This FAQ is about the board game ochmir. It was started because there
really isn't much on the web about the game as of this writing, and
so the questions it asks are those which I wanted answers to as much
as those which I've been asked.
I specifically decided to write this FAQ because, for some reason,
the passing reference I made to ochmir on one of the pages of my web
site was one of only six matches when you did a Google search on the
word "ochmir", and none of the others were any help
either. I'm also hoping that this will provoke discussion so that
we can get some kind of workable ruleset for the game.
Obviously, the main person to acknowledge is Mary Gentle for writing
the books which described ochmir. While this FAQ uses her descriptions
as a starting point, these extrapolations are not intended to infringe
on her copyright in any way.
Secondly, I wanted to acknowledge those who've contributed ideas
and prodded me into putting this stuff up on the web:
v0.1 First draft.
v0.2 27-May-2004 first published version; still lots of gaps
v0.3 24-June-2004 converting to LYX
2.1 The Books
Ochmir originates in two novels written by Mary Gentle: "Golden
Witchbreed" and "Ancient Light" (these
being the titles under which the books are published in the UK). Both
books are set on the planet Orthe, and the game is used by the Orthean
characters as a metaphor for the political structure of the Orthean
Southlands where much of the action takes place.
The most complete description is given in the appendix to those novels,
although there is extra information scattered throughout the first
novel also. Note that the appendix on ochmir is identical in both
books, and that there is very little extra information on the game
in the second book (as fine a novel as "Ancient Light"
This FAQ does not require that you have read the novels, although
I do not make any particular effort to explain terminology used. However,
there may be some slight spoilers for the novels. I apologise if these
in any way impair your enjoyment of the books.
3 The Board
An ochmir board is hexagonal and divided into triangles, where each
side of the hexagon is divided into six. Thus there are 216 (63)
triangular spaces. Pieces are placed inside each space (as opposed
to go, say, where the pieces are placed on a vertex).
4 The Pieces
How the pieces are distributed is one of the first great uncertainties
in considering ochmir...
Ochmir pieces are two sided, each side being marked in the colours
of one of the players. The traditional colours are blue and white
for a two-handed game, with brown being added for a three-handed game.
A full set of pieces consists of 216, so that the board will be completely
filled when all have been played. The pieces may be flipped during
the course of a game after placement, making the piece available to
a different player. This flipping may also expose a different piece
4.2 Types of Piece
There are three types of piece in ochmir -
These are the most numerous. Once they are placed, they cannot move.
These are rarer than ferrorn, but still comparitively numerous. When
placed, they can move one space at a time (comparable to an uncrowned
piece in draughts/checkers).
These are the rarest pieces on the board, being compared in the books
to the head of government of the whole of the Orthean Southlands.
They are described as having "complete freedom of movement",
but what this actually might mean is discussed in the section on Rules.
The actual markings used to denote the different piece types are
never described. I did a small amount of doodling on this subject
and came up with following ideas:
ferrorn - 0 or blank
thurin - 1 or a large vertical line or a dot
leremoc - X or a starburst design or a circle
In two-handed ochmir one side of the pieces is blue on white and
the other is white on blue. Each player potentially has 216 pieces.
The two sides of the piece are not necessarily of equivalent value.
Few clues are given as to the relative proportions of the pieces,
aside from the observation that counts of ferrorn > thurin > leremoc,
and the commentary equivalence between s'an telestre, T'An and T'An
If we start with the actual counts of the three commentary equivalents:
s'an telestre 100,000 (?)
T'An Suthai-Telestre 1
Clearly, these are impractical proportions for a game: the sheer
rarity of the more interesting pieces renders the whole thing fairly
boring. Otherwise, we just end up with a modified version of Go -
and the best Go is Go, after all.
There is also a problem in that, unless the pieces are mutable between
games (an unlikely prospect given the technology of the Southland),
the leremoc for each side will always be on the back of a particular
value of piece. Also not very interesting.
I think we have to invent some proportions which preserve the spirit
of the commentary equivalences, but have the potential for an interesting
What rules can we use?
. sixes - the number of counters is 63 = 216. Thus
we could have 61 leremoc (6) and 62
. minimum combinations - I think it is reasonable that it should
be possible for each type of piece to have any other kind of piece
on the other side. So, we must have as a minimum 3 leremoc per colour.
. rarity - there should be far fewer thurin than ferrorn, and far
fewer leremoc than thurin.
As a first stab, the following proportions seem reasonable (per colour)
This allows minimum combinations, and (it could be argued) maintains
the rule of sixes for the entire set. It also maintains reasonable
rarity in the thurin and leremoc.
Proportions which might be adjusted include:
. increasing the number of leremoc (although any more than six per
colour would seem like unreasonable generosity)
. increasing the number of thurin (as with leremoc, too many would
make the game too chaotic, but I think that 18 may be too few)
The three-handed game requires an entirely separate set of pieces,
featuring blue, white and brown. The distribution of the pieces is
also going to be rather different!
How the pieces for the three handed game are constructed is uncertain.
4.5.1 The Two-Sided Option
In the novels, the Ortheans are described as post-technological,
that is they have a "been there, done that, not interested"
attitude to advanced technology. Hence it seems reasonable to assume
that, given the pervasiveness of ochmir within their society, that
the pieces are relatively easy to make. In other words, it seems most
likely that the pieces for the three-handed game only have two sides
to them, just as in the two-handed game.
4.5.2 The Three-Sided Option
Although two-sided pieces seem to be by far the most likely way of
manufacture, there are ways to make three sided pieces - use a prism,
or even a planed oblate spheroid (like a triangular rugby or American
football ball). Note that these styles of pieces would require a board
which allowed the pieces to rest comfortably point side down without
exposing the downward faces.
4.5.3 The Key-Ring Option
Rather than having a solid piece, another approach would be to have
the three different possible piece values be strung onto a loop, like
keys on a keyring. This is the most likely way of constructing a genuine
three-sided piece without the aid of weird board structures or unlikely
technology (if only because the same board could be used as for the
two-handed game), but the pieces would also be pretty fragile. Not
good for bouncing around inside a bag, certainly.
4.5.4 The "It's Not Real So Who Cares?" Option
Of course, if we are programming a computer to display the board
then such restrictions are moot.
5 The Rules
5.1 Common Rules
The following rules apply to all variations of the game.
5.1.1 Drawing Tiles
Every six turns, a hand of six counters is drawn.
Q: does this mean that you draw six counters regardless of how many
counters you have in your hand? Or do you only draw when you have
placed all of your counters?
5.1.2 Tile Placement
A counter can be placed anywhere on the board.
5.1.3 Turn Structure
A turn consists of either a placement of a new counter or a move
of an existing counter.
Ferrorn are stationary: once they are placed, they may not move.
5.1.5 Areas of Conflict
ferrorn define the area of conflict.
Q: does this mean that, given a pair of overlapping hexagons, the
one which is resolved first should be the one with the larger number
of ferrorn in it?
Thurin may move one space across a line
Leremoc have 'complete freedom of movement'.
Q: does this mean that leremoc can make a single space move but can
cross vertices as well, or does it mean that they can move anywhere
on the board in a single move? Or something else? For example, might
a leremoc exhange places with any other single piece?
A player wins when all 216 pieces show that player's colour.
A player wins when 144 pieces show that player's colour.
Cheating is described in GOLDEN WITCHBREED as being an integral
part of the culture of playing ochmir. It's not exactly permitted,
but neither is it frowned upon if you are not caught out.
6 Odds and Ends
This is where I will put links to other ochmir resources,
once I find some.
This document copyright (c) Duncan Ellis 2004
File translated from
On 2 Jul 2004, 10:23.