Brant Guillory, 4 April 2022
The Armchair Dragoons are co-sponsors of the Connections Online professional wargaming conference, but we still wanted to pick Chris Weuve’s brain to share his perspective on the conference with all of you.
Connections has been around a long time, and the past few years have necessitated a shift to remote/online for the “main” Connections US conference. Why the urge to also create Connections Online? What bet did you have to lose to end up in charge of it?
So, I can answer the second question first — my idea, so “put up or shut up.”
I’m a 20-year attendee of the original Connections conference — now called “Connections US”, since there are other Connections conferences in Britain, Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Japan, and the Netherlands. I started as just an attendee, but have been a frequent speaker and also a member of the organizing committee. Back when Covid first started, I had the vision of how to make such a conference work online. Eventually it became apparent to me that the best answer wasn’t to think of doing Connections US online as a one-off necessity, but to create a new Connections-type conference that would try to fully immerse itself in the potential of the online format. So I spun off that idea, and Matt Caffrey (founder of Connections US and father of the Connections conference movement) encouraged me to use the Connections name.
How are you developing the topics / themes for Connections Online, and is there intentional overlap with (or avoidance of!) the topics/themes from any other Connections conferences?
I’d like to say we have a secret master plan, but in reality, we just sort of look around and see what might be a good topic. This year, for instance, we realized that we really wanted to try to cater to newer professional wargamers, and people interested in getting into the field. (Note that we define “professional” very loosely, and try to make it relevant to people who take wargaming seriously but have no intentions of trying to get paid for it.) We also strongly believe that the “professionals” (i.e., people who doing gaming for training or analysis) can learn a lot from the hobby side of the activity.
As for coordination or deconfliction — there really isn’t any. We do our thing, the other Connections do theirs. While we see a lot of familiar faces, we have no expectations that we’re servicing the same audiences.
What’s been the coolest “experiment” with Connections Online that worked out positively? Conversely, what kind of flopped when you tried it?
The coolest experiment was just the idea that a small group (three of us!) could organize and run a three-day wargaming conference using nothing but a few online tools. We analyzed the problem, created SOPs, and built a machine to execute it. I was very happy with last year’s conference.
I’m also really happy with the idea of Core vs Extended hours. One of the things that makes Connections US so enjoyable is that the attendees are enthusiasts, and like having the ability to get together in the off hours and play games. We really wanted to preserve that. So, we have presentations during the Core hours (1000-1600 EDT, or “Washington State to Warsaw” as I call it), and then we have Extended events literally available (in theory) at all other times starting from the Monday before to the Sunday after.
Another thing I am happy with is that we allocate a two-hour block each of our daily panels, and instruct the moderators to stop when they think it’s time to stop. Since everything is recorded in YouTube, we don’t have to build in breaks, and that two-hour windows means that every panel can last its “natural” length.
One element that I’m still unsure about is the format of the last session of the day. A one-hour slot, the original conceptualization was to give the audience a bunch of YouTube videos about a topic, and then have the hour-long spot be a more advanced discussion. The thinking was that the videos mean we could dive right in. That’s turned out to be harder than it sounds. (ed note – turns out people don’t like homework!)
What was one of last year’s panels or presentations made you think “huh, there was some really good content in there that I wasn’t expecting” ?
Absolutely nothing — I expected it all to be FANTASTIC, and it was.
Oh, not helpful? Okay, let me try again: I really did expect it all to be good, and it was, because I knew (by and large) the people we recruited to speak. I think the ones I most appreciated were the panels that talked about doing distributed wargaming. With covid running rampant, this was a critical topic.
Who out there might be part of the target audience that you’re still trying to reach and bring into the tent? What’s the approach for getting through to them?
We’re running into the usual problems — we’re all volunteers with day jobs, trying to connect to a small target audience. The Usual Suspects know about us, but I want to 1) have something to offer the next generation of wargamers, and 2) figure out a way to connect with them.
Truth be told, last year the goal was to successfully execute a conference and finish with a set of written procedures. We did that. This year, we’re trying to open the aperture a little bit, doing a few things differently, just to see what works and what doesn’t. NEXT year is going to be the Year of Marketing.
(bonus!) What are you most excited for at this year’s Connections Online?
Wow — you just asked me which of my children do I love the most. 🙂
We’ve got a lot of really great content planned, but let me talk about two of them. First, I’m happy that we recruited Ed McGrady to do a panel on “Hiring New Wargamers.” Wargaming isn’t like other professions — you can’t really get a degree in it, and virtually everyone who does it for DOD or some other professional organization sort of backed into the job. We’re trying to make it less … random, shall we say … for the next generation. Second, I’m really looking forward to Chris Carlson’s talk on the Western Approaches Tactical Unit. We had a panel on WATU last year that focused on some of the “accepted wisdom” about WATU, including the role of their wargaming efforts both in training convoy escort officers and in developing escort tactics. Well, Chris is a naval analysts, historian, and wargame designer, and he has pulled the thread on the story — and discovered that it’s not quite what the popular literature and YouTube videos would have you believe.
See everyone at Connections Online!
The currently-planned event schedule is below.
|Event Name||Event Type||Date & Time (EDT)||Duration (mins)|
|Orientation to Professional Wargaming||Extended Seminar||04-18 1200||120|
|Wargame Bootcamp - Learn to Use Discord, VASSAL, TTS||Game Session||04-18 1600||180|
|Welcome & Keynote||Core Seminar||04-19 1000||60|
|Innovations in Hobby Wargaming||Core Seminar||04-19 1100||120|
|Hiring New Wargamers||Core Seminar||04-19 1300||120|
|Wargaming Practitioner Certification: Necessary or not?||Core Seminar||04-19 1500||60|
|Connections Happy Hour & Social||Extended Seminar||04-19 1600||60|
|Wargame Bootcamp - Learn to Use Discord, VASSAL, TTS||Game Session||04-19 1600||180|
|Cyber-wargaming Using Merlin||Core Seminar||04-20 1000||60|
|How do you Design a Professional Wargame?||Core Seminar||04-20 1100||120|
|Space Wargaming Essentials Panel||Core Seminar||04-20 1300||120|
|Western Approaches Tactical Unit, Revisited||Core Seminar||04-20 1500||60|
|The Falklands War ~ 40 Years Later, Panel Discussion||Extended Seminar||04-20 1600||120|
|Wargaming Large-Scale Combat Operations||Extended Seminar||04-20 1800||60|
|Why Politics Matters ~ Wargaming Politics||Extended Seminar||04-20 1900||120|
|Resources for Professional Development of Wargamers||Core Seminar||04-21 1000||60|
|Wargaming Other Than War||Core Seminar||04-21 1100||120|
|Wargaming Outside the National Security Space||Core Seminar||04-21 1300||120|
|The Essential Wargaming Library||Core Seminar||04-21 1500||60|
|Game-Based Learning & Student Involvement (HMGS)||Extended Seminar||04-21 1900||120|
|The Falklands War ~ A Seminar Game||Game Session||04-21 1900||180|
|Benefits of Wargames ~ The Dietz Foundation||Extended Seminar||04-22 1500||120|
|NSDM Design-a-Game Workshop||Extended Seminar||04-23 1000||180|
|Kriegsspiel||Game Session||04-23 1100||360|
|Aftershock||Game Session||04-24 0900||180|
Core events will be broadcast live exclusively to registered participants, but will be available to view afterwards approx 1 week later. Extended events may not be broadcast at all.
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