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Subject: Wargame Design: Trendspotting and What's Next rss

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M. Kirschenbaum
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Once upon a time it was ZOCs.

Once upon a time it was ranged fire and geomorphic boards.

Blocks.

Chit pulls and interactive sequences of play.

Areas.

Written orders (yeah,I know they've been used in figures forever).

CDGs.

So what's next? Any trends already evident?

I'm less interested in generalities like "quicker playing games" or "more multiplayer games" or "more cross-over games" than specifics regarding mechanics and what are the key design problems designers are trying to address.


 
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Michael Lawson
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One thing that comes to mind is the gradual exploration of different periods/themes. For the longest time, the bread and butter of the wargame industry were the big three: WW2, Napoleonic Wars, and the ACW. (The American War of Independence and Roman battles were probably 4th and 5th.) It helped having detailed information about battles to aid in wargame design, but these were the big boys that tended to fire the imagination more often.

Now, look at what's coming down the pipeline: Ancient India (Chandragupta), The Crusades (Onward, Christian Soldiers and Crusader Rex), Feudal Japan (numerous titles), ancient Mesopotamia (Assyrian Wars).

The "leaving of the nest" from the cradle of the big three is providing a bit of a spark to wargaming these days. In the future, I wouldn't be surprised to see a wargame come out about ancient China and the first
Emperor's battles, or some of the campaigns of Simon Bolivar, either. There's plenty of stuff out there to be mined, and as more research comes to light, there's more to base designs upon.
 
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marc lecours
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The trend over the last decade has been towards faster play, simplified rules, etc. The two big mechanics have been Cards (that contain lots of information that used to be in the rulebook) and blocks which allow some hidden information and allow 4 step losses without having stacks of counters on each hex. A third major trend has been the arrival of less expensive plastic figures made in China. So toys have been the norm.

I think the following trends will happen over near future:

1. The quest for simple easy to remember rules will continue. This does not mean that games will become simpler. It does mean that as each individual section of the rules becomes simpler you can add new sections of rules. Efficient rules. This quest was introduced by the eurogames and will continue to be felt.

2. There will be hex games but area movement will become the norm since it can incorporate terrain variations more easily than the fixed shape of hexagons or squares.

3. Card driven games will be the norm. When designing a wargame that is a good simulation you have to put the detailed rules somewhere.
a) The first historical solution was to have a map and the information is in the complex terrain patterns on the map.
b) The second was to have information on the units (a variety of units with only a few variables that change from unit to unit).
c) The third place to painlessly put information is on cards. This is only starting to be exploited.
d) The fourth place to put information is on tables, charts and CRTs. This is slowly dying out as a method. Looking up info in a table is no fun. Looking up info in a card in your hand is fun. Alternatives to CRT are dice fests (roll a 5 or 6 with a modifier) (ie. Europe Engulfed, memoir44). Hannibal tried a battle card combat resolution which did not catch on.

4. The present toy value of plastic figures will continue because it is fun. It increases the feeling of immersion into the theme. The problem is that it is a step backwards in that you must remember the power of each unit instead of seeing 2 or 3 numbers on a counter.

5. The present trend towards fast play will continue. But games will not get shorter in duration only faster in action.

6. Wargamers that discovered eurogames fell in love with their simplicity and clever mechanics. But after playing eurogames for a few years a lot of gamers are wanting more simulation and theme in their games. The last decade has seen wargames emphasize "game" versus "simulation". I think wargame designers will now reverse this trend. Simulation will become popular again. But this time all the lessons learned from eurogames will be incorporated.

7. Also from eurogames, wargame designers will be creative over the next decade coming up with a wide variety of mechanics to suit individual games. Many games will have a clever unique mechanic. Most will never be used in a second game.

8. Game turns will be shortened. The eurogames have lowered the tolerance of wargamers to downtime:
a) Many games will abandon the concept of movement points. The problem with moving several spaces is that there are too many options. Instead units will move one or two spaces but more often.
b) Not all units will be available for movement on a turn. At the moment activation by card as in memoir44 is not acceptable. Some units don't move for half the game and then move 2 or 3 turns in a row. For a simulation many units will have to move but not every turn. For example a tank unit will move 4 out 5 turns but an infantry 2 out of 5 turns. This sort of solution will be found except that the actual solution will be better.

9) Looking up rules, rolling dice, looking in tables will be reduced. THese things slow down the pace of games too much.

10) Waiting for the opponent to react will be reduced also. THis slows down games too much. Instead you will do your move in small bites with the opponent not making any decisions in your turn. Then the opponent will react in his turn. Because each action is small the down time is low. In the 1980s, each turn in the game the units could do a whole lot so it was found necessary for the opponent to be allowed to react during the turn. Ex. you move a cavalry unit 7 spaces across a field to attack therefore you need rules to control the cannon and infantry fire against your cavalry as it moves. In the new games the cavalry units will move one space at a time. The cannon can then fire on their turn. Shorter downtime.

11. Games will have more than one type of card deck each with its own information type.

12. Rules will be simplified BUT there will be clever interplay between rules, terrain, and cards to produce the complexity necessary for a simulation.

13. There has been a lot of work on creative rules in the last few years. 2 or 3 great game systems wil be published that can accomodate many expansions (covering different battles and even different eras). This was done back in the 1980s and will be done again but with better rules.

14. The basic challenge is to find ways of carrying information for a detailed simulation without having to remember all the rules or without having to look up the rules in a booklet. I have trouble thinking of a better system than cards. Cards are fun.

15. Some company, somewhere will put out a computerized game board ! The game board will be a horizontal computer screen on which plastic figures will be placed. (the plastic figures might have some type of electronic marker that the computer can pick up). In addition to cards the computer will hold most of the information necessary to play the game.
a) For example a unit just moved to an area. A symbol in the area on the computer screen will light up when that unit is available to move again.
b) When you move into an area with an enemy unit the computer will start the battle on its own and give you the result later when the battle is finished.
c) The computer game board will be sold initially. Then game packages will be sold seperately with figurines, a CD, rules.

16. I know that all that I have said is alredy out there. What can you do. It is hard to predict truly new things as opposed to extrapolating present trends.
 
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M. Kirschenbaum
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My answer, or at least Things I'd Like to See:

Macro-level formation and combat effects. Two lines come together,
resolve one combat instead of fourteen separate ones. Momentum and
inertia play a major role.

Also games that involve sliding time scales, such that sometimes a
"turn" might be a morning's maneuvering and preparation for an
assault, followed by multiple turns in which the assault is executed
and resolved with more granularity. Think Longstreet on the second day
of Gettysburg. Different from a battleboard in that the action doesn't
shift to a separate space with separate rules.
 
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I have nothing to add at the moment, just wanted to say great post Marc. I'll even give you a bag for it.
 
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marc lecours
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thx Paul.
 
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marc lecours
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I think that Michael is right in thinking that there will be more games about less well known wars. In particular more non european wars may become a trend. This is maybe not a mechanic but it is a trend that I agree with. There is a rapid increase in wealth in China and India, I can't help but think that these countries will become important game markets and they certainly will want some games about their own history. But also everyone will become more familiar with Chinese and Indian history.

 
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big trend will be from wargames to wargame SYSTEMS. instead of learning all the rules at once each time you learn a game, the players will just have to update the specific rule sections / add-ons / etc. for the specific era / theatre. this trend is granted due to a) the user-friendly interface (see the success of R. Borgs C&C for instance, although not being a wargame), and b) the unlimited marketing possibilities.
 
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Michael Lawson
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woodoo03 wrote:
big trend will be from wargames to wargame SYSTEMS. instead of learning all the rules at once each time you learn a game, the players will just have to update the specific rule sections / add-ons / etc. for the specific era / theatre. this trend is granted due to a) the user-friendly interface (see the success of R. Borgs C&C for instance, although not being a wargame), and b) the unlimited marketing possibilities.


Or look at the Battles of the American Revolution (GMT), or the Great Battles of History (GMT) or the block games of Columbia. Once the basics of the system are down, all you need to do is pick up the small nuances of a new game and away you go.
 
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Michael Lawson
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rubberchicken wrote:
I think that Michael is right in thinking that there will be more games about less well known wars. In particular more non european wars may become a trend. This is maybe not a mechanic but it is a trend that I agree with. There is a rapid increase in wealth in China and India, I can't help but think that these countries will become important game markets and they certainly will want some games about their own history. But also everyone will become more familiar with Chinese and Indian history.



I hadn't thought of markets in India and China, but you've got a point.

When I watched the History Channel show on the First Emperor of China, I was a intrigued. I was a bit familiar with the story, but not to any great extent. Even though the History Channel typically chops a lot of information up to fit in a dramatic story in about 2 hours, I'd bet that there's quite a few games to be made up of the conquests of the First Emperor. Hell, a multiplayer civ/wargame hybrid is probably there for starters.

 
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Peter Vrabel
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woodoo03 wrote:
big trend will be from wargames to wargame SYSTEMS. instead of learning all the rules at once each time you learn a game, the players will just have to update the specific rule sections / add-ons / etc. for the specific era / theatre. this trend is granted due to a) the user-friendly interface (see the success of R. Borgs C&C for instance, although not being a wargame), and b) the unlimited marketing possibilities.


This is hardly new. The Gamers has been doing this for ages, as has GMT.
 
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Michael Lawson
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rubberchicken wrote:
15. Some company, somewhere will put out a computerized game board ! The game board will be a horizontal computer screen on which plastic figures will be placed. (the plastic figures might have some type of electronic marker that the computer can pick up). In addition to cards the computer will hold most of the information necessary to play the game.
a) For example a unit just moved to an area. A symbol in the area on the computer screen will light up when that unit is available to move again.
b) When you move into an area with an enemy unit the computer will start the battle on its own and give you the result later when the battle is finished.
c) The computer game board will be sold initially. Then game packages will be sold seperately with figurines, a CD, rules.


That's a great idea in theory, more or less an advancement from the old computerized chess games.

I wonder about the cost factor, however, and the concern about drink spillage (or kid abuse).

It's the next step up along the C&C modular game board system.
 
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I think that Michael is right in thinking that there will be more games about less well known wars.


It seems already to be happening--look at GMT's p500 list. Even the hex-and-counter games tend to focus on off-the-beaten path theaters--e.g., the aforementioned Chandragupta/GBoH entry and Ran (also GBoH), and the AmRev series.

I suppose these new subject areas go hand-in-hand with the growth of CDG's and the different audience they attract. Am I right in assuming that CDG's lend themselves better to campaigns or entire wars rather than battles, due to the storyboarding aspect of the mechanic? (Though, Combat Commander and Fields of Fire would seem to show that tactical CDG's are also achievable.)

Players who might have shied away from detailed hex-and-counter games on the traditional battles might find both the mechanic and narrative of the CDG more to their liking.
 
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Michael Adler
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mtlawson wrote:
rubberchicken wrote:
15. Some company, somewhere will put out a computerized game board ! The game board will be a horizontal computer screen on which plastic figures will be placed. (the plastic figures might have some type of electronic marker that the computer can pick up). In addition to cards the computer will hold most of the information necessary to play the game.
a) For example a unit just moved to an area. A symbol in the area on the computer screen will light up when that unit is available to move again.
b) When you move into an area with an enemy unit the computer will start the battle on its own and give you the result later when the battle is finished.
c) The computer game board will be sold initially. Then game packages will be sold seperately with figurines, a CD, rules.


That's a great idea in theory, more or less an advancement from the old computerized chess games.

I wonder about the cost factor, however, and the concern about drink spillage (or kid abuse).

It's the next step up along the C&C modular game board system.


As far as I know there are companies working on electronic paper. It's my understanding that this won't be bothered by spillage. I think they indend to use it for news papers etc, but i'm sure it eventually will be used for board games once it's cost effective enough.
 
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Most boardgames 50 years from now:

1) pay $40 2007USD on-line for your license,

2) auto-DLs and updates to your computer basically instantly (expansions extra if wanted),

3) you see the person sitting across from you as if you were across a table all in real time: might be goggles, curved screen, or large flatscreen (probably a choice),

4) cheating is not possible, but otherwise you can manipulate the pieces, cards and such via a much better sort of mouse (probably gloves or similar).

5) physical boardgames are essentially obsolete, but the same experience can be had in cyberspace along with many other experiences that we now choose to travel around for.

Am I sure? Pretty much Might be 70 years, but it is all but inevitable as far as I can see. I caught a serious cold last week at my gameclub, burnt a lot of gasoline, and... why?

-instant set-up
-instant put away
-no rules disputes
-1,000s of games with many variants and in every major genre
-1,000s of opponents for most games 7/24
-avatars to cover your physical form if you wish (haven't combed hair )

When people start doing this regularly in two rooms in the same house, we'll have arrived.
 
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I think Marc has some good points. I have something to add:

Super complex monster wargames are finding a better platform in PC. Many companies -- Matrix Games for one -- are making PC wargames that make monster games look like baby godzillas. Matrix's War in the Pacific, for example, takes into account every single fighter (tracking pilot exp) and every burst fired, and it is a grand strategy game covering the entire Pacific Ocean.

To succeed, board wargames should focus on their advantages instead of competing with PC games for complexity. I believe their advantages to be: neat bits, cool maps, user friendliness, elegant and clever mechanisms rather than brutal satuation of information.

My ideal for wargame of the next generation?

A card-driven impulse-movement (you move a stack, I move a stack, repeat until two pass) game on a war or battle of ancient western civilization or the Napoleonic era, using blocks on a colorful map divided into areas. Maximum number of pieces should not exceed 100~200.

Big turn offs: hexes, WWII, humongous rules, square cardboard counters, over 200 pieces.
 
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Klaus Knechtskern
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I cannot agree with some of the comments given here. I do not see a decline in complexity in the recent years. Anybody has taken a look at the War in the Pacific reprint? 9600 counters, no further comment needed. My recent recognitions and future expectations are the following:


1.) Playtest nowadays is made with a much broader base of participants(of course that depends on the company...)

2.) Electronic ports of the wargames are definitely mandatory. Vassal, ACTS, Cyberboard, ADC and wargameroom are only some of them to mention here...

3.) Rollable OLED displays will give you the opportunity to setup your board for the Monster Wargame in a minute and store it away in that time again. Maybe you get another form of information presentation on the display (mouseover feature , toggle on unit data and so on...)

4.) Of course this OLED should have a size of at least 60 ", preferable 120 " diagonal...
 
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I would like to think that print'n'play is going to be a significant market for wargames in the next few years. The jury seems to still be out on this; certainly there's a significant fraction of FREE PNP games, but pay PNP is still an open question.

Certainly, pay PNP games need to have the same production quality (in terms of development and graphics) as any other published games, and this isn't happening in some cases. Might be that is keeping the market down some, or maybe people just like the feeling of opening the box.
 
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rubberchicken wrote:

4. The present toy value of plastic figures will continue because it is fun. It increases the feeling of immersion into the theme. The problem is that it is a step backwards in that you must remember the power of each unit instead of seeing 2 or 3 numbers on a counter.


Note that latest C&C game, BattleLore, addresses this by adding a banner to one figure of each unit that shows which side it belongs to (by shape), how it moves, how many dice it gets in combat, what dice results cause it hits (by color and figure type in combination), and the dice/range of attacks (weapon symbol). It's basically a big stand-up counter, but by making it appear as a standard carried into battle by a unit, it blends with the theme.

And in response to another post:
woodoo03 wrote:
.....this trend is granted due to the user-friendly interface (see the success of R. Borgs C&C for instance, although not being a wargame).....


I can't imagine how you could say that the C&C games aren't wargames, unless you are defining wargame by some obscurely restrictive definition. Or have I misunderstood what you were saying?
 
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Maybe there are 2 polarizing trends these days. Hard core wargames by companies that have given up mass-marketing, and company that makes wargames with popular appeal (popular in a relative sense).

The first category of games will get bigger and more complex than ever, after all, it has shed the burden to please the mass. All it has to achieve is to please a small group of players with very specific tastes and demands. They will be aiming at sales figures of 2000+ boxes sold per title. For their target buyers, price, flashiness, or complexity aren't an issue as long as the the details are done rightly.

The description in my earlier post refers to the second category of games. Companies making these games will resort to user-friendlier mechanisms.

However, by this I am not saying that hardcore wargames will stop evolving. That is not true. We will continue to see innovations in monster games.


Before I finish...

I suspect that the second category of wargames may not necessarily be in a better shape than the first. Wargaming is in decline but in what way? Which segment in the spectrum of wargamers has been reduced in that decline? The harcore? the occassional wargamer? the wargamer wannabe? or the collector? Definitely not the collector or the hardcore, and both of them happen to have a taste for monster games.
 
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rubberchicken wrote:
7. Also from eurogames, wargame designers will be creative over the next decade coming up with a wide variety of mechanics to suit individual games. Many games will have a clever unique mechanic. Most will never be used in a second game.


DEFINITELY. You can only cannibalize the grognard user base for so long with minor variations. Designers who figure out how to incorporate Euro-style mechanics can tap into whole new markets. Martin Wallace has, IMO, been leading the way in this area.

A mechanic I'd be curious to see in a wargame is Euro-style land production, moving from the broad sense of "supply" we typically deal with now to having to make sure you're producing enough food/iron/oil/whatever to maintain your troops. I could see this working in a multiplayer wargame, where these things factor in deciding your alliances.

rubberchicken wrote:
13. There has been a lot of work on creative rules in the last few years. 2 or 3 great game systems wil be published that can accomodate many expansions (covering different battles and even different eras). This was done back in the 1980s and will be done again but with better rules.


Command & Colors will be a dominant one for the next few years, obviously. What else?

Speaking of C&C, I'm curious what your thoughts are on BattleLore in this context. Warhammer's obviously been doing the "expandability/collectibility" thing for a while, but it's always been too prohibitively expensive for mass market success. BL feels to me, from a business perspective, like Warhammer for the CCG set.
 
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The big trend these days seems to be reprinting old games with new graphics. Some examples:

MMP with Panzerblitz and the International Games Series.

L2 with War at Sea, Ceaser at Alesia, and Panzergruppe Gunderian.

GMT with Blackbeard.

Columbia with the East Front II, West Front II, and other Eurofront games.

While it's nice to get these old classics back in print, it does take up some of the printing capacity of the companies and the dollars from consumers. We're already seeing some of the impacts of that with the slow movement of most games up pre-order lists and the decision to move Price of Freedom from GMT's print cue to Compass Games so it could be published sooner.

Ken
 
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Kenfeldman wrote:
The big trend these days seems to be reprinting old games with new graphics. Some examples:

MMP with Panzerblitz and the International Games Series.

L2 with War at Sea, Ceaser at Alesia, and Panzergruppe Gunderian.

GMT with Blackbeard.

Columbia with the East Front II, West Front II, and other Eurofront games.

While it's nice to get these old classics back in print, it does take up some of the printing capacity of the companies and the dollars from consumers. We're already seeing some of the impacts of that with the slow movement of most games up pre-order lists and the decision to move Price of Freedom from GMT's print cue to Compass Games so it could be published sooner.

Ken


Yes. We often like to gripe about some of the old classics that Hasbro (for example) has in the vault that they won't release. Just imagine what might happen to this trend if Hasbro DID release a bunch of titles to companies like MMP, GMT, and others. It might be years before truly new games make their way through the system.

 
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The success of programs like VASSAL and Cyberboard means that boardgames are also potential online entities; as what works on the table may not necessarily tranfer onto the screen, designers may well develop games with an eye towards reconciling the media.

Aesthetics is also becoming an increasingly important; sure, it has always been an issue, but it is becoming clear that artistic merit is a selling point. I think there is a connection between the success of a game like Memoir 44 and the high quality of its artwork. Even the rules book is a pleasure to behold.

Similarly, the presentation of rules seems set to change; a patient, conversational approach, well-illustrated and supported online is the way forward.

I was really pleased to see GMT proposing to publish a game set in India that did not involve Alexander the Great; designers moving off the beaten track is to be warmly encouraged, and will hopefully prove successful.

 
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A possibility for the more distant future...

Board Wargaming will continue to evolve by incorporating computer-driven or computer-assisted combat resolution and rules devices in order to keep up with next-gen computer games. Perhaps a PDA-style device for each player will be used that contains all of the rules, tracks all supply/logistics information, governs random events, and responds to each player's moves and decisions using some sort of AI. This device would replace die-rolling and CRTs and many of the systems of the past and present. Perhaps all units involved in combat are scanned or touched, the computer develops a model, AI-assisted, and then tells players the results or plays out the results using virtual pieces. I'm picturing a blend of the virtual computer game with the physical aspects of pieces and miniatures and face-to-face interaction of a board game. Face-to-face play will occur both in person as well as over the internet. The next generation of wargamers (taught to use computers from grade school on) will expect the ease of computer-assisted results and calculations while yearning for something beyond a regular computer game, namely physical pieces, cards, boards, etc. I believe that the company that successfully blends the two will be highly successful.

Current-gen board game designers face these challenges (and more) to keep up with their competition:

-Competing for players stripped away by computer and console games.
-Delivering a faster-pace game that takes less time to play.
-Meeting or exceeding the rising standard of game artwork.
-Developing unique mechanics and gameplay principles.
-Developing a line of games that use the same basic mechanics to reduce future R&D time.
-Building a community of players and supporting that community both on and offline.
-Creating games that deliver and track game mechanics in more efficient ways.
-Competing for shelf-space in a niche-market (though online-sales help level the playing field).
 
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