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Nomic (wikipedia.org)
242 points by eugeniodepalo on Dec 8, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 84 comments

If there is one thing that the "internet" has lost, it's games like this. I used to love playing #wolfgame on IRC. Even Ultima Online (although hardly a typical heritage game) definitely shaped the way MMORPGs evolved.

Anyway, back onto Nomic. After reading the Wiki and seeing the "Initial Rule Set" [1] then reading through a lot of the archives it became clear that "chaos" and administration was the downfall of this game.

Eventually, the constitution that formed became so unmanageable and untrackable that it was impossible to progress. Judges were needed to resolve the rule disputes on every single vote and rule loop-holes were hard to spot (albeit an intended point of the game).[2]

But guess what we have now... Freaking version control. Companies/governments are tracking their constitution on GitHub at the moment, so why can't we also track the constitution of games such as this on GitHub as well. Last month GitHub launched their "create a game" contest that incorporated some form of "Pull"/"Push" feature into the game.

Well how incredibly awesome (I'm getting giddigy as I type this), would it be if we implemented Nomic voting rules using pull requests (for the votes), and have contributors sign up if they want to play the game.

Tracking the constitution changes was clearly the biggest technical challenge back in 1990s, and now we have tools to solve this problem totally.

GitHub makes Nomic awesome.

Ps. Ultima Online just made me feel all nostalgic. I miss West Brittania Bank, Felucca, my 24x24 Stone Keep (presumably fallen and reclaimed now) and my enormous Runebook library.

    [1] : http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/writing/nomic.htm#initial%20set

    [2] : http://www.nomic.net/deadgames/a/

Sadly, UO didn't shape the way MMOs evolved, with the rare exception of niche games like EVE.

Current MMORPGs are almost exclusively of the DikuMUD / EverQuest / WoW lineage, just hack and slash with very few other options for interacting with or changing the game world.

As a non-UO player: can you explain what was unique or different about it, or link me to somebody who writes about this?

MMOs bore me, and the thought that UO did MMOs somehow better intrigues me. I find it easy to believe, but hard to understand why.

First read "The In-game Economics of Ultima Online"[1] which I just submitted to HN for comment[2].

The hiccups of developing UO's in-game economy along the way are incredibly interesting in their own right.


I'll try to summarize some of UO.

UO was divided into Trammel (safe from PvP) and Felucia (not), and some servers only had Fel. In Fel as soon as you left a city you were more or less fair game to die from an extremely hostile environment, and (I think it was) PC Gamer described the learning curve as "A frozen wall of acid." Brutal, but very exciting. A goddamn wild west MMO.

(In Fel) UO was a rare RPG where anyone could kill anyone, for any reason, but with the repercussion that they would be branded a "Bad person" (visible with a gray or red name instead of blue). Stealing from good people corpses also did this. Anyone can attack and kill bad persons, and if you killed even more people you were a murderer and it took a very long time to return to normal.

This Blue/Gray/Red name system created a sort of cautiousness among travelers. Being near a pack of "blue" people might be safe, since any person that tried to steal or kill would turn gray and they'd immediately kill him.

Unless of course, all those blue-named people were conspiring, and you are the target.

You want to use super awesome powerful gear? None of this sissy MMO stuff. Die and you lose it, and your enemy (or his enemy!) gets the spoils.

The problem I have with a lot of MMOs is that the power of your character is simply how much time you sink into the game. Essentially, MMOs are games that reward wasting time.

UO had so much more than that. UO was a game where treachery and sneakiness really paid off, if you wanted it to. Lots of ways to nearly instantly kill or entrap people lead to a lot of very exciting plots where guilds might be laden with spies. Absolutely nothing like the ridiculously limited PvP found in games like WoW.

In a lot of ways it was the Diplomacy (diplomatic back-stabbing board game) of MMOs. And it was great.

[1] http://www.mine-control.com/zack/uoecon/uoecon.html

[2] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4890481

Btw, Trammel and Felucca was a distinction that came later. Apparently, because Origin wanted to attract more players, which would be known as 'carebears'.

For quite some time, UO had only Felucca.

There were no classes, no levels. None of this "level 99 guy one shots level 1 guy". Skills did give advantages, but it was nothing that drastic. No real need to farm mobs to get items, as they weren't that important to begin with. Magical weapons did give a minor advantage, but were rare and you could lose them, so most of the time an old fashioned steel sword would suffice (bought from NPCs or crafted by player blacksmiths). Items mostly mattered in quantity: lots of ore, wood, reagents, money, etc.

You learned skills by using them. So, if you wanted to hit things better with a sword, you went out and hit things. If you wanted to become a better magician, you had to cast spells. Wanted to become a better tailor? You had to make lots of clothing :) That wasn't perfect and later gave rise to macroers, but the system itself is awesome.

Death was meaningful: you lost everything you were carrying (changed in later versions with the 'insurance system'), unless you made it back to your body before it decayed and noone got to it first. And your ghost had to find a healer (or a player mage or highly skilled healer) in order to get resurrected. And, while dead, you couldn't speak to anyone, except players with 'Spirit Speak'.

You could own houses (which did occupy real state, they were not instanced), to have a safe place and a way to store items. That eventually became a market by itself, as the world was finite.

There were just a few safe zones, all the rest were automatically PVP areas. Even in "safe" zones, you could get mugged or killed if you didn't pay attention, as you had to call "guards" in order for them to appear (other people could call them for you, so it wasn't wise to leave your character in an deserted place and leave the computer).

You could steal from other people's bags - and get caught or not. You could even steal reagents from mages and prevent them casting. Yes, you had to carry a supply of reagents to cast and could run out if you didn't pay attention, possibly leaving you stranded.

You could create weapons, furniture, potions and whatnot from basic materials. This is very different from, say, WoW crafting system - you didn't have to wait for any drops from monsters. In fact, you didn't have to kill anything (not counting maybe birds for feathers, to use in arrows, or leather)

They even experimented with real ecology and a food chain in the beta. That didn't work, because players are too predatory.

Basically, they did almost everything very differently from MMOs that came later. The end result is that the world felt more 'alive', as you could interact with almost anything, given the right tools. See trees and got an axe? You could chop them. No axe? You could mine those rocks over there, smelt at a forge, then build the axe. And so on.

UO at its high point should have been the best game ever made. The problem is that it was super laggy and buggy the first few years, and then they started making terrible design decisions after 1999 or so. So it never really hit its full potential. I don't play games anymore, but I doubt if there's anything better today.

Yup, the network code wasn't that great in the early days. It definitely seemed tuned to dial-up internet.

I was one of the lucky ones that got a cable modem in the early days (one way cable modem, down was cable, up was 56k!) and had a great advantage in player vs player, as I could outrun their lag, and generally do things faster than them if they were on dialup.

I just created a GitHub repo with the initial ruleset in Markdown format.


If you want to start a new game, you can fork the repo and begin accepting pull requests from your players. You can also see a listing of active games by checking out the network tab.


I made a simplified german ruleset for playing it with some friends. Tried to translate it to english in a branch:


It also starts of with a "dictator" in the beginning, which removes judgements and should make it easier for beginners. Players can bring back the judges anyways.

I feel like a tiny bit of js or something extra could be nice. Just something that makes it eiser to add rules and vote and maybe uses the github api to make pull requests for you. I don't know if that would be a waste of time though

bump. I'm playing

When searching for nomic on github, there are a couple of nomic projects using pull requests to propose rules and fork to know who's involved. Yet, they seem empty at the moment. I'd be interested in seeing such project working though.

If by '#wolfgame' you mean what we call Werewolf, where there are a bunch of 'villagers' and one or more randomly selected 'werewolves' where the werewolves get to kill a villager in the night and the villagers get to lynch someone during the day, we have a group who frequently plays this (or the Mafia variant) at uni through IRC or their forums.

Also, epicmafia.com is a great online implementation. There's a nice little community there, it's a great time sink.

UO was so awesome. I blew 5 years on it. Siege Perilous! SP was the right direction, unfortunately not many people seem to agree with me ;)

I've stated a few times.. why can't we make UO in browser by now? Old rules of course.

It's not that easy. Just because it's old doesn't mean it's easy.

Sure, you could put up a Kickstarter for it and get a bunch of money behind the project. But historically, using the premise of building an MMO as a way of raising a bunch of money will result in failing to build that MMO.

A programmer who has experience and talent also has no incentive to recreate UO (think about the modern-day incentive structures for hotshot programmers), unless he was one of the original players. And sadly the overlap between "players of videogames" and "the best game programmers" is actually quite small. Carmack, for example, doesn't play games. Most of the talented gamedevs I know don't actually play them.

Maybe it's a challenge I'll take on.

Pretty much all of the game devs I know (and I work with quite a few) play games all the time. Both games by others and by themselves (lunchtime playtests).

Because apparently it is still up and running, costs money, and is owned by Electronic Arts? See uo.com - That aside, it seems technologically feasible.

Also interesting are the free/unauthorized reverse engineered UO emulators that continue to run today, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultima_Online_shard_emulation

Google Wave would've been great for this too.

Anyone current versions of this on GitHub? I think it might even be fun to read the version history.

The way I remember Nomic there was another rule, which defines an alternate objective function.

117. Any player who generates a contradiction in the rules automatically wins.

If you like the win condition, and others do too, it's a pretty straightforward rule to introduce early on.

What happens then when someone introduces the rule: any player who generates a contradiction in the rules automatically loses?

I imagine there could be an initial rule that states the most recent rule generated is authoritative in the event of a contradiction. But of course someone could generate the rule: the earliest rule generated is authoritative in the event of a contradiction.

I've never played Nomic. Do paradoxes like this come up often?

117. Any player who generates a contradiction loses.

118. No player can lose.

Well... shit.

yeah, i thought that was the entire point of nomic

A college friend named Zach Barth was incredibly into this sort of thing, a game where the rules and units were made up as the game progressed. He tried quite a few times to make such a game, usually called infini-something such as Infinitron[1] and later Infinarena. The [1] link talks a lot about the challenges that came up trying to make such a game and I think its a neat read if you're into this sort of thing.

It's very understandable why these sort of games don't take off very often, as Z. writes in the [1] link on What Went Wrong:

> Unfortunately, the things that made the Infinifranchise great are the same things that made them alienating and, at times, ridiculous. It’s very hard to be creative on demand, which can lead to games that are draining and not terribly spectacular if the players aren’t in the groove. As a result, the games tended to have a limited audience and be overly complicated, although this is most definitely also a consequence of me.


Zach is also the guy who made Infiniminer[2], the sandbox mining game, and if it looks like a precursor to Minecraft, that's because it was.

I haven't talked to him in a while but Zach these days mostly makes indie engineering puzzle games, you should really check them out[3].

[1] http://thesiteformerlyknownas.zachtronicsindustries.com/?p=6...

[2] http://thesiteformerlyknownas.zachtronicsindustries.com/?p=7...

[3] http://www.zachtronicsindustries.com/

He also made SpaceChem, which is possibly one of the greatest games of all time. I can't recommend it strongly enough. There's a demo on his site and steam. Go try it.

(OK, one caveat - programmers/logic puzzle types may like this game more than the average member of the public.)

There's a commercial game similar to this called Flux. It's not as free-form (there are cards with rule changes pre-printed on them), but it is easier to play with a group of new users.

One of the primary results--obvious to programmers but perhaps not obvious to the general public--is how easy it is for rules to interact in unexpected ways, often producing ambiguous gameplay which may go unnoticed by players for significant lengths of time.

Not to be contrarian, but flux is nothing like nomic. Rules in flux don't interact in unexpected ways (there are a few variables that change, notably, draws per turn, maximum hand size, and win conditions which are generally what cards you have out in front of you in order to win) but the player has no freedom to make up new rules on her own.

A much better game is Bartok (sometimes called Bartog) - it starts out as something approximating Uno[1]. Each time someone wins, they make a rule.

Playing it with Mathematicians/CS types is brain-hurty (think mod-13 arithmetic and prime numbered cards behaving differently).


[1] Some of the different rules:

- If you ask a question, you get a 1 card penalty

- If you have one card and don't say "bartok", you get your hand made back up to 7.

- We played with a bunch of broken decks all smushed together, so you couldn't count cards.

"think mod-13 arithmetic and prime numbered cards behaving differently"

I know it puts me firmly in the Mathematicians/CS types corner, but when I read that, I did not even have to think consciously to have 'once you are in Z13, prime numbers should not bother you anymore' spring up in my mind.

For those not Mathematicians/CS types: modulo 13 arithmetic does not have primes. For example, 2 is not prime because 3 times 5 equals 2 mod 13, 3 is not prime because it equals 4 times 4 (and, by extension, -4 times -4, which is 9 times 9), etc.

Hmm, well that's not how we played it - the cards incremented, not numbers themselves.

The rules went something like: when you play 'X', then all cards are incremented by 1. Kings are 13 and wrap around to Ace, which is 1.

The second rule would have been, say, all primes are spades, so King + 2 would be 2, which is prime. King of clubs on a three of hearts... perfectly legit.

That is the same as Mao.

Taking our glorious leader's name in vain!

The Chairman's game.

Nope. In Bartok you're allowed to explain the rules, although asking a question is penalised.

BlogNomic has been mentioned, but here's a gratuitous plug for Agora Nomic, which is currently suffering from lack of interest (and could use a few more players) but is arguably the oldest still-living true nomic. The game sometimes has "actual gameplay" and sometimes doesn't really, but in practice mainly revolves around the rest of the rules - over 100 of them - including things like multiple privilege levels for rules, a court to decide questions and punish rulebreaking, assets that you can give someone to let them act on behalf of you, a bill of rights, offices, and, of course, proposals, all of which is written in a rather formal and pedantic style that's nevertheless the subject of much debate over interpretation. The whole thing somehow feels like maintaining a computer program written in English, and perhaps for that reason, many players are programmers; as a particular example, one valid way to play is to find bugs in the rules and try to exploit them to force through a proposal granting you a (temporary) dictatorship, which is like nothing so much as computer hacking. It's bizarrely fun.


The ruleset: http://agora.qoid.us/current_flr.html

An example call for judgement: http://cfj.qoid.us//1892

> Agora Nomic, which is currently suffering from lack of interest

And deservedly so. I started playing once, and got chosen to be a judge. After a couple of hours reading the rules I passed judgement, and promptly got shot down/counter judged. Apparently I was technically correct, but there were a whole swag of "customary rules" which weren't written down anywhere.

If you're not going to play by the rules as written, what's the point?

Not sure when this was, and I guess this may be very belated, but I'm sorry you had that experience. Nowadays at least, although the text of the rules is interpreted much more literally than any real law system, and the policy is always to follow it where it is clear, vagueness in the rules is often interpreted in a convenient way, and there is quite a lot of (often ignored) precedent to deal with it, so it takes time to understand them. On the other hand, the CFJ system doesn't always get it right (in quite a few instances, later cases have struck down precedent without any particular reason that the answer should have changed - some cases are paid more careful attention than others, and sometimes emotion affects it in the case of scams), and often facts that seem completely self-evident to one person end up getting disputed (I've had this happen to me and observed it in others). I've learned through experience that it's best to avoid taking adverse judgements personally or getting ticked off about what seems to be misguided judging, especially if you're trying a scam.

Wow, I remember Agora from back when I used to play Nomic. If it's still around, it is indeed the oldest living Nomic, as far as I'm aware.

Just typed out a long story about playing Nomic once...and then deleted it.

I think I should get an upvote or two for sparing all of you the details. ;-)

I would have preferred the story.

It was my first thought as well ;) But the article doesn't do the comic strip justice.



Thank you. This is the best description of the concept :) I also think that the existence of the permanent rule in the game (unique moves) makes it more engaging.

Thanks for making my evening.

This was also my initial thought. Mao as well...

Mao was my first thought too.

I'll admit that my second thought was the "make a rule" rule of Kings...

"The fictional game Calvinball, played by the main characters in the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, is sometimes compared to Nomic. However, Calvinball appears to have a permanent rule that the same rules may never be used twice; a nomic, at least in its initial state, has no truly permanent rules."

I've been interested in this idea of games with modifiable rules on and off, but something about the voting aspect doesn't appeal to me that much. Not entirely sure why. I like the self-referentiality of the rules being modifiable, but it just being a vote, "what rule change do you want?", feels unsatisfying.

I'm not sure what to replace it by, admittedly. I did one experiment where instead of saying what the rules were, your actions were taken as an example of what you thought the new rules should be: if you did something not previously legal, it was inferred to now be legal [1]. But that just led fairly quickly to chaos, unless it were carefully restricted. So maybe not the right approach either. But I still like the idea that the game-mechanics changes themselves are related to the game mechanics in a cybernetic-feedback-loop kind of way, rather than a completely "outside the system" free vote. Now as to how to implement that in a way that makes for a playable/interesting game...

[1] http://www.kmjn.org/notes/reflexive_rules.html

My friends and I used to occasionally play a card game called Mao. The winner of each round (the first to get rid of the cards in their hand) could make up a new rule governing game play for following rounds. But they didn't announce their rule, instead punishing players who broke it by giving them an extra card. By watching the punishments, you had to try to work out their rule so you could avoid breaking it.

With the right group, it was quite fun, if rather tiring. You need to not take winning too seriously, because it's quite easy to make up a complex rule no-one will ever get - one of my friends had 'you may not play a prime number card on another prime number card'.

Mao belongs to a class of games called inductive reasoning games. They're mostly crap, but there are a few gems. IMO the best one of the bunch is Zendo where one player makes up a rule that determines whether a grouping of playing pieces is valid or not (usually played with Treehouse pieces, but e.g. a limited selection of lego pieces can also work). The other players then basically need to use an experimentation / induction loop to determine the rule. This can be really fun in a hackerly group. And once the players get experience, it's surprising how complicated rules are solveable.

The story of the Zendo design process is a great read: http://www.koryheath.com/games/zendo/design-history/

Zendo is great - I played it again with my nine year old godson last weekend when he was here having a sleep over.

Tangentially: this kid is an awesome proto-nerd, and I fully expect that he'll be posting at HN in another 6 to 8 years - for the last two years he's wanted to program a computer game, and I told him that he and I would learn HTML5 and JS together when he turns 10. We've already got the domain name picked out.

If you haven't engaged with an intellectually precocious kid, you can't imagine how fun and rewarding it is.

Can you do "You get a card at random"?

I thought the point of playing Mao was to torture the new player, like a hazing ritual.

You can play it like that, but to be honest, it's more fun when everybody has at least some concept of what's going on.

I suppose you could just make a new rule that says rules are decided on by something other than voting.

Voting games can be painful. I remember Mafia, which is very crowd-dependent. People who slow-play/minimax games make Mafia intolerable. At 3:00 in the morning with 3 players left, the 30-minute discussions are painful. Just kill someone and lose or win already.

The variant I built (to give something useful to start the discussion, rather than blind suspicion) had a combat mechanic. You actually had to "buy" arms in order to do your killings. This meant that Mafia actually left a trace, because it was public information who purchased. (There was no in-game currency. The cost of buying arms was visibility.) If you were Mafia, you'd probably want to buy arms. On the other hand, the good guys also could benefit by arming up. The result of this was that there are two different strategies. You can not buy arms often (or ever) and evade suspicion during the day, but be weak against brawls and Mafia... or you can buy them at every opportunity and be strong in combat, but arouse suspicion and be more likely to die in the day phase.

There was also a brawling phase. If you thought someone was Mafia and wanted to go vigilante, you could. However, they could defend themselves. in addition to dying, you could end up wounded, which would make it obvious the next morning that you were in some kind of fight.

Check out The Resistance: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/41114/the-resistance


- Defined game length (max 5 rounds)

- No deaths

- Actual data to base your votes on (Mafia can be fun, but the games of it I play never have 30 minute discussions because there's just nothing to discuss -- we just pick someone semi-randomly to lynch.)

The commercial release is very nice, but it can be played with regular cards too.

I used to play board games with people like that, and the problem is easily fixed with a kitchen timer :)

Timer goes off? Turn over, too bad. Given the average number of turns in a game and how long you want to play for, you can work out what to set it at (maybe with a 25-50% leeway)

An interesting variant is to put the timer in a box so that you don't know how long you have left.

> Timer goes off? Turn over, too bad.

I used to play chess with someone whose style of play would watching paint dry seem fast paced.

I bought a chess clock.

Good investment!

You should turn these rules into a G+ Hangouts game.

Linked to from the Nomic article was this:


which I find fascinating.

Mornington Crescent.

And also Mao [1], which has been an unbelievably source of entertainment

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mao_(card_game)

> Mornington Crescent.

... can be made into a Nomic, but the way it's usually 'played' it is simply a parody of over-complicated games with no actual rules of its own beyond, perhaps, 'be funny' and 'confuse the new guy'.

The book that this game originates in ("The Paradox of Self Amendment") is actually a very delightful and thought-provoking book. If you're into self-amending systems (law, software, etc), you may enjoy reading it. It's all available online here: http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/writing/psa/

BlogNomic is a nomic game that has been running since 2003. When someone "wins", they reset the rules and being a new "dynasty". New players are welcome, but most players have been playing for a very long time so the rules get quite tricky.


We played a game of Nomic once in high school. One of the rules, quickly amended, was that rules needed to be in a specific meter. It wasn't dactylic hexameter, but I've forgotten which now.

We got bored with it after a couple of hours, so we passed a rule that would finish the game at the end of the round. I still had a chance to propose a rule, which was something like "We will raze all scores. After the vote, each person's scores will be raised by 10 points." Raze/raise are homonyms with roughly opposite meanings, and the rule proposals were written down but only read out loud for discussion and vote. It passed.

Yes, I'm still rather proud of that rule.

A game that is similarly free-form, albeit less chaotic, is Eleusis. It is played with cards, and each round one person chooses a secret pattern, and the other players play cards, which are identified as correct or incorrect, and they try to figure out the pattern. So there are meta-rules about how the game is played, but the rules for "correct" cards change every game. It seems like a game many HNers would enjoy.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleusis_%28card_game%29

Now if you really want to bend your brain, go look up PerlNomic ;)

Ah, I remember playing an online game of Nomic back in high school. Someone actually keeps an archive of dead Nomic games, so the eye-bleeding '90s web design is still alive: http://www.nomic.net/deadgames/macronomic/. I take full credit for the painful color scheme. All static HTML hand-edited in BBEdit; I think I had a bunch of macros defined to help make it easier to maintain.

Reminds me of Lisp...

Tried, for years, to get my lawyer friends to explain to me the legal system(s) in terms of Nomic rules, but they find it difficult to abstract law.

How about a drinking game variant of Nomic: add an immutable rule that every rule must somehow contain a reference to drinking.

Apparently that's what 21 is. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/21_(drinking_game)

The wikipedia page is said to describe a game, although it rather looks like a description of Switzerland's political system.

Why not any tax related political system in real life ;-) ?

I was talking about direct democraty, not taxes. Political systems where citizens propose laws that are voted by citizens, and where citizens propose to suppress laws and make all citizens vote on this suppression, by example.

Well, you left place for interpretation ;-) I was thinking that you were talking about rules that are constantly changing because of democratic process and that they are most clearly visible in tax area.

Interesting concept, I might try it.

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