There are 3 things about the Influence cards:
1 - there are not many of them, so card counting is quite possible.
2 - when you discard, you are announcing (somewhat) cards that you are not interested in.
3 - can you look through your (or someone elses) discard pile?
So, although it does not specify, we put the discards face up, like most discard piles in games. However, when I discarded three and my opponent/ally asked me what 3 cards I discarded, I said, "The top one is a military" and left it at that.
At this point I was accused of rule-lawyering, but he was counting my cards!(and also trying to decide what I was weak in so he could break me).
They decided I was okay, because we also decided that going though the discard pile to count your own cards was, NOT okay. (ie: We want to reduce the card counting).
Am I okay with this?
We also realised that its possible to load your own deck, by putting your influence cards on regions you do not control, and pulling back ones of appropriate type either just before your shuffle or after depending on what you wanted to do. Not an easy thing to do - but timing can work well sometimes.
And this was our first game.
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Well, it looks like you have a very astute group of players!
Yes, it is entirely possible for an observant player to mentally count cards (both his own and his opponents) in order to assess the players' strengths and weaknesses. This is a sound strategy, but not easy for many players.
The standard etiquette for the game at tournaments, etc. is that, if another player requests it, you must discard your cards one at a time during the Trading Phase. However, players are not permitted to physically look through the discard piles (either their own or their opponents).
To be honest, most of the time players are not as strongly interested in counting their opponents' cards, and therefore the Trading Phase is commonly done simultaneously (unless it is a pivotal point in the game and the players demand that the sequential rules be applied for that phase).
Regarding a "deck loading" strategy, I have seen this done before. As you mention, it isn't easy, and sometimes it can turn against you, but it is certainly in the spirit of the game for players to try it if they like. After all, recent history has shown that many modern countries spread their resources thin on speculation and then consolidate when needed.
Thanks, and please let me know if I can help with any other questions. Also, feel free to check out the official Ideology FAQ at www.ideologygame.com for more unusual situations.
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