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Subject: A DEFCON variant to reduce lucky coup streaks rss

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orestis kranias
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Ok, so, as a preface, I'm pretty happy with the game overall. I'm not a hardcore euro gamer that despises luck. On the contrary, I like having a few dice here and there, but what I can't live with is those rare streaks of lucky rolls that end up destroying a player and he has to fight a battle so uphill that he would be better off resigning.

So with that said, I thought of a mechanic that I guess doesn't break the game, and euro gamers would like it. So, imagine a "tolerance track", where there would be 2 markers (one for each player) that would move forward during each coup attempt against a battleground by 1 for every point rolled above the target number. (For instance if you rolled a 5 with a 3 ops card, against a country with a stability of 1, thus with a target number of 2, you would move your marker forward by 6.) Now if your marker moved away from your opponents by more than a certain number of points, the DEFCON would drop by 2 instead of 1. That would mean that if you go too far with couping left and right when you are already in an absurd luck streak this mechanic would punish you by having you lose the game. Which in practice would mean that you would stop couping for a while until the track resets every so often (say every second turn? meaning 2nd, 4th, 6th and 8th turns)?. This could also include the difference in rolls during realignments.


I think this mechanic is also in accordance with the game's theme, in the sense that, in the historical context of the cold war there was such a thing as "only so much tolerance" of a superpower against the other's shenanigans.

What do you guys think?
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Derry Salewski
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This is a terrible idea.

Wrecks many aspects of balance and strategy.

There shouldn't be that many times in the game where anyone can even go on any kind of coup streak, much less a lucky one.
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Jim McNaughton
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kraniasorestis wrote:
...but what I can't live with is those rare streaks of lucky rolls that end up destroying a player and he has to fight a battle so uphill that he would be better off resigning.

I have played hundreds of times. I don't recognise the problem you describe. Neither have I ever resigned and the uphill battle is one of the best challenges in the game.
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orestis kranias
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Okay maybe I failed to properly describe the problem. So the problem with this game is that brilliant as it may be, sometimes flukes of luck reward a player making poor decisions instead of a player that has carefully planned his moves.

Example.
Say I need to realign an important country. In order to do that I take into account the probability theory, and therefore I spend quite a few ops in surrounding the country with other countries of mine (and this is the only way you should be doing it really - otherwise it's just gambling and you could just as well not play the game in the first place, and instead just roll the dice and decide the winner beforehand in one dice roll). In doing so I am already placing myself at a disadvantage by giving ground to my opponent elsewhere to place influence as he pleases (maybe he grabbed a battleground or two in the process?). Okay, fair enough up until now. Now I attempt realignments at a +2 or even +3 modifier, and roll a 1 against a 6. What happens is I am vanquished from the country and I am set back probably 5 VP or more because this process has enabled my opponent to grab domination somewhere while I was busy playing the right way.

Example 2.
Say I need to coup a country with a stability of 2, under my opponent's control (meaning 2 influence of his is already there). I play my move the right way by using a 4 ops card (and in the process probably giving a nice effect to your opponent), and roll a 1. The result is removing 1 influence for pity's sake. So, in using 4 ops, I costed my opponent merely 1 op. And in the process I probably dropped the defcon so I can't recoup there. So in total, my opponent just "won" a 3 free ops advantage out of literally nowhere.

Now imagine the (not so improbable) scenario of this happening 2 or 3 times in a row. (Even the app's AI the other day rolled something like 5 or six really successful consecutive important rolls). You just lost the game and you just don't know it yet. Even wargames won't save you. And this is just because of a few really weird rolls that happened back to back, which is nothing sort of unfair. Even for a guy that really likes dice rolls in his games and dislikes games with absolutely no luck.

If this hasn't happened to you, or if you consider this as a non-issue then this variant is not for you really.


So, I figured that what this game needs is just a tad bit more of predictability so that this won't happen. The easier way to deal with this is to just remove the extra large dice roll gap between the 1 and 6, by using a d4 instead of a d6. This works like a charm in realignments, but needs a slight adjustment in coups. You jest have to add 1 in your result. So the coups would occur by using a d4+1. This way, even the worst case scenario would be to at least remove 2 enemy influence from a 2 stability country where you rolled a 1 while using a 4 ops card.

The other way to go around it *without* changing the dice, and still allowing for really high roll gaps is to actually track those gap rolls and prohibiting betting in lucky streaks in place of careful planning by the threat of losing the game.

So if say the soviet would coup Iran in the first round, and win by a landslide and now has 4 influence there, this would mean that the US has absolutely no way to get it back until the late war with Iran-Iraq War. Now I'm not saying that this is a bad thing. But just by winning by a landslide, the US is screwed, and not because the Soviet planned his move well, but because he rolled a 6. If this happens a few times more, the US is done. The way I'm proposing to limit this, is this: Dear, opponent, you lucked out and won by a landslide. Le't move you upwards in this new tolerance track of ours. Okay. Oh, you lucked out again? Okay, let's move you up again. Oh, you lucked out again (and now I'm so hopelessly behind the game is not fun anymore)? Okay, you move upwards the track again, and now you're in the danger zone. Now if you coup again there's a random chance (by using a dice roll? I'm not even sure how high that chance should be) for you to drop the DECFON by 2 in one coup which would make you lose the game. Which means that, oh you want to grab a country? You'll have to do it the old fashioned way for a while (until the track resets).

I'm still thinking how much points would that "tolerance" have to be to not break the game, and how often should the track reset, but the idea is tested and looks solid.

The only afterthought our group had is whether or not we should be taking into account the rolls themselves instead of their outcome. Meaning, instead of moving someone up the track by his total influence removed and placed, move him up by what number did he roll. For instance if he rolled a 1,2,3,4 don't move him up. If he rolled a 5 move him up by 1 box, and if he rolled a 6 move him up 2 boxes. Similarly you could move him down the track if he rolls a 1 or 2, because unlucky rolls can screw your plan just as hard.

Someone said that streaks of luck don't happen all that often, and this would break the game. Well, I agree that they don't happen all that often, but then again, if you're not under a streak of luck this mechanic would have zero impact on anything. If you're in a in streak of luck this would have a UN like effect, something like "Whoa man, cool your heels down a little bit, you're going too far with this shit." It wouldn't take away your edge in the game. It wouldn't put you behind your opponent. It would just rob you of the chance to absolutely dismantle your opponent by luck alone.

Which is the way this game is meant to be.
 
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Jim McNaughton
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So you want to reduce the impact of chance on the game's outcome by adapting the coup mechanism.

I don't want to reduce the necessary impact of chance from both die rolls and card deals. The impact of chance is small, otherwise I wouldn't be consistently beaten by better players. It is also realistic, actors in international relations are not entirely in control of the consequences of their actions.

If I were concerned about the impact of chance, I'd say that the 'luck' of the cards has a far greater impact than the coup dice.
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orestis kranias
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Maccyn wrote:
So you want to reduce the impact of chance on the game's outcome by adapting the coup mechanism.

I don't want to reduce the necessary impact of chance from both die rolls and card deals. The impact of chance is small, otherwise I wouldn't be consistently beaten by better players. It is also realistic, actors in international relations are not entirely in control of the consequences of their actions.

If I were concerned about the impact of chance, I'd say that the 'luck' of the cards has a far greater impact than the coup dice.


Basically I've noticed that when someone brings up the point of luck's minimal impact in the game, he almost always makes the point of how an experienced player will always destroy a less skilled lucky one. That's because this is the only instance of luck leaving a game's outcome unaffected in any way that matters. While more skilled players will always win less skilled ones regardless of luck, it's a moot point. That's because this is not what "luck dependent" means in the TS' context. In a strategy game where one claims that thinking and planning plays the major role, any game between 2 equally good players, should end either in a close call, or a draw (less often). Which is what happens in TS when lucky streaks don't happen. When they do happen one player usually wins by a landslide. This is what makes it more luck dependent than it should be.

While international actors can't always predict the full aftermath of their actions, they usually have a pretty good idea. But in moving on, I'd say that this is still reflected in a d4 instead of a d6 variant. Unpredictability is still in the game. It's just that your luck roll cannot be more than a 4 and so, painstaking careful planning can negate a lucky fluke. So for instance reallignments can look less like pure gambling and more like a viable strategy you can (within a reallistic margin of luck) count upon.

And yes, I agree 100% that the card draw is far more important than the dice rolls. But the difference is it's a very different kind of "luck". The deck you burn through, is getting thinner and thinner and therefore you can predict with increasing certainty which cards are in your opponent's hand, to the point where at certain points (like in turn 3) you know *for a fact* that your opponent is holding x,y,z. You know for a fact what will come next. This is because a deck of cards, is a self regualting luck introducing mechanism, in constrast with the dice.

For instance, in dice rolling, just because you just rolled a 1, a 2, a 3, a 4 and a 5, it does not, under any circumstances mean that you will now roll a 6. You would not bet your life on it. On the other hand you would bet your life on which cards are in your opponent's hand on turn 3 (apart from the reshuffle ones).

I have even seen variants where the dice are completely missing and are replaced by regular playing cards representing the 6 possible dice outcomes. Dice decks that you will burn through and reshuffle thus drastically reducing the luck factor. I kiiiiind of liked it, but still, this is not what I'm suggesting.

What I'm saying is you can't use the importance of the card draw as a basis to make the point of "dice unpredictability is not just as important so it does not need to be regulated", because we're talking about a very different thing. And, again, I have nothing against dice unpredictability. I'm 100% ok with someone rolling a 4 three times in a row. What bugs me is the dice "range". 1-6 is too big for this game as I've already shown in the examples in my previous reply (things we've all seen at some point or another).

The bottom line is that my intention is not to reduce the unpredictability factor. I want to reduce the impact that luck/recklessness has. For instance, when a player uses a 4 ops card for a coup in a 2 stability country and gets nothing back, and then his opponent uses a 2 op card to coup a 2 stability country and gains control, he gets a benefit of god knows how many ops/influence out of thin air. And that's not by playing prudently, but because he literally gambled and rolled a lucky 6, thus providing him with the option to later use his 4 ops cards to place influence against a weakened opponent due to pure luck. This bugs some people in my TS group and we think it should not be possible that easily.

And again I'm kind of torn between reducing the dice range or using a special track to throttle one's lucky streak, but then again, it's just me, and I could be wrong.

I'm just posting it because we tested it (both scenarios), it seems to work well, and someone could be interested in trying it out.

Sorry for the long posts. I was just trying to make a proper convincing argument.
 
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Andrew J
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kraniasorestis wrote:
Now I attempt realignments at a +2 or even +3 modifier, and roll a 1 against a 6. What happens is I am vanquished from the country and I am set back probably 5 VP or more because this process has enabled my opponent to grab domination somewhere while I was busy playing the right way.

I guess I'm not sure what you mean by "busy playing the right way," because I'm pretty sure you are in a minority camp if you think proper strategy in this game is wasting ops (particularly at the expense of letting an opponent grab a domination in another region) to set up a +2 or +3 realignment (where, in Cuba or a low-stability African country?). I'd say almost without exception that you are playing the game precisely wrong to pursue a strategy like this if you have any desire to actually win the game.

In this particular case, you should probably be happy that your opponent rolled luckily and thus was able to put you out of your misery even sooner.
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Andrew J
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kraniasorestis wrote:
Say I need to coup a country with a stability of 2, under my opponent's control (meaning 2 influence of his is already there). I play my move the right way by using a 4 ops card (and in the process probably giving a nice effect to your opponent), and roll a 1. The result is removing 1 influence for pity's sake. So, in using 4 ops, I costed my opponent merely 1 op. And in the process I probably dropped the defcon so I can't recoup there. So in total, my opponent just "won" a 3 free ops advantage out of literally nowhere.

...again with the "right way."

For the vast majority of the game, if you are playing as the Soviets you can generally get one coup per turn--fewer if you are U.S. That's why the U.S. has to make so-called "AR6" or "AR7" plays to specifically force the Soviets to choose between a battleground coup or taking care of another more-pressing problem (or, if they opt to take the coup, the U.S. capitalizes on the AR6/AR7 play). You should rarely expect a circumstance where you get a chance to recoup the same battleground during the same turn. You also shouldn't expect it to be more likely than not that you'd flip even a stability 2 country with a 4 ops card--the chances of doing so are only 50/50. So you've got to weight a 50 percent chance of flipping the battleground (the upside) with the 50% chance of the downside and what value your four wasted ops could have bought you elsewhere. The value of that particular 4 ops card is also dependent on what your particular hand makeup is for that turn (is it your only four ops card? what other problems do you need to address? what unfavorable events must you play that you might need the ops to recover from?).

Now, there may be circumstances where you maybe view your coup as having a better than 50% upside with a 4 ops card into a 2 stability battleground, because maybe if you roll a 3 and only put one influence in your opponent has no ability to play back into the country and re-take it (say, with a 3 ops card), or no ability do counter-coup the Bejeezus out your lone little dude in country.

This weighting of upside and downside scenarios is key to the tension and strategy of the game--the problem with variants (in my view) like the one you are proposing is that you are trying to mitigate half of the equation and half of the strategy. You want more sure things, but the game rewards those who are best able to take calculated risks that might result in big payoffs, but are also mitigating for the downside scenarios since nothing is supposed to be sure thing.

I'll grant you that, on rare occasion, you've got the game where an opponent always rolls 5s and 6s, you always roll 1s or 2s, your opponent gets dealt all 3 and 4 ops cards, and you get dealt all 1 and 2 ops cars with a handful of scoring cards and your opponent puts the Red Scare/Purge on you multiple times, too. Those cases just aren't frequent enough in the grand scheme of things to justify breaking the central mechanics of the game, in my view.

Now, I say that with ~400 plays in on this game--so the odd game like the one I describe above is more obviously an aberration than how it might appear if I had a game like that with only 5 or 6 plays under my belt.
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Sean Hagans
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I've always played realignments and coups as risky endeavors. If my board situation is such where I can't afford the negative risk, I'll do something with a more guaranteed return (add influence to the region for instance). I really only perform a realignment or coup when I can either afford to lose, or am already behind and playing a gamble at catching up.

I think the random is a great thematic addition also. Pushing influence on the populace too hard is a gamble, you might make yourself look bad. Sponsoring a Coup is also a gamble and can backfire on you. Just look at how these things have played out in real history. Saying that there should be less risk in sponsoring foreign Coups just doesn't make sense to me. That's how we got Taliban and modern terrorism. That seems pretty risky to me.

You didn't even mention other luck factors in the game (card draw, dice rolls on space race). It seems like you want the game to be less random and be more fixed strategy. This is a game about risk/reward decisions and adapting to the outcomes. If you want less luck, take fewer risks. While your opponent might get a lucky streak every once in a while, if you avoid gambling you might turn that into an advantage when they get unlucky.
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orestis kranias
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Ok so let me show you the contradiction/problem in your understanding of the game as you're basically making my case for me.

I can see where your point of view is coming from and why you would think that the right way to play is to not "waste" op points to set up a good realignment. That's precisely because of the unpredictability of carefully planned realignments, due to the possible dice range. Your point of view is showcasing the problem here, which is that this mechanic, as it stands, punishes (way too often) prudent play (for instance setting up the chances to be on your side.) And more than that, your point of view implies that
"Since this is the case, you should not try to fix the realignments, and just place ops here and there normally, if you want to win."

Well, this necessarily means that the realignment rolls will be a de facto gambling situation. Which brings me an earlier point of mine, which is that
a) Luck's impact in this game goes too far.
b) If you were to play a game of gambling, why not just decide the whole game in a dice roll, and skip playing the game at all?

This is supposedly a game where the community markets as a game where "luck plays a very small role if any". You're claiming the opposite. Just as I am. This is a brilliantly conceived game that luck plays a larger role than it should. The right play is the play that minimises the effect of luck. Otherwise it's not a strategy game but a gambling one. There is no way around this, or something else to call this. If it's just as possible for me to lose my influence as it is for my opponent, it's just 50-50, and we could just as well decide it by throwing a coin. Which if nothing else, is kind of unthematic as well. That's not how coups work in real life. Either the coup is well prepared and it succeeds or it's not and it fails. There is no such thing as luck in those things. Believe me I know my coups I'm from Greece. Eastern Mediterranean has lots of experience in this kind of thing The reason why we roll dice is because we want to simulate conditions that are beyond the actor's control. And there is a decision to be made here, about how far you want to go with this.

And yes, "wasting" ops to let the US grab domination in Central America, while you grab domination in the Middle East or Asia or Europe by realigning/couping somewhere is a definitely perfectly normal tactic and a good trade-off. That's why realignments are there. So that you can flip otherwise unflipable countries. The problem arises when a player that understands how chances/probability works, is getting screwed by a too random mechanic.

So you have to decide. Is this a game of thinking and strategy where luck cannot decide a game? Or is this a game where luck cannot be controlled and you should just roll the dice and let the chips fall where they may, making this a game of gambling at heart?

I think dice are cool. But the range of 1-6 kind of breaks the game if one of the players is too lucky. Just this.
 
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orestis kranias
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shagans wrote:
I've always played realignments and coups as risky endeavors. If my board situation is such where I can't afford the negative risk, I'll do something with a more guaranteed return (add influence to the region for instance). I really only perform a realignment or coup when I can either afford to lose, or am already behind and playing a gamble at catching up.

That's precisely right. You try to avoid realignments because it's a gambling mechanic. You play the normal way, and place influence like a normal person, because you don't like surprises. But when your opponent uses a 1 op card and just snatches that critical battleground of yours, your prudent play goes out the window.

And yes, I mentioned the luck of the card draw at length. The space race, I think should work somewhat differently but it's not that big of a deal. Just increase the roll gap to 1-4 instead of 1-3, and 1-5 instead of 1-4 and it's fixed.

This game doesn't reward calculated risk. A calculated risk is when I coup a 2 stability country with a 4 op card. That's the best I can possibly do. If I roll a 1, I just gifted 3 ops to my opponent. Which means what? That he played well?? A calculated risk is when I surround an enemy country with 3 or 4 of my own and try to realign it. But still if I roll poorly, and my opponent rolls too high, then my calculated risk went out the window. And as the guy claiming that this game rewards calculated risk pointed out, if I try to set up a situation of calculated risk like a surrounded realignment, I can still end up losing my influence.


The thing this game rewards is having a good knowledge of the cards and what to expect if and only if you don't go into an unlucky streak, or your opponent goes in a lucky one. Calculated risk has little to do with this.
 
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Andrew J
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kraniasorestis wrote:
This is supposedly a game where the community markets as a game where "luck plays a very small role if any". You're claiming the opposite.

I'm not claiming that at all--you completely misunderstood my point, and so spectacularly so that I'm forced to think it may be intentional.

I'm with the majority that believe luck plays a very small role in the game.

But hey, if you happen to sleep better by simply viewing your defeats in Twilight Struggle as just continual good luck on the part of the other guy who just didn't play the right way, then it's probably less expensive than a prescription for Ambien, so do what works for you.

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Sean Hagans
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I think he was talking to me, Andrew. I don't think he was saying that you claimed the game has a large amount of luck.

Back to the topic:

I don't actually agree that luck is a major player on realignment. The dice can swing 5 points for one side or the other. If I roll a 1 and my opponent rolls a 6, s/he gets a +5 to the base numbers. I'm not instigating a realignment in an area where the +5 difference is the deciding factor unless the benefits would outweigh the losses. For instance if I've got 3 influence in a region that my opponent has 10 influence in, losing my 3 is not a big deal. It would take me 7 OP to even tie them (lets say the stability is 1 so it would take a lot to make them not control it and it would be an arms race to keep up.) Now let's say that this region is the only region keeping me from scoring a card favorably. In that case I would likely choose to attempt realignment. If I have 4 attached regions and they have 1, I get a +4 base and they get a +2 base. Even if they roll a 6 and I roll a 1, they only succeed in removing my 3 influence and I've only spent 1 OP. It sucks, yeah, but that can happen. Now let's say we repeated that over and over somehow: other than the one scenario where they roll a 6 and I roll a 1 (the worst case scenario), I'm either reducing their influence, or losing very little. If I'm really scared of the backlash, I might even introduce more influence into the one region they control so that they get their bonus reduced to 1. That makes for a +3 benefit to my realignment and I then have a 50% chance to knock off influence from them. If the dice go in my favor I could even knock them back to the stone age and put us even. That's a gamble, but it's strategically sound. So let's say I do that and the worst case scenario happens. I've spent 1 OP on the action and I just move on to things with better rewards. It hasn't ruined my game and I haven't put all my eggs in one "winner takes all" basket.

That's what this game is. There is an element of random outcome, but I control when to take the chances and when to not. If I try to play the game where every OP is realignment or a Coup, I take agency out of my hands and place it on luck. Since the game is mostly strategy, this will usually fail and I will usually lose. Instead I have to play smart which includes knowing WHEN to press for random swings, how to prepare for those random potentials, and when it isn't worth pursuing those and instead go with something that is more guaranteed to work in my favor.

Think of it like this: As a military commander, I could send units into combat and say "there's 10,000 of us and only 8,000 of them. We should be able to take them out no problem because we have more numbers." That might be true on paper, but there are always circumstances beyond my control once I execute a mission. If I could reduce the probability of something unexpected happening by strengthening my intel, diverting the enemy's attention elsewhere, or sending in air-strikes to vulnerable defenses, I would be a fool to not take those STRATEGIC options. Saying the outcome of battle is too random and we might as well just stand side-by-side and flip coins to decide who lives and dies is missing the entire point of strategy: To out-maneuver, out-plan, and out-think your opponent.

Realignment actions should not be the focal-point of any strategy. They are a cheap but risky tool to attempt a big maneuver. They cost 1 OP. They can (and should) be used strategically, but using them as a substitution for strategy will not work. I like them how they are.

That said, obviously your game and players you play with are free to decide if you prefer your adjustments. You asked for our thoughts on the adjustments and I've given them. While I don't think the adjustments are necessary, if you and the people you play with feel like they provide with more fun, do what you find fun. There's nothing wrong with playing a game the way you enjoy to play it as long as everyone you play with agrees with it.

Good luck and have fun!
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