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Subject: D6 Desperados Review - Bruges isn't for me and here's why. rss

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Jason Jullie
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Negative Review Disclaimer: This is a negative review. What follows is only my opinion of the game and not a judgement on it’s merit or quality. This review does not put forth the claim that this is a bad game, nor is anyone “wrong” for enjoying it. I simply don’t like.

Reviewer background: I enjoy both Euro and American style games, with a tendency to play more American style over Eurogames. The Eurogames that I do enjoy tend to have a decent amount of player interaction and variability (Torres, El Grande, Troyes).

Bruges is an interesting little Euro in the middleweight and game length segment of the hobby. It uses cards to give the players the options at their disposal each turn along with dice to randomize values of money gained, how much it costs to advance on certain tracks, and how often bad effects build up.

The Card Draw

To start each turn, a player will refill their hand to five. Typically this means you will be drawing 4 cards, having held over a single card from the previous round. When drawing, a player has the choice between two different decks. The decks have the same random composition, but the player is able to see the color of the card by the color used on the card back. This allows the player some control over the cards they draw over a completely random card draw.

The color of each card is important, as it will allow the player to do one of the generic card effects for that color (gain money shown on the face of its color’s die, gain 2 workers of that color, build a canal in a segment matching the color, build a building, remove a threat of the color of the card). Depending on the current situation of the game, a player will prefer a certain color over the other.

While the system used in the game is better than a completely random draw, there are some annoyances for players wanting more control. First, you are only presented with two decks. If you are fortunate, this means you have the option of two colors. If you are even more fortunate, these colors shown are colors that you want. However, often a player will be presented with two decks of the same color (giving them no choice) or they are simply unable to draw the color the need (for instance if they are in a race for canal completion and simply can’t get the color they need).

People who enjoy the game will view this randomness as a game element that each player needs to tackle on their own. While others (like myself), will be frustrated watching the player to your right draw exactly the colors they need, while you end up drawing the same color over and over again due to an anomaly in shuffling. I don’t randomness like this if there is some mitigating mechanism. For instance, in Troyes, you can roll terribly on your dice. However, that is mitigated by being able to use other people’s dice, so the overall luck of everyone’s rolls is somewhat mitigated over the entire table. Your bad luck affects the whole table and vice versa. In Bruges, your bad luck is just your bad luck.

The Dice Roll

After players refill their hands, five dice are rolled (one for each color). These dice determine two things: how much it costs to move up the reputation track and what threat tokens are handed out.

For the reputation track, you simply sum up the pips on all the dice that rolled a 1 or a 2. This value is the cost this turn for advancing one step on the reputation track. I don’t have any real problem with this mechanic except for its detachment from theme (a small quibble). It’s such an artificial element. What does this track represent? Why does advancement cost vary from turn to turn? etc?

The threat mechanic is one of my favorite elements. For every 5 or 6 rolled, each player receives a threat counter corresponding to the color rolled. If a player receives a third counter, the effects of the threat are triggered for that player (losing all his money, losing a person or building, losing his workers, etc.). What I like about this mechanic are the two ways to tackle threat. The first option is brute force, by playing a card of the corresponding color on their turn a player can discard a threat token of that color. The second option is more interesting. A player can try to anticipate the triggering of the event so that it has a minimal impact. For instance, he can spend all of his money in anticipation of the gold threat triggering. This way when it goes off, he essentially doesn’t have to worry about it. It’s a little risky, but very rewarding when it goes according to plan.

Lastly, the dice determine the amount of money a player can collect by turning in a card. If you choose to play a card for money, you collect an amount of money equal to the value on the die. I don’t mind this concept, but the sequence is annoying. If I am short on money, my decision to get more money is pretty minimal; you need to draw the highest variety of card colors to try and improve the odds of a high roll being associated with a color you have. This becomes frustrating when you are unable to to draw a high variety of colors and get stuck with little to no money for a round or two. The sequence also removes what could be an interesting decision in the draw if you knew a certain die was worth more money, but you wanted the other color more for its action, etc.

Playing cards

After the dice roll, the players take turns playing cards from their hand in order until each player has made 4 plays. There are five generic actions you can take associated with each card: build a canal section of that color (must be in sequence), build a building, take 2 workers of that color, remove a threat of that color, or take a number of coins equal to the number shown on that color’s die. You need money to build canals, play people (see below), and advance up the reputation track. You need workers to build buildings and activate certain people abilities. You need a building in order to play a person (one building per person). The canals are built to give you victory points and there is a race mechanism between the other players.

Besides the generic actions associated directly with the color of each card, a card also has a person depicted on it. These people have a wide variety of power and really spice the game up. To play a person, you need an empty building and an amount of gold equal to the cost to play the person. Some people have one off effects, some have effects you have to pay to activate, some have perpetual effects, and others grant victory points at the end of the game. There are also traits associated with the person (noble, underworld, traveller, etc.) that will combo off of other people.

While I think the people are one of the biggest strengths of the game, it might also be the source of my biggest complaint with the game. First, in our group we feel that the people are not completely balanced. I will grant that we haven’t played the game hundreds of times, but there is definitely the opinion (even among fans of the game) that the is significant imbalances. Second, the traits, which are used to do some minor engine building and synergy, aren’t associated with any given color. Meaning, if I’ve got a card that is more effective with more underworld people, there is very little I can actively do to draw more underworld cards. The distribution is even among the colors and it just boils down to luck if I am able to draw another.

The people that you draw can really dictate your options for a turn and for long term planning. The fact that you virtually no control of the people that you draw can frustrate players (as it does me). While the game is clearly leaning toward the lighter side and keeping things quick to avoid a slowdown in the draw phase, I would really appreciate more control over the people I am drawing. Something as simple as putting underworld people in just the red or brown decks, etc. would go a long way for me to feel like my play is having an impact on the outcome.

Victory

The final round is triggered once one of the draw decks is exhausted. The round will be completed (there is a reserve deck that will fill in) and then you will score. Players will get victory points for almost everything they’ve done (people, buildings, canal sections, etc.). A few interesting scoring mechanics worth mentioning are the majorities and statues. Both bring a little interaction to the game.

Each player has a majority token for three categories: reputation, people, canal segments. At the end of a round, if a player has a clear majority in a category, they can flip over their corresponding tile. This grants 4 points and will remain with the player even if they eventually lose the majority. This mechanism opens up some interesting plays and keeps this from being too much of “multiplayer solitaire”.

The statue victory point is also a nice addition. Each player has two different canal paths (one to the left and one to the right). The first player to complete one of these paths (it is five segments long), grabs the first statue. The second player to due so grabs the second statue and so on. The statues grant victory points in descending value, so a nice race develops between player and give the game a little more interaction.

So what’s my problem with the game

Here are a few reasons why I’m not a big fan of this game. Hopefully this will help people determine if this is a game they will like or not.

Pasted on theme

I’ll start with the easiest one. The theme feels very pasted on to me. I enjoy a good theme, but don’t require one (see Torres, El Grande, San Marco, Troyes). However, if the theme is pasted on, the game needs to really stand out for mechanically for me. So this gives you a little idea of where I’m coming from. Bruges has a generic theme and so has to make up some ground in my eyes with mechanics.

Several aspects of the game seem completely abstract. The reputation track was mentioned above. Its mechanics seem completely detached. As a player it’s difficult to associate what this value represents or why the cost fluctuates, etc. Also, several of the personalities are disassociated with their power. For example, the Minstrel allows a player to build a canal token without playing a card but must pay double the price. Considering how intregral minstrels are with canal building, this makes total sense (that was supposed to be a joke).

I realise that some people won’t care about this, but to other players, the theme here just seems lazy. The canals look more like a moat than a canal system. Everytime I see the board I get the feeling that this was originally supposed to be a city wall mechanic, but then they decided city walls were overdone and they decided to slap a Bruges theme on. Anyway, this is probably too much about the theme. If theme is important to you, you might be annoyed by this game.

The randomness

My biggest complaint about this game is the randomness. As I mentioned above, the card draw and the people you get can be pretty random. Considering the influence this has on your options, I find this very frustrating. Some of the abilities combo with other people, but I am unable to do anything to draw more of those people. You need a certain sequence of colors to build canals, but it is very common to not be able to draw the colors you want. Sometimes you are strapped for cash and need money, but you are unable to draw the variety of colors you need to improve your odds to get cash this round.

This might sound like sour grapes coming from a sore loser, but I’m actually on a winning streak with this game. I’ve won the last 4 games we’ve played. But I think that’s the most telling thing. After each win, I don’t feel very rewarded. I reflect on the big plays that I made in the game and they seem so lucky based on the combination of cards I drew that round. So much of my success seems out of my hands and so reliant on luck.

Now maybe this isn’t the case. Maybe my win streak is indicative of player skill trumping luck. But to me it seems to be luck that is winning, and that sours my plays (regardless of whether the luck actually has that big of an impact). I don’t want to create a debate about luck winning over skill. I’m sure that over a wide enough sample size, skill will win out. However, at the end of the game, I personally don’t feel rewarded by good moves and that is a negative to me (again, personally).

One other thing about luck. I don’t particularly hate luck in games, but I do think it needs to be comparable to the game weight. Meaning, the more luck in a game, the lighter it should be. To me, Bruges has a similar amount of luck as Ticket to Ride (feel free to disagree). But Ticket to Ride is a game I enjoy. Why? Because Ticket to Ride is a step lighter. This step is important to me as I can sit down and play Ticket to Ride with family where I wouldn’t bring Bruges to Thanksgiving. If Bruges was just a little lighter and something I could use as a gateway game, I wouldn’t be as quick to hold the randomness against it.

Games somewhat similar I would rather play

Pillars of the Earth

Pillars of the Earth is about the same weight as Bruges, but I enjoy the game much more. The theme is much more tightly attached the the mechanics. Sure the three resources are just cubes, but carpenters use wood and stone cutters use stone (etc.). The game seems to make a stronger effort to engage the player thematically. The luck is dialed down a little more. There is a random player token draw, but that is mitigated by the high cost of going first (if you choose to). I really like the luck mitigation mechanics here.

There is a little more player interaction as the scarce resources are drafted by the players. You are forced to decide when you will draft a certain card based on how important it is to you and what other players are doing. If this was translated to Bruges, it could be something like dealing out all the cards players would draw that turn and then everyone picking from the same communal pile.

Troyes

Troyes is a little heavier on the scale, but I’ll use it as comparison to help readers understand my perspective a bit more. Troyes has a completely tacked on theme (to the same extent as Bruges). It also has a strong luck element and presents a unique “puzzle” to the player each round. However, Troyes has a few important elements that Bruges is missing. As previously mentioned, there is luck mitigation. By being able to buy other players’ dice or reroll your own, players can find ways to work around poor rolls. In fact, often times in Troyes a great roll will only result in having all of your dice snatched away from you.

Second, there is very strong player interaction. The luck mitigation mechanic does double duty as player interaction as well. It’s important to me that games have player interaction. Bruges isn’t completely devoid of interaction, but it’s less than I would like. Lastly, I find Troyes very rewarding in terms of long term play. There are moves you set up one turn that end up paying off at the end. It’s very satisfying to see an ability you charged on turn two propel you to a win on turn 6.

Conclusion

In the end, Bruges just isn’t a game for me. It just doesn’t bring the elements I find enjoyable to the table. However, above is just my opinion. We had a round table review of Bruges on our podcast and others in the group enjoy the game. To hear their take on the game along with a little deeper discussion of my gripes and their praise, check out D6Desperados.com.



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Marlene Thornstrom
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I like Feld games so pasted on theme doesn't bother me. But the randomness not being comparable to the game weight is something that does. I've seen people claim that strategy/tactics (over card draw) mostly determines who wins, but I haven't seen any convincing arguments so far that it's the case.

For a lighter game with a similar level of randomness by Feld, I like La Isla.
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Sam Hillier
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I came to a similar conclusion after 9 plays of the 2p game. Every so often you just get completely screwed by the decks, while your opponent gets everything that she needs. Need a purple card to finish that canal and make a bunch of points? Tough. Need a noble to take advantage of that scoring bonus that you just drew? Tough. Need a blue worker to use the only canal bonus this round? Tough.

I posted my thoughts here, if you're interested.

I liked the system, but far too random.
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MLeis
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I've read good negative reviews before but as far as I remember this is the first one that actually made me want the game less. Nice work!

Quote:
First, in our group we feel that the people are completely balanced.
Did you mean to say NOT completely balanced?
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Kevin Eastwood
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First, thanks for posting a GOOD negative review as a lot of other reviews don't take the time to go into the depth you did. That said, if you do happen to want to purge your copy, I may be interested to take if off your hands
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Neil Robinson
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I like Bruges, even with the, (sometimes frustrating), randomness.

My last game saw me attempting to draw a gold card to build a 5th canal. I failed across two/three rounds, but made the most of what I had to win the game. I guess the game is an exercise in making the most of what you have? Perhaps that isn't for everyone.

Anyway, I liked the review. It's well reasoned and well written.

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Jared
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Thanks for the review. I like Feld's games but I'm considering passing on this one (Michael Menzel was luring me though) as it seems at the very least, quite tactical.

As for the theme, I think Feld should consider hiring a better writer of the rule book as often you can come up with a thematic reason for the mechanics even if one wasn't given. In your example of the Minstrel it could be that in that time period entertainment was hard to come by so the singer would lure workers. Think of it as a job benefit. Still, the theme is not the deepest but the payoff is that usually it's a game designed around mechanics not theme, a game that plays smarter. But it's the mechanics that give me pause here.
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Jason Jullie
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Fielmann wrote:
I've read good negative reviews before but as far as I remember this is the first one that actually made me want the game less. Nice work!

Quote:
First, in our group we feel that the people are completely balanced.
Did you mean to say NOT completely balanced?


Oops! Correct. That's a typo. We felt the balance was off in some of the people. Thanks for the catch.
 
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Mike Bialecki
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I own this game and recently purchased the expansion. I don't dislike the game, but I want to like it more. I just can't get it to the table enough to explore all the possibilities because everyone in my group seems to be a bit "blah" about it. One of the main problems is that, for us, the game tends to take longer than it should.
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Kathy Sheets
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Nicely laid out review!

I love Bruges but can understand why some don't like it. I love the tactical nature of the game. It is such a huge and fun challenge for me to pull off a win against the randomness of the card draws. I've played quite a few games and don't feel like my wins are meaningless.

However, that doesn't mean that I think that if you played more that you would come to the same conclusion. It's great that we have so many games to choose from and can move on from games that aren't to our tastes. I don't believe in wasting my precious gaming time on games that I don't adore. (My nemesis game is Suburbia.)
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Nick B
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I read this review earlier today, and this evening I got to play Bruges for the first time. I enjoyed myself, despite disliking the pasted-on theme, so it really cracked me up that the MINSTREL ended up in my very first hand.

We decided he must play music for the workers building the canals. Or something.
 
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Tim Park
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Musicians and day jobs.
He's a minstrel by night, ditch digger by day.

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Josh Chen
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This is an example of a good negative review. Thanks!

Instead of some of the typical "this game is broken" or "there is no strategy" blanket statements. Thanks for giving us some analysis of why you didn't like it.
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Daniel Kearns
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You're WRONG! It IS for you!
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Chris May
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soulyogurt wrote:
Musicians and day jobs.
He's a minstrel by night, ditch digger by day.




When you discarded him he wasted his musical ability on a life of ditch digging. He has to feed his family someway. And digging ditches is not good on those lute playing hands.
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Simon Quinn
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Thanks for the review! To be honest I didn't read it all in depth but saw that your biggest complaint was the "randomness" and felt like posting my 2 cents.

I am a huge fan of this game and I am not trying to convince anyone who doesn't like it to switch sides, just want to explain my love for the mechanics!

To me the randomness is built into the game to make for interesting decisions. Worst case scenario - you are forced to take all cards of the same colour, none of the "best" characters are there and that dice comes up 1. This is possible. This would make for an unexciting turn. Your options would be limited to building a house, getting more workers, maybe a canal or reduce a threat. Not the "optimal" turn, but you still did some productive stuff. Hey, you might not even win this game because of that turn. I have played 20+ games and this situation has yet to arise for me.

Best case (and why I love this game) - you get a range of colours and characters...some you are desperate to play, some you will happily ditch for money, etc..you are forced to make tough decisions about which 4 cards to play, which colour workers to get, if any of your characters combo well together and how to get them into play with your current resources..next turn you might focus on drawing from 1 pile only to end the game quicker...risky but it might be worth it. These turns happen every game for me, multiple times. I love the tough decisions that may or may not work out. This isn't Agricola or Terra Mystica!

The game just hits me in the areas I enjoy. I appreciate it is not for those people who are more into long term planning and open, optimisable information. I play with a lot of people who prefer this style and, going off on a tangent here, they try to tell me that the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game is better than Magic: The Gathering because you can use any card as a "land" so there is less variance. But variance is why Magic has been around for 20+ years and the WoW TCG is no longer. It gives all players a chance to beat any other player on their day, but still rewards the stronger players in the long term. I could go on a lot more on this topic but I've already babbled too much!

TL,DR: Awesome review! Hope you can find a game more suited to your tastes while I keep playing Bruges!
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Alexander Simbürger
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slimo wrote:
Thanks for the review! To be honest I didn't read it all in depth but saw that your biggest complaint was the "randomness" and felt like posting my 2 cents.

I am a huge fan of this game and I am not trying to convince anyone who doesn't like it to switch sides, just want to explain my love for the mechanics!

To me the randomness is built into the game to make for interesting decisions. Worst case scenario - you are forced to take all cards of the same colour, none of the "best" characters are there and that dice comes up 1. This is possible. This would make for an unexciting turn. Your options would be limited to building a house, getting more workers, maybe a canal or reduce a threat. Not the "optimal" turn, but you still did some productive stuff. Hey, you might not even win this game because of that turn. I have played 20+ games and this situation has yet to arise for me.

Best case (and why I love this game) - you get a range of colours and characters...some you are desperate to play, some you will happily ditch for money, etc..you are forced to make tough decisions about which 4 cards to play, which colour workers to get, if any of your characters combo well together and how to get them into play with your current resources..next turn you might focus on drawing from 1 pile only to end the game quicker...risky but it might be worth it. These turns happen every game for me, multiple times. I love the tough decisions that may or may not work out. This isn't Agricola or Terra Mystica!

The game just hits me in the areas I enjoy. I appreciate it is not for those people who are more into long term planning and open, optimisable information. I play with a lot of people who prefer this style and, going off on a tangent here, they try to tell me that the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game is better than Magic: The Gathering because you can use any card as a "land" so there is less variance. But variance is why Magic has been around for 20+ years and the WoW TCG is no longer. It gives all players a chance to beat any other player on their day, but still rewards the stronger players in the long term. I could go on a lot more on this topic but I've already babbled too much!

TL,DR: Awesome review! Hope you can find a game more suited to your tastes while I keep playing Bruges!


I have to agree with Simon regarding the randomness of the cards. I have now more than 40 plays under my belt and I have yet to come in a situation where the card distribution totally hoses me. Sure, when you are not familiar with the game, there might be situations where you need to draw certain colors in your last turn to finish some important objectives (canals etc.). But as you play more, you realise that you should finish these things earlier / as soon as you can and that you have to improve your tactical and strategic play in order to be successful in this game.
As Simon also mentioned, there are no totally wasted turns in this game. you are always able to do meaningful actions with your cards (even though some of them seem rather unexciting).

I am also a passionate MTG player and it scratches the same kind of itch for me, with the difference that I can play this game with my wife (whereas, when I mention MTG, she will try to sneak out of the room asap ).


Nevertheless many thanks for your review! Negative reviews are very underrepresented here on BGG and are imho the best sources of information to form your own opinion about a game if you are on the fence about buying it.
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Stu Hendrickson
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wow, a review that's actually a review and not an overview of the components! I wholly agree with everything stated and add the following: terrible graphics not for the colorblind. in fact, I rated a 1 for this reason. not to takeover the thread, but is that too harsh?
 
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David Bancroft
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What if you house ruled: Roll dice first then draw back up to 5 cards? This way you have a little more control on what cards you can play. Has anyone tried this?
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Ben Wickens
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I do think the luck being what determines the winner in Bruges is an argument that is overstated. There is a huge amount of randomness in Bruges but players can go to a good amount of lengths to mitigate or prepare themselves for that randomness.

More than many other games though each player is facing very different choices based on what cards they get and what they have done before. So I do not feel exactly like I am competing against my opponents as we are playing with very different choices. It is true that not getting the cards for big combos can hurt your chances or not getting a brown card when you need it for workers or canal building etc. can undermine your score but the game is long enough that there is plenty of randomness impacting all players and each player will often not get the cards or die rolls they want when they want it.

Now there is much more luck in this than say Trajan or Notre Dame, or even Castles of Burgundy but for the weight of this game the randomness is what makes it interesting - you can not just settle on one strategy or tactic you need to be agile and adapt to what comes your way and look to an extent to mitigate risks so that you are less at the mercy of the randomness and more able to utilise and exploit what ever opportunities may come your way.
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