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[] Frequently Asked Questions about Nomic

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The Nomic Frequently Asked Questions List


  1. Where can I get this FAQ?
  2. What is Nomic?
  3. Is it "Nommic" or "Nome-ic"?
  4. Where can I get the rules?
  5. What is
  6. Is Nomic being played on the Net? Where?
  7. What is this talk of Internomic?
  8. What is/was Nomic World? Where is it now?
  9. What other Nomic-like games are there?
 10. Nomic related pages on the Web.
 11. Books and references.
 12. Acknowledgements.


1. Where can I get this FAQ?

This FAQ is now posted monthly to, and

An HTML version exists at:

and is mirrored by Doug Chatham at:

A text only version can be FTP'ed from:

or from:


2. What is Nomic?

Asking the question "What is Nomic?" is like asking the question "What is a
hacker?" or "What is Zen?" - people tend to get all mystical and cryptic,
and you end up with no real idea at all. :)

Nomic is a game, and it is a lot of FUN! Unlike most games, the rules of
nomic are not written in stone. In fact, the object of the game is to make
changes to the rules of the game. Players start off following some "initial
rule-set", which dictates how the rules can be changed. Once a rule change
has been made, players then follow this new rule set. Most importantly, the
rules about how rule changes are made can themselves be changed!

This is where it tends to get mystical, because as a result of these rule
changes, the game you are playing will change from moment to moment. The
nature of the rule changing mechanism might change from democratic to
capitalist, to totalitarian, to whatever. Or the ability to change the rules
might be removed entirely - perhaps the game will turn into chess, or tag,
or snap. The future of the game is entirely in the hands of the players.

In the words of Nomic's author:

     Nomic is a game in which changing the rules is a move. In that
     respect it differs from almost every other game. The primary
     activity of Nomic is proposing changes in the rules, debating the
     wisdom of changing them in that way, voting on the changes,
     deciding what can and cannot be done afterwards, and doing it.
     Even this core of the game, of course, can be changed. --Peter
     Suber, How to Play Nomic

Most nomic enthusiasts seem to enjoy playing nomic in order to experience
the possibilities of different kinds of lawmaking processes, and also to
exercise their ingenuity in trying to discover loopholes in the rules which
give unusual results - mostly to the benefit of the player. (This is called
"scamming", and is lots of fun! :)

     In my commentary on the game I distinguish 'procedural' from
     'substantive' games. In substantive games, players play to earn
     points and win. In procedural games, they try to tie the rules
     into knots, either for the logical fun of it or in order to win by
     paradox rather than by points. -- Peter Suber

For the record, Nomic was conceived and designed by Peter Suber, and first
published in Douglas Hofstadter's column "Metamagical Themas" in Scientific
American in 1982, and later in Hofstadter's book, by the same name. Peter
revised the rules and published them in his own book, "The Paradox of Self
Amendment" in 1990. See section 11 below, for references.

NOTE: The section on Nomic from the Paradox of Self Amendment is now online.
Take a look at Peter Suber's Nomic web page at:


3. Is it "Nomm-ic" or "Nome-ic"?

Debate rages over whether the "o" in "Nomic" is long or short. The short "o"
seems to have been the inspiration of such online games as "EcoNomic" and
"AutoNomic", but the long "o" persists in such games as "Garden Nomic".
(Think about it.)

I put this question to Dr Suber himself. I quote his response in full:

     I followed the discussion with interest over the weekend and
     decided not to intervene. I didn't want to contradict half the
     Nomic world. But since you ask, I've always used a long "o".

     To me both pronunciations are perfectly acceptable. The Greek "o"
     is short (omicron, not omega), and in English it is short in words
     like "astronomic", "autonomic", and "economic". So I see a case to
     be made on that side. But I like the sound of the long "o" better.
     I analogize "nomic" in "astronomic" to "wise" in "wisdom": the
     root word may take a long vowel when standing alone, but it
     becomes short when it joins a compound. There are many other
     examples in English, both when the original long vowel becomes
     part of a stressed syllable (as in wise --> wisdom, break -->
     breakfast) and when it becomes part of an unstressed syllable (as
     in able --> ability, fate --> fatality).

     By the way, I discuss the phonetic rules above in more detail at -- Peter

So it is plain that even the author of the game doesn't pronounce its name
correctly, since everyone know that it is "Nomm-ic". :)


4. Where can I get the rules?

Peter Suber's original rules set is available on the Web at: set

They can also be FTP'ed from in plain text,
postscript and acrobat formats.

They have also been published in several books, which are listed in section
11 below.

The original ruleset has also been translated into several other languages.
Copies in Spanish, Swedish and French are available from the Nomic FTP
Repository (see Section 10 below). Thanks to the people who have sent me
these. If anyone has any other translations, please let me know.

See Section 6 for more Nomic variants.


5. What is (a.g.n) is is newsgroup dedicated to the discussion of Nomic
and related games. In particular, it is proposed as a discussion area for
interaction between existing Email Nomic games (See Q5 and 6, below). is suffering from poor propagation. Please encourage your
newsadmin to carry it.

If you can't get this group, Nomic discussion also takes place in or, and most of the a.g.n readers lurk
in these groups too.

Alternatively, you can use Doug Chatham's Nomic Bulletin Board at:

There also exists a newsgroup, for the purpose of
playing and discussing Usenet Nomic (see Q5 below). A.g.n.u has even worse
propagation than a.g.n. (i.e. almost non-existent)


6. Is Nomic being played on the Net? Where?

Net nomic games have proliferated in the last few years, and new ones seem
to keep on popping up. This FAQ used to contain a list of online Nomics, but
I found that it was too much work too keep it up to date. Instead, I have
implemented the Net Nomic Database web-site, which allows nomics to add
their own entries and update them as they see fit. The URL is:

The NND is still in its early stages, and is not very pretty just yet, but
it seems to function okay. Please feel free to add your own Nomics to the


7. What is this talk of Internomic?

With the recent proliferation of Nomic games online, some people have begun
talking about starting a game of "Internomic" - that is, a game of Nomic in
which each of the existing games act as "players".

The idea is loosely based around the mapping of nomic games to nations in
the real world. So Internomic would make some provisions for trade and
negotiation between "nations", somewhat like the UN.

Such a game has been going for some time now. Check the InterNomic entry in
the Net Nomic Database for up-to-date information.

For another perspective on meta-Nomic activity, take a look at The United
Nomics web page:

The current internomic efforts seem to be dedicated to peaceful relations
between nomics. Those interested in conducting a Nomic War may be interested
in using Doug Chatham's draft Internet Convention for the Conduct of Nomic
War, which can be found on the Nomic FTP Repository. (See Section 10 below.)


8. What is/was Nomic World? Where is it now?

Nomic World was a MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) run by Geoff Wong and Steve
Gardner at Monash University, in Australia. Its sole purpose was to run an
extended game of Nomic. In its heyday, NW had over thirty players, from
places all around the world, making it the largest (known) game of Nomic in
the world!

Nomic world lasted for about 9 months, before the wizards were forced to
shut it down due to system problems and lack of time to administer it. In
that time, several hundred rules were made, and multiple scams pulled off
(with various degrees of success.)

To find out more about Nomic World, read Steve Gardner's excellent game
summaries, available from the Nomic ftp site:

     I consulted the 'framers' of this game and suggested an innovation
     to the initial set of rules which (I believe) they adopted.
     Instead of having players propose rules in serial, they should do
     so in parallel, and then occasionally vote on some of the
     accumulated proposals. That would not only permit a much larger
     number of players to participate, but it would simulate a
     legislative body better than the original rule set. -- Suber

The initial rules from Nomic World are available for FTP from:


9. What other Nomic-like games are there?

Here are a number of other games that might appeal to nomickers. I compiled
this purely from my own feel of what things Nomic players like. Feel free to
disagree with any of my choices. If there are any games you feel I have left
out, please tell me.

   * Bartok/Bartog/Warthog

     A card game, which begins very much like Uno, except that each time a
     player wins a round, e gets to invent a new rule. Generally, new rules
     are restricted by the players' sense of fairness, and meta-rules are
     not allowed. The game is complicated by the initial rule that "If a
     player asks a question, e must pick up a card."

     This game is meant to be very silly, and can be lots of fun.

     I have put the a file containing the initial rules, and some suggested
     extras which I have played successfully in the past, up for ftp at
     Other web pages dedicated to Bartok are:


     [Research is currently underway as to the origin of this game, and the
     true spelling of its name. Any info would be appreciated. - MALCOLM]

   * Mao

     Mao is similar to Barto[gk] but with the following important

     1) New players are not told the initial rule set (which is slightly
     different from the Bartok one, and varies slightly (radically?)
     depending on which group is playing it)

     2) When someone goes out, they invent a new rule, which they do not
     tell the other players.

     Mao related web pages:

   * Eleusis

     In Eleusis, like the above games, players try to get rid of their cards
     by playing them onto a discard pile, however the rule which dictates
     which cards are legal to play is not known to the players. Instead, it
     is invented by the dealer before play begins. The other players have to
     try and guess the rule by observing which plays are legal.

     The original version of Eleusis was invented by Robert Abbott in 1956,
     and was published in Martin Gardner's column in the Scientific American
     in June 1959. It subsequently appeared in Gardner's 2nd Scientific
     American Book of Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions and in Robert
     Abbott's book Abbott's New Card Games (Stein & Day 1963).

     In the 1970's Robbert Abbott made some major improvements to Eleusis,
     including the option for a player to become a prophet and try to
     predict whether each play would be called legal or illegal. This
     current version The New Eleusis was published in the Scientific
     American in October 1977. There is also a booklet about it, obtainable
     from the inventor, which gives a fascinating account of the development
     of the game, as well as the rules.

     David Matuszek maintains a web page for The New Eleusis at:

     I have archived some of Dave's pages on eleusis in the Nomic FTP

   * Fluxx

     Fluxx is a commercially produced card game created by Looney Labs
     ( In Fluxx, almost every card you play
     changes the rules of the game, so things can get quite chaotic.

     The Fluxx home page is at:

   * Das Regeln Wir Schon

     Das Regeln Wir Schon (We'll Settle This Yet) is a German game that
     closely resembles Nomic. Players take turns playing "Rule cards", which
     contain new rules, and voting on them. The complete set of rules,
     translated into English can be found at:

     A review of the game can be found at:

   * Mediocrity

     Mediocrity is an amusing little game in which it pays to be mediocre.
     Invented by Douglas Hofstadter, it was published in Metamagical Themas
     (see Section 11 below).

     The rules are available online at

   * Playing Politics

     Michael Laver, Professor of Political Science at Trinity College,
     Dublin wrote a book called "Playing Politics" which describes a variety
     of games that would be of interest to Nomic players. His games are
     designed to teach the forces involved in real-world poltical decision
     making, but they are also a lot of fun. The publishing details are
     listed in Section 11 below.

     Professor Laver's home page is at:

     Some of his games can be found online at


10. Nomic related pages on the Web.

There are a plethora of Nomic pages on the net. Again, there are too many
for me to keep track of in this FAQ. Check out Swann's Nomic Ring page at

A few sites of general interest are:

   * Peter Suber's Nomic page:

   * The Nomic Frequently Asked Questions List (this FAQ):

   * The Nomic FTP Repository:

   * The Net Nomic Database:


11. Books and references.

   * Title: The Paradox of Self-Amendment, A Study of Logic, Law,
     Omnipotence, and Change.

     Author: Peter Suber

     Publisher: Peter Lang Publishing

     Date: 1990

     ISBN: 0-8204-1212-0

     Online version:

     Description (by Suber):

     PSA is the first (so far the only) book-length study of self-reference
     problems in law. It focusses on one such problem from American
     constitutional law, but in the discussion of it ranges widely over
     other problems and other jurisdictions. That one central problem is
     whether the amendment clause of the constitution can be used to amend
     itself. Alf Ross, a notable jurist and logician, argued that it cannot.
     I argue that it can, and show in addition that self-amendment has
     frequently occurred in fact. In the process of showing the
     permissibility of self-amendment, I discuss much of the law of the U.S.
     federal amending process, the theological paradox of omnipotence, the
     nature of paradox, legal rationality, and legal change. Nomic is
     Appendix 3 of the book.

     I can't recommend that every avid Nomic player buy the book, for it
     costs $70 US. But I can recommend that they persuade their local
     library to do so! The book would be helpful for anyone who took a
     serious theoretical interest in the game or in the logic of
     self-amendment. I can recommend this essay-length synopsis of the main
     argument of the book:

     Peter Suber, "The Paradox of Self-Amendment in American Constitutional
     Law," _Stanford Literature Review_, vol. 7, nos. 1-2 (Spring-Fall 1990)
     pp. 53-78 (available online at:

   * Title: About Nomic: A Heroic Game That Explores the Reflexivity of the

     Author: Douglas R. Hofstadter

     Published: Scientific American, 246 (June 1982) pp16-28


     An early version of the rules, taken from the unpublished text of "The
     Paradox of Self-Amendment", with explanation and commentary by Suber
     about the purpose of the game and the possible directions it could

   * Title: METAMAGICAL THEMAS: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern

     Author: Douglas R. Hofstadter

     Publisher: Penguin Books

     ISBN: 0-14-008534-3


     A reprint of the his Scientific American articles, along with some
     extra discussion and feedback from readers.

   * Title: Playing politics : the nightmare continues

     Author: Michael Laver

     Publisher: Oxford University Press

     Date: 1997

     ISBN: 019285321X


     Do you like getting your own way, making money, cheating your friends,
     reneging on your promises? A born politician, you will revel in playing
     Michael Laver's entertaining games based on the double-dealing of
     real-life politics. Michael Laver, a leading political scientist, has
     designed the games to be simple to play and at the same time revealing
     of the political process. They are ideal for budding politicians,
     politics students, and all those who enjoy games involving strategy and

     By playing Agenda, Coalitions, and even three-sided soccer, you can
     fight elections, overthrow governments, and make deals, all in the
     interests of winning or holding on to power. Whether you are securing
     public funding to support your particular project or coming out top in
     the opinion polls, anyone can have fun with the games, and by playing
     politics get a feel for the fascinating complexity of the real thing.


12. Acknowledgements.

I'd like to thank the following in helping me to construct this FAQ.

Karl Anderson
Don Blaheta
Paul Bolchover
Scott de Brestian
Chuck Carroll
Doug Chatham
David Chapman
Joseph DeVincentis
Steve Gardner
Mitchell Harding
Ted Helm
Peter Hollo
Denis Howe
Oerjan Johansen
Ed McGuire
Nelson Minar
Aneel Nazareth
Michael Norrish
Clair Pritchett
Jason Reed
Gareth Rees
Garth Rose
Peter Suber
Benjamin Thompson
Bill Trost
Geoff Wong

               This Nomic Ring site is owned by Malcolm Ryan.
                        Want to join the Nomic Ring?
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Last modified: May 26 1999

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