August 5, 2021

Connections Online 2021 After Action Report

Armchair Dragoons Public Affairs Office, 26 April 2021

Connections Online was a joint effort, spearheaded by longtime DoD wargaming practitioner Chris Weuve, and assisted by NSDM’s Merle Robinson, and The Armchair Dragoons, among others (some of whom prefer not to be ‘officially’ involved). Unlike previous online events sponsored by The Armchair Dragoons, this one was not gameplay-focused, but rather a professional conference focused on panels, presentations, information-sharing, best practices, and yes, making connections.

Please note that there is a dedicated archive page for the Connections Online 2021 conference, with panel descriptions, and links to the videos for any event that was recorded.

Where previous Connections conferences (US, UK, North, Oz, etc) were primarily held in-person, and shifted online as a result of the current plague-world realities, Connections Online was conceived from the outset as an entirely online-managed and -executed conference designed to cross times zones, communities, and interests. The Armchair Dragoons’ primary contributions were the preparatory stages, as we were responsible for the registration and scheduling for events, and recruitment of extended event presenters. Additionally, we did provide one panel to the core events (Distributed Campaigns Over the Long Haul).

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There is an extended AAR available from Chris Weuve, the conference chair, that was posted to PaxSims. In it, Chris lays out his vision for the conference, and his assessment of how well the conference matched that vision. You should certainly read it for background on how the committee defined “success” in the context of this conference.

This AAR, however, is focused on the participant feedback, and comments from the attendees. And at the risk of leading with one of the best pieces of information, the participants were asked “Of the sessions you attended, which session was the most valuable?” With over 35 different respondents, there were 15 different answers, indicating that among the broad based of possible topics, value was found across the board.  Responses included:

CO21-AAR-3
Of the sessions you attended, which session was the most valuable?
  • A Nightmare Come True – The “1985” Series
  • Across Suez (team wargame)
  • Distributed Campaigns Over the Long Haul (CORE)
  • Distributed Wargame Tools & Techniques (CORE) (15.8%)
  • Exploring historical conflict w/ games: a modeling approach
  • How to create game modules in Vassal or Tabletop Simulator
  • Megagaming in the Hobby Environment
  • Online Integrity: Conflict Sensitivity
  • Practical Design in Wargames (CORE)
  • Recent Articles in Wargaming (CORE)
  • SISO Distributed Wargame Working Group (CORE)
  • The Georgetown University Wargaming Society (CORE)
  • Wargame Bootcamp – Learn to Use Discord, VASSAL, TTS
  • Wargaming for Education (CORE) (15.8%)
  • Western Approaches Tactical Unit – Analysis & Perspective (CORE)

 

 

One challenge that all Connections conferences face is that of awareness. When asked where they’d heard about the conference, participants indicated it was still primarily word-of-mouth that makes them aware of the conference.

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Where did you first hear about Connections Online?

 

It does appear that the cost of the conference – primary to help offset tech costs and assistance – was right in line with expectations, although it’s nice to think that some of the participants think this is valuable enough to increase the cost.

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Registration cost?

 

Several of the participants were asked to sum up their experiences with a short statement or four. Three of them replied with the following remarks.

I found the 2021 Connections Online to be the perfect mix of professional and hobby wargaming done virtually.  I attended the “Wargaming for Education” panel on the first full day, and it was pure gold for someone like me who uses games in graduate school classes.  I finished on Friday night with a little 2-on-2 Across the Suez (SPI) virtual board wargaming action, which went down to the last turn between the Israelis and the Egyptians. In between were events that I can watch back later as I didn’t always have time to listen to them live due to work.  I think this is a great setup for the professional Connections conference coming this summer.

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This month’s Connections Online Conference marks an important milestone in the series of Connections professional wargaming events. While the community in the last 13 months has rewired four (fact check this…was there a France conference this year?) Connections conferences from traditionally in-person events into virtual conferences because of the Pandemic, Connections Online is intended to continue in this format even after restrictions are lifted. The brain child of longtime wargamer and Connections veteran Chris Weuve, Connections Online is designed to expand access to this important forum for professional and hobby wargamers who otherwise might not be able to attend the brick-and-mortar events that are usually held at US military facilities or outside of the US.

Connections Online succeeded in striking a balance between the wargaming community’s two poles; the professional and hobbyist camps. The conference organizers set up a number of main events focused on issues relevant for both camps even if they may have been more oriented to the professional community. The extended events held on the weekends before and after the conference and during the weeknights catered more to the hobbyists, but still offered perspectives that could be useful to all participants. The conference also recorded the panels on YouTube, giving people the chance to view the content at later times.

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Having attended a number of Connections UK events in person, I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to interact with an even wider range of attendees. Whilst some of the content was familiar to me, Xavier’s piece on historical world-building was particularly relevant, with food for thought on how we might succinctly convey the designer’s vision in games representing more complex scenarios. I also appreciated the opportunity to contribute to a panel and the games schedule. Huge thanks to the Armchair Dragoons for their efforts.

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We also excerpted some of the free-response comments from the participant surveys after the conference wrapped.

What (if any) takeaways from Connections Online do you anticipate being applicable to your professional role?

  • Xavier’s content was useful in that we share a lot of thinking. Managing player experience and expectations in equal measure is really important in bringing together many similar pieces of work. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking around not only world-building, but how we communicate this to players and their decision-making.
  • Learned something about level of familiarity of pros to commercial games and need for practical training in them, among the community
  • Gail Clendenin and Elisa Ford comments on long duration events. The example Turn Zero player briefing packs were very good and are something we do not do well in professional exercises. Also Jim’s comments about not been able to see ‘everything’ and saving explanations to specific points in a campaign.
  • The ability of the community to adapt to online interaction, regardless of whatever “normal” we return to, and more localised conferences.

 

What (if any) takeaways from Connections Online do you anticipate being useful to you as a general gamer or in a hobbyist role?

  • Greater appreciation for the many online options out there, both in terms of games being run and platforms that can be used.
  • Introduction to the Armchair Dragoons and lots of other great content I didn’t know about. (shout out to “Why You Don’t Want “Realistic” Logistics In A Wargame” which is the very task I’ve just been given to research / explain before we start designing a next gen sim to teach this stuff).1
  • Strategic level wargaming to inform policy and doctrine decision making was most valuable to me.
  • This is my first connections and while I also have a hobbyist side I am focused on running and creating a niche focused type of gaming on my professional side as just one of many duties : cybersecurity exercises, tabletops and games. I can say I found something new is almost every session. There are many overlaps from my type of exercises and tabletops and more general wargaming. It is always good to hear about other coordinators and what they do for there sessions and how they handle them.

 

Finally, we were interested in the audience’s assessment of how wide of a net the organizers were able to cast for both diversity of topics and diversity of presenters, both of which had been much-discussed in professional circles lately. With the caveat that neither consideration were necessarily the highest priorities for the organizers given the ‘science project’ nature of the entire enterprise (note that like the d6 in most games, 1 is poor and 6 is good).

Please rank our variety & diversity of topics

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Please rank our variety & diversity of presenters

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Finally, one of our Dragoons combed through the Discord chats to excerpt as many of the links & references as he could, and posted those to our forums, where we had a dedicated thread set up for additional discussion on the conference.

We also need to give a huge ‘thank you’ shout-out to Ardwulf, for his behind-the-scenes technical advice and support.

Tentative planning is already underway for the next Connections Online, but first, everyone needs to settle down from this one, and start making plans to join us for The ACDC in June.


Thank you for visiting The Armchair Dragoons and spending some time with the Regiment of Strategy Gaming.
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Footnotes

  1. You knew there was no way we were leaving this comment out, right?!

Brant G

Editor-in-chief at Armchair Dragoons

View all posts by Brant G →

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