

Dr. Mears served at the White House as the Director for Strategic Planning on the National Security Council staff, where he advised the President and the National Security Advisor on national security priorities and helped oversee the executive branch processes to implement them. Before moving to the White House, he was a senior advisor to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Plans, where he provided strategic advisory support regarding the size and character of U.S. global defense posture.

Prior to entering government service, Dr. Mears was a senior analyst with Scitor Corporation and a senior consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton. At both institutions he supported a range of Department of Defense and Intelligence Community customers on U.S. global defense posture, defense acquisition and budget, nuclear, space, and missile defense matters. He was also an adjunct professor of U.S. defense policy at The Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University.

Dr. Mears holds a B.A. in political science from the University of Tennessee, and an M.A. (with distinction) and a Ph.D. in political science from The Ohio State University.

The attendance of Dr. Mears and his giving his valuable time to present his thoughts to Conference attendees, communicates yet again the increasing importance being placed on wargaming by advocates at the highest levels of the US Department of Defense!

There is still time to register for Connections, taking place NEXT WEEK, July 27th to July 30th at the National Defense University! We hope to see you there!

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From Connections to your tabletop


The first ever “game lab” at the 2012 Connections interdisciplinary wargaming conference focused on humanitarian assistance/disaster relief operations, with participants divided into groups to discuss how they might game HA/DR operations during the 2010 Haiti earthquake. During those sessions Brant Guillory, Gary, Milante, and Brian Train acted as our game design facilitators, while David Becker,  Ty Mayfield, and Joshua Riojas offered expertise based on their direct involvement in Haiti relief efforts.


AFTERSHOCK at the Chilean Joint Peacekeeping Operations Center.

Subsequently I developed some of those ideas into a boardgame—AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game—which was then playtested at McGill University, various Connections conferences, and elsewhere.

AFTERSHOCK at Connections UK.

AFTERSHOCK at Connections UK.

Tom Fisher came on board the project as game developer and graphic artist. The beta or preproduction version was soon adopted for professional training purposes by the Canadian Disaster and Humanitarian Response Training Program, the Chilean Joint Peacekeeping Operations Center, and the US Army’s 9th Mission Support Command.

AFTERSHOCK demonstration at National Defense University.

AFTERSHOCK demonstration at National Defense University.

Now the final production version is available for sale via The Game Crafter:

AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game explores the interagency cooperation needed to address a complex humanitarian crisis. Although designed for four players, it can be played with fewer (even solitaire) or more (with players grouped into four teams).

The game is set in the fictional country of “Carana,” but is loosely modeled on disasters such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

Carana has suffered years of sometimes violent turmoil, and has only recently taken the first tentative steps to national reconciliation and reconstruction. Poverty is widespread, government capacity is weak, and political tensions remain high. Nongovernmental organizations and United Nations specialized agencies are active in the country, including a moderately-sized UN civilian police (CIVPOL) contingent.

At the start of the game a powerful earthquake has just struck Carana’s capital city of Galasi, causing widespread destruction of homes and infrastructure. Tens of thousands of people are in need of urgent aid and medical attention. At the request of the Government of Carana, military forces from several friendly countries—operating as the multinational Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Task Force, or HADR-TF—are en route to assist, as are additional contingents of UN and NGO personnel, together with much-needed relief supplies.

Time is of the essence! How many can you save?

AFTERSHOCK is used in the professional training and education of aid workers, military personnel, and others involved in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. However it also presents an unusual and very playable challenge for anyone who enjoys gaming.

For a list of forthcoming demonstration games, check PAXsims.

This year’s Connections 2015 interdisciplinary wargaming conference will again feature a game lab, organized by Paul Vebber and focused on the challenge of anti-access/area-denial warfare:

A2ADventure is a game demonstrating some of the key competitions involved in “anti-access/area-denial” (A2AD) warfighting situations. The attacking BLUE player’s task is to approach the RED player’s coastal area, negotiate passage through a set of Barrier Island choke points, maneuver to one of the objective areas and protect the ATF for a complete turn in order to “offload the Marines” so they can conduct operations inland before RED reinforcements (not actually portrayed in the game, but provides a good reason for a time constraint on the length of the game) to arrive. Critical to BLUE accomplishing this objective is maintaining ambiguity as to the location of the Amphibious Task Force (ATF). The defending RED player wins by either destroying the ATF or delaying the BLUE force until RED reinforcements can arrive (The BLUE ATF does not enter an objective area by the end of turn 7).

The game design focuses on three important aspects of anti-access/area denial warfare situations:

1.1 Hiders vs Finders: The ability to keep a high level of uncertainty as to which game pieces are combat units and which are decoys is crucial for each side. The ability to maneuver units into position to conduct powerful attacks on enemy units that are determined to be the biggest threats while preventing your enemy doing so is one key to victory.

1.2 Firing Effectively First: it is hard to overcome the temptation to immediately shoot at enemy units the moment you find them. High end units, like BLUE’s Amphibious Task Force or Heavy Surface Action Group have highly effective defenses, and require a coordinated attack from multiple units, several times, to sufficiently erode their staying power to the point of elimination. Finding the right balance between firing first and firing with sufficient numbers to be effective in a given situation is another key to victory.

1.3 Counter-Command and Control (C-C2): Each side has an operational and a tactical “observe, orient, decide, act” (OODA) loop. Disrupting the enemy’s operational OODA loop affects their ability to activate their Mission Packages (MPs) when they want to. Doing the same to the tactical “kill-chain” OODA loop reduces the effectiveness of enemy attacks. Picking the right time and place to use these capabilities may well be the most important key to victory of all.

We hope to see you there!

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