Ars Nomica: A conversation

Snippets of an electronic conversation:


— In, “xxxxx” wrote:
> Both the game and all of these shows are based on a “prisoner’s
> dilema” where you have to weigh the benefits of cooperation.
Is it me, or do all of my attempts at design emulate obscure European psychological experiments?


To Hotspur.

It’s you.

It’s because one of your primary interests is the game going on off
the game board not on it.

You are also one of those brave souls who asks the questions “what do
I mean when I say what I mean” and “what do I do when I do what I do.”

A gorgon few people today can face– and live

The game going on off the board… that’s a very good way to put it.

It’s no big secret I have a preference for games where the
interaction between players is far more important than the
interaction between any single player and a set of rules. in fact,
I’ve been working on a long term project to stand the idea of
traditional wargaming rules on its head.

I’ve mentioned on this list, long time back, that I had discovered
DVORAK, a nomic card game, and that has had me researching nomic game
theory. Nomic theory, for those of you not in the know, postulates that changing the rules of the game is a legitimate move in itself. Nomic theory was first referenced in Douglas Hofstaders’ “Metamagical Themas” and later published by Peter Suber in The Paradox of Self-Amendment
The game by itself (the one that Suber came up with and Hofstader
used as an example) is fairly dull. It’s a series of interactions
between players, akin to voting, which change a set of “mutable”
rules that work in tandem with “immutable” ones. Fun concept, boring
execution. Fortunately, a small gaming company local to me (Looney
) showed me a way to get to Point B when they published FLUXX, a
card game. Fluxx is almost mindless in its approach– you start with
this set of rules: play a card, pick up a card. Gradually, you play
cards that will change the rules– Play two cards, pick up three
cards, etc.

It’s not truly nomic because the players are bound to change the
rules as stipulated on the cards, not by something they invented
themselves. However, it certainly FEELS nomic, and moreover, it
plays fast.

Since I like card mechanics, it wasn’t too hard to figure out an
approach that might be grafted to miniatures. FLUXX has card
combinations that create victory conditions. I simply transfered
those to the playing field.. a series of colored pyramids with
numbers on them become physical objective points. A set of “goal”
cards will stipulate victory conditions for individual players, and
there may be a meta-goal where everyone wins, or nobody wins to add
an interesting inter-player dynamic.

There are also Rule-Changing cards (more or less derived from FLUXX)
which govern mechanics like how many cards in your hand, how many
actions you can take, switching goals etc.

There are also “Goodies” which equate to bonuses or penalties for
individual squads, and “Actions” which are one-shot cards that are to
be played once and discarded permanently. I’m trying to mix it up a
bit so that the card deck doesn’t become a glorified deck of random

It’s just a rulebook and card list right now, but I have high hopes
for it. By making rules almost insignificant, it becomes 100% a
players’ game.

I may call it “Ars Nomica



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