Armchair Dragoons Public Affairs Office, 8 May 2023
Connections Online 2023 was a shared effort between Chris Weuve1, NSDM’s Merle Robinson2, and The Armchair Dragoons3, with an additional (big!) assist from Zachary, one of our fellow Dragoons. As always, Connections is not a “gameplay” convention, but rather a professional conference.
Please note that there is a dedicated archive page for the Connections Online 2023 conference, with panel descriptions, and links to the videos for any event that was recorded.
Continuing with our ethos of experimentation with different types of panels, topics, and presenters, which is engendered by both the lower-overhead of the conference (no travel!) and different presentation (online tools!), we always look to “color outside the lines” of a normal professional or academic conference and try to see what discussions or presentations we can bring of interest that might be off the beaten path.
This year, our theme was The Enemy Gets a Vote and was focused on red-teaming. Our usual 40/60 off/topic split a little higher than 60% on the dedicated topic, but that was largely due to a variety of good organizations that wanted to be involved.
As with previous years, this AAR is focused on the participant feedback, and comments from the attendees.
We always lead with asking the participants “Of the sessions you attended, which session was the most valuable?”
For the past 2 years, this reply has a bit of a kaleidoscopic look to it, and this year was no exception.
- Red-Teaming Wargame Design Challenges (22.2%)
- Wargaming Red in a Ukraine War Context (16.7%)
Others getting at least one vote:
- Discussion of Wargaming Manuals
- How an Opponent Wargames is an Intel Collection Req
- Introductory Kriegsspiel on the Italian Campaign of 1796/97
- Littoral Commander Demo Game
- Rally The Troops online platform demo
- Re-centering Red: New Approaches to Game Design
- Red-Teaming by Mercyhurst University
- What Is Red-Teaming
- What Surprised Me The Most
While we have plenty of visibility with our participants in the professional & practitioner world, we are still struggling to being in hobby wargaming participants, and our promotional efforts through the hobby channels (CSW, BGG, various Discord servers, etc) don’t seem to be making a dent in our overall attendance numbers.
- “Other” (27.8%)
- Social Media (Facebook / Twitter) (22.2%)
- From one of the organizers / participants
- Professional organization (UKFC, MORS, NSDM)
- The Armchair Dragoons
A consistent trend with Connections Online: folks are comfortable with the cost of attendance ($5) and no one thinks we’re charging too much, which is refreshing in the gaming world, when the opposite is usually the case.
We asked participants some open-ended questions, and here are a few of the replies we got:
What (if any) takeaways from Connections Online do you anticipate being applicable to your professional role?
- Ability to better manage the Red role in educational gaming. I think making Red a specific learning objective is important, beyond just being the adversary for Blue
- Reminded of how useful red teaming, in all its meanings, is as a methodology – despite the difficulties in having it accepted as a useful practice.
- I think that I took a lot of value from the presenters from different backgrounds and gaming experience to understand the different methods of not only games themselves, but how people approach designing games professionally
What (if any) takeaways from Connections Online do you anticipate being applicable to your hobby role?
- Put more thought in being a credible Red player when I get the chance to play Red in hobby gaming (e.g., play like a Soviet commander when playing a WWII Russian Front game).
- I feel like it validated my belief of this community being welcoming and always excited to share ideas
- A lot of discussion on hobby games which help me to identify what games I might wish to play and buy. Equally, it helps eliminate those likely not in my interests. There’s so much innovation in the hobby space that produces good games but also spills over into the professional arena
We asked the speakers What is the single most important thing to improve for the next Connections Online?
- More theory base, less practitioner advice, expand into the psychology and simulation of Wargaming such as reflexive Wargaming. i.e. break new ground.
- I think there is kind of a feeling of everyone knowing each other at these events, which is not a terrible thing, but I think the outreach component and expanding the attendance base would be awesome
We also asked the presenters How can we continue to broaden the involvement of speakers and presenters that get beyond “The Usual Suspects” in the participant pool?
- I would actively recruit presenters from NGOs and other organizations using games. We can learn a lot from what they are doing and they can learn much from our efforts.
- All of us reach into our NON-wargamer contacts list, think about how those people could benefit from Wargaming and how the Wargaming theory base could benefit from their skills. Then, and only then, reach out to each of them with tailored and personal invitations. “NON”-wargamer contacts mean we reach outside the usual suspects. Personal contact means we keep relevance and quality high.
One interesting note in our participant feedback – this was the first time we’d asked “How many Connections conferences (any of them) have you attended, including this one?”
Almost 40% were only at 1-2, and another 28% were at 3-5, so the people attending Connections Online are definitely among the ‘newer blood’ in attending Connections conferences, even if they’ve been around professional wargaming for a while.
One thing we will be sending around is a short survey asking people who did not attend, why they didn’t join us for Connections Online. Whether it’s a perceived lack of relevance to their wargaming, or the schedule, or the specific topic, or because they just don’t like the Dragoons, we’re still interested in why people chose to skip it. Keep an eye out for that data collection coming sometime soon.
Thank you for visiting The Armchair Dragoons and saddling up with the Regiment of Strategy Gaming.
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