Gaming News and Notes

Preview of BoardGameGeek's New Convention Preview Tool — Coming Soon!

Board Game News - Wed, 07/26/2017 - 11:03

by W. Eric Martin

When I joined BoardGameGeek in 2011, one of my responsibilities was to continue assembling convention previews for SPIEL, something I'd done on since 2007. In that first year, I also created a preview for Spielwarenmesse, with Gen Con being added to the roster in 2012 and the Origins Game Fair and Tokyo Game Market in 2015. For all of these previews, the idea is to highlight new games that will be shown or sold at these conventions, both to alert those who plan to attend and to let those at home know what they might see in their local stores (or not see given the size of many publishers).

The convention preview format on BGG was a unique creation usable solely for me to do what I needed to do — but having been assembled on the back of the GeekList infrastructure, the preview had some restrictions for both me and users because people wanted to do things with it that GeekLists were not designed to do.

Thanks to several intense weeks following the 2017 Origins Game Fair by Scott, Jordan and Dan, that situation is about to change, and the image below highlights much of what's new about our new convention preview tool:

To start, while the games in the convention preview are sorted alphabetically by publisher by default, you can also sort the games by title, by thumbs, by price, by playing time, by rating, by which were most recently added to the preview, and by priority.

Priority is a new status created for this preview format. You can click one of the four buttons by each game to tag it for yourself as "much have", "interested", "undecided", or "not interested". When you sort the list by priority, all the titles will be sorted in that order, with the games appearing alphabetically by title within each group. (When you sort by anything other than publisher, look for the publisher's name underneath the cover image.)

Priority also comes into play through the use of filters. Click on the "Filters" button, and you'll see this:

So many filters! You can apply one or more filters, and the results will be spit back at you with around 25 titles visible and the rest hidden under a "Show More/Show All" link. (This is how the games are shown without filters as well. We don't automatically show all the titles so as not to kill our servers. Similarly, we're keeping the name, game description, etc. under a "more details" link.) If you highlight "much have", "interested", "undecided", then everything you've tagged as "not interested" will now be invisible for you; if you highlight only "not prioritized", then you'll see only those games you haven't yet classified.

Expansion status is noted on game listings, so you can use filters to show only standalone games should you not care to see expansions in the list. Alternatively you look at nothing but expansions should you want to prioritize all of them relatively quickly. The availability status of a game is also noted within the listing, and you can use the filter to show only those games for sale at the con or those available solely for demo.

This might have been the most common request for convention previews over the years, so I'll highlight this fact: You can use a filter to hide from view games available at a convention solely for demo. Please clap.

You can segment out trick-taking games that include animals or nautical. You can look for games from favored publishers that support five players. You can exclude games from the preview that you already own or have preordered. What's more, by clicking on "Add To", you can interact directly with your existing game collection on BGG. Add something to your wishlist! Take it off the wishlist! Leave a comment for yourself! Change the title! (I'm not sure how changing the title interacts with things that sort by title. I'm guessing that the system will "see" the actual title instead of your placeholder, but I don't know for sure. We're still discovering things as we go along...)

If you click on the arrow underneath a game's thumb count, you'll see different sharing tools, including a grey permalink that when visited shows only that sole title, along with a link that allows a user to see all titles on the convention preview.

Click on the arrow to the right of a publisher listing (when the preview is sorted by publisher), and you'll have a link that shows only games from that publisher. In the current (i.e., soon-to-be-old) convention preview format, each publisher had a listing, but it had no link to share and it was a pain in the butt to edit. So happy to have this option!

Once you start prioritizing titles, you'll have a line at the top of the preview that reads "You have prioritized TK titles in this GeekPreview", along with a "View My Picks" link. Click on that link, and you'll see a list solely of those titles you've prioritized, complete with your name up top:

In essence, "View My Picks" creates autofilters that leave out all "not interested" titles, presenting all the games in a thumbnail format with the "must have" titles coming first. Your username is included in the headline, along with sharing tools should you want to tell your friends what you're thinking about getting at the next con. A link at top of the header lets folks go to the full convention preview should they want to see what you're not getting and make choices of their own.

Did I mention thumbnail format? I did — click the buttons underneath the search box in the preview, and you can alternate between the full list and a thumbnail summary of games showing only cover images, thumbs, and your priority status. (Some people might also use this format to search for games lacking images or saddled with 3D images instead of the more aesthetically pleasing 2D images that tile like a dream and allow me to create thumbnail images for videos. Some...)

Other general notes about this preview tool:

• This tool will not replace the existing Gen Con 2017 Preview. This new convention preview tool will go live on Wednesday, July 26 (if no issues arise in the next few hours), and I'll update both lists over the next three weeks. It's extra work for me, but many of you are already doing stuff on the existing preview, so I'm not going to abandon that.

Instead this window gives us a chance to stress test this new tool before the SPIEL 2017 Preview goes live on Monday, August 21, the day after Gen Con 2017 ends — and at that time, I'll be using only the new tool, not the old. (I'll need to move everything from my WIP SPIEL 2017 Preview, but using this new tool is quicker than what exists now, so that's a plus in the long run.)

• Currently comments cannot be placed on the game listings in the new preview tool. I believe the comments system is being worked on right now, so rather than try to mix old systems with new, we opted to launch this without comments right now. Again, it's a test to ensure the framework is in place, and we'll get a comment system in place later, possibly along with other things, with the biggest item on the wishlist being a preorder system integrated with the BGG marketplace.

• If a game's cover image has a triangle on it, click that triangle and a video will pop up within the preview. BGG attends a lot of conventions and shoots hundreds of game overview videos each year at these shows, with many of these videos giving an early look at games that will be released in the future. This format gives us another way to highlight the material that we've created, including the preview videos that I record at home. (After the video opens, click on the square on the cover image to hide the video and make it stop.)

• In the next couple of weeks, Scott plans to add the ability to print out portions of this preview, thereby allowing you to bring a list customized to your choices to the show in question.

• Filter choices are not persistent. If you create filters, leave the page, then come back, your filters are not remembered. You can bookmark a link to the URL that saves all of your filters. We did this so that people are not surprised to revisit the preview and discover a truncated list or something other than the full boat of what's there.

• You can subscribe to this tool, and you should receive notices when new items are added to the list. We're not sure whether you receive a notice when I update something. Subscribe and find out!

I'll update this post with a link to the new Gen Con 2017 Preview when this tool goes live (and I'll tweet it and post it on Facebook). Please use the feedback link in the bottom right corner of the tool to submit bugs, and please comment on this post with suggestions or feedback. I am super excited about this tool, and I hardly ever get excited about anything, so you can intuit that I think this is a big deal. Scott's already thinking up other ways this tool can be used, some of which he talks about in the demo video below.

Many thanks to Scott, Jordan, and Dan for making this happen!

Youtube Video
Categories: Gaming News and Notes

Designer Diary: From Medieval Traders to Indian Zamindars to Old Western Trains, or The Long Winding Journey of Whistle Stop

Board Game News - Tue, 07/25/2017 - 13:40

by Scott Caputo

How did a game originally about medieval merchants bringing tributes to various kings become a game about Old Western trains traversing the USA, supplying goods to boom towns? It's been quite the wild ride for sure.

It all began with a crazy idea: Could I make a tile-laying pick-up-and-deliver game? I was just coming off of the publication of my tile-laying game Kachina in 2009, so I was eager to make another tile-laying game but of a totally different type.

Tile-laying and pick-up-and-deliver? Those mechanisms seemed a bit at odds with each other. Sure, Steam has tiles in it, but you buy the tiles you want and place them where you want. I wanted a game in which you drew random tiles and built the board as you went, playing as medieval merchants who pick up goods and pay tribute to kings as they appeared on the board. My first game name was "Tribute".

But what if no kings appeared on the played tiles? Early on I realized I wanted to have some known goals at one end of the board that all players could work toward. These were kings who wanted a lot of goods, so players needed to plan carefully to gather all of the right items. There would still be a number of lesser kings mixed in with the normal draw stack that would come out randomly, and these kings generally wanted fewer goods. You scored points with each successful tribute.

What if you needed a good that wasn't on the board yet? I realized there needed to be a trading post where players could trade one good for another — yet scarcity was a good thing. I didn't want it to be too easy to get the goods you needed, so I decided there should be two classes of goods: common and rare with rare resources half as likely to appear on the tiles. A player would have to trade two common resources to get a rare resource.

I knew I wanted "crazy" tiles, tiles with lots of twisting paths much as in games like Tsuro and Metro. I love mazes, and I liked the idea that even building the routes you needed with these "crazy" tiles would be a challenge. The early tiles had arrows going all different directions. Every turn, each player would draw one tile and place it on the board where they wanted. Players had to follow the arrows. Arrows went either forward or up and down; players were not allowed to move backward.

I also knew I wanted players to control not one, but multiple traders, each of which could traverse different parts of the board. Each turn after playing a tile, players could move one trader. Players would need to decide which trader to move and players' traders would block each other. I didn't want players to have to remember which resources were collected by which traders, so I decided that all collected resources are available to all of your traders. This eliminated the need for elaborate bookkeeping.

I liked the idea that players could gain extra moves and store up extra moves for future turns. I called these food tokens. Players would be limited to how much food they could spend on their turn, but they could ration out the food as they saw fit. There would be an inn where players could gain these food tokens.

So what happened when players paid tribute to a king on the far end of the board? The player's trader would come off the board and be placed on a special bonus track where the player could receive free resources and food. It was strong incentive for players to reach the end of the board and when one player got all of their traders off the board, the game would end.

Players would start the game by placing their traders along one of twenty starting spots on the far right of the board. I quickly realized that players needed more reasons to place their traders, so I added another starting column, this one in the middle of the board which players could reach in a few turns. This column would start with an inn, a trading post, a couple of kings, and a few other tiles. In this way, players had both mid-term and long term goals to consider when placing their traders.

Somewhere around this time as I was playtesting, I got feedback that the theme didn't really make any sense. If the board was a map of Europe, how were there so many kings so close to each other? My dad did some research and proposed a startling idea: What if the game were set in India and the kings were zamindars, that is, Indian aristocrats? The unusual exotic theme appealed to me, so I decided to retheme the game.

I arrived at SPIEL 2012 to promote the release of my game Völuspá, and I brought four games to pitch to publishers, including "Zamindar", my newly rethemed "Tribute" prototype. Based on good advice from another game designer, I asked my publisher, White Goblin Games, for help in getting contacts at companies I wanted to meet. I ended up pitching "Zamindar" to KOSMOS, Ravensburger, Lookout Games, Argentum Verlag, and White Goblin Games. Several of them wanted to play a full game, and I remember fondly playing "Zamindar" in the SPIEL cafeteria while drinking a cup of tea, people walking by with plates of food, peering at the game we were playing. Both Lookout and White Goblin Games expressed interest, and I went home pleased that I had placed both copies of "Zamindar" with publishers.

After SPIEL, I got the most feedback from Lookout as they were definitely playing the game and seemed to enjoy it. They told me they were bringing the prototype to Nürnburg, where they would play all of the best prototypes to decide which games to publish. I was excited my game was in such serious consideration, but soon enough Lookout let me know they were passing on my game. From their perspective, there wasn't enough going on in the game, and the dominant strategy was to always go for the end goals as quickly as possible. White Goblin Games went dormant for a while, so both publication leads ended.

This led to the first round of soul-searching for the game. How good was this game? Could I really overcome Lookout's feedback? I got to work. First, I decided that there should be more incentive for players to make tributes to the zamindars in the middle of the board. Each of the eight "lesser" zamindars would have a unique crest. When you made a tribute to one of these zamindars, you received their crest. The player who collected the most crests would earn a large number of points, and players in second and third place would receive points as well.

Then I brainstormed a ton of new ideas for other types of tiles that could be in the game. Originally, I thought these extra tiles might be an expansion idea, but I realized the base game needed these new tiles. I came up with the stables tile that could give players a horse token, which was like a food token, except players could skip over other players or go backwards. I came up with the elephant tile that could give players an elephant token, a way to earn extra points for making tributes. There was also the Royal Court, where players could turn in their crests for points. Needless to say, the gameplay transformed with all of these new mechanisms.

I attended Protospiel San Jose in April 2014, showing off my newly revised "Zamindar" along with other games. I caught the eye of Victory Point Games, to whom I showed the design, but they had some concerns about the game length. The game ended once one player got all of their traders off the board. This variable ending condition could lead to longer games — sometimes over ninety minutes — and it certainly could lead to a feeling of drag toward the end.

At Protospiel, I also ran into Ted Alspach of Bézier Games, whom I knew from attending a local game convention year after year. I approached Ted and asked him whether he wanted to see my game. About a month later, I showed the game to Ted and Toni at Kublacon. I remember the session well. We played on the top floor of the hotel, a room with lots of windows filling the room with mid-day sun. Toward the end, Seth Jaffee walked by. He quickly picked up how the game worked and started making suggestions to Ted and Toni about "you can do this and this and then go there…" Within a few weeks, I heard from Ted that he wanted to sign the game, and I felt like it might be finally be done.

I quickly realized how wrong I was. First came an intense period of changes. Ted assumed the role of developer for the game. As Ted likes to say, I had a created a train game; I just didn't know it yet. I was open to the new theme of Old Western trains, so I set about thinking of new names and metaphors for all of the game components: Player would control trains, not traders. They'd use coal to move, not food. They'd deliver to towns, not zamindars. They collected stock, not crests. They gained whistles, not horses. They found gold instead of elephants. They brought their stock to the stock market, not their crests to the royal court. It all fit together pretty well.

Next came development on the tiles. The arrows had to go. I had a feeling the arrows were too busy. First, Ted tried long rectangular tiles, but that still seemed overwhelming to players, so he suggested hex tiles.

This reduced the number of paths per tile from 8 to 6. I was worried this might limit mobility and the maze-like feeling I wanted, but this change ended up working fine. I still got to have some pretty crazy twisty paths even on the hex tiles. Also, Ted added blank tiles (i.e., tiles with no stops on them) which turned out to be really useful in letting players move their trains further down the board.

In the prototype, players got a free move, then could spend coal to make two extra moves, but Ted didn't like the two types of movement in the game. Instead, he proposed that players receive two coal on every turn to do their normal moves as well. Players also got to start with three whistles, so they could avoid getting blocked by other players.

In order to address the game length issue, I first suggested that once the board was completely filled with tiles, there would be a maximum of five more turns. This involved giving the start player a special marker that they would need to flip over, after which they would keep track of the final five turns. This was an improvement over the old ending condition, but it involved too much bookkeeping for the start player and felt less streamlined.

Ted suggested the game should take a set number of turns, and he thought the supply of coal could work as the timer. A trail of piles of coal tokens signaled which turn the game was on. On each turn, players took all of the coal off one pile. The working title was "Western Steam", and it seemed to really be coming together.

I had to go to London for a business trip in January 2015, so I brought "Western Steam" to a Meetup event by the London On Board group and they seemed to really enjoy it. Drinking a pint of beer and eating a hearty plate of fish and chips while playing the game in the quaint upstairs of a pub, I felt like the game development might finally be done.

Ted decided to do a blind playtest of "Western Steam" with a group of gamers at Yahoo in March 2015. I posed as another playtester, but I was in charge of explaining the rules. I was hopeful, but my hopes were quickly dashed as the other playtesters at the table completely trashed my game. Nobody enjoyed it. One said there was literally no game in the box. They struggled to say anything good about my game. Afterward, Ted said he had never experienced such a harsh playtest. Ted was still committed to the game, but he said it was up to me to make changes so that it could pass the same test again. Gulp.

Thus came the second round of soul-searching about the game — even deeper this time. Maybe I couldn't make this game work. Maybe I would fail. Though the criticism from the blind playtest hurt, I had to listen to the underlying complaints and try to address them. They seemed to boil down to 1) not enough player interaction and 2) not enough meaningful decisions.

I had some ideas of how to address the first point. Many parts of the game were too nice. If players tied for the most stocks, they shared the points. Effectively, most people could gain some points from the stocks without working too hard. Also, players started with three whistles, so they were never really blocked. Both of these parts needed to change. I changed the stock scoring so that there was a separate score for each stock type and only the top player received the points — no ties! To accomplish this, I numbered the stocks 1 through 6, and if two players tied, the player with the lower stock number would win. In this way, players needed to pay attention to which stocks other players were collecting. Also, I reduced the number of starting whistles to one to make players sweat a little more and have trouble getting around opponents.

I belong to the League of Gamemakers, and one benefit of the League is being able to rely on the collective knowledge and expertise of its members. I met up with Teale Fristoe, a fellow Leaguer and designer of Corporate America, in the summer of 2016, and he proposed the most important change yet. From the beginning of the design, players were forced to play a tile every turn, and that was part of what the playtesters at Yahoo didn't like. Being forced to play a tile every turn may not help you. and it slowed the game down, too. Teale suggested that players should play a tile only when they need to, as in only when their train would go down a path with no endpoint. I loved this idea. This changed everything. Players moved their trains every turn, but they played tiles only when they really wanted to go somewhere off the edge of the board. I allowed players to play multiple tiles at once so that they could potentially move a train a long distance on one turn, something that was never possible before in the game.

I went back to Ted saying I had fixed the game, but Ted wasn't so sure. He still wanted more. He wanted more ways to use resources. What if players could trade in resources to do various actions like trading? I admit I initially hated the idea. It seemed overly complex, but then it inspired a variation of his idea. What if players could hire workers who gave them a special action or ability? Once hired, these workers would stay with the player, who could use their benefit turn after turn until they were hired away by another player. That seemed fun. In my initial prototype of this idea, I had characters like the Coal Loader, who let players turn in a coal for more coal, and the Store Owner, who let them gain any token they wanted. Soon, I had twelve characters, each with interesting powers and some of them highly interactive. The Outlaw, for example, forced other players to pay the Outlaw's player to leave a town.

The addition of these workers seemed to kick the game into an even higher level of fun and strategy. Every game would have a random set of workers available. They added variety and another way for players to build their own path to victory. Ted opted to turn the workers into upgrades, and all of the powers were themed around different railroad cars, objects, or buildings.

When Ted played the new version with the new tile-laying rules and the upgrades, I could tell by the smile on his face that the game might finally be done. We did another blind playtest, this time at his house with another group of gamers. Again, I sat in and this time at the end of the playtest, everyone at the table seemed to really like the game, giving an average rating of 8. That felt good.

To give a little more praise for Ted, the first pass of the art was more realistic, featuring gritty landscapes like traditional train games, and he rightly decided it wasn't the right look for the game. Eventually, he decided on a more whimsical direction, with brighter colors and cheerful tokens. (Those whistle-shaped whistle tokens are very cute.) He also came up with the final game name: Whistle Stop.

I'm grateful for all the help I received along the way in Whistle Stop's six-year development. I'm glad the version I submitted to Lookout Games did not get picked up and the version I blind playtested at Yahoo did not get made. As fellow Leaguer and game designer Luke Laurie likes to say, "Good games take time." I feel like that has been true with Whistle Stop, and I'm very proud of the final version.

Scott Caputo

Categories: Gaming News and Notes

Game Preview: Sonar, or Battleship for a Brand New Era

Board Game News - Mon, 07/24/2017 - 11:00

by W. Eric Martin

In 2016, as part of an effort to introduce exclusive new games for its customers, the U.S. retail chain Target partnered with Days of Wonder and its owner Asmodee to produce Ticket to Ride: First Journey, which aimed to give players as young as six something akin to a Ticket to Ride experience. While the games share the same core — collect cards to place trains on tracks between cities — they play out quite differently, with First Journey being a race game that ends in 10-15 minutes while Ticket to Ride is a (relatively) more involved points game in which players have more time to deduce what others are doing and block them or can shoot for the moon by drawing tons of tickets and hoping to luck into completed routes.

For 2017, Target has another such simplification heading to its shelves, but the tricky thing is that while the rules for this new game are simplified, the gameplay itself is not. Sonar from Roberto Fraga, Yohan Lemonnier, and Matagot is a new take on their Captain Sonar, which debuted in 2016. Both games function as a more advanced version of ye olde Battleship, a game already known by millions. In Captain Sonar, which can be played with teams of up to four players, you attempt to be the first to cause four points of damage to the opposing submarine; in Sonar, which is for 2-4 players and therefore limited to teams of two, you need to damage the opposing sub only twice. Here's a rundown of Sonar in detail:

Time for an underwater game of cat-and-mouse, with each of the two teams in '''''Sonar''''' competing to be the first to deal two points of damage to the other. Do that, and you win the game instantly.

In detail, ''Sonar'' includes four pairs of maps, and each team takes the same maps in their color. A team can be one or two players, and with two players on a team, each player takes a different role: Captain or Radio Operator. (A one--person team handles both roles.) A divider separates the teams, and each Captain marks their starting location on the map.

On a turn, the Captain calls out an action, typically moving their sub one space north, south, east, or west. When they do this, they call out a direction, mark their new location, and add one energy to their ship's register. The Radio Operator on the other team notes the movement of this sub on a plastic sheet, and through deduction and trial-and-error tries to determine exactly where the opposing sub might be on the map.

Instead of a moving, a Captain can also:

• Use sonar: Erase two energy from your register; the opposing team must reveal their row or column.
• Go silent: Erase three energy from your register; move your sub, but don't gain energy and don't tell the opponents which direction you're moving.
• Fire a torpedo: Erase four energy from your register; call out coordinates in your quadrant (e.g., F6); if the opponents are on that space, they take a point of damage.
• Surface: Announce your location to the opposing team, then erase your previous path on your map; you can't cross your own path during the game, so sometimes you need to surface in order not to box yourself in.

You can have at most four energy in reserve, so you need to manage movement and the other actions carefully so that you'll be able to fire at the opponents once you know where they are — ideally without being torpedoed in response!

If you've played Captain Sonar, you can recognize this game immediately; it's the same, yet not. The two boring roles — First Mate and Engineer — have been removed, which is a good idea as I'd never recommend someone learn Captain Sonar in those roles anyway. Being Engineer is like being the dad in a group of kids who's always telling them "No": "No, you can't go play in the river." "No, you can't throw rocks at that propane tank." You're just a bummer, bringing everyone else down with what they can't do and only occasionally allowing them to do stuff that feels natural. "Okay, fine, now you can launch a torpedo at the bad guys. Are you satisfied?!"

With Sonar, the game is focused solely on moving and hunting. You've lost a few of the special abilities in the original game, but you've gained a trickier timing conundrum. After all, once you use sonar to gain information about the opposing team (or clarify what you already suspect), you're down at least two energy and must move at least twice to get back to full torpedo strength. Will those extra turns help you nail down exactly where the enemy is located, or will it allow them to sneak into an adjacent quadrant, thereby putting them out of range.

Sonar has lots of little changes that make the game easier to learn (and teach!), but that doesn't mean the gameplay itself is easier. Torpedoes now require a direct hit to deal damage instead of doing two points of damage on a direct hit and one point when landing on an adjacent space. The sonar ability gives you one piece of information (out of two) instead of two (out of three); yes, one of those intel bits was a lie in Captain Sonar, but sometimes that detail still helped you.

In the end, you have two games — Captain Sonar and Sonar — that seem like mirror images of one another. It's not Bizarroworld weird, mind you, but more like Earth A and Earth B versions of the same game design that was developed down different paths. I appreciate the efforts created to simplify Captain Sonar for a more casual audience and look forward to more such experiments in the future!

Youtube Video
Categories: Gaming News and Notes

Game Preview: The Chameleon, or Hiding in Plain Sight, Sometimes Terribly So

Board Game News - Sun, 07/23/2017 - 15:43

by W. Eric Martin

In recent years, a number of hobby titles have made their way into mainstream markets, whether directly through distribution deals as with Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Pandemic or indirectly through a licensing deal or some kind of exclusivity arrangement. In 2016, for example, the U.S. retail chain Target released Codenames: Deep Undercover (based on Codenames) and Machi Koro: Bright Lights, Big City (based on Machi Koro), with both of the original games appearing on Target shelves as well. In mid-July 2017, I wrote about the Hasbro Family Gaming Crate, the first example of which will contain versions of games that originated in Germany (Leo Goes to the Barber), Romania (Three Wishes), and Japan (Mask of Anubis).

One of the titles that has won the mainstream lottery in 2017 is The Chameleon, with this new version of Rikki Tahta's self-published game Gooseberry from UK publisher Big Potato being destined to appear exclusively in Target (and at conventions) for the time being.

This party game falls into the "clueless player" genre, something that includes A Fake Artist Goes to New York and Spyfall. All players but one know what they're trying to do, and Clueless Joe needs to tag along and fake it 'til he makes it. (God, it's like being back in high school again.) In The Chameleon, everyone but the chameleon knows the secret word or phrase from among the sixteen listed on the topic card, and everyone — including the chameleon — needs to think of a single word to say related to this word or phrase. After everyone is ready, you blurt out the words one after another, then vote on who the chameleon might be.

If you fail to guess the chameleon, this player wins the game; if you guess the chameleon, but this player identifies the correct word or phrase on the topic card, they still win! Thus, you need to be sneaky when choosing your word, selecting something that those in the know will recognize as being legit while leaving the chameleon dumbfounded.

Doing this is sometimes trickier than you might think! How do you reveal that you know the secret word "economics" from among a list of school subjects without blurting out something obvious like "money" or "budgeting"? I've had two play sessions on a review copy in which we just played over and over again — not keeping score, which is optional in the game — and all too often the chameleon knew what we were talking about. You have to do your part not to get called out as the chameleon (because then the team loses), but you also can't be open. Tricky!

One other issue with the game is that sometimes players look at the wrong word or phrase on the topic card, so they make up a non-sensical code word. When the topic was "board games", one player thought the secret word was "chess" when it was actually "Clue", so his clue word of "touching" threw everyone for a loop. (He was the first person to speak for the round, and he looked horrified as the rest of us gave our code words, so he then tried to give another word, which then made it obvious he wasn't the chameleon. You just have to own your mistakes in this game! No backsies!)

Another time one of the players read the number on the d8 as 1 instead of 7, despite me reading out the numbers. Oops. She ended up saying "grass" for the word "beef", but it wasn't totally off as the woman right after her said "milk" for the actual hidden word "chocolate" — and you need grass to make milk, right? It all fit together, but only by chance and some still called her out as the chameleon.

I give more examples of gameplay and this "omega player" problem in the video below:

Youtube Video
Categories: Gaming News and Notes

Friese Facilitates Fast Forward Franchise Featuring Flee, Fear & Fortress

Board Game News - Sat, 07/22/2017 - 08:05

by W. Eric Martin

If I've learned one thing about designer Friedemann Friese, who publishes his designs under the 2F-Spiele label in Germany, it's that he loves to experiment with game design simply to see what's possible. You can see this experimental nature in a GeekList he created to detail the origins of some of his games (a list unfortunately not updated since 2011). Foppen came about from thinking about trick-taking games and the notion of someone losing their ability to play each round. Fische Fluppen Frikadellen was born from the notion of having people play multiple games at the same time on different tables. A children's flip book in which you assemble a creature with mismatched head, body, and feet provided inspiration for what became 504, which meshes rule segments from different types of games into a single game.

In 2016, he released Fabled Fruit, which functions akin to a legacy game in that new elements are added to play over successive games, with players saving their place after each game — using a bookmark, as it were — in order to start with the "right" set of cards next time. You have lots of individual games which last only twenty minutes that collectively form the larger game of Fabled Fruit, which Friese dubbed an example of a "Fable Game" — that is, a game that changes over multiple playings, but one that you can reset at any time in order to start over with a different group or just explore again.

Now for 2017, he's gone even farther with the Fable Game system, introducing three new titles that will debut at SPIEL 2017 in October under the label "Fast Forward". These games are all Fable Games in that they start with an ordered deck of cards, with which you'll play multiple games — saving your position when you stop should you want to start in the same place next time, while also having the option of starting over from scratch — but beyond that, Friese has embedded the rules within the deck itself. You read nothing prior to play other than perhaps an instructional card that tells you not to shuffle the deck. You place the deck on the table, read the top card, and begin.

Fast Forward title #1 is FEAR, which is for 2-5 players and plays in 15 minutes. The description on the BGG page is brief: "Do you fear ghosts? Or are you confronting the danger and scaring your opponents? FEAR is a fast-paced and straightforward hand management game of tension-filled ghost chasing."

Thankfully I played the game in prototype form, so I can fill in a few more details. (Please note that all of the games described in this post might have changed since I played them.) Your goal in FEAR is twofold:

1: Don't make the total of cards in the middle go over a certain number because if you do, you lose the game.
2: If you didn't lose, have the highest total of cards in your hand because then you win!

On a turn (at least initially), you either draw a card from the deck or play a card to the center of the table. If you have three cards in hand, then you must play something. Gameplay is super simple, and the turns fly by. When someone loses, their cards are removed from play, then all of the other cards are shuffled and placed on top of the deck. Thus, you shrink the deck by a few cards each game, which means you'll start digging into new cards as each game progresses — and as you dig, you discover new cards with different numbers and (more importantly) new rules! When you uncover a rule, you read the card, set it aside, and the rule immediately takes effect, both for the current game and any subsequent games — until that rule is replaced, as might be the case.

I don't want to detail any rules, partly because I don't want to spoil the fun and partly because I played the game three months ago and might misremember things. If you've played games — and you probably have — then you can likely imagine what some of those rules (and numbers and effects) might be.

I played FEAR twelve times in a row at a convention with designer Joe Huber and 2F-Spiele's Henning Kröpke, and I loved every minute of it. I already dig playing short games multiple times in succession to see how gameplay evolves as players learn how to play better and how to react to opponents, but now the game was changing as well. It was like rearranging the furniture in a room that spontaneously changed in size, then grew new windows. And if I recall correctly, Kröpke said that after you finished the deck, you could keep all the existing rules in play, shuffle only the number cards, then play the game that way.

Ta-dah! A new way of learning how to play a game, something perhaps akin to placing a video game in a console, then mashing buttons to figure out what you're doing on the fly. I've often said that the need to learn rules is the biggest obstacle to people playing games. You, that person out there reading BGG, are probably comfortable reading rulebooks and teaching others how to play a game, but much of the general public hates doing that, which is why retreads of old games continue to dominate mainstream retail shelves year after year. People want to grab something they're pretty sure they already know how to play, so they grab a spinoff, figure out what's new this time, then start playing. FEAR and the other Fast Forward title try to short-circuit that nervousness about learning rules by giving them to you one card at a time.

Whether that nature of these games is transmitted clearly on the box — and therefore to potential players — is unclear at this time, but that's my hope. Why? Because I want more people to play games. Why? Many reasons, but mostly because it increases the odds of me finding others to join me in a game.

FORTRESS is title #2 in the Fast Forward series, and this 15-minute game for 2-4 players is "about taking risks and out-witting and bluffing your friends to become the dominate ruler of the kingdom", and (initially) you become dominant by possessing the lone fortress.

Each game, you build a hand of cards, and (if I recall correctly) on a turn you either draw a card or attempt to claim the fortress by playing one or more cards onto the table. If no one owns the fortress, then it's yours and those cards represent your strength; if you're attempting to take it away from someone else, they look at your cards and either hand over the castle (which is occupied by your cards) or shake their head disdainfully, keeping one of your cards as their prize. You've now gained information about what's in the fortress, but can you make use of that info before the round ends?

As with FEAR, some cards are removed from play each game in FORTRESS, which therefore introduces new cards and new rules, which again I'll leave you to guess. You can probably guess the obvious first twist, but what next? I played FORTRESS a few times before being stopped by dinner plans, and the game is partly about reading others (a skill that eludes me) and partly about the luck of the draw and partly about throwing yourself at targets because that's the only way to score in the end. Take chances! Take action!

FLEE differs from the first two Fast Forward titles in that it's cooperative (for 1-4 players) and it bears a listed playing time of 75-90. This is not the time needed for a single game as those take only 5-15 minutes (based on my experience), but perhaps for the entire experience to come to a satisfactory conclusion. Here's the short description:

"Quickly, we must flee!", you tell your companions. "THE MONSTER is almost upon us! Look to all sides for help as you never know where it will be!" Can your team survive long enough to finish all chapters of this exciting story?

FLEE is a cooperative game of escaping for ambitious puzzle solvers.

I played FLEE in less than ideal conditions, with Friedemann walking into a convention at far-too-late in the morning and asking whether I wanted to play a game. Instead of going to sleep as I should have, I gathered a couple of other people and we played. We lost, so we played again, then we lost — over and over again. Either we weren't thinking clearly, or the lateness was hitting us hard; I'm still not sure which is correct.

In FLEE, someone gets a monster card when you start going through the rules, then players take turns drawing cards and doing things and if the active player has the monster in front of them, then you all lose. Initially the choices are straightforward. I can play this card to make someone skip their turn, so clearly that's Paul with the monster card — but things quickly start getting tricky, with cards that move things and reverse turn order and much more, with all of you continually trying to figure how to keep that monster out of the spotlight. The description mentions multiple chapters in the game, but we never made it past chapter 1, so I can restart this game anew once it becomes available in October 2017. How fortunate!
Categories: Gaming News and Notes

Game Preview: Bob Ross: Art of Chill Game, or Happy Painting in the Almighty Mountains

Board Game News - Fri, 07/21/2017 - 15:59

by W. Eric Martin

Nostalgia is a powerful force.

Weeks after the end of the 2017 Origins Game Fair, I'm still uploading the game overview videos we shot there, but a funny thing I've noticed is that the videos for games based on some kind of IP —for example, Big Trouble in Little China: The Game or Planet of the Apes — have three to ten times as many views as "regular" non-IP games. This shouldn't come as a surprise to me, yet it did. Perhaps in my old age I'm forgetting what I've already learned.

Cue me receiving a review copy of Bob Ross: Art of Chill Game, a design from Prospero Hall and Big G Creative that will be available exclusively at the Target retail chain in the U.S. starting in October 2017. The game arrived while I was traveling, and my wife texted me a pic of the game along with the sole comment: "WTF?" I played with a friend who immediately texted the cover to his wife as he knew that she would be ecstatic about its existence. I played with someone else who had just started watching his show The Joy of Painting through some streaming service.

Bob Ross probably isn't someone you think about on a daily basis — or ever, really — but give people the chance to play a game associated with him, and more people than you think will be more excited than they'd be to play some other non-Bob Ross painting game.

As far as I recall from my meager experience with the show, all the elements you might expect from The Joy of Painting are present in the game: you paint, Bob says amusing things, you paint some more, and you drink and eat snacks while doing so. As for the gameplay, you can watch the video below or read this description:

If you want to paint with Bob Ross, you need to be chill, so whoever reaches maximum chill first in Bob Ross: Art of Chill Game wins.

In the game, each player starts with three art supplies cards, with each card showing one of seven paints and one of four tools. (Some cards are jokers that serve as any color, but no tool.) Take one of the large double-sided painting cards, place it on the easel, and place Bob on the first space on the painting track.

On a turn, the active player rolls the die and either draws an art supplies card, plays a paint to their palette, receives an extra action for the turn (four total), or both draws a "Chill" card and advances Bob on the painting track. Chill cards give all players a bonus, set up conditions that could give players extra points, and more.

The player then takes three actions. Actions include drawing an art supplies cards, discarding two matching cards to claim the matching technique card (which is worth 2 points and 1 bonus point when used), sweep the art supplies card row, place a paint on their palette, wash half their palette, or complete a section of a painting. To take this latter action, the player needs to have all of the paint needed for one of the painting's three sections on their palette with no unneeded colors mixed in! The player scores points equal to the number of paints used, bonus points if they're the first or second to paint this, and additional points if they've painted this feature before Bob (i.e., did you paint this before the Bob figure reaches this space on the painting track.

When someone has completed all three features on a painting or Bob has reached the end of the painting track, this work is complete! Remove it from the easel, and start a new painting. Players continue to take turns until someone reaches a maximum chill of 30 points, at which point they win the game instantly.

Youtube Video
Categories: Gaming News and Notes

Two Robotech Board Games Prepare for Launch in 2018

Board Game News - Fri, 07/21/2017 - 13:18

by W. Eric Martin

Strange Machine Games was founded in 2011 as a publisher of role-playing games and print-on-demand items, launching with the crowdfunded RPG Age Past.

Today at San Diego Comic Con, SMG announced that in partnership with Harmony Gold, it will release two Robotech board games in 2018. On the smaller side is the dice-based Robotech: Ace Pilot from SMG's Jeff Mechlinski, a 2-4 player game that bears this short description:

The Zentraedi are attacking! Quick, grab the nearest crew member and destroy the enemy. Using luck and skill, you can become the SDF-1's ace pilot.

Robotech: Ace Pilot is a small area, fast-playing, competitive dice-based game. The game takes minutes to learn and can be played almost anywhere. Your favorite Robotech heroes help you destroy the Zentraedi Threat!

The other game is a much larger design, a cooperative game for 1-6 players that's also from Mechlinski titled Robotech: Attack on the SDF-1

In Robotech: Attack on the SDF-1, you play heroic characters of the venerable Super Dimension Fortress One, also known as the SDF-1. Players are thrown on a chaotic path as alien forces, known as the Zentraedi, attack without warning. You must defend the SDF-1 against continuous waves of Zentraedi attacks, unexpected disasters, and treachery. As a hero, you are forced to battle vicious enemies, repair damage, and manage resources. Tough decisions and sacrifices are required for you to reach home safely.

If the Heroes can keep the SDF-1 from being captured by the Zentraedi and make it to the end of the Scenario, they win. Beware as there are many ways to lose, and the Zentraedi will not give up...

SMG will be demoing both titles at Gen Con 2017 in the Indie Game Developer Network booth (#2437), so check them out during that show or watch for more details from those who have.

Categories: Gaming News and Notes

New Game Round-up: Produce Cloth in Florence, Chase Rabbits in the Field, and Roll Dice in Hexes

Board Game News - Thu, 07/20/2017 - 17:30

by W. Eric Martin

• Gen Con is the next big convention in the offing, with SPIEL following two months after that, but in many ways the conventions have an increasing amount of overlap, with designers and publishers (and therefore games) showing up at both conventions. Even when games aren't publicly available at both shows, though, one convention can still feed into the next. Case in point: Developer Uli Blennemann with ADC Blackfire Entertainment GMBH will be on hand at Gen Con 2017, so he's going to present an overview of Fabio Lopiano's Calimala on camera in the BGG booth ahead of the game's debut at SPIEL 2017. (In general, we demo only released games at Gen Con, but I'm making an exception in this case.) Until then, here's a rundown of the setting and gameplay:

The "Arte di Calimala" — the guild of cloth finishers and merchants in foreign cloth — was one of the greater guilds of Florence, who arrogated to themselves the civic power of the Republic of Florence during the Late Middle Ages. The woolen cloth trade was the engine that drove the city’s economy and the members of the Calimala were the elite of Florence.

Throughout its long history, the Arte di Calimala supervised the execution of artistic and architectural works. Most Florentine guilds performed such activities, but the Calimala distinguished itself from other guilds through the number and prestige of the projects and the sites administered, including the construction and decoration of some of the major churches of the city.

Players of Calimala are cloth merchants in medieval Florence, with a number of trusted employees that they assign to various streets within the city to carry out actions. (Each street connects two places where particular actions can be taken.) While taking these actions, players produce and deliver cloth and contribute to the construction and decoration of various buildings across the city. Employees stay on their assigned places for a while, carrying out their actions whenever the street is activated, and eventually are promoted into the city council, triggering a scoring phase.

Depending on the number of players, each player has a number of action discs. In turn order, they can put one on a space between two actions, performing both actions and activating all other discs on the same space. When the fourth disc is placed on an action space, the lowest one is promoted to the city council, which triggers a scoring. After the last action disc is placed or the last scoring phase in the council is triggered, the game ends. The positions of the action spaces and sequence of scoring phases vary from game to game, making each game very different. Secret scoring objectives and action cards add uncertainty.

Mayfair Games has announced two titles for release in September 2017, with one of them being an English-language edition of a game that first appeared in Finland in 2015. Run Bunny Run from Kees Meis and Dennis Merkx pits one rabbit against a pack of wolves, with the latter trying to catch the former, and the former trying to make it home in one piece. Gameplay is akin to Wings of War as the wolves lay down cards on their turn that show where they must play a card on the next turn, giving the bunny a chance to move in response to their intentions.

The other Mayfair title is Food Chain from Kevin G. Nunn, with each player having a set of critter cards — worms, birds, cats, dogs, and fleas — and with players laying down cards simultaneously to try to eat opponents while not being consumed themselves. Nunn dropped by the BGG booth at the 2017 Origins Game Fair to present an overview of the game:

Youtube Video

• Belgian publisher Flatlined Games will Kickstart a new edition of Mark Gerrits' SteamRollers in late August 2017. Flatlined originally released SteamRollers in a hand-assembled edition of two hundred copies in 2015, and now this dice-based, network-building game will be available once again — sort of. In a newsletter about the state of the business and the game market at large, Flatlined's Eric Hanuise explained that he's looking for a different way to release games:

A new business model is required for me to stay in operation in this changing market. Manufacturing games, placing them at a distributor warehouse and relying on them to do sales and solicitations requires a sizeable amount of cash on hand to start with, and is a very risky proposition. It also requires marketing and promotion efforts at a scale well beyond my reach. With the current quantity of new releases each week, no distributor can effectively promote each of my games to their retailer clients. Even them must make choices to face this flood of releases. But then what with the games that are not picked for the spotlight? Is the publisher expected to just write them off and have them destroyed? This is of course unsustainable, and more like playing the lottery than actually managing a business.
Thus, Hanuise plans to Kickstart games, selling directly to both gamers and retailers that want to carry the titles in their shops, then only if demand still warrants it, reprint the game for conventional distribution outlets. With that plan in mind, for a period of twelve months SteamRollers will be available solely via the Kickstarter campaign, from stores that back that campaign or buy directly from Flatlined, or from Flatlined itself at conventions. Writes Hanuise, "This should make SteamRollers a sought-after game, while avoiding some of the darker effects of current exclusive propositions such as overpriced resales. The one-year period should allow us to establish SteamRollers as a game worthy of a wider audience for distributors or foreign language partners."

• Oh, and here's another tease at Gen Con 2017 for a game due out at SPIEL 2017, this time from Pandasaurus Games, with this tweet actually being a tease before the announcement. This game will be available for demo at Gen Con, and I can't wait to try it out...

Categories: Gaming News and Notes

Carcassonne Under the Big Top

Purple Pawn - Mon, 07/17/2017 - 08:13

It’s a circus of Carcassonne expansions with this, the 10th, Under the Big Top, where the focus is on scoring points through interactions with adjacent tiles.

Included in Under the Big Top ($20 retail) are 40 new tiles, animal tokens, ringmaster meeples, and a wood big-top piece. Circus tiles give points both to the meeples on them and to those on adjacent tiles. Acrobat tiles score multiple meeples, with new ones stacked in a pyramid when tiles are placed adjacent. And ringmaster meeples are placed as normal but score bonus points for adjacent circus and acrobat tiles.

Categories: Gaming News and Notes

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Awesome Mix Card Game

Purple Pawn - Mon, 07/17/2017 - 00:42

Coming soon from USAopoly is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Gear Up and Rock Out. The game, for 2-8 players, has them taking on the roles of individual guardians, bluffing, trading, and stealing their way to the best collection of gear. It’s due at retail in August for $20.

Categories: Gaming News and Notes

ASTRA 2017—Breaking Games

Purple Pawn - Fri, 07/14/2017 - 20:15

A recent release by Breaking Games, Aura ($25) turns four individual decks of numbered cards in to a head-to-head tactical battle game. Opponents’ cards are arrayed against each other with higher numbers eliminating lower numbers and certain cards empowered with special effects, such as trumps and blocking ability.

Coming in the fourth quarter of this year is Kawaii ($10), a Japanese/English crossover card game that’s essentially the same as Poop, except for a few extra action cards and more poop emojis.

Then just into 2018, Breaking Games plans to ship Convert ($30), a wood piece, three-dimensional abstract played in two dimensions. That is, though the pieces are blocks and when placed must be considered in three dimensions, the goal of four-in-a-row applies only when viewed from above.

Categories: Gaming News and Notes

Real Life Travel Bingo

Purple Pawn - Wed, 07/12/2017 - 23:57

In this season of long road trips, this modern variant on a family classic serves up humorous diversion with such spaces as “Someone is Carsick”, “Curse Word”, “Nose Picked”, “Weird Smell”, and “Pee Emergency”. Real Life Travel Bingo from Uncle Andy Toys retails for $10 and comes with three of the 5×5 cards, complete with the traditional little sliding windows.


Categories: Gaming News and Notes

Munchkin Spell Skool

Purple Pawn - Wed, 07/12/2017 - 23:16

Steve Jackson Games’ latest Munchkin product, Munchkin Spell Skool, of course parodies Harry Potter—with Moldy Mort monster cards, various quality of magic wands among the treasure cards, and reference to playing “air hockey” while riding flying brooms. There’s more to it than that, though. For example, as children studying wizardry, players during the game have the opportunity to adopt classes based on their after-school activities: Chess Club, Forbidden Magic Club, Potion Club, and Sports Club.

And as usual, the idea is to kill the monsters, take their treasure, and clawing your way past your friends, be the first to rise to level 10.

Munchkin Spell Skool is playable on its own or combined with other Munchkin games. It comes with 112 cards and a custom die, and retails exclusively at Walgreens for $20.

Categories: Gaming News and Notes

Boards to Bytes

Purple Pawn - Tue, 07/11/2017 - 13:22

Upper Deck’s Legendary deck-building game is getting a digital version (iOS, Android, and Steam). Legendary DXP will feature a new fantasy setting, solo and match play, and a “gauntlet” mode for 5-player competitions and weekly leagues.

Magic: The Gathering is also due for a new digital version, this time in the form of a MMORPG from Cryptic Studios.

Codename Entertainment has licensed Dungeons & Dragons for a clicker game, Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms. The game will take players on a quest through the Sword Coast region and will feature at launch two characters from the Force Grey streaming series. Updates and additional features, including a tie-in to the Tomb of Annihilation, are scheduled to occur monthly.

For the hard-core board gamer, the Board Game Stats app, useful for tracking one’s collection and logging games played, is now available on Android.

Ports of solitaire favorite Friday are now available on Android and iOS.

Race for the Galaxy, already available on Android and iOS, is now also good on PC via Steam ($7). It can be played against AI or cross-platform multiplayer. Both the Gathering Storm and Rebel vs Imperium expansions are available as add-ons at $4 each.

Asmodee Digital has launched Spot It! on mobile as Spot It! Duel: A Dobble Game (Android and iOS). In this digital form, as players progress through various arenas, they collect Dobble characters, who convey special powers. Spot It! Duel is free-to-play, with in-app purchases.

The Renegade Games Companion App has been upgraded with support for Clank! Sunken Treasures. And another game from Renegade has been announced by Dire Wolf Digital. Lotus, the game about assembling flowers from individual petals, is due on Android and iOS later this summer.

Categories: Gaming News and Notes

Game Bandit

Purple Pawn - Tue, 07/11/2017 - 08:34

Everything is 10% off in Victory Point Games’ Summer Sale.

GameSpot’s Trek in the Tropics sweepstakes will give out five prize packages of Star Trek: Attack Wing products from WizKids, which I’m sure you want more than the Star Trek-themed cruise for two.

Free shipping on promotional items purchased direct from Portal Games, this month only.


Categories: Gaming News and Notes

Hot Jobs

Purple Pawn - Mon, 07/10/2017 - 12:26

Mattel in Frankfurt, Germany has an opportunity for a Marketing Intern – Brand Activation Games to support the company at Essen Internationale Spieltage, test and proofread prototypes, plan advertising, manage social media, and conduct market research.

Wizards of the Coast is recruiting for a Senior Game Designer to join Magic: The Gathering’s R&D team. Requires 3+ years design experience, passion for MtG, ability to lead teams, and familiarity with other CCGs.

Spin Master is looking for someone crafty, outgoing, and comfortable with social media to fill the role of Sand Castle Maker. The position is a 1 year, $50,000 contract to build “imaginative creations” with Kinetic Compounds. Must make at least one video a week, with children.

CENTRA Technology, a consulting firm in Arlington, Virginia (just outside D.C.), has an opening for a Wargame Analyst. The job of the analyst is to organize and implement simulations and exercises involving such topics as space policy, military technology, cybersecurity, and regional affairs.

Goliath Games in Plano, Texas needs a Graphic Designer to design game packaging and layout instruction manuals and game boards. Five or more years of experience is required.

Andromeda Simulations International, which runs board game based training programs on business, finance, and strategy, needs a Marketing Director. The goal is to “focus on solution design and content development,” such as blogging, social media campaigns, email campaigns, and trade shows and conferences.

Cartamundi has a number of openings at its board game manufacturing plant in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts. Some are shift-based production positions. Others are for IT and logistics.

Categories: Gaming News and Notes

Gen Con Selling Out for Golden Anniversary But Offers You the Opportunity to Set Yours

Purple Pawn - Mon, 07/10/2017 - 11:52

Four-day badges for Gen Con’s 50th anniversary event (August 17-20 in Indianapolis) have sold out. Individual-day passes are still available but are also expected to sell out shortly. Gen Con has already decided not to sell additional day-passes on-site and instead will use the hall registration space to speed up the will-call line.

For those who do have passes and perhaps consider the crowds and chaos a geeky-romantic venue, Gen Con has an official wedding planner and has set aside times (with corresponding event IDs) for vow-renewal ceremonies and actual weddings.

Categories: Gaming News and Notes
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