OxNomic Newsletter

Issue 1 - 19th January 1997


General Overview
A summary of recent events
Bullshitty opinion section



       This is the first newsletter of the game OxNomic, set up by rule 369, which calls for an office of Scribe, who will provide a separate text, broadly with the twin aims of making it easier for people to keep up with the progress of the game, and to provide a set of opinions on the implications of new rules, what direction various areas in the game seem to be taking, problems that entanglements of rules may have created and suggestions for improvements in the structure of the game.

       Let me begin by saying a big hello to all the players from last term, as well as welcoming any players who have just joined the game, or are about to join it. I hope you all had a great Christmas and New Year and that you aren't already feeling as over-worked as I am (I believe the term has gone on long enough already!).

       As the first issue of the newsletter, this is likely to be a little scant on articles.  What rule 369 suggests, and what would help this page a lot is that I receive a lot of material from any player that wants to contribute (this way my twisted opinions can be balanced!). If anyone has very raw ideas for proposals, they are welcome to put them here.  If someone wants to air their views on the game, or say how it is going wrong in a wider context than perhaps would be fitting in the newsgroup itself, then please e-mail me at daniel.bor@balliol.ox.ac.uk with whatever you have to give.

        Since this is the first newsletter, I thought I'd provide, as well as the summary of recent events, a very quick general overview of what has happened since the start of Oxnomic, centring more on colour rather than mechanics, which may help give a clearer perspective to the game.

General overview


       The game began tentatively on the 29th of October, with most of the proposals in the first few days failing, perhaps because the majority of people were playing tactically at that time and voting against in the hope to gain more points.  As Peter Suber writes on his Nomic homepage, the initial rule for points is deliberately designed to be boring, so that there is an obvious and important change to begin with.  The passing of rule 308 made less difference between voting against and voting for, thus encouraging people to vote more on the merits of the proposal.  It also gave a greater incentive to make proposals, since the passing of one's own proposal would be rewarded by 1-10 points.  Because of this and later rules, and as we all settled down into the game more, I think we were fairer to the proposals and weren't so concerned with gaining points, on the whole.

       The game became far more fluid and devious with the addition of rule 315, where a successful proposer had five points to give to another player, and a failed proposer had five points to remove from another player.  This rule made putting forward proposals more appealing still, because there was now a slight power associated with either outcome of the vote.  And while before there was no real reason within the game to make deals, now mutual agreements on voting on proposals had an obvious binding force in terms of points.  And much more than this, the idea of being able to give a reward or punishment created the idea of Nomic partnerships and collaborations.  Although this rule itself doesn't seem to have been used very much past holding back the person with the most points in the group, it did provide the inspiration for later rules of a similar nature.

       Shortly after this rule, rule 317 took the idea of partnerships much further, allowing a completely fluid transference between players of their points, as long as the donator still had at least a single point.  This allowed for mini-coups, where one person would donate most of his or her points to another person, so that they could win the game, presumably with a hefty gift in return.  However, probably because this rule just seemed to give too much power, it was repealed.  There hasn't been anything to take its place yet, although I think a more moderate version, say with an upper limit of 30 points transference, would be a good addition to play.

       With all these points flying around, it was necessary to double the amount of points needed to win each game, so that games lasted a sensible length of time , as well as providing a more fair system for choosing between two people that win at the same amount of time with the same amount of points, which has happened once already (see rule 388).

       One large problem with the initial ruleset is that it is terribly insubstantial when it comes to choosing who will be the next Speaker.  There are so many reasons why whoever wins the game becomes the next Speaker is unappealing, not least of which that with the vast amount of work involved in being Speaker, this is hardly a reward.  After various attempts and amendments, a procedure was chosen that created a more democratic and safe procedure, such that at the availability of this position (and any other positions of office that may arrive in the future), an election will be called, including manifestos and various rules on voting (see rule 394).

       With the inclusion of rule 352, a second currency was initiated, that of CV points.  This is currently only given to those providing a service to the game, such as the Speaker, as payment for their time, or to the winner of a game as another reward.  Although currently there doesn't seem to be very much that the CV points actually do, it is easy to see where they can lead.  For instance, new rules might be set up so that CV points can be converted into votes or points, or cashed in so that important decisions, such as positions of office, inclusions of new players, etc. can be influenced in some way.  What makes the CV points particularly interesting is that, unlike the normal points, these points can be carried through games (I'm not sure if there is yet any way to lose CV points), so that it might make more sense in the future to attempt to get CV points more than normal points.

       Soon after CV points were allowed into the game, new positions were created to receive this sort of salary.  The Banker was set up to deal with the CV points (although this position seems too thin at the moment, it may be that it becomes much more demanding with new rules about CV points).  Then the Scribe was created, partly so that the increasingly complex game could be digested and grasped more swiftly.  And the latest position is that of Rule Clerk, where all the current rules are put into a useful and logical order.  This is about the most useful rule of late, especially in the incredibly capable hands of the current Rule Clerk, Owen Massey.

       After noticing that the rule of points surrounding proposals and voting on them was still not particularly fair, this was changed so that there is no longer such an imbalance between how many points the proposer receives when the proposal is successful and how many points the proposer loses when the proposal has failed.  Now the rule is that a proposer can only lose points if the failed proposal has over twice the number of votes against as votes for.  This created very little disincentive to make proposals (see rule 358), since along with rule 329 allowing a double vote, for double the points result of that vote, it is likely that any proposer will gain points on the outcome of their proposal.  It may be that this is too far in the opposite direction, since now there seems a lot of tidying up to do.  A sliding scale of points given or taken, linked to the extent that the proposal passes or fails, might be a better solution.  

       While the initial rules gave a virtual punishment for winning the game, it seemed sensible to change this to establish a real motivation for winning.  To this aim, the honorary position of Leader was created (see rule 388).  Whoever wins a game becomes a Leader for the duration of the next game.  Now, the Leader always has an extra vote for any of his or her proposals (rule 364).  The Leader can remove five points from anyone else three times in a game (rule 356).  The Leader also receives an honorary salary of CV points, as well as a one off payment of 20 CV points at the end of.the game that s/he won. These rules removed the prior equality that players had.  So now there are a lot of fun reasons to try to win the game. From these rules it seems that the main incentive offered to a player is that of power, since points or CV points in themselves aren't really very appealing.  However, at the moment, the Leader has no responsibility - as the name suggests that s/he should.  Perhaps there should be a new rule such that the Leader is encouraged or required to make an informed opinion on each new proposal. 

       The most recent rule addition of particular interest is probably giving players the option to enter a state of suspended animation.  This isn't a desperate attempt to avoid finals, but is meant to protect a person from various penalties, if they are insane enough to feel other duties are more pressing than playing OxNomic for a week or so.

(If anyone thinks that I've missed out something particularly important here, please e-mail me about it.  For new players, it would probably be a very good idea to read through the logically ordered ruleset, by the Rule Clerk, since this description was only meant to communicate the most striking changes to the rules.)

A summary of recent events


   Because of the holidays there is little to report here.  At the end of the holidays, there was an attempt (hopefully successful) to sort out the knots we seemed to have tied ourselves in with priority of rule numbers (see rule 395).  Now the rule is that later mutable rules take precedence over earlier mutable rules (so that it isn't essential to mention priority anymore), while earlier immutable rules take precedence over later immutable rules.  This way you can't just change immutable rules by turning a mutable rule into an immutable one (which is much more likely to pass as a proposal than the unanimous decision needed to transpose an immutable rule).  The amendment that was passed just before the holiday break now allows explicit orders of priority, which probably really is needed to give the rule shaping more flexibility, and create far less confusion.

       This past rule seems to be indicative of a feeling of consolidation, that we've created an awful lot of rules, but need to spend some time tidying them up.  I think, with the possibility of withdrawals and preproposals, that we are trying to be more rigorous in the way we form proposals, so that they are clearer and don't conflict with other rules in a problematic way.  There is a clear consensus that we need to be more careful in the wording of our proposals.  It might be a good idea to propose that rigorousness is implemented as a requirement for a proposal.  For instance, breaking up proposals with complex structures into a more logical form, with numbered points etc., might make it harder for them to be ambiguous and make it easier to see any faults before the faults become rules and start buggering it all up.

       The most important changes lately in the game, however, haven't come so much from the rule changes, as from the nature of the game around them.  As well as the introduction of this newsletter, there is the new page by Owen Massey, the current Rule Clerk, who has done an excellent job re-ordering the rules into a very useful order that makes it much easier to understand present positions on various points of the rules.  It is also another good way to see how much we've created in the couple of months that the game has been going on.  As well as this page, there is a non-mandated, but equally useful page on OxNomic created by Terry Boon, one of the people who started the whole thing off (so anyone that fails their exams on account of wasting their time with this game can blame him).  It gives a good description of Nomic and how OxNomic started, as well as providing a set of good ideas for new proposals and problems with current rules (although I'm going to try to convince him to move them onto these pages).  If I were you, though, I'd avoid the face-to-face Nomic record, since I was one of the people in that game and it is all very embarrassing (not to mention rather boring as well!).

      Another big change in the game is Chris Dickson leaving it.  He was responsible for classic rules, such as rule 321 with dusty bin and declaring Nomic war on Cambridge.  Although he and I had a bit of a battle at the beginning of the game as I proposed various rather paranoid rules to thwart his threats of obsessive revenge and blitzing the game with non-productive rules, he has been the most colourful - and infuriating - player among us.  I hope his resignation as Banker and player of the game is another one of his devious and deceptive attempts at being unpredictable and hope that he'll join again soon.  That goes for anyone else that has left recently.

       Perhaps another thing to mention, which could be considered news is that our numbers seem to be dwindling dangerously.  Maybe it would be a good idea if each player tries to find new members for the game.

       And just a reminder that proposal 402 is one of those reversal ones (see rule 319), so if you want it to pass, then vote against, and if you want it to fail, then vote for.  This was another one of Chris's, of course.

Bullshitty Opinion Section - "The birth of a society" 


     One of the things that I find so exciting about Nomic is that it mimics society in many unexpected ways.  In history, some civilizations have lasted in some form to this day, while others were quite short lived.  In Nomic, the length of a group's playing time seems to be slightly similar - number of people, enthusiasm, flexibility, accessibility of the use of power.  But much more than this tentative link is the connection of emergent properties.  In civilisation proper, people didn't sit down and decide that they should start using currency.  It was a slow transition, from the exchange of raw materials and simple products to the use of a valuable commodity, such as gold, which was the equivalent in value to the product, to the agreement throughout a society that virtually intrinsically valueless coins and pieces of paper would stand for some value, such as gold.  In this century we have seen even this connection vanish and money is now only valuable because of the binding of the agreement between all of us that it stand for a certain abstract value.  As the technological and computer ages increasingly turn so much of our lives from the physical to the symbolic (while ten years before this newsletter would have been ink on paper, now you receive these words because of various binary translations), money is already something that largely exists as ones and noughts on our Switch cards and the computers in the banks.  In OxNomic normal points are already being used in some ways as a commodity (to "buy" a double vote, for instance), which wasn't written into the initial rules.  We've already begun on another level of currency with CV points.  If you look at long running games, such as Agora, they have an array of currencies, partly hierarchical and with various levels of abstraction.  This isn't really something planned for.  Much more, it is a falling into a universal device that makes the situation more manageable.  Much more generally than this, Nomic can be seen in so many ways as the starting point of a meta-society.

       With the recent inclusion of various positions, as well as the Speaker, it seems that a metaphorical society is being created, not out of our wills, but as an emergent property, almost inevitable as the game becomes more complex and rich.  The Rule Clerk, the Speaker, the Scribe, all can be seen as clearly symbolic for positions in society.

       The above points are weakened by the fact that some of us have gained the ideas from other Nomic games, as well as perhaps bringing in rules that we've copied from society.  It seems clear, however, that within the rules themselves, the way we implement them and debate them, we are naturally following the way that governments, JCR's, etc. make rules (for instance, with the rules on appeals).  This seems more to be as a result of how rule systems work, especially how they refer to themselves (which was the original reason for the creation of the game), than any copying, and suggests that a lot of what we decide in these games is, rather than largely arbitrary, functional across rule systems, from governments to games of Nomic.

Page created 19/1/97. Copyright:  Daniel Bor, 1997.
If you have any questions, comments, criticisms, please e-mail me at daniel.bor@balliol.ox.ac.uk