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Subject: OBG 075: We're History Man rss

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Donald Dennis
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Donald and Erik are joined by Cyrus from Father Geek and they talk games they've played, answer listener mail, and talk about historical games

Giles previews Fury




Are you looking forward to the Star Trek version of Catan?

http://onboardgames.libsyn.com/webpage/obg-75-we-re-history-...
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Steve Rogers
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Color me surprised...not even a passing nod to Hannibal: RvC, Here I Stand, Successors or Sword of Rome? CDG games like these including Twilight Struggle are chock-full of historical context.

I can understand most of these CDG designs not being of sustained interest to any of the hosts, or even experienced as first hand plays - but to not even garner token acknowledgement of the genre?

Nobody can cover every aspect of a topic, but I think you could have framed the discussion much better if CDG's had a stronger pull amongst you.

Regardless; I agree with the point that any game that engages you enough to want to know more about an event or setting succeeds with regard to its theme (Sutter's Mill & London). Simulations and wargames are not a difinitive source. Trivial Pursuit...that's just facts with no context, kinda like that new game Timeline, fun and factual, but not actually engaging.

Thanks for the 'cast as always,

Steve
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Donald Dennis
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I thought the other guys talked about Twilight struggle, and what it offered.

What else did you think needed to be said about those games specifically that we didn't cover in talking about other games? What are the big advantages of a CDG, as it relates to history? I'm not saying there aren't any, but what do you think they are?
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Steve Rogers
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One of the chief advantages of a CDG design over a game with a nominal theme is the card play. The text briefly summarizes an event and the mechanism that follows now has context. The order you will play most of these cards is not accurate; however, like assembling a jigsaw, the pieces all fit, but the order of placement is not crucial, hence the opportunity for alt-history sequences and outcomes.

Games like Sword of Rome and Here I Stand offer even more with asymetric cards or player decks that are unfair and yet balanced against the design. The playstyle of each power fits and offer complex replayability within a timeframe that all of the card event happened within.

The history comes alive without requiring extensive knowledge of the theme and a sense of dramatic tension is present with each player action.

Their chief disadvantage with the notable exception of Hannibal: RvC is length. Most CDG game take about 4 hours and Here I Stand is akin to playing Twilight Imperium...but oh what a game!



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Donald Dennis
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epilgrim wrote:
One of the chief advantages of a CDG design over a game with a nominal theme is the card play. The text briefly summarizes an event and the mechanism that follows now has context. The order you will play most of these cards is not accurate; however, like assembling a jigsaw, the pieces all fit, but the order of placement is not crucial, hence the opportunity for alt-history sequences and outcomes.

Games like Sword of Rome and Here I Stand offer even more with asymetric cards or player decks that are unfair and yet balanced against the design. The playstyle of each power fits and offer complex replayability within a timeframe that all of the card event happened within.

The history comes alive without requiring extensive knowledge of the theme and a sense of dramatic tension is present with each player action.

Their chief disadvantage with the notable exception of Hannibal: RvC is length. Most CDG game take about 4 hours and Here I Stand is akin to playing Twilight Imperium...but oh what a game!



I thought Erik covered some of that when we were discussing immersion. But those are good points.
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Steve Rogers
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I agree that Erik did discuss TS and 1960; it felt to me that the topic had a lot of room to explore more than one designers contribution to the genre.
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Donald Dennis
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epilgrim wrote:
I agree that Erik did discuss TS and 1960; it felt to me that the topic had a lot of room to explore more than one designers contribution a genre.


I understand. We weren't really covering specific designers or mechanisms as much as immersion, perspective, and (for lack of a better term) stuff you can learn from historical games. With that lens, let me know what kind of things we should have told our listeners. I'd like to share it on our next episode (recording on Wednesday) or even get you on the mic so you can tell them yourself.

It might also be a good idea for a round table about mechanisms that support history themed games and some of their strengths and weaknesses, but that's probably another episode.

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Giles Pritchard
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I think another key component of historical game design is authorial perspective. Games provide a medium for the exploration of a particular topic - some game designers (Berg, Eklund and many others I'm sure) use this medium to explore their ideas about a particular period or event.

I know for many minis games the designers have tried to create a set of systems or mechanisms that capture their perspective on how battles were fought for particular periods.

Phil Eklund's games strive to give the designers perspective on history as well. Bios: Megafauna explores the evolutionary struggles between archetypes from the Triassic to today. Origins: How We Became Human is a game about the rise and fall of civilisations - but explores key concepts like the idea that chaos is important for progress, Jaynes' theory on the breakdown of the bicameral mind and the rise to modern consciousness and so forth.

This is a nuanced simulation - a simulation that strives to explore aspects of history through the lens of the designer's perspective. Of course it could be argued that any game based in history is going to bias the designers views - and this is absolutely true - a form of confirmation bias - but some experiment with the medium of game design for this purpose more than others.


I also don't believe that games are always a form of escapism - you can read history books as a form of escapism, you can also read them because you are interested in learning about the period - games can fill the same purpose.

Cheers,

Giles.
 
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Steve Rogers
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Walsfeo wrote:
I understand. We weren't really covering specific designers or mechanisms as much as immersion, perspective, and (for lack of a better term) stuff you can learn from historical games. With that lens, let me know what kind of things we should have told our listeners. I'd like to share it on our next episode (recording on Wednesday) or even get you on the mic so you can tell them yourself.

It might also be a good idea for a round table about mechanisms that support history themed games and some of their strengths and weaknesses, but that's probably another episode.


Don,

The discussion goes far past designers, I just wanted to point out that there was much more left to delve into.

If the goals were immersion and perspective as well as knowledge I think there are many games that qualify, but they need to be broken down and categorized:

Historical event or period, with either narrow or broad scope: for example: Naploeon's Triumph (narrow scope of an event), A few Acres of Snow (narrow scope of a period), 1960 (broad scope of an event), Through the Ages (broad scope of a period).

After determining the framework, then you go to the depth of history in the game:

History as window dressing: basically games that have a nominal theme with no deep tie to the mechanisms. These would be those games we associate as having a pasted on theme. A prime example with a historical theme as noted by your show is Risk. This catagory also encompasses a lot of euro games (even some excellent ones).

History as a backdrop: these are engaging games with a compelling theme. In many cases these are the sweetspot for your topic, games that please as well as inform and drive you to learn more, but in my experience they are more about the gameplay than recreating History. Great examples are Brass, and one of the best games I have ever played, Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage.

History as simulation: these games succeed as historical models and are very rich in gameplay, in fact the mechanisms and the theme cannot be seperated from one another. A fair description for such games are that they tend to have a lot of "chrome" or rules that are based on history or probable outcome. Games like Paths of Glory and Twilight Struggle are good examples.

A personal favorite is Here I Stand, a very unique design where the two weakest Powers (the Pope and the Protestants) have an entire subgame that the major powers can only weakly affect.

These types of games have specific shortcomings, some are rules intensive the worst of them sometimes seem, or are in fact are, inflexibly scripted. Regardless of quality or latitude almost every one of these deep heavy experiences typically have narrower audiences as they require a commitment both in terms of rules knowledge, replayability and playtime length. Most of these games take a lot longer than 2 hours to play, and many of the best are a full day or weekend session. Definitely not for everyone.

a discussion of chrome rules might make for an interesting roundtable. Thanks for the possibility of contributing; I'd be honored whenever it suits your topic schedule.
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Chris Berger
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On the topic of "what if BGG wasn't," I think it was Voltaire who said, "if BoardGameGeek did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it."
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Esteban Fernandez
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Of course Star Trek is Popular in Europe, if not why did they release a ST Catan here?

I have the ST microbadge so maybe I'm a little biased
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Giles Pritchard
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Oh - and a link to the game I talk about: Fury, by Jeff Horger and GMT.

Edit: and I mentioned the rules might be available from the GMT website - I thought they were, but they don't seem to be. Nonetheless you can find draft rules on the game page here on the geek (above link) - worth checking out in my opinion.

Cheers,

Giles.
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About wargames and Games with dense historical simulation. And by the way I love history and studied it at the university.

When I was a teenager I played a few wargames in a club, and didint like them very much. They were too complex and demanded too much time. Finally another thing I didint like was that if I made a mistake I will pay it for the rest of the game, and that could be hours literally!!!.

A few years ago I started playing wargames again, and now I love them. The main difference is that I used to play them with very competitive people and who cared about winning, and that its pointless in a game that could last for many sessions.

What I love about wargamning its: reading the rules, trying to understand them in group, discussing about the history behind the game, Seeing how the designer used this or that design option to represent that historical fact, playing a few turns too see how it works, debate after a game about what I should have done, and how that would have change the outcome...

But of course at that point the most important about playing wargames its not about the game itself but about the social experience behind it. I bet most wargamers could perfectly enjoy a game session in which they only set up game and chitchat about it.


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Donald Dennis
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celacanto wrote:
I bet most wargamers could perfectly enjoy a game session in which they only set up game and chitchat about it.


I've seen this happen with the setup of a historical miniatures game. I was much younger at the time and I was there to game. It took me a while to relax enough and just chat with friends during the setup which took over 6 hours.
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Cyrus Kirby
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For those of you who want to stroll down memory lane, here is the TSR line of minigames, of which Saga is a member of.
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Donald Dennis
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fathergeek wrote:
For those of you who want to stroll down memory lane, here is the TSR line of minigames, of which Saga is a member of.


I had forgotten here were so many of those, and I don't think I'd ever seen the Viking Gods one. Thanks for the link!
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David McCord
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Thanks for a great episode, guys. Covered a lot of stuff.
RE: An "appreciation" for historical events, I do agree that moving cubes around and playing cards-and-dice scenarios can give an appreciation for a historical situation from a sort of "detached participant" student P.O.V. playing out some what-ifs. It's surely a richer experience than simply reading a history text. But to REALLY get an appreciation for a historical event, get into the Living History hobby! Until you've spent a night in a snowbank with no equipment available later than 1820... After a few of those treks, you'll surely better understand what those little cubes on the board represent!
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Cyrus Kirby
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daibhre wrote:
Until you've spent a night in a snowbank with no equipment available later than 1820... After a few of those treks, you'll surely better understand what those little cubes on the board represent!


I'd rather not think about what is necessary to experience Europe between 1348 and 1350...
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Thanks for another thought-provoking episode. I am very glad you included both round tables, it was all well worth hearing both.

The section that interested me the most was about immersion, which crystallised some of my own thinking, albeit in the process of almost completely disagreeing with Donald. Sorry Donald.

Firstly, I don't think immersion is digital, it's analog. There is usually an _extent_ to which I am absorbed in a game and it begins to transcend its mechanics. This most rarely achieved in abstracts where the theme is essentially non-existent, but when it does happen, my experience is one of a narrative forming in my ahead along with images and sound, similar to the experience of reading a really immersive book (my favourite most recent example is the battle scenes in Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, which I fond really evocative, losing the sense of I'm sat at home reading words on a page and in some way feeling like I was experiencing the narrative).

At least for me, there seems no substantive difference between the experience of a game and the experience of a book. Clunky mechanics or poor writing will inhibit immersion respectively. However, if I can transcend those, by which I mean I can construct an internal narrative assigning meaning to the abstract input (words/pushing around little coloured cubes or cardboard counters (or indeed "dolls") and throwing polyhedrons with numbered faces) then I come away feeling like I experience the nominal theme. I didn't actually feel like I star-ship captain, but I feel like I did.

However, the extent of this feeling is on a continuous spectrum with two main components - how immersed I was for how much time, giving my percentage immersion as the integral over immersion (i) and game-time (t), so that 70% immersed might mean immersed 100% for 70% of the time, or 70% immersed for the whole time (or some more complicated version of "Jf di.dt" (wot no integral signs on the geek? shake)

This is not a necessary condition for me to enjoy a game (the raw mental combat of abstracts can be fun too) but many of the games I enjoy, especially the solo ones, are much the same to me as reading a book, except I can "re-read" a solo and it ends differently each time.

So to questions, then. Donald, what is your experience of reading books (or indeed watching movies - ahem "films")? Do you ever feel immersed in them so you feel like you're experiencing it? Or is this an alien concept for you and you experience a continuous sense of "I'm watching actors following a script"?

Maybe we're different ends of an immersion spectrum. I rarely watch or read horror because I find it affects me for days afterwards and I like Sci-Fi as a genre because it tends to turn out okay in the end, unlike a lot of mainstream literature. For instance, however beautifully written An Enduring Love and Lolita were, I really didn't enjoy them. I also forgot that under its Sci-Fi veneer The Dome was written by a horror writer. It was incredibly compelling writing, but I didn't enjoy that either - give me Honor Harrington, The Forever War, The Hyperion Cantos and Glass House every time.

Simple tastes, but hey, I know what I like. And maybe I go for games because there's a chance my narrative will conclude with "I win" and that is also something I have some control over through my game decisions. It would also explain why I like co-ops.

It's also my threshold of "Wow" in school productions with my pupils, when I lose my sense of the pupils and I buy into the character on stage.

p.s. Nice to hear an episode devoid of "Donald's bleak view of LtUaE". Keep it positive!
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Donald Dennis
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h3rne wrote:
Thanks for another thought-provoking episode. I am very glad you included both round tables, it was all well worth hearing both.
Glad to hear it.

h3rne wrote:
The section that interested me the most was about immersion, which crystallised some of my own thinking, albeit in the process of almost completely disagreeing with Donald. Sorry Donald.
No peril!

h3rne wrote:
Firstly, I don't think immersion is digital, it's analog. There is usually an _extent_ to which I am absorbed in a game and it begins to transcend its mechanics. ...
I agree to a point. There is a game experience, and it is possible to be absorbed in that experience. However I've never felt that a game experience felt like a surrogate for the real activity.

In real life I've crewed a sailing vessel in the Caribbean and games have never made me feel like like a sailor, let alone a pirate.
I've worked on my Grandfather's farm, Agricola never felt like farming.
I've wielded a sword and fired both bows and guns, and never has a game matched those activities or made me feel like I was performing the actions in question.

As for your other question, regarding different media, I never feel like I'm one of the Fellowship escorting the One Ring, but I do get absorbed into the story. There are points where I'm not thinking about my place as a reader/viewer/spectator, but I never feel "hey, I'm going on a grand adventure".

With board games I have even more barriers to immersion. Why? Because since 1995 I've been evaluating games instead of just playing them. At ICE I would evaluate in house game ideas or submissions from outside the company to decide if we'd consider publishing it. Once that decision was made I had to play thinking of balance and completeness. Now, of course, I play games thinking about how I'd express my thoughts about a game in a review.

This means when I sit at the table I'm always thinking about "is this a good game" instead of just "am I having fun". But I'm never thinking "hey, I felt just like I was a warlord or merchant in the med". Being absorbed and immersion in a game experience happens, but I've NEVER experienced a board game transcending its gamey-ness.


h3rne wrote:
However, the extent of this feeling is on a continuous spectrum with two main components - how immersed I was for how much time, giving my percentage immersion as the integral over immersion (i) and game-time (t), so that 70% immersed might mean immersed 100% for 70% of the time, or 70% immersed for the whole time (or some more complicated version of "Jf di.dt" (wot no integral signs on the geek? shake)


Your spectrum here sounds a lot like my "fiddly scale". The more time I spend fighting the rules or moving indicators on tracks instead of making decisions, or observing the way the game surface changes, the more fiddly it is.Which also would lower the immersion factor.

h3rne wrote:
p.s. Nice to hear an episode devoid of "Donald's bleak view of LtUaE". Keep it positive!


I have no idea what that abbreviation is for. LtUaE? Please explain. ...


edit to add: Life, the Universe, and Everything?
 
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Walsfeo wrote:

In real life I've crewed a sailing vessel in the Caribbean and games have never made me feel like like a sailor, let alone a pirate.
I've worked on my Grandfather's farm, Agricola never felt like farming.
I've wielded a sword and fired both bows and guns, and never has a game matched those activities or made me feel like I was performing the actions in question.

This is really interesting. If I'm immersed, then I'm imagining the shoulder kick or the slap of the nock against my fore-arm (it often gets me even if I wear two greaves). It plays like a multi-sensory movie in my head.

Walsfeo wrote:

With board games I have even more barriers to immersion. Why? Because since 1995 I've been evaluating games instead of just playing them. At ICE I would evaluate in house game ideas or submissions from outside the company to decide if we'd consider publishing it. Once that decision was made I had to play thinking of balance and completeness. Now, of course, I play games thinking about how I'd express my thoughts about a game in a review.

This means when I sit at the table I'm always thinking about "is this a good game" instead of just "am I having fun". But I'm never thinking "hey, I felt just like I was a warlord or merchant in the med". Being absorbed and immersion in a game experience happens, but I've NEVER experienced a board game transcending its gamey-ness.

I can relate to this. I have a proof reading button that's jammed on (I think I even PMed you with a list of errata for Arclight a few years ago). I also have a hard time listening to Choral Music/Barbershop without thinking, what would I score this? What would be the first thing I'd tackle to improve it? Interestingly enough, I'm not that sensitive to poor Physics (at the point of experience - retrospect is very different)...


Walsfeo wrote:

I have no idea what that abbreviation is for. LtUaE? Please explain. ...
edit to add: Life, the Universe, and Everything?
Yup.
Although maybe I'm making mountains out of molehills. A couple of episodes Cyrus called you on a comment with "That's very bleak". I remember thinking,"Yes, but Donald often says things like that" and then "Poor Donald!". Why I think my memory might be trustworthy in this case, when I can't seem to remember anything these days... that would be age and having a toddler...
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You mentioned wanting to play more historical games about Native Americans. I encourage you to check out "Navajo Wars" by Joel Toppen.

There are more historical games that just wargames. I'm a fan of historical election games, I know you talked about 1960, but 1860 and 2008 also cover interesting US presidential elections. Though perhaps political battles are just warfare on a different field.

I've also been reading up on Victory Point Games "States of Siege" series, I think playing "Levee En Masse" would be a cool way to learn about the French Revolution, or "Ottoman Sunset" would be a neat way to learn more about the fall of the Ottoman Empire. These games are very different than miniature wargames, and do a nice displaying a conflict in a broader scale - instead of concentrating on one battle. (as is common in other CDG's I like the historical text on each of the cards)
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Bob Wieman
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Sorry for the uncool formatting (quickreplied and it didn't include quotes):

daibhre wrote:
Until you've spent a night in a snowbank with no equipment available later than 1820... After a few of those treks, you'll surely better understand what those little cubes on the board represent!

Cyrus replied:
I'd rather not think about what is necessary to experience Europe between 1348 and 1350...

Scholeologist replies:
"Roll a die. On a 1, rub the rat (included in the game box) on your bare skin."
 
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I think this question of immersion is strongly tied to the idea of "embodied experiences" that James Paul Gee writes about in What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. My interpretation of his general idea is that in games (videogames in particular), the narrative is not pre-constructed by an author and experienced by the player; instead, the narrative is affected by actions and choices the player makes. (Gee extends "embodied" to mean experiences that play out in the mind also -- he comments that he'd use "enminded" if that was a word.)

Furthermore, the actions and choices the player makes are in the context of an active participant in the story, not an observer. That is, the decisions are not "I think the main character is too proud, and should experience humiliation now" but rather "I'm going to try to bust into the throne room and see if I can take out the big bad guy before his army tears me to shreds."

Generally speaking, even an immersive book or movie doesn't provide an "embodied" experience in this sense. You can be immersed, in that you cease to pay attention to your real surroundings and feel that you are only perceiving the world of the narrative, maybe even with the deep multisensory detail that h3rne describes, but the choices and actions determining the narrative aren't yours.

Immersion is a powerful experience, and it's a laudable goal for a game designer to have. But I don't think it's a universal goal, even for historical games. And, as Donald describes, immersion is something a designer can shoot for, but it isn't going to be achievable for all players, no matter what you do.

Embodiment, on the other hand, is almost what defines a game (at least, if your choices and actions don't affect the narrative, then I would say that you're not playing a game.) So my obvious observation is: if design decisions are decreasing the embodiment, reducing the significance and opportunity of meaningful player effects on the narrative, that's probably bad.

My slightly more "get back to the topic" thought is: although Don might never feel in a game like he is an English lord or a pre-industrial farmer or what have you, he can make decisions and take actions as an English lord etc., and (possibly) gain insight into the reasoning behind decisions of actual English lords, preindustrial farmers, etc. as well as have a good time. If a designer wants to include that insight element, which I think is one of the attractions of historical games, they should create an environment that embeds those insights into the player decision process. (Which neatly dovetails with Giles's comments about designer bias: what insights you encourages are necessarily what _you_ think is important.)

The more I think about it, the harder this game design job seems to be. Encourage immersion, but don't cry when your attempts fail. Encourage meaningful decision making, but indirectly get your point across. Oh, and be original. But not too divergent from history.

Oh, and educate people! (I'm looking at you, Nicholson!)
 
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