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Subject: Mad as Hell - A review of Mansions of Madness 2.0 rss

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Elevator Pitch - Mansions of Madness 2.0 is an Ameritrash adventure game crossed with a storytelling game set in Fantasy Flight's Pseudo-Lovecraftian Arkham Universe. Players must explore a mansion, solve puzzles, and survive typical Ameritrash styled combat. The game utilizes an App to run the game as a virtual GM and to handle much of the game's accounting.

Game play - Honestly, just check out one of the many game play videos. The short version is that the game is divided into an Investigator's phase (where players take turns doing stuff) and a Mythos phase (where the game App does bad things to the players). As players investigate the Mansion, a story slowly unfolds, giving players some sort of quest they need to complete or mystery they need to solve. They will accumulate weapons, spells, items and various evidence that slowly improve the player's ability to survive the game. The game will constantly be testing players in the form of skill checks, all of which should be familiar to anyone who has played an FFG Arkham game, Time Stories, or most any RPG ever made.

What do I like about Mansions of Madness 2.0? -

1- The game is full of mounds of flavor text. Almost anything you do requires the app to give you a brief moment of narration. These bursts of flavor text paint a very engrossing narrative over the course of the game. The app's flavor text is further augmented by the text on the various components. Both types of injury cards (mental & physical) offer neat, and sometimes funny chunks of flavor text. Every scenario has a fully voiced introduction and multiple endings (also fully voiced) giving each game a sense that you just played through a proper story.

2- Mansions of Madness tells a fun story. I'd put Mansions of Madness on par with Time Stories in this department. Time Stories has a LOT in common with Mansions of Madness, although, arguably, the Time Stories system is designed to allow for a much wider variety of story content, while Mansions is squarely rooted in the FFG Pseudo-Lovecraft Arkham Universe. On the other hand, Mansions is desinged to allow players to play through any given scenario multiple times because the game map (among other game elements) are randomized. Yes, the game has a limited number of endings, but you can get good mileage out of those limited endings, far more then what you get out of Time Stories. I would argue that the base game of Mansions offers you the same volume of story content found in the base game of Times Stories PLUS 3 expansions.

3 - FFG's spin on Lovecraft is in many ways an improvement over the source material. Lets face it, Lovecraft was a bitter, racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, rabid atheist who loved to vilify "other" people. He had his flaws, and it pours over into the source material. FFG has culled much of Lovecraft's rough edges from their interpretation of the Arkham Universe. Women and minorities are prominently featured in spite of the 1930's setting, which is pretty cool IMHO. It does feel a bit odd that the game gives some power to the icons of Christianity, given the setting, but this isn't that big of a deal. Stephen King and other authors have created stories inspired by the Lovecraft source material where faith in God offers the faithful some form of strength without any real divine involvement. Just be aware that this is a point of divergence FFG has chosen to make from the source material, and they are hardly the only ones to have done this, for better or for worse.

4- The component art is GORGEOUS. Everything from the cards to the mansion tiles look amazing. My only hesitation here is that much of the card art is recycled from FFG's Arkham asset catalog. You've seen the same art in probably 3 or 4 games now. The tiles though are completely original to this game, and they are stunning.

5- I don't want to spoil anything, but the way that this game handles going insane is AWESOME!

6- My kids had a blast playing this game! They loved the combat descriptions provided by the app. Both commented to me that it felt like a choose your own adventure book brought to life. I would warn other parents though that there are some vivid descriptions of violence and gore. One scene described a human being that was shot as (to paraphrase) "spraying blood, bone, and brain against the wall." It won't be appropriate for all ages, but my 10-year-olds were just fine.

What do I not like about Mansions of Madness 2.0? -

1- The monster mini's are not good. The minis themselves are a rubbery sort of plastic. Mine showed evidence of significant bending due to them being squeezed into a bag during shipping and crushed by other components in the box. Because the mini's are so rubbery and flexible, they are not easily fixed by giving them a hot water bath (as is the common fix for bent minis). My Star Spawn and Deep Ones don't look nearly as nice as the production photos because of this. Worse yet, the minis all have pegs that insert the minis into their bases. Almost 100% of my minis would NOT fit into their bases, and as a result, I had to trim down the pegs and glue the minis into their bases. Further, each of the bases has a slot for you to fit in a cardboard chit (a hold over from the first edition of the game that is almost completely unnecessary). My chits did not fit well into the bases and required more force then should be necessary to put together. Honestly, I'm kind of pissed off at the terrible quality of the minis/bases. I spent almost 100 bucks for this game and its mini quality is far below what other $100 minis games offer (anything from CMON, Xia, etc.). I would have preferred that the minis had been scrapped altogether and have FFG use standees for the monsters instead.

2- The character mini's are forgettable. The investigator minis are nicer then the monster minis, but most are pretty forgettable. Wendy Adams and Rita Young's figures are bad. They look nothing like the character art, and are easily confused with the minis used for other characters. Again, for 100 bucks, I'd have been much happier with good looking standees that at least matched the top notch art seen everywhere else in the game.

3- There is no way to adjust the difficulty of the scenarios without "cheating". It would have been nice to be able to adjust the difficulty of "harder" scenarios without cheating. Almost every other game in the FFG Arkham family has official variants allowing you to adjust difficulty. The only way to do that here is to cheat. I'm hopeful that future updates to the app will allow for tweaking the difficulty.

4- The game's puzzle elements can add a lot of time to the game. This is a big time YMMV element to this game. If your group sucks at solving certain types of number or spacial reasoning puzzles, you will take a lot longer to finish your game then if you have a puzzle whiz on your team. Expect to spend more time playing this game than what is advertised.

Conclusion - I really do adore Mansions of Madness 2.0. I'm pretty upset at FFG for what I find to be lazy, sloppy execution on the minis, but I can live with that given just how incredible of a story telling experience the game offers. Mansions of Madness 2.0 does app integration right. The app gives me the sense that Richard Launius is GMing my game. He is there giving me the story and letting the players drive the action. As other reviewers have pointed out, integrated apps fail when you feel like you might as well be playing a videogame (see Golem Arcana). Players are still responsible for playing the game, the app is just there to tell the story and handle the fiddliest parts of the book keeping. I think that there are going to be many reviews that compare Mansions to Time Stories. I think that the comparison is a fair one, too. Both games make story telling a central goal. Where Time Stories has pretty blah "game play" elements that tend to be fiddly (moving around decks of cards and fishing around tokens and shields for combat management), Mansions offers a stream-lined narrative with almost no down time where players have to manage the game or components. Mansions of Madness 2.0 is a triumph in board game storytelling and is well worth the purchase price for gamers who want a strong story telling experience.

Edit - There are two odd component flaws that are also worth noting:

1- There are no player aid cards, which is odd considering that FFG had them in Eldritch Horror. A simple card listing the various player actions would have been nice.

2- There are no action markers to show which investigators have and haven't taken turns in any given round. This can be easily fixed by giving each player a double sided token (like the wooden action markers from Mage Wars) that can be flipped to show when they've taken their turn. This can be important for larger games so you don't have to keep asking around trying to figure out who hasn't taken their turn or if we are ready to go on to the Mythos phase.
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Andreas Glantz
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There are no player aid cards in the core box of Eldritch Horror either, those came later with the second and third expansions.
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R.P. Kraul
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Nice review.

scottatlaw wrote:
FFG's spin on Lovecraft is in many ways an improvement over the source material. Lets face it, Lovecraft was a bitter, racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, rabid atheist who loved to vilify "other" people.


I fully agree with the first sentence, but the reason is not that Lovecraft was a racist, xenophobe, etc. It's an improvement on the source material because the source material simply was not great writing, no matter how nostalgic we happen to get when talking about Lovecraft. He had a hell of an imagination, and he could develop an atmosphere, but stylistically, he was turgid and often less than entertaining. And his characters were often puppets. I give it to FFG and others for taking the source material and bending it to make it more entertaining.

scottatlaw wrote:
The component art is GORGEOUS. Everything from the cards to the mansion tiles look amazing. My only hesitation here is that much of the card art is recycled from FFG's Arkham asset catalog. You've seen the same art in probably 3 or 4 games now. The tiles though are completely original to this game, and they are stunning.


When it comes to this type of art, FFG has no peer. They've sort of defined their own style in the Arkham Files--kind of noirish horror, and it really helps to establish the atmosphere for their games. Some other large publishers, when they try their hand at horror, tend to offer things that look too cartoonish. X-Men horror, if you will. In this regard, FFG never disappoints.
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scottatlaw wrote:
3 - FFG's spin on Lovecraft is in many ways an improvement over the source material. Lets face it, Lovecraft was a bitter, racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, rabid atheist who loved to vilify "other" people.


This made me smile.

Great review.
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Capeman wrote:
There are no player aid cards in the core box of Eldritch Horror either, those came later with the second and third expansions.


Ahhh ... yes. Well, you'd think they'd have learned that lesson by now then.
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Quote:
3 - FFG's spin on Lovecraft is in many ways an improvement over the source material. Lets face it, Lovecraft was a bitter, racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, rabid atheist who loved to vilify "other" people.


While FFG's spin on Lovecrafts creation is clearly and rightly modern and by any means up to date with our 21st century morals and values, I wholeheartedly disagree with that bold and harsh stance made by you in terms of describing Lovecrafts persona. There are tons of books written by Lovecraft scholars, from S. T. Joshi, to Robert M. Price to Michel Houellebecq who discussed Lovecrafts views on race, woman and other groups from different angles and put them into perspective without condemning him out of their moral certainty. And those guys are by no means the dumbest persons walking this earth. Besides Lovecraft views changed during his lifetime, as can be read in many of his letters, your one sentence characterisation of Lovercraft doesn't do him and his creation justice. Like, at all. It's a bland attempt of virtue signalling at the expense of a dead gentleman who didn't had the chance to visit a liberal college in his day and age.

This made me cringe.
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Drpretorios wrote:
Nice review.

scottatlaw wrote:
FFG's spin on Lovecraft is in many ways an improvement over the source material. Lets face it, Lovecraft was a bitter, racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, rabid atheist who loved to vilify "other" people.


I fully agree with the first sentence, but the reason is not that Lovecraft was a racist, xenophobe, etc. It's an improvement on the source material because the source material simply was not great writing, no matter how nostalgic we happen to get when talking about Lovecraft. He had a hell of an imagination, and he could develop an atmosphere, but stylistically, he was turgid and often less than entertaining. And his characters were often puppets. I give it to FFG and others for taking the source material and bending it to make it more entertaining.



While I don't enjoy his writing style as much as say Howard or Burroughs, its better then what you'll find in many pulp paperbacks these days. Much of the academic criticism of his style is based on the poorly thought out critiques of stuffed shirts who didn't "get" Lovecraft in the years following his death. You may be disappointed to see that some of the fluff text (esp. when describing certain spoilery things you'd expect to see in a Lovecraft tale) is very imitative of Lovecraft (his awkward use of adjectives for instance).

All that said, his terrible prejudices are the most glaring problem with his writing (IMHO) and it underlies much of the horror in his stories involving degeneracy.
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Exilfranke wrote:
Quote:
3 - FFG's spin on Lovecraft is in many ways an improvement over the source material. Lets face it, Lovecraft was a bitter, racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, rabid atheist who loved to vilify "other" people.


While FFG's spin on Lovecrafts creation is clearly and rightly modern and by any means up to date with our 21st century morals and values, I wholeheartedly disagree with that bold and harsh stance made by you in terms of describing Lovecrafts persona.


I'm not sure this is a point you can stand on. Lovecraft was an avowed and outspoken racist, and extreme even for his time. Granted, his actions were at odds with his ideology (his wife was Jewish), but rational consistency isn't always the hallmark of those that hold irrational views.

Take this commentary attributed to Sonia Greene, his wife:

Quote:
Sometimes, he would insist that they walk down the center of a street so that he wouldn’t have to share a sidewalk with "mongerels." Greene told a biographer later that she kept reminding Lovecraft about her own background, but it didn’t seem to dissuade him from his fear of Jews and other immigrants.


http://www.wired.com/2007/02/the_mysterious_-2-2/

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scottatlaw wrote:
3 - FFG's spin on Lovecraft is in many ways an improvement over the source material. Lets face it, Lovecraft was a bitter, racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, rabid atheist who loved to vilify "other" people.


Having read every story that Lovecraft wrote, I'll have to disagree strongly with the first statement. His style and creepy, foreboding theme make for great reading. Great, great stuff.

Secondly, I feel many of those other qualities were and are positives that helped him write the stories he did. We have to think outside of our narrow, dumbed down modern day thinking to understand authors like Lovecraft in their historical context.

Not to get too far off topic, but xenophobia and cultural homogeny is a positive & powerful natural defense mechanism. The Roman empire fell apart when they abandoned it. History has proven over and over that a culturally unified society does far better than a diverse one.

I love that about Lovecraft. Great author and great human being.
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Do you consider Howard or Burroughs racist and sexist, too? Because they're both often attributed with those terms.

EDIT: Apart from our disagreement with Lovecraft, I can suscribe your review. Very well written and spot on.
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Luckily, I only read books written by perfect human beings.
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Anarchosyn wrote:
Exilfranke wrote:
Quote:
3 - FFG's spin on Lovecraft is in many ways an improvement over the source material. Lets face it, Lovecraft was a bitter, racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, rabid atheist who loved to vilify "other" people.


While FFG's spin on Lovecrafts creation is clearly and rightly modern and by any means up to date with our 21st century morals and values, I wholeheartedly disagree with that bold and harsh stance made by you in terms of describing Lovecrafts persona.


I'm not sure this is a point you can stand on. Lovecraft was an avowed and outspoken racist, and extreme even for his time. Granted, his actions were at odds with his ideology (his wife was Jewish), but rational consistency isn't always the hallmark of those that hold irrational views.

Take this commentary attributed to Sonia Greene, his wife:

Quote:
Sometimes, he would insist that they walk down the center of a street so that he wouldn’t have to share a sidewalk with "mongerels." Greene told a biographer later that she kept reminding Lovecraft about her own background, but it didn’t seem to dissuade him from his fear of Jews and other immigrants.


http://www.wired.com/2007/02/the_mysterious_-2-2/



You must be very happy to be not like Lovecraft. Good for you then.
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Exilfranke wrote:


You must be very happy to be not like Lovecraft. Good for you then.


That's just it, I can admit to liking people who were imperfect. Salvador Dali supported Franco (which is to say Hitler, by proxy), Paul McCartney beat his wife, HP Lovecraft was an avowed racist. You needn't like the person to enjoy their art.

I don't need to go through mental contortions or white wash the ugly elements of their history to rationalize my support.

p.s. HP Lovecraft would have hated me. I say this as one of his "mongrels"..
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scottatlaw wrote:
Drpretorios wrote:
Nice review.

scottatlaw wrote:
FFG's spin on Lovecraft is in many ways an improvement over the source material. Lets face it, Lovecraft was a bitter, racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, rabid atheist who loved to vilify "other" people.


I fully agree with the first sentence, but the reason is not that Lovecraft was a racist, xenophobe, etc. It's an improvement on the source material because the source material simply was not great writing, no matter how nostalgic we happen to get when talking about Lovecraft. He had a hell of an imagination, and he could develop an atmosphere, but stylistically, he was turgid and often less than entertaining. And his characters were often puppets. I give it to FFG and others for taking the source material and bending it to make it more entertaining.



While I don't enjoy his writing style as much as say Howard or Burroughs, its better then what you'll find in many pulp paperbacks these days. Much of the academic criticism of his style is based on the poorly thought out critiques of stuffed shirts who didn't "get" Lovecraft in the years following his death. You may be disappointed to see that some of the fluff text (esp. when describing certain spoilery things you'd expect to see in a Lovecraft tale) is very imitative of Lovecraft (his awkward use of adjectives for instance).

All that said, his terrible prejudices are the most glaring problem with his writing (IMHO) and it underlies much of the horror in his stories involving degeneracy.


The opinion I shared was my own. Lovecraft's work often reads like narrative summary. He struggled with scenes and dialogue, and on those rare occasions when he forced himself to write dialogue--Dunwich Horror comes to mind--the results were awkward, bordering on unreadable. I think that horror fans in particular award Lovecraft accolades he doesn't deserve.

That said, I don't understand the ubiquitous criticism of Lovecraft, that being that the man was racist and xenophobic. While that may have been true, we ought to keep in mind that some remarkable things have been written by some less-than-remarkable people.
 
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Drpretorios wrote:

The opinion I shared was my own. Lovecraft's work often reads like narrative summary. He struggled with scenes and dialogue, and on those rare occasions when he forced himself to write dialogue--Dunwich Horror comes to mind--the results were awkward, bordering on unreadable. I think that horror fans in particular award Lovecraft accolades he doesn't deserve.

That said, I don't understand the ubiquitous criticism of Lovecraft, that being that the man was racist and xenophobic. While that may have been true, we ought to keep in mind that some remarkable things have been written by some less-than-remarkable people.


It's also the opinion of most professional writers I know (myself included, though I'm hardly professional anymore).

Your original commentary eloquently distilled the criticism, actually.

That said, I think we can all agree Lovecraft created something larger than himself, and isn't the recipient of a fraudulent notoriety by any stretch of the imagination. He just didn't excel at some technical elements of writing -- and, more often than not, modern readers give him a pass under the mistaken assumption the stilted manner of his prose was just a "symbol of the times." (like some are doing here with his racism).
 
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While technically often wooden and artifical, Lovecrafts prose serves it's purpose and is very evocative in it's own odd way. I wouldn't want to see Call of Cthulhu - The Movie, but dude, does it strangely work on paper.

Quote:
and, more often than not, modern readers give him a pass under the mistaken assumption the stilted manner of his prose was just a "symbol of the times." (like some are doing here with his racism).


Yeah, Lovecrafts racism clearly wasn't a sign of the times. He should've known that racism is evil and jews are great as nearly everybody told him so in the 20s and 30s. He just refused to listen, that silly old fool of a white supremacist.
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Exilfranke wrote:
While technically often wooden and artifical, Lovecrafts prose serves it's purpose and is very evocative in it's own odd way. I wouldn't want to see Call of Cthulhu - The Movie, but dude, does it strangely work on paper.

Quote:
and, more often than not, modern readers give him a pass under the mistaken assumption the stilted manner of his prose was just a "symbol of the times." (like some are doing here with his racism).


Yeah, Lovecrafts racism clearly wasn't a sign of the times. He should've known that racism is evil and jews are great as nearly everybody told him so in the 20s and 30s. He just refused to listen, that silly old fool of a white supremacist.


Please guys, stop RSP talking here.
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I'd love to ...
 
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Exilfranke wrote:
Do you consider Howard or Burroughs racist and sexist, too? Because they're both often attributed with those terms.

EDIT: Apart from our disagreement with Lovecraft, I can suscribe your review. Very well written and spot on.


Oh, they absolutely are too. I just mentioned them as I enjoy their writing styles a bit more.

To all:

I never said one cannot enjoy Lovecraft because of his personally held views (even when they are boldly displayed in his works), however, I am unaware of any serious defense of his beliefs that doesn't boil down to making excuses or white washing. Leslie Klinger's recent Annotated Lovecraft does a good job of discussing this topic and is worth checking out if you haven't done so.

My position is this: In translating Lovecraft's works into a board game, FFG was correct in the decision to make the protagonists multicultural and to represent both genders (and to remove the racism and xenophobia). FFG is trying to sell a product to a modern audience, not to create a 100% faithful adaptation of a Lovecraft story. Board games should be about inclusiveness and bringing people together, and Lovecraft's vilification of "others" is inconsistent with FFG's goal (and what board games are all about), so it should come as no surprise they did this, and further, it is a position I personally support.
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Exilfranke wrote:


Yeah but Lovecrafts racism was not of a sign of the times. He should've known that racism is evil and jews are great as nearly everybody told him so in the 20s and 30s. He just refused to listen, that silly of fool of a white supremacist.


You're being sarcastic, but *LITERALLY* everything you said is true. His racism was not a sign of the times, but an outlier notion in his social circle. He made the other writers in his group, and his wife, quite uncomfortable with it. He was also a recluse who was socially disconnected from his society -- to me this is a glaring example of imbalance. He wasn't a perfectly adjusted member of his community.

Racism was more normalized back then, yes, but that doesn't mean extremist views didn't still exist.
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oops, sorry Julia, I had to look up RSP.
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Apocalypse Dude wrote:
How is being a atheist equal to being a xenophobe, racist or misogynist? That is not cool.


oops, sorry Julia, I had to look up RSP.


He wasn't; he was listing qualities about him that affected his writing that the OP didn't like or felt hampered the aesthetic of his stories.
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Exilfranke wrote:
While technically often wooden and artifical, Lovecrafts prose serves it's purpose and is very evocative in it's own odd way. I wouldn't want to see Call of Cthulhu - The Movie, but dude, does it strangely work on paper.


There's actually a version of COC from 2005 that is pretty effective in creating that Lovecraft atmosphere. They use some stop motion and claymation. It has the feel of a movie from the German expressionist era. It's worth checking out.

Exilfranke wrote:
Yeah, Lovecrafts racism clearly wasn't a sign of the times. He should've known that racism is evil and jews are great as nearly everybody told him so in the 20s and 30s. He just refused to listen, that silly old fool of a white supremacist.


He was clearly a misanthrope, similar to Ty Cobb. Unlike Cobb, however, he didn't openly confront people. Instead he cowered in his house and wrote letters.
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Quote:
There's actually a version of COC from 2005 that is pretty effective in creating that Lovecraft atmosphere. They use some stop motion and claymation. It has the feel of a movie from the German expressionist era. It's worth checking out.


Thx, I will check that out. Sounds quite intriguing.
 
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Apocalypse Dude wrote:
How is being a atheist equal to being a xenophobe, racist or misogynist? That is not cool.



Read my statement again. Lovecraft used atheism as a way to vilify people he labeled as "other" including New England Puritans, Amish, PA Dutch, Irish Catholics, Jews, and so on. He would mish-mash his xenophobia, racism, antisemitism, and atheism altogether. Lovecraft's way of using atheism as a justification for discrimination is what I object to.

I have no beef with Atheists, Skeptics, modern Satanists, Spaghetti Monsters, or whatever. Except for Agnostics, they are simply unnatural and worthy of our scorn.

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