Most people know "Left Center Right" or "LCR" as a simple luck-based gambling game created in 1983 and currently manufactured and sold by a dice game company called George & Co. The game (widely sold as a low-cost impulse-purchase dice game) involves rolling three dice, and shifting piles of poker chips or money back and forth between players as a result of the die rolls. No strategy (or player choice of any kind) is involved.
With the game outcome being entirely determined by luck, the game lacks many features that people seek in dice or card games - there isn't even an illusion of choice, and the game is (in effect) nothing more than a dice-implemented manual slot machine.
The game's poor reputation is potentially undeserved, as it turns out that the simple rules that come packaged with the commercially-available version of the game are not in fact the "real" original rules for this traditional multiplayer game.
The game being sold as "LCR" originated some time in the mid-19th century as the tavern game known as "Senate." The components were more or less the same - consisting of three carved wooden dice, with each die face bearing either an "L," a "C," an "R," or a pip. The only other material components used in play were around 24 coins, pebbles, or other small markers (the amount of counters or chips varied, but was always divisible by three), and scraps of paper and pencils for recording and scoring.
In "Senate," the dice are rolled to simulate the voting actions of a group of legislators (traditionally 24 in number), and initially the dice are placed next to each other, from left to right, with a stack of counting markers associated with and adjacent to or underneath each die. The markers (whether those markers are chips, peanut shells, pebbles, or what-have-you) represent "the Senators" who are divided among three coalitions; namely the Liberals, the Centrists, and the Reactionaries.
The game is played in rounds (called sessions) equal to the number of players. In any particular session, one player will attempt to pass three abstracted legislative acts called "bills" through the Senate; the first two "ordinary" bills pass on a simple majority approval by the "Senators;" and the third bill (The Appropriations Bill) must receive two thirds of the votes in order to pass. After the third act in a session either passes or fails to pass, the next player sitting clockwise begins his or her session.
Rules of Bill Passage
1. Every time an ordinary bill passes, shift one Senator from the Centrists to the Liberals, and one Senator from the Reactionaries to the Centrists.
2. Every time a bill fails, shift one Senator from the Centrists to the Reactionaries.
3. If the third bill proposed during a player's "legislative session" (The Appropriation Bill) passes, shift two Senators from the Reactionaries to the Centrists, and temporarily turn the Reactionary die to show a pip on its uppermost face - this signals that the remaining Reactionaries abstain from voting on the next bill up for a vote.
If the Appropriations Bill fails to pass, shift one senator from the Liberal Caucus to the Centrist Caucus, and shift two Senators from the Centrist Caucus to the Reactionary Caucus. Temporarily turn the Centrist die to show a pip on its uppermost face - this signals that the remaining Centrists abstain from voting on the next bill up for a vote (i.e., either any unresolved tabled bill by the current player, or the first non-tabled act offered by the next player).
4. The game is played until all players have conducted two sessions (i.e., until play has gone around the table twice). After the last player has finished his or her second session, if the total number of passed bills is less than twice the number of people playing, then all players have lost. For any player to win, the total number of bills passed must at least equal twice the number of people playing.
5. If the number of bills passed equals or exceeds the number of players, then the winning player or players are those players who have the largest numerical combination of ordinary bills passed plus failed Appropriations bills.
How bills are introduced and voted on.
When a player's turn begins, the player announces, "Venerable Members, I file Senate Bill Number ____ [the number being the consecutive number of the bill in the game], as proposed by ____ [here the player chooses to say either "the Liberal Caucus," "the Centrist Caucus," or "the Reactionary Caucus"].
Note that every bill (whether an ordinary bill or an Appropriations Bill) must originate with one of the three caucuses, at the choice of the filing player.
If any player (including the active session player) then announces "Table," the filed bill is set aside for a later vote. Otherwise, the bill is immediately voted on.
Counting one chip or pebble at a time, the active player determines how each Senator votes on each bill by rolling one of the "LCR" dice.
If the bill is a Liberal Caucus bill and the voter is in either the Liberal or Centrist Caucus, the voter will vote for the bill as long as anything other than an "R" is thrown on the die (i.e., as long as the die shows either an "L," a "C," or a pip). If the bill is a Liberal Caucus bill and the voter is in the Reactionary Caucus, then the voter will only vote for the bill if an "L" is thrown on the die.
If the bill is a Centrist Caucus bill and the voter is in the Liberal Caucus, the voter will vote for the bill if an "L" or a "C" is thrown on the die (but not if the die shows an "R" or a pip). If the bill is a Centrist Caucus bill and the voter is in the Centrist Caucus, then there is no need to throw a die - the voter automatically votes for the bill. If the bill is a Centrist Caucus bill and the voter is in the Reactionary Caucus, then the voter will only vote for the bill if a "C" or a pip is thrown on the die.
If the bill is a Reactionary Caucus bill and the voter is in the Liberal Caucus, the voter will vote for the bill only if an "R" is thrown on the die. If the bill is a Reactionary Caucus bill and the voter is in the Centrist Caucus, then the voter will vote for the bill if a "C" or an "R" is thrown on the die, but not if the die shows an "L" or a pip. If the bill is a Reactionary Caucus bill and the voter is in the Reactionary Caucus, then the voter will vote for the bill if anything other than an "L" is thrown on the die.
After all the votes are canvassed, the bill's passage or failure to pass determines the shift in the composition of the Senate. This shift takes place immediately, before any other bill is announced or voted on.
As mentioned, the third bill offered by each player is a special bill (The Appropriations Bill) - this bill cannot be tabled and must be voted on immediately. Additionally, this bill will only pass if two-thirds of the Senate approves it. As noted above, if the Appropriations Bill passes, the Reactionary Caucus will be disrupted and unable to vote on the next bill. If the Appropriations Bill fails, the Centrist Caucus will instead be disrupted and unable to vote on the next bill.
After the vote on the Appropriations Bill, and after the adjustment of the Senate composition resulting from the vote on the Appropriations Bill, if either or both of the other "ordinary bills" in that player's session were tabled, they must be voted on, starting with the lowest numbered one.
Sequence of Play
Choose one player to begin - play proceeds from player to player clockwise around the table.
Player One announces "Senate Bill One, by the ____ [L, C, or R] Caucus.
Any player (including Player One) may then announce "Table," postponing voting on S.B. 1.
If the bill is not tabled, the vote of the Senate is tallied. If the bill passes, one senator is shifted from C to L, and one senator is shifted from R to C. If the bill fails, one senator is shifted from C to R.
Player One announces "Senate Bill Two, by the ____ [L, C, or R] Caucus.
Any player (including Player One) may then announce "Table," postponing voting on S.B. 2.
If the bill is not tabled, the vote of the Senate is tallied. As above, either one senator will be shifted from C to L and one from R to C (if the bill passes), or one senator will be shifted from C to R (if the bill fails).
Player One announces "Senate Bill Three, Appropriations Bill, by the ____ [L, C, or R] Caucus.
The Appropriations Bill may not be tabled. Instead, it is immediately voted on, and must pass by a two-thirds vote. If it passes, then two senators are immediately moved from the Reactionary Caucus to the Centrist Caucus, and the remaining members of the Reactionary Caucus will not be able to vote on the next upcoming bill. If the Appropriations Bill fails, then one senator is immediately moved from the Leftist Caucus to the Centrist Caucus, two senators are immediately moved from the Centrist Caucus to the Reactionary Caucus, and the remaining members of the Centrist Caucus will be disrupted from voting on the next upcoming bill.
If either or both Senate Bill One and Senate Bill Two were tabled, they are voted on now, and cannot be tabled again.
Play then passes to Player Two.
Player Two announces, "Senate Bill Four, by the ____ [L, C, or R] Caucus. This is then either tabled or voted on, followed by Senate Bill Five, and Senate Bill Six, Appropriations Bill. Player Three then announces Senate Bills Seven and Eight, and Senate Bill Nine, Appropriations Bill, and so on.
Play continues in this manner until all players have had one session.
Senator Vote Determination Table
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Faction Shift Summary Table
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Consequences of Caucus Elimination.
In a traditional game of Senate, each caucus begins with 8 members. Note that the Liberal Caucus will gain one member with each successful vote on an ordinary bill, and does not lose any members on failed votes on ordinary bills. The Liberal Caucus can only lose a member on a failed Appropriations Bill vote.
Meanwhile, membership in the Centrist and Reactionary Caucuses is much more fluid, with membership being gained or lost on the passage or failure of both ordinary bills and appropriations bills. Therefore, it is quite possible for either the Centrists or the Reactionaries to lose their remaining members on a particular bill. In contrast, the only way for the Liberal Caucus to lose all of its members would be as a result of eight failed Appropriations Bills votes, plus one additional failed Appropriations Bill vote to offset every successful ordinary bill vote.
The asymmetric positions of the caucuses is intentional, as is the asymmetric structure of the voting process.
If a caucus has no members, it is simply passed over when votes are calculated on particular bills.
But even when a caucus has no members, a player can still announce a bill for that caucus. For example, assume that in the mid-game, the Liberal Caucus has 22 members, and the Centrist Caucus has 2 members. The Reactionary Caucus has zero members. Player Five announces Senate Bill Fifteen, Appropriations Bill, proposed by the Reactionary Caucus. For each Liberal Caucus member, there is only a one-in-six chance of favoring a Reactionary Caucus bill, and because the bill is an appropriations bill, it will only pass if it gets at least sixteen votes.
The Appropriations Bill fails - the Liberal Caucus drops to 21 members, the Centrist Caucus drops to one member (losing two to the Reactionaries, but gaining one from the Liberal Caucus) and the Reactionaries go from zero to two members.
Player Six announces Senate Bills Sixteen and Seventeen - both reactionary bills, and in quick fashion tables both bills. Player Six then announces Senate Bill Eighteen, Appropriations, as a Reactionary Appropriations bill. The lone Centrist must sit out the vote, and this bill similarly fails. The Liberal Caucus loses another member (dropping to 20), and the Reactionaries go from two members to three. Then in short order, both of the tabled ordinary bills fail, and the Centrists are zeroed out, while the Reactionaries go from three to four members.
Since the Reactionaries lose one member for every successfully-passed regular bill, and two members for every successfully-passed Appropriations Bill, the likelihood that the Reactionary Caucus will lose all of its members is quite high - the faction will only be replenished in those circumstances where a run of bad rolls causes a majority of the other faction members to vote against bills that they are statistically likely to favor.
Note also that the Reactionaries are true contrarians - they lose members even as a consequence of the successful passage of Reactionary Caucus bills and appropriations.
The initial strategy of the first player is likely to be the proposal of Centrist bills, since Centrists always automatically approve Centrist bills. But as both regular and Appropriations bills continue to pass, the Reactionaries will disappear, and the Centrists will begin declining in numbers as well, drawn into the Liberal Caucus. It will start to make sense to propose Reactionary Appropriations bills which are statistically less likely to pass, in order to drain members slowly back into the Centrist Caucus.
The game of Senate is notorious for having dozens of rules variants, with players in different cities asserting ownership of the "true version" of the original game. The number of Senators is often varied, ranging from a low of 15 to a high of 66. Sometimes the game is played strictly as a three-player game, and each player is bound to present bills on behalf of one and only one caucus, exclusive of the others.
In New England, the game was played under the name "Solomon's Court," and had different titles for the three caucuses (in this version, they were called factions and were usually named after ancient Israelite tribes).
Variants with respect to victory conditions, numbers of rounds, and the effects of bill passage and failure are common. Frequently, the game is simplified with purely symmetrical voting rules, wherein each faction faces exactly the same effects based on the caucus affiliation of the proposed bill. One version (Webster's Knots) eliminates the advantage to bill passage granted to Centrist caucus bills.
In predominantly Czech and German immigrant communities in the American Midwest, the factions are titled the "Drys," the "Wets," and the "Anarchists," and the bills are referred to as "warrants" and "orders." In this version, one die role is made not for each "Senator" but for each "Party" as a whole, and all the votes of that party are made in unison in accordance with the die roll. This echoes a variant played on the central Atlantic seaboard, where game play is sped up by just three rolls per bill, and just two bills per "session" per player.
The game is not without its flaws - players often complain that the order of play gives an unfair advantage to the first players, who run up easy victories on their bills. It isn't unheard of for a game to devolve into the position that all the senators are in the "L" faction by sometime around halfway through the second set of player sessions - rendering the tactical choices more or less forced from that point forward. Another criticism is that the interplay of faction and bill outcome is forced and counter-intuitive.
Despite its flaws, "Senate" demonstrates the richness of potential strategic game playing available to those individuals who already own the commercial "LCR" product.