by Arkady English


Some games merge with each other very well. Others less so. I'm sure you all remember the cross between Diplomacy and a live action GURPS: Time Travellers roleplaying session that caused the city Neva Ere to have never existed. However, some games share common themes if not common goals. Where the themes of these games can be used to reinforce each other you have good grounds to attempt to merge a game.

What is Nomic?

Nomic is a game invented by the philosopher Peter Suber in 1982 under the title "Nomic: A Game of Self Ammendment." The game is intended to model the paradoxical situation under which the power to enforce certain laws comes from the laws being enforced, much like any legal system in the world.

The rules of Nomic as proposed by Suber essentially do little other than lay a foundation for a game, describing how play passes from one player to another and how, on each players turn, the rules may be ammended. Although it is possible to end the game with the rules described, either by amassing points or by causing the game to become unplayable, the intention is that players create a more interesting win condition.

These features can cause Nomic games to have a similar ebb and flow to Diplomacy games. Co-operation with other players is essential, certainly at first, as proposed rule changes are voted upon. Without support from half the group you would never get anywhere. The notion of the stab also exists, as you must obfuscate the rule exploit you introduce such that no-one else exploits it before you in the same way that a Diplomacy player may obfuscate their troop movement with deliberate misorders while they set their "ally" up for a knife in the kidneys.

If Nomic has a weakness, it is that the rules are the game. It requires quite a skill of abstraction to get into the feel of the game and to find the meat of what's interesting. Rule changes can entirely lack context. This is a problem that Diplomacy doesn't have, as it presents the abstraction of fleets and armies maneuvering around Europe to give context to the diplomatic dealings that are the crux of the game.

Because Nomic is a game about rules it tends to merge neatly with other games. Often the two rulesets can be combined with few or no clashes. Previous versions of this have been done with chess, Monopoly and even Mornington Cresent!*

Merging the two

I put some effort into merging the two rulesets into something playable. I didn't want to use the full Diplomacy rules straight off the bat,as they are quite complex and appending the Nomic rules would lead to a hugely complicated ruleset to start with. To that end I stripped the Diplomacy rules of anything that was not absolutely required. Supply centres still existed but had no game effect and no owners, support was removed entirely. Convoys would have been removed were it not for the unenviable position England would have started with in this case. The result was a version of Diplomacy where units could move around, but do nothing.

The hope was that players would create a replacement for support that was effective, but simpler. What actually happened was that support was proposed and approved of, but the rule was found to be hopelessly arcane when actually put to use. The wording either caused every unit on the map to support every move (theirs and their opponents'), or no units to support anyone. This caused a gigantic mess and required several re-adjudications, and in the end it took quite a while for support to appear in a workable form.

One interesting addition to the game is legislative alliances. For example — in normal Diplomacy England and Turkey cannot ally effectively near the start of the game. They are too far removed from each other. In Dipnomicy, however, they can create complementary rules and work together to pass or oppose legislation, thus getting an advantage that way.

The other thing that happens is some strange additions to the rules. Some things, like Wings (air units), an economy, assassinations and railroads have all been introduced. Some strange things happen by mistake. For example: fleets are not required to follow coastlines when moving around coastal areas. They are simply not permitted to finish their turn in an inland territory. When a rule was passed allowing a fleet to make two moves within a single turn this suddenly allowed such moves as "F Sev - Mos - Liv"! (Although passing through Moscow, the fleet doesn't finish the turn there, so the conceptual impossibility isn't a problem).

If anyone wants to run a Dipnomicy game, I reccomend a few changes to the starting rules I used. Firstly, loosen the requirements on rule proposals (I eventually did this later on) as it actually keeps the ruleset simpler. Players no longer have to create convoluted rules to get round the restriction of only altering a single rule. Rules for dealing with NMRs should be implemented right from the start. It is probably worth reserving the right for the Secretary General / Gamesmaster to rewrite proposed rules for clarity, as this would avoid all sorts of problems I've had.

Anyone wishing to observe may find a full record of the game so far at the Dipnomicy website.

* For those outside the UK, Mornington Cresent is the name of an improvised sketch structure performed on Radio 4's "I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue" programme. The players pretend to play a massively complex game set on the London Underground according to an arcane set of rules (which don't actually exist). Blasphemously, the Mornington Nomic game — after several iterations — did actually produce a playable ruleset for Mornington Cresent.

Arkady English

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