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Subject: A fan's review with...er...BLUNT responses to criticisms of the game rss

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Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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1. Introduction

Although I play many other games, I am unabashedly a fan of the Risk series of games, including the original classic Risk which many derisively call "vanilla Risk". Indeed this was my first Geeklist and I still try to keep it up to date as one may notice from my recent updates to that list. Usually I prefer not to review games with a significant number of reviews already in the system, but as was the case with my first review, I may make exceptions if I disagree with the bulk of the reviews in nature. In this case, I strongly disagree with the detractors and do not think the advocates have stated the virtues of this game well enough.

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Recently, I have acquired the last of the games in this series which I intend to get [although this may change in future]. Therefore, I now own all of the canonical Risk games prior to Risk: Black Ops with the exceptions of Narnia Risk Junior and Risk: Transformers – Cybertron Battle Edition. Even as a boy, I found Transformers inane-- perhaps having read too much harder science fiction-- and so would in this instance be so annoyed by the theme that I could not really appreciate the actual game itself unless it were REALLY good which, by all accounts, it is not. As for the junior edition, my experience is that most people who make games for children apparently think of children as stupid, judging by the games-- which is not at all my own experience.


Previously, I have reviewed traditional game families. I thought it might be interesting to take a similar approach to these games, taking them in the order that I have come to know them.
Risk
Castle Risk
Risk: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Edition
Risk: Édition Napoléon-- A review based on initial impressions is already given here.
Risk: Godstorm
Risk: Star Wars – The Clone Wars Edition
Risk: Star Wars Original Trilogy Edition
Risk 2210 A.D.-- Although chronologically, this came out after Castle Risk.

What all of these game share in common is the underlining mechanic which forms the combat system, although that system is modified in most of these games somewhat. By varying the how that system is used, one produces very different games. To those who genuinely dislike the core elements of this game, I would not recommend others in the series. Yet my experience is that this game is so much reviled largely because most people do not know effectively how to play the game; they just THINK they do. Like, Monopoly, it suffers from being treated as a "family game"-- instead of the ruthless game of total domination-- or else it is played overly conservatively by people who fail to realize that this game is called Risk for a reason. Played by people who know what they're doing, players will start being eliminated at latest in round three and more probably in the second round. Usually by round four the last two players will be battling for final supremacy. If the game goes beyond five or at absolute most six rounds, something is seriously wrong with game-play-- not the game but how it's being played.

2. Why i am not discussing components here
I first learned Risk as a boy using an older sister's sets. I use the plural because the first set I used had to be replaced due to damage it had received crossing a couple of oceans along with normal wear and tear; it did not have the connection between the Middle East and East Africa, a point much remarked at the time, but the replacement set did. If memory serves [which it may not], it was the first set which used the Roman numeral pieces and the second used Napoleonic figures. This latter may be confused with my own set which I bought shortly after moving out on my own as a young adult.

Even from my own anecdotal experience, one can see that the components of this game vary. They are however generally of high quality, most recently plastic miniatures.

3. Game-play and responses to the usual criticisms

The way this game ought be played is the way it was originally designed; missions are not well-balanced and break the logic of the game, even if one ignores the brokenness of any system in which one player can accidentally cause another to win while reasonably pursuing his own victory condition. Relatively recent changes have been introduced over the years in response to misguided criticisms, but the "improvements" merely detract from the game. As originally designed, this game bears in common with many of the better euros the fact that it is characterized by one central game-mechanic to which the victory condition(s) are well matched. The mechanic here is fundamentally simple. All units on the board are equivalent apart from the controlling player. No region on the board can ever be vacated and one cannot retreat from combat. The attacker can roll up to three dice, the defender up to two, but each player must have at least as many units engaged in conflict as dice rolled; the attacker therefore can never roll more than one less die than the units in the attacking region because at least one unit may stay in the region but the number of dice rolled by the attacker represents the minimum number of units which must be moved if the region is taken. The object is global domination. Integral to the success of this system with such a goal is the Risk-card system; whenever a player conquers at least one territory on a turn, that player takes a card. Sets of three identical cards or one of each type can be turned in for units at the start of one's turn. The number of units a set of cards yields incrementally increases throughout the game. That last point is critical, although recent editions make the cards of a standard value which does not change. The reason the value of card sets NEEDS to increase is because this mechanic results in pressure to end the game. As the value of card sets becomes large, one increasingly must eliminate remaining opponents because one must eliminate an enemy before that enemy turns in a set of cards himself and eliminates the other player instead. Moreover, when one eliminates a player, one takes his cards. If in doing so one obtained six cards, one must turn in a set immediately-- even in the middle of one's turn. This is an excellent means of maintaining an offensive but must be timed just right.

One should notice here two things. First, except in cases where one's forces are depleted, one should not play this game simply taking one area each turn to get a Risk-card and then passing the dice to the next player. The game is well named; one has to take risks constantly to win-- or even just to enjoy a fun game. As mentioned earlier, this game is not inherently interminably long and with good players can be relatively quick, but simply amassing armies and expanding slowly will drag out the game unnecessarily if other players allow one to do so. The response to this is to make amassed armies a primary target and crush them; one must think of what a player with initiative and daring could do with such armies and take away the player's opportunity to do so. The same is true of overly defensible positions. The power of holding Australia has been exaggerated to legendary proportions but it is an excellent tactical position. This again makes it a prime target.

Finally to the main criticisms of the game, I must point out that no one ever wins or loses a game just due to one lucky or unlucky roll of the dice. Playing into a position where the outcome depends on a single roll of the dice when one could lose victory due to a single roll is simply ineffective game-play, just as playing to create a situation where one can achieve victory by a roll of the dice when one would otherwise have assuredly lost is highly effective game-play. Moreover, dice combinations are governed by strict Gaussian probabilities. As a boy, before I ever knew of probability theory, I realized the practical application of this; one has to make defensible borders and know when and how to attack to maximize the probability of victory.

For a wargamer interested in strategy and tactics, this game is almost absolutely essential. I for one could not imagine a better or more effective means of learning to gauge probabilities related to dice in combat or how to minimize one's vulnerability to attack by closing up borders and taking regions to make other "behind the lines". For euro fans, this is a game with a well implemented central game mechanic from which the rest of the game naturally flows; the first edition and recent reproductions of that edition even use wooden blocks. For Ameritrash fans, this has lots of plastic pieces and dice while having game-play at the level fo a lighter war-game. This game has something for virtually everybody-- if one will give it a chance.
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Hunga Dunga
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whac3 wrote:
the original classic Risk which many derisively call "vanilla Risk".

I think that after saffron, vanilla is probably the most valuable spice around, so it's not that bad a qualifier!

I personally prefer playing Capital Risk since it dramatically reduces the player elimination phenomenon: first one, then two, then three, then four people hanging around with nothing to do while the game continues to the bitter end.
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Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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Hungadunga wrote:
whac3 wrote:
the original classic Risk which many derisively call "vanilla Risk".

I think that after saffron, vanilla is probably the most valuable spice around, so it's not that bad a qualifier!

I personally prefer playing Capital Risk since it dramatically reduces the player elimination phenomenon: first one, then two, then three, then four people hanging around with nothing to do while the game continues to the bitter end.

Player elimination is not a problem; it's a choice. One either has that or the "kingmaker problem", which again is not really a problem but a choice as well. Of the two though, I prefer player elimination.

EDIT:

I should have noted though that if one likes Capital Risk one should play Castle Risk, the game from which that element is taken.
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Dan Conley
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Nice review! It's great to have someone stand up for this CLASSIC game. For some reason, it's become fashionable to bash this and other older titles. Thanks for bucking that trend!
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whac3 wrote:
Player elimination is not a problem; it's a choice.

A choice for the eliminator, not the eliminee!
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Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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Hungadunga wrote:
whac3 wrote:
Player elimination is not a problem; it's a choice.

A choice for the eliminator, not the eliminee!

Not at all. It's a choice for everyone made when they select the game. I choose to play games with player elimination even if I end up the one eliminated. I choose not to languish in games without player elimination which do not let a player in an untenable position be crushed so that he can do something else by not playing such games.
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Jason Mackay
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RISK sucks. There's nothing anyone can say that would show otherwise.

Just played a 4 player game. First turn I lost 9 armies to killing 2. That pretty much killed me there...

Turn 6, player just before my turn. (I have 5 cards). I have 12 armies bulked, they attack with 10. I kill 3, and lose all 12. Game over. They get my cards...

The game is 90% luck. Which means it sucks. May as well play Candyland...
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Philip
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whac3 wrote:
Hungadunga wrote:
whac3 wrote:
Player elimination is not a problem; it's a choice.

A choice for the eliminator, not the eliminee!

Not at all. It's a choice for everyone made when they select the game. I choose to play games with player elimination even if I end up the one eliminated. I choose not to languish in games without player elimination which do not let a player in an untenable position be crushed so that he can do something else by not playing such games.


I agree with this. There is little to gain in keeping players in the game once they've been eliminated from competing for the win. It tends to lead to the 'eliminated' player needing to be nudged to look up from their cellphone or Game Boy to make their prefunctory moves every once in awhile - which usually just add randomness. It also leads to the eliminee throwing their lot behind the strongest player to try to bring a quick end so they can play another game where they have a chance.

Risk has some of this with suicide revenge attacks, but much less than games where you can't finish the job.
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Colin Hunter
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Good review.

I think that many people have a perfectly justifiable reasons for not being a fan of this game. I think for example the combat resolution is an issue (although other games share the same sorts of problems). Regardless I think you make some valid points (even if ultimately I disagree).

One comment you made particularly stuck in my head and that was that the games that came later strove to fix non-existent problems. This reminded me very much of Paths of Glory, where each game that used the same system strove to correct the ahistoric nature of the game and to me ultimately failed to achieve the same depth of play (TOC perhaps being an exception)
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Jeff Szekely
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In response to many detractors to Risk who say that it is "90" percent luck. I would like to indicate that war in and of itself is often founded on a great deal of luck. If the weather had not turned abnormally cold when Napolean (sp?) invaded Russia then I (and I suspect many historians) would make the case that France could have defeated Russia. I would also like to point out the evacuation at Dunkirk during WWII, and the effect the weather had on D-Day. This is of course not to mention the Spartans at Thermopele (sp?). War is a mix of strategy, strength, and luck. To believe that a game is not worthwhile because of the fact that it uses some element of chance is silly. All games have some element of chance no matter if it's Candyland or Diplomacy.

Not only that, but historically in the gaming world, Risk has given rise to so many other games that might not have existed except for the legions of adoring fans that love the game and wanted to create variations and other forms of a world combat game using chance as an element, (ie Axis and Allies, History of the World, Advanced Civilization, and Age of Renniasance - (sp?). If not for Risk, many of us would not even be gamers due to the fact that the genre of entertainment would not be stimulating enough, and - I believe - many of the games we love would not even be in existance.

In closing, as one who teaches and watches young kids playing board games every week, I have to say that Risk (although not the best game ever written) is still a stepping stone to more complicating gaming and the gateway through which many of us have entered into the gaming world.

cheers,
Jeff Szekely

Note: The reply that was just entered was written by a man who has just ingested three very dry martinis. However, the author stands by his statements.
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Moshe, great review! Risk is a classic and deservedly so.
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Dave Shapiro
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The latest version of the 'classic' game (aka Black Ops) has been significantly revised. It plays in about an hour and, though it allows for player elimination, it is not required to win. (One can still play the classic version with the new edition.)

For some reason there is a bias (on BGG) against all established American games (Monopoly, Risk, etc.). The same group that complains that Risk has too much luck will praise Settlers and Tigris & Euphrates. (Bad rolls in Settlers can destroy the play of the game - I don't care how well a player claims they can trade their way out of it. T&E is statistically more luck dependent than Risk. Note: I enjoy T&E but acknowledge that luck plays a significant roll.)

It is fashionable to 'pick on' Risk. What I find entertaining is that the Knizia edition is simply ignored. Everything else that Knizia publishes is touted as a work of genius - his version of Risk remains hidden in the BGG closet.
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zuviel wrote:
There is little to gain in keeping players in the game once they've been eliminated from competing for the win.

Well, yeah, but the elimination "problem" in Risk is not simply that players have to be eliminated - it's that it takes so long to do so, and if you're the first eliminee, it could be three hours before the game finally draws to a close. For me, that is the only flaw in this game.

Again, Capital/Castle Risk solves the problem by a) not requiring elimination to win, and b) dramatically shortening the time between any one elimination and ultimate victory, while keeping the same tension and fun of the original.

I'm considering picking up the "new standard version" - it sounds interesting.
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If nothing else, I have to give credit to this game as the first step, for us, away from Monopoly. And, I for one still love a good long game of global domination. I must admit to actually trying to drag it out, by having mercy on someone who I have just pushed back to Madagascar, and allowing them to surrepticiously build up their forces while I engage someone else.
By the way I think 2 player passive neutral is totally broken luck-wise. Don't know whether, well I do, it is completely dependent on dice roll. Okay if you think a quick victory is the ticket of the day. But if you're settling in for an epic, forget it unless the dice are well balanced.
By the way,no one has yet answered my rules question from 6 or so months ago. Seeing as I'm amongst experts, I'll ask you lot.
What do you do if you have a cannon, and you are so spread out that you cannot make change, or move any troops up to attack(or be attacked). If you go into battle, how can you fight with no troops to make change from. My brother reckons you just remember how many until you accrue enough change from the ensuing battle.
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whac3 wrote:

For a wargamer interested in strategy and tactics, this game is almost absolutely essential. I for one could not imagine a better or more effective means of learning to gauge probabilities related to dice in combat or how to minimize one's vulnerability to attack by closing up borders and taking regions to make other "behind the lines". For euro fans, this is a game with a well implemented central game mechanic from which the rest of the game naturally flows; the first edition and recent reproductions of that edition even use wooden blocks. For Ameritrash fans, this has lots of plastic pieces and dice while having game-play at the level fo a lighter war-game. This game has something for virtually everybody-- if one will give it a chance.


You could sell anything.
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Jim O'Neill (Established 1949)
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comport9 wrote:
RISK sucks... Just played a 4 player game...


Has anyone else noticed that those who think the game "sucks" keep coming back for more? I wonder if it would still have "sucked" had our fellow Geek, Jason, won?

Jim
Est. 1949


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I'm glad that someone is taking up for Risk. This title along with Battleship, Stratego and Chess where among my first "wargames" while growing up. They lead me to the collection I have today to include such titles as A house Divided, Totaler Krieg and Fortress America, just to name a few.

Bee looking for me to write positive review's of both Monopoly and Candyland!
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Risk will always hold a special place in my heart (as does Monopoly) because I played and loved these games growing up. However, the one thing about Risk that I never liked was the card aspect. This seemed to amplify the runaway leader problem vial the "rich get richer" concept. If someone else already mentioned this I apologize, but I hate reading posts where people bash games like this. But anyways, I think Risk will always be a classic.
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Glen Oakland wrote:
By the way,no one has yet answered my rules question from 6 or so months ago. Seeing as I'm amongst experts, I'll ask you lot.
What do you do if you have a cannon, and you are so spread out that you cannot make change, or move any troops up to attack(or be attacked). If you go into battle, how can you fight with no troops to make change from. My brother reckons you just remember how many until you accrue enough change from the ensuing battle.


If you're at the point where someone has that many armies on the board, then at least one player will have been eliminated. Use armies of a color not currently being played to make the change. That's how I've always played it.
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Ben Post
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Thanks a lot for the review--it's making me wish that I hadn't given away my copy (and that I had friends who wanted to play)
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There's luck, and then there's PURE luck. Risk is pure luck...

Also, a game, book, piece of art CAN be a classic, and STILL suck. Just look at Lord of the Rings. By today's standards, the books suck. Look at early art, again, by today's standards they suck. That doesn't diminish their initial impact, nor their deserved place in history.

But don't let that classic status deter you from looking at them objectively by comparing them to present day offerings. You have to put aside your nostalgia, and ask yourself, "how would they be received by today's audience if they were new?".

No doubt many of your are going to say, "They would do great, Risk and LotR still sell like gangbusters"... immaterial. They sell because they've reach classic nostalgic status.

I could write an essay on why LotR sucks. Others could write an essay on why it deserves it's classic status. We'd both be right.
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Michael Howe
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Way too much luck in Risk. The idea of a conquer-the-world game with simple equipment and rules is a good one, but the game needs alternate combat resolution. I don't want to play games where the winner is the luckiest player and not the better player. I also find that the dice rolling gets boring and that there's little satisifaction in winning a battle. A couple of years ago, I worked out a set of rules that use Risk equipment and that add a little complexity while eliminating luck. I posted it once and got a little feedback. Since I've tweaked it maybe it's time to post it again. Anyone interested?
 
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Michael Howe
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Game Teacher 1 wrote:
In response to many detractors to Risk who say that it is "90" percent luck. I would like to indicate that war in and of itself is often founded on a great deal of luck.


I think Risk is much more dominated by luck than real war is. Also, I don't play games for an experience in the randomness of war. I play games for a gaming experience, and judged that way, Risk fails. I also think that there are better stepping stones. Risk, like Monopoly, is a startup game for many, but in my opinion, both teach a lot of things that have to be unlearned in order to move on to better games.
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Hawaka Winada
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comport9 wrote:
Risk is pure luck...


Wrong. If Risk is pure luck then any strategy can win if you're lucky enough. That's easy to disprove - you can never win if you never attack, no matter how lucky you are when other players attack you. Risk obviously has a lot of luck, but it's not pure luck. "Games" like LCR are pure luck.
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comport9 wrote:
There's luck, and then there's PURE luck. Risk is pure luck...

Also, a game, book, piece of art CAN be a classic, and STILL suck. Just look at Lord of the Rings. By today's standards, the books suck. Look at early art, again, by today's standards they suck. That doesn't diminish their initial impact, nor their deserved place in history.

But don't let that classic status deter you from looking at them objectively by comparing them to present day offerings. You have to put aside your nostalgia, and ask yourself, "how would they be received by today's audience if they were new?".

No doubt many of your are going to say, "They would do great, Risk and LotR still sell like gangbusters"... immaterial. They sell because they've reach classic nostalgic status.

I could write an essay on why LotR sucks. Others could write an essay on why it deserves it's classic status. We'd both be right.


I disagree, there is an element of strategy to Risk. I challenge anyone to play a game of Risk relying on no strategy and nothing but luck and see how it goes. Trust me, your luck will run out.

As for the "classic" allure yes this can be the case sometimes. Super Mario Brothers, Donky Kong, RC Pro AM all classics but by today's standards they suck as video games. It's the truly enlightened that can look beyond the "classic" and embrace the games of old anyway.

I played in a Risk tournament at the BPA WBC a while back and played it with friends recently and enjoyed it.

Now I will not say the luck factor isn't irritating. Yes to see 5 defenders wipe out 50-75% of an attacking force is immensly frustrating but I submit to you...how did the Confederates fair against an entrenched Union army at Gettysburg? The Persians at Thermopylae?
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