Some of our friends from boardgamegeek have suggested the following variants for a more dynamic gaming experience with less chance. Continue to use all the original rules but substitute these variants for the original rules:
1. At the beginning of a year of play an array of cards equal to the number of players is displayed face up for bidding. The first player (determined by the turn order track) chooses any card and begins a bidding round. The minimum bid is zero and bidding proceeds in clockwise order. The winner is the player with the highest bid. Deposit the money (disks) in the "supply". Regardless of the outcome of the bid, the next card is chosen by the next player in the turn order track. There is no limit to the amount of cards a single player may obtain. Though no cards should be unclaimed with a minimum bid of zero, any unused cards are left remaining for the next year.
2. When a player passes in any sequence except the "required disk allocation", "bidding sequence" and "trend", the marker going to the passing lane is pushed to the first empty section. All ensuing players passing are filed in behind with first to pass becoming the first to play in the next sequence.
3. On the competition resolution phase, no bag draws are used for results. A resolution is determined such that the player who has the most disks in each section automatically wins. Losing players lose half their disks rounded down (placed in the "supply"), and excess placed in the "return pool" as in the original rules. Any ties for a section are placed in the bag for a draw, resolved as in original rules.
The playtime seems to remain about the same as the time lost on bidding is gained by less bag draws. Have fun!
From Essen, Harold suggested: Separate the deck into four piles sorted by the three icon types and the fourth without icons. Identify each pile with one upturned card. Then instead of dealing out four cards, let players choose their cards from any piles they choose.