Can wargaming prevent future Ukraines? This bold question was not answered Connections NL, but many others were. Wargames do not have to be complex, for example, and they do teach us a lot through experience real fast.

This 10th year of Connections was hosted by the Haagse Hogeschool security studies, thanks to teacher and game designer Natalia Wojtowicz, giving it a more informal and stronger student flavour.

Trying to renew the formula, the organisers opened with a joyful forced round of networking, making sure that new links were formed. That was the first succesful innovation.

Then two keynotes followed. Col RNLAF Bart Hoeben introduced his new established Multi Domain Warfare Education Center. This centre is to facilitate application of wargames within the Dutch Armed Forces. They hope to become a main centre of expertise in the coming years. Considering that only a few years ago wargaming seemed to be not much more than a fringe hobby for those preparing for real warfare in the Netherlands, this seems like a huge step!

Then Alexander Nieuwborg shared his work on resilience against calamities at Schiphol airport, – inspired by the COVID crisis – also with the use of wargames. Part of the research focussed on trying to identify potential Black Swans. Black Swans are the unimaginable game changers that no one sees coming – yet Nieuwborg tries to stretch our imaginations and hand us tools on how to make some of the unimaginable ones imaginable anyway. A first eyeopener finding was, that teams dealing with calamities perform much more effectively if they have a clear action structure which they follow through. Regardless of the calamity itself. Another eyeopener was that what we see as Black Swan or calamity itself may be less important than the second order and third order effects. For example of a third order effect, who would have thought that during COVID lockdown toilet paper would run out in stores?

After lunch there were two rounds of workshops, with… finally some real wargaming! Even if it was the organisers themselves mostly doing the demo-ing, this was really one of the better Connections meets I have attended. To try and have a taste of Assassin’s Mace, a Chinese South Sea implementation of one of the more prestigious professional wargames, was great. Also, seeing that you don’t need to learn a lot of rules before you can play, in Diederik Stolk’s resilience game set in the Baltics, was refreshing and insightful. Playing in just a few hours, all participants – perhaps without realizing – started to learn to use a framework for handling calamities.

Then after roundup – we had drinks across the street (sponsored by SAGANET). Looking forward to next year’s challenge, when Connections NL will possibly become… Connections BENELUX.