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Subject: Decreasing the luck factor for Eurogamers rss

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András Szabados
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We have played this game a couple of times now, and my partner has summed up the essence of this game very much to the point: „It’s not fair, but then again, the cold war wasn’t fair, either”. However, it would be nice to balance this game to the best of our capabilities. The recent batch of Eurogames that fills most of our playing time has spoiled us with the way luck is handled, and as a result, the luck factor in this game – the first non-Eurogame to hit our table for a while – seems unnecessarily high. I understand that this is as much a matter of personal taste as it is of gaming cultures, but at the same time cannot help but think that many others might also be put off by luck. We have therefore come up with a number of ideas for decreasing the luck factor without too much meddling with the otherwise outstanding game mechanics.

1. Space Race: Based on what we have seen so far, this seems like the most significant area where the dice can make a difference between winners and losers. How about getting rid of the die roll, but requiring +1 ops value to progress (up to 4), or even a certain amount of influence (for example, required ops/2, rounded up) to be removed?

2. Coup attempts: Why not just fix the die roll at 3 or 4?

3. Scoring: How about simply putting the scoring card in front of you when drawn, and drawing up to the hand limit. Score the regions at the end of the turn. I understand that this is something that would take the element of surprise away, and that experienced players should be aware of which regions are open to scoring at any point in the game. On the other hand, the proposed solution could reduce the disadvantage of missing an action for the player who plays the scoring card as well as decreasing the luck factor of which of them are scored first.

4. Realignment: just treat it as if no dice were thrown.

One argument that can be readily proposed against the points above is that these changes would make the game more mechanic and predictable. However, it seems that the luck of the draw would still make for an equally unpredictable gaming experience for everyone who likes to decrease the luck factor as much as possible without ruining the game mechanics.

I understand that we are very inexperienced in this game compared to many others reading these forums, and it would be great to hear what they think about the points raised.
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Twilight Struggle really isn't a game that is decided too often by luck -- it just seems that way when you first start playing. As you get an intimate knowledge of the cards, luck is greatly decreased. As to the points you bring up, here are some thoughts on why I think that these aren't necessary or possibly even detrimental.

1. The game is rarely, if ever, decided on the space race.

2. Fixing the coup attempts is a poor idea as it takes all the risk out of couping certain key battle ground states. The USSR could almost always guarantee a coup in Italy on the first turn and the US would never be able to reciprocate because DEFCON had decreased. This takes some of the risk/reward out of couping with lower valued ops cards as well.

3. Scoring a region at just the right time is a vital strategic element of the game. Often, a region can swing directions in a single turn and the goal becomes of either building up into the scoring or just getting it out there at the *perfect* time. This is something that one of the central skills of TS, in my opinion.

4. Getting influence around a country basically can guarantee the outcome. The more interesting realignments is when both superpowers have influence in a country. Then realignment becomes a risk because the phasing player can lose their influence if not properly established.
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Steve Bauer
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I think the game is great as is but I am sure you can come up with some changes to reduce the luck.

Playing scoring cards at the end of the turn would be a very bad idea I think as the US would always go last and could almost always shift the balance of power.
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Jeremy Strope
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Yikes. I wouldn't even want to play the game like that. If it makes it more fun for you, then by all means play it that way. I'll stick with the way it's designed. Luck isn't as big a factor as its made out to be. Even when you get a hand full of your opponents events, there are still ways to take advantage of it. It's just as likely that your opponent is staring at a hand full of your events.
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Colin Hunter
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Just agreeing with what is previously stated, this game is not often decided by luck. Infact the most significant aspect of luck in this game is not the dice rolls, but card draw and I'm not talking about getting your opponent's events. The only thing I fear, is bad ops (generally). Although I won my last game because of it as USSR (missle envied duck and cover fot nuclear war). Having said that I think some people don't like dice. You could use a card deck if you wanted.
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eryn roston
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Fue wrote:


1. Space Race: Based on what we have seen so far, this seems like the most significant area where the dice can make a difference between winners and losers. How about getting rid of the die roll, but requiring +1 ops value to progress (up to 4), or even a certain amount of influence (for example, required ops/2, rounded up) to be removed?


The real value of the space race is not the small reward you get for advancing down the track but the ability to discard a potentially devastating enemy card. You get to use that aspect of the space race whether you win the roll or not!
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András Szabados
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baditude wrote:


The real value of the space race is not the small reward you get for advancing down the track but the ability to discard a potentially devastating enemy card. You get to use that aspect of the space race whether you win the roll or not!

If someone runs ahead on the SR track due to bad opponent rolls, this means an extra 9 VP for the whole game (if SR is played out all the way). Sounds like too much to be subject to nothing but luck of the dice. As little as I've played so far, I've seen it happen.

steinley wrote:


Fixing the coup attempts is a poor idea as it takes all the risk out of couping certain key battle ground states. The USSR could almost always guarantee a coup in Italy on the first turn and the US would never be able to reciprocate because DEFCON had decreased.

Very good point. However, if you follow Ananda Gupta's variant and use influence to bid for the USSR role (see thread http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/250360), this will not necessarily happen, as Italy will probably be the first area where the extra influence is placed. Also please keep in mind that your scenario has a very high probability of happening as the game is.

I'm not so sure about the scoring cards. I understand that my proposal would have the most substantial effect on the game from amongst the points raised. The fact that the US always comes last is a very strong argument (although my version might help offset the 63-36 percent USSR-US win ratio measured in the Wargameroom League). At the same time, the way it is designed, it's too wild for our taste, and I can't help thinking that there must be a better way. The worst part is when you think "OK, if I draw this scoring card in the next lot, I'll score 4 points over my opponent at the start of the turn before he has a chance to react, but if he draws the other scoring card, he'll score 5 points over me - all because I spent my last ops here and he spent it there".

I understand the strong opposition, but please understand that I'm speaking as a person who is very uncomfortable with dice (or any manner of involving too much arbitrary luck) in a serious game. It's been a while since I last played an "American" type of game, and I just can't help thinking that a great game like this can be made more friendly to people who have spent recent years with games involving a significantly lower amount of luck.

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Just a note I don't actually think Italy is always the best opening move, I think Couping Iran excellent Just to reiterate, the luck that you see is not nearly as great as you make out. The presence of dice does not make the game have more luck than many euros. I personally feel that something like 1960 has more luck despite having less dice. This is because each occurance of luck is far more decisive than in twilight struggle, where single coup rolls make little difference. Don't get me wrong I'm not a big fan of the mechanic in principle, but in practice the game works fantastically
 
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Matt Thrower
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Fue wrote:
I understand the strong opposition, but please understand that I'm speaking as a person who is very uncomfortable with dice (or any manner of involving too much arbitrary luck) in a serious game.

Then go play something else. Luck - most importantly in the guise of risk assessment and management - is an essential element in the play and strategy of Twilight Struggle. I suspect that even if you played a game with all your suggested changes implemented you'd find the luck of the card draw pretty annoying. How bad is it going to feel for you if you're ahead in position/points and you loose the game because of a lucky draw of Wargames/Aldrich Ames? In honesty that situation grates for me too, and it doesn't happen often, but it illustrates that this is not a game you can realistically tinker with if you just don't like luck in games.

I'll re-iterate what others have said - this is not actually a luck-heavy game although it obviously plays a part. It just looks that way as you start to explore the strategies.

In the interests of keeping you interested, here's a few suggestions.

The only grumble I have with luck in TS is a scoring card coming out twice in the early war for a region where one power has a big advantage (it's usually the USSR in Asia). The opposing power hasn't had the time to try and do something about it and the extra points can provide the basis for an unassailable lead. To counter this you can just take a played early war scoring card and shuffle it into the mid-war deck instead of the discard pile.

I once suggested increasing the success margin on the all space race boxes by one point (i.e success on 1-4 or 1-5 instead of the current numbers). This was simply to increase the chances of players getting to some of the final boxes and access to the interesting powers - and thus strategies - they provide instead of decreasing luck. It would, however, have the side effect of making space race plays a less chancy affair.

In terms of coup and realignment rolls one way you could decrease the luck factor without making it completely cut-and-dried is to roll two dice, halve the result and round fractions down (or up, I suppose). I think this would still have too much of the detrimental effects on the game that others have already mentioned for my tastes, but it might suit you better and would be a middle way between the luck of one dice and the problems of a fixed number.
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Boris Dvorkin
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I know that you're just trying to make the game more fun for yourself and that it must be frustrating to see all these philosophical assaults on your motives, but I sincerely believe that you will be doing yourself a great disservice if you alter the game in the ways you've suggested. The thing that's obvious about TS from the first game is that it's possible to get lucky and win; what doesn't become apparent until several games in is that it's just as possible to get very lucky and still lose. This is because, as the others have said, there is much more skill to TS than meets the eye, and a preponderance of lucky rolls will rarely make up for inferior play. If you reduce the elements of luck, you inevitably reduce the elements of skill as well.

Let me respond to your points:

1. Being behind on the space race isn't necessarily bad. At the higher levels, you need to pitch higher cards. This means that if you hang back on the space race, you can pitch a wider variety of your opponent's cards, which can be very advantageous with some of the more hurtful 2-ops cards (Fidel, Decolonization). Furthermore, if you get hit by a Red Scare/Purge, you can still drop 3-ops cards as long as you're not too far up, which is even more significant.

2. The problem with fixing the coup rolls is that it's, um, not fun?

3. If you reveal the scoring cards, it eliminates the possibility of bluffing. It also eliminates the opportunity to cut your losses by scoring a region early. See "Reducing luck inevitably reduces skill," above.

4. Taking the die rolls out of realignment is very misguided. Suppose I have four influence in a region you want to realign, and you control a neighboring country. With the rules as written, a 3-ops card spent on realigning is statistically likely to remove most or all of my influence there. With your suggestion, realignment is completely impossible. Thus, you have eliminated a decision that the player would have previously had to make (Do I spend the points to realign, or do I add influence elsewhere?). See "Reducing luck inevitably reduces skill," above.

I respect your right to play the game how you want, but I cannot stop my heart from crying out against the travesty you are proposing. The drastic changes you suggest will neuter the game, and rob you of what should have been a satisfying experience.

If you want to make changes to reduce luck, I'd suggest that you keep things minor. Increase the ranges for the space race and Bear Trap/Quagmire by 1 after each failed attempt. Give each player a fixed number of "mulligans," which they may use to re-roll any die. But don't alter the fundamental mechanisms of the game until you've played it a good number of times and really know what you're doing.
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Troy Losse
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Twilight Struggle is about dealing with what is given to you. Twilight Struggle rewards the player who evaluates and manage a constantly changing situation. Over and over players complain about having handfuls of cards that are their opponents events or poorly timed Scoring cards. This is esential to the game. Experienced players should know how to use each card in a given situation and still remain flexible to use the OPs or event in a new way.

Your specific suggestions:

1 = The Space Race is supposed to be a crap shoot. Investment does not determine success. Sometimes your rocket blows up on the launch pad regardless of your investment. The Space Race is intended to be a free way to get rid of a card that may backfire on you. There has to be a risk-reward mechanism here. Otherwise you would throw away the event that benefits your opponent the most. The best way to deal with an event that benefits an opponent is to play the card yourself. Choose the timing of the event and counter-act with the opps or create a new threat.

2 = Coup de Etats are extremely volitile events. There are in now way certain. If you win it gives you an abvious gain for little investment in points. If you lose then those points are lost. However you do always gain something in a coup attemp even if you fail. You cover your military opps needs and you raise the DEFCON level; one of the primary mechanisms of controlling the game when you get an advantage.

3 = Scoring - This has to be random. If the game is scored at the end of every turn then the USSR player should never lose. Events are designed to give the USSR player the early advantage. By having random scoring times the USSR must manage his use of ops points and carefully spread out his moves. If scoring is at the end of the turn then the USSR could easily gain dominace of Europe, raise the DEFCON level in the process and win a auto victory with control of Europe.

4 = Realingment fall under the same dicussion as coup attempts since they are esentially the same thing. A coup with less investment and less risk.

The key to good play in Twilight Struggle is momentum and tempo. A good player dictates what his opponent does. If there is no luck in the game the only way to lose that tempo is by making a mistake and the opposing player capitalize on the error (assuming they recognize this). The luck in Twilight Struggle insure that a player who is experienced, know all the cards, and has a cohesive strategy still may have it all blow up in his face.
 
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MattDP wrote:
I'll re-iterate what others have said - this is not actually a luck-heavy game It just looks that way

I know that this may be thought of as an issue of semantics, but from my point of view this game is luck heavy. That is not to say that it is just a roll of the dice. Chess has no luck. Backgammon has a large luck component. Even in backgammon though the best player, that most understands the game, will win. So for T-S the game is luck heavy. There are times when the better player will lose due to bad luck. That said I believe that saying this game is not luck heavy is sort of a "head in the sand" approach. It is luck heavy, but that is part of what makes it exciting. The number of times in the Cold War when neither side had any idea what was going on or what could happen next is uncountable. This is simulated very well by the luck factor. Many of the outcomes in the Cold War seemed to be tilted by random outside forces. In the context of the game, admit it. It has a large component of luck. But that is part of what makes it a great game.
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András Szabados
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Boarass wrote:
it must be frustrating to see all these philosophical assaults on your motives

Your sympathy is truly appreciated, but I don't feel that I'm getting much more than one who dares cast his eyes upon the sacred cow from another perspective deserves. Some of the flames have actually been quite funny - make sure to check out the alternative thread at http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/313116 and give that guy a thumbs up in case you haven't done so already. On the other hand, I've also seen some ideas of merit, like yours, which makes it all the more worthwhile.

I don't think that I can argue with you regarding point 2 of the proposed changes not being fun, at least not from a position of logic. Your arguments regarding the realignment roll, on the other hand, seem well founded and logical.

MattDP:

Thanks for the scoring card removal variant, seem to make sense. Regarding the other point, we have already played the game using the "middle of 3 dice" mechanic described somewhere else in these forums.

BrenoK wrote:
Unless played out of the blue a scoring event should hardly surprise you

"wow, what a coincidence, after using all his ops in Asia he pulled an Asia scoring card". If you're not paranoid while playing this game, you just ain't playing it right.

Sorry about not making this clear in my first post - if you look at the example in my second post, you'll see that my problem is exactly when a scoring event is played out of the blue and a significant amount of VPs depend on nothing but luck of the draw. Very common, even in my experience.

houjix wrote:
The Euro craze seems to heavy on stripping randomness out of games as much as possible. And I'm not convinced they're better for it.

It certainly does benefit some, such as Through the Desert and Santiago, two games in your top ten . But let's not compare apples to oranges.
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houjix wrote:
Let's not confuse "randomness" with "luck".

You're kidding right? If not, please enlighten me because, as I understand it, the luck factor is a directly proportionate result of randomness. Please give me an example of randomness that leads to luck and an example of randomness that does not. But as you do, try to be aware of simply blowing smoke. I do not see how there can be any relevant randomness without an equal factor of luck.
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The emotion that has been identified is that you lose at Twilight Struggle, and when discussing it with your opponent you both agree that if that coup in Italy had gone the other way on turn 1 then the whole game would have swung the other way. You think that the game needs fixing so that a win or a loss is more as a result of the decisions that you have made by following an overall strategy, and reacting to your oponents decisions, rather than tossing a coin to see who wins, essentially.

Probability is a beautiful thing: how do you explain the house always wins rule to a lottery winner? Some people like this aspect in games (see the following thread!), including those that don’t like or are not very good at thinking/strategy but still want to be able to win. I, however, like to have a feeling that if a game has uncertainty in the form of die rolls, drawing cards/tiles, or even other players simultaneous decisions (e.g. diplomacy) that if I have a good strategy (including a correct assesment of probability), through repetition the superior strategy will win through.

The thing about Twilight Struggle is that you only roll a single die occasionally to decide important outcomes, and the difference in effect between a 1 and a 6 can be quite significant. There will probably be around 15 total coups attempts in a 10 round game, but the early coups are more important than the late ones. This is because a good coup can gain domination of a region, and then you can score this region multiple times with the advantage, and if your VP swingometer then moves favourably close to 20 the chances of your opponent recovering their strategy situation become small as you push for VPs. On the other hand the loss of ops points spent on a failed coup can be very damaging. Most strategists would want to avoid this risk and so spend ops on placing influence instead (which is probably why the game designer incorporated the military ops tracks to encourage coups).

I have found that most of the time you are wasting your time against a country with a stability number of 3: even a 4 ops card is unlikely to swing control of the region, and is better spent on adding influence. Generally, a country of stability number 2 can swing control on a roll of 5/6 (for a 3 op card), whilst a roll of 1/2 has wasted your card. If you assume that the first 8 coups (attempted by either player) are more significant than the later ones, you can determine the probability of a player gaining a significant advantage through luck. The probability that the results even out so that neither player has an overall advantage is ~17%. The probability that one player has a net advantage of 1 coup (this means that his successes minus his failures is one better than the other player) is 31%; a net advantage of 2, 24% and 3 or more 28%.

Based on this simplified scenario, the chances of a fairish game (zero or 1 coup advantage, say) is about 50%. I believe that there is not enough repetition in Twilight Struggle to allow the odds to even out, and so the luck in the game is dominant. A rule tweak to increase repetition could be, for example, rolling 5 dice and taking the middle result (the median), you are likely to get a 3 or 4 most of the time (and the coup modifier cards would become more significant). This would change the outcome for the scenario above as follows: No advantage 22%, 1 advantage 37%, 2 advantage 24%, and 3 or more 17%. Also, the chances of getting an extreme result of 1 or 6 would be made much smaller. Rolling 5 dice (3 or 7 could be used instead) and taking the median for each coup would not alter the rules that much, if you do believe that coups are a bit too unpredictable.

With realignment rolls you can have 1 attempt per op point, so more repetition is there to allow luck to even out. Also you can manage this risk better by building up controlled neighbouring territories, and not realigning countries where you yourself have influence but little neighbouring support.
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Philip Thomas
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Quote:
The emotion that has been identified is that you lose at Twilight Struggle, and when discussing it with your opponent you both agree that if that coup in Italy had gone the other way on turn 1 then the whole game would have swung the other way.

Where has this emotion been identified? Has this discussion ever taken place among any Twilight Struggle players? How could one possibly tell?
 
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Leo Shead
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Quote:
Where has this emotion been identified? Has this discussion ever taken place among any Twilight Struggle players? How could one possibly tell?

Perhaps its better to say that coups have been identified as a part of the game largely responsible for luck altering the outcome, and I have had a think about it out loud.
 
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Philip Thomas
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Yes, coup results affect the game. However, the game is certainly not decided by the coup in Italy on round 1. Even brushing aside the large number of games in which the USSR coups Iran isntead, games can be won by the USA after a sucessful USSR coup in Italy, and by the USSR after a coup in Italy fails.

 
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I suppose you could always buy mulligans for a few VPs. If you think the game is too luck-based then give up more VPs to have a better chance at mitigating that luck. If you don't, keep your VPs. All playing finesse aside, sometimes this game does come down to a 50/50 die roll.
 
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1. Space Race: I have only played 3 games, and I have (maybe) gotten a total of 7 areas on the space race, 2 by CAPTURED NAZI SCIENTISTS. I've never gotten past the 3rd mark. Yet, I have won all 3 games. Why, you ask? Even if I got my opponents' really nasty events (for example, I've gotten FIDEL in both of my US games) I've played them for OPS and then done something about it later. One game, for example, I took Nicaragua with a spare AP and then played FIDEL, using the ops to realign him out of existence. My first play in Midwar was to take Cuba, without fear of FIDEL, and Cuba remained in my possession for the remainder of the game.

What am I trying to say, you ask? The Space Race is not that valuable, with a few exceptions (US has DECOLONIZATION, for example), and in those cases, I generally prefer to hold the cards than Space Race them. Why? Presumably you're using an opponent's event on the Space Race to keep him from getting it. If you Space Race it, the card is still in the deck. If you hold it, your opponent can't get it (One game I held BLOCKADE from my opening hand, though that backfired when he played Ames, and one game I held SOCIALIST GOVERNMENTS until the Late War cards.) Lastly, if you play your opponent's nasty events, like FIDEL as the US, YOU control when he appears. That's huge, because you can react to him on your own terms.

Obviously the US should avoid a few events, particularly DECOLONIZATION and DESTALINIZATION, because of spread influence (FIDEL can be realigned out of existence without too much difficulty).

As far as VPs go... well, if you're playing the Space Race for VPs, you'd better win by turn 5, or you are screwed. Any player playing for board position is bound to eventually get control or dominance of one of the three (or four, SE Asia) midwar scoring regions. And then you'd better watch out because you'll lose on final scoring. (Can you tell I think the Space Race is a waste of time?)

2. Coup attempts: Because that takes away the random element of a real-life coup. Sometimes a coup is wildly successful (a guy rolls a 6). Other times it fails miserably (a guy rolls a 1). IMO the way it's done is pretty realistic. I do like the idea of rolling 3 dice and taking the median, though- stuff will tend toward the middle, which is probably accurate. But to simulate a coup... they definitely aren't a sure thing.

3. Scoring: No. Absolutely no, and that's because one of the skills in TS is figuring out what your opponent is holding and maximizing what you're holding. I do think a house rule where if someone draws 3 scoring cards that person can re-shuffle their hand into the deck and re-draw their hand makes sense, though, provided it gives the other player option to do the same. But the idea of knowing where the points will be scored at the end of a region stinks.

Conversely, a player who's been concentrating on (say) Asia for the entire game, and draws the Asia Scoring card, should be able to play it right away. Presumably, they had to do something to establish whatever the condition is in a previous turn. It therefore doesn't bother me that a Scoring Card can be headlined- that's just good strategy. I would personally oppose ANY change in the way scoring cards work- I think it's fantastic.

4. Realignment: I am not sure what realignment is supposed to represent, however I disagree with the suggestion because plans can fail (again going back to realism here). If I want to realign, then, I know EXACTLY what I need- for example, to realign FIDEL out of Cuba as above, I need a 2 ops card (luckily FIDEL would fit the bill). It eliminates some of the risk- think Bay of Pigs fiasco, in this case. Again I would not be opposed to rolling 3 dice and taking the middle one if you want to reduce the randomness a little bit- I just feel the game would suffer if the threat of failure was totally eliminated.
 
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A simple way to reduce luck if you don't like it would be to drop 1's and 6's from the die results. Rolls of 1 would become a 2 and rolls of 6 would become a 5. Essentially you would be rolling a 2-5 die. This would not eliminate all luck but would certainly reduce the impact of a 1 vs 6 roll during a realignment attempt.
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Tali Urulu
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I recall a Vietnam veteran telling the story of an American infantry unit ambushed by the Viet Cong on a trail. Half of the unit dived to the right and half to the left. The punji sticks-covered by human excrement-were on the right. The lieutenant, who dived left (and survived the ambush), was promoted.

War is all about chance, luck, and probability.
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Vlad Reznik
United States
Baltimore
Maryland
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suggestion to make coups a little less random: roll as many dice as your target's stability number and take the average (round however you think is best). this way, in a crazy unstable country you're more likely to end up with a 1 or 6, whereas in a more stable one you're more likely to end up with 3-4.

note: i have not tried this, but it seemed like a good idea based on what i've read so far in this thread and incorporates the theme of the game a little.
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Yiannis Hadjikyriakou
United Kingdom
Brighton
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Edit: +1 Lebatron (somehow I missed readings Lebtron's post before I made mine below)

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I wonder if a really simple solution of making a D6 = 2,3,3,4,4,5 rather than the usual 1 through 6 for coup and realignment rolls. You'd just need to "black in"/"white out" some spots on a standard D6. It would eliminate the extreme results, and cluster results closer to the mean.
 
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