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Subject: Quick review for the newcomer, by Vladimir rss

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Vladimir Atehortua
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My quick reviews are aimed at people who are new to BGG, and who "just a couple weeks ago didn't know so many games existed!". I write these reviews to help them from drowning in the sea of games and reviews, so If you are a newcomer, read on.

Quote:
My reviews are thus short, and attempt to provide the newcomer with the most helpful information in the shortest reading time, so that he/she can check more game reviews or perhaps get enough sleep after reading so many, instead of providing game details to the veteran geek.



What you'd get if you purchased Settlers of Catan:

(Image by WaterZero)

Catan is:

A german designed game, for which it is regarded as an "euro" game. It is very different from typical american games such as monopoly, risk, clue, pictionary, etc.

A game where the main mechanic is trading resources. All players have "cities" in an island. Depending on a city's location, it will produce (every now and then) a particular type of resource (wool, wood, brick, or stone). To expand (build roads and new cities) you need resources of all types, but nobody produces everything, so you are in need of trading some of the resources you produce with your opponents, in order to get the sets of resources that you need. This is the most prominent mechanic of the game: trading and negotiation, serving set collection. However, that's not all the game is about. There is also economic strategy, probability management, and spatial "networking" skills involved in the game's mechanics.

NOT a mainly strategic game, nor an "economic euro". To succeed in Catan, skills of social nature (negotiation skills) are at least as important as those of strategic thinking and foresight. You still need to masterfully plan your resource acquisition, map placement, etc, but that alone will not earn you victory. You also need skill in negotiating the trade ratios of resources, and convincing others that they should not place the robber in your territories (the robber is a chip that prevents cities from producing resources, thus denying you of income). You need social skills to convince others that a trade embargo on you is not a good idea. etc, etc.

A game for 3 or 4 players. It does not play at all with 2, so if you intend to play with only your spouse, or you foresee varying group sizes, then Catan is not a good game for you to get started in the hobby.

There is enough luck in the game (stemming from the dice and powerful cards) to (once in a while) ruin even the best laid out plans. When you choose the placement of your cities on the map, you are managing probabilities, but dice are a merciless master, and can screw a careful player's plan. Some people love the thrill of rolling dice, but others hate the dice aspect of Catan, so much so, that a US$5 expansion is available, consisting of a set of cards that replace the dice, ensuring a consistent probability distribution.

A game with high variability in length, depending on the group of people playing it. Catan lacks a mechanism limiting the number of rounds or "internal clock" that newer euros have, and because of this, for some groups the game consistently lasts as little as one hour, while for others, it can take from 2 to even 3 hours. Catan goes on "until somebody wins", and nearing the game's end often the best way for trailing players to catch-up is to prevent the leaders from ending the game. This means that in the hands of some people, Catan can feel longer than it's welcome, even if nobody is playing slowly nor over analyzing. Summing it up: your mileage may vary.

A game with a "take that" factor. There is a mechanic called the robber, that is activated when in a player's turn he rolls a 7 (which is the most frequent roll of two dice) and allows him to steal a resource card from an opponent and, most harshly, to place a marker called the robber wherever he choses. The area where the robber is placed will produce no resources to it's owner, until someone else rolls a 7 and decides to relocate the robber. This mechanic, conjugated with the ability to refuse to trade with a player (say, the apparent leader) can -depending on circumstances, mood and players-, spark animosity. I've seen it happen, and I consider it a trademark of negotiation games such as Catan and Genoa that they need "the right group of people". It is then risky to use catan as your very first game to get started on the hobby (specially on your own). Even Catan evangelists have said things such as "may not work with every gaming group" or "Next time buy a fifth of your favorite brown liquor and everyone should have few shots before you play".

A game in which the board changes with every play, making the non-social (strategic) part of the game different on every play, thus improving replayability.

An old game (over 10 years old now). Catan is a classic, and its among the first euro games ever played by lots of people. Keep that in mind when you read ultra favorable reviews. You may think that 10 years is nothing compared to the age of american games (risk and monopoly are over 50 years old), but in euro-games, 10 years is an eternity. In the last 10 years, a whole breed of newer and better games have sprung.

When played with 4 people instead of 3, Catan is a game vulnerable to the "allied spouses syndrome", meaning that it allows two players to ally with each other. The other two players resort to allying themselves too so as not to get left behind. This is not something the game forces, it's just something it allows. Most people (most b/g or married couples) don't do this, but some do. It depends on people idiosyncrasies.


¿Where does the fun come from?

From the "take that" factor. It is delicious to place the robber on your opponent's most productive lands. Specially if it's payback/revenge for him having done it to you first.

Depending on the people you play with, fun comes from the social interaction too. The talk about trades, the bribing, begging and open threats when trying to convince each other, are a source of fun. This works most when players are closely related (family or spouses). It's not the same with "guests" or strangers.

For some, there can be some gambling fun, when rolling the dice they hope to get their numbers.

There is great fun from masterfully achieving strategic goals, like when you manage to become resource-production independent, block another player from stealing your longest-road, or prevent the leader from winning-just-now, so that you can steal the win next round.


To buy or not to buy. That is the question

If you just found out about the existing of so called "euro" games, and are a newcomer to the BGG website, Catan is not the best game to get you and your group started in the hobby. It is still a good game, and a very good "gateway" game, but being a good tool for veterans to introduce newcomers to the hobby, does not make it a good game for newcomers to get started on their own (without a good mentor or seasoned gamers for support). This is my opinion, and is based on the many variabilities of the game: some hate the impact of the dice, others love it. Some hate the confrontation/robber, others love it. For some its quick enough while for others it's too long. For some the mega powerful cards (like the "monopoly" one) are game breakers. In general, I find too much risk in Catan, for it to be a good "very first game" of a newcomer. There are "safer" games for that


If you still get it

If you decide to get the game, consider getting the "catan event cards" (worth about $5) which are a replacement for the dice. Some people HATE the dice in catan, because of how it can ruin good strategies. The cards guarantee a normal distribution of rolls according to the laws of probability, although they introduce "events" that represent another source of randomness

Because of it's age, there are many editions of catan, some of which have better looks than others. Make sure that you like the appearance of what you are purchasing. Newer editions tend to be the best looking.


¿What other good games are there to get started on the hobby?

There's a list I've made, specially intended for newcomers, which might help you find your way amongst the myriads of available games: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/38736
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Travis Hall
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I can't really agree with all of your observations on Settlers of Catan, but I don't think it's worth arguing over most of those points of disagreement. This, however...

Adun wrote:
A long game compared to other euros. In my experience, it usually takes 3 hours (including setup), and never less than 2. Considering the fact that Catan is not a "heavy thinking", "strategic" game (and "just" for 4 players), this is a rather long time. Many gamers don't like it because of this reason. I do like it, but have to admit my observation that after playing Catan, people are rather tired, reluctant to play other meaty games (as if it they had just played a heavy game!).

If you are spending three hours playing standard four-player Settlers of Catan, you need to seriously reconsider the group you are playing with. Most groups I have played with will usually finish a game in no more than one hour (including setup). I have never played a three-hour game of straight-out-of-the-box Settlers.

I have played a three-hour game of 6-player Settlers (requiring an expansion), but even that was won by the run-away winner in the first hour, except she decided to sit on nine visible victory points for another two hours, manipulating the flow of the game to slow down everyone else's progress. (She says she wanted to make the game close, so nobody felt put out by getting thrashed after her extremely lucky start. The rest of us doubt that motivation.) I have played one or two three-hour games with four players using the Cities and Knights of Catan expansion. But straight Settlers... No. Not once in what is probably a couple of hundred games now, not even with new players.

And if that is how Settlers plays in your group, it's no wonder nobody wants to play a heavier game afterwards. If a game with as few difficult choices as Settlers takes three hours, I wouldn't want to play a longer game with those people.
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Jason Clague
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Quote:
In my experience, it usually takes 3 hours (including setup), and never less than 2


I disagree here - 'vanilla' settlers is usually 60-75 minutes for my games.
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Philip
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Catan with my non-gamer family averages 30 - 60 minutes. With gamers it's probably closer to the hour mark more often. I can't imagine what you'd do to take up three hours of time in the game...

At any rate, it's considerably shorter than Puerto Rico or Agricola, and only marginally longer than Carcasonne.
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Tony Allen
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With nubes, I totally agree with 3 hours being standard. I've played too many games of SoC with brand new players to think anything else. I really need to get a good timer to speed up the negotiations. Trading games are all fine and stuff, but this is my main beef with them. Wealth of Nations has the same exact problem. I need to stress to the newbies that time wasted on hammering out small differences in trade values will stall the game into an unnecessary lengthy exercise. But even with the often long playing time in Settlers, I still absolute love this game. And I've played it for 10 years now.
 
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tada wrote:
With nubes, I totally agree with 3 hours being standard. I've played too many games of SoC with brand new players to think anything else.

We've all played with at least one newbie at the table, because we've been the newbie. I've played with everyone at the table other than me being a newbie a number of times. Even then, I've never played a 3 hour game.

2 hours with newbies I can see (and have had). Maybe you can add an extra half an hour before the game starts with your explanation, and with a slow group you might get to 3 hours total that way, but that's not 3 hours play time.

Of course, a group can stretch any game as long as they like if their focus on the game is low enough. If the players spend a few minutes sitting around chatting about other stuff before each roll of the dice, sure, or wander off into other rooms of the house between turns, sure, it'll take a long time to finish the game, but that's not three hours of play time.

Maybe you need to gently remind players that sometimes the resources they seek just aren't available, and they need to move on. If nobody is willing to pass the dice when there aren't trades to be had, the problem is with the group, not the game.
 
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Tony Allen
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An American Football game typically starts at noon and ends at 3:00 pm, but it has 4 quarters that have 15 minutes in each. Is the game 3 hours long or 1 hour long? All the stuff in between the technical minutes count also as it cannot be eliminated from the reality of my time investment. There are penalty flag delays, out-of-bounds time stops, commercial breaks, time-outs, half time intermission, etc. But if you ask an average American how long a football game is, they will say about 3 hours. The only way you could make it 1 hour is if you watched the recording of it on a DVR and fast forwarded through all of the non-play stuff.

The same thing happens in board games. When I sit down at the table with my friends at noon, open the box, set it up, explain the rules, play the game (including maybe going to the kitchen or restroom), put it back in the box, get up from the table at 3:00 pm, then my time investment is 3 hours. It took my group 3 hours to play a game that actually only had approximately 1 hour of technical play time in it. So when I say 3 hours to play a game I'm talking about realistic practical time.

Edit: A poll with Playing Time in Game Info for each game would be helpful as I think many of these are not quite correct or can vary a lot from what is listed. Accuracy of this type of info is important.
 
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Travis Hall
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tada wrote:
An American Football game typically starts at noon and ends at 3:00 pm, but it has 4 quarters that have 15 minutes in each. Is the game 3 hours long or 1 hour long? All the stuff in between the technical minutes count also as it cannot be eliminated from the reality of my time investment. There are penalty flag delays, out-of-bounds time stops, commercial breaks, time-outs, half time intermission, etc.

All of which cannot be eliminated from the game of American Football. Chatting about what was on TV last night, making a slow wander to the kitchen and back for another round of drinks, getting distracted until people start asking whose turn it is are not part of the game of Settlers of Catan, and are easily eliminated by those groups who care to do so.

tada wrote:
The same thing happens in board games. When I sit down at the table with my friends at noon, open the box, set it up, explain the rules, play the game (including maybe going to the kitchen or restroom), put it back in the box, get up from the table at 3:00 pm, then my time investment is 3 hours. It took my group 3 hours to play a game that actually only had approximately 1 hour of technical play time in it. So when I say 3 hours to play a game I'm talking about realistic practical time.

And a typical game of Settlers of Catan for the many groups I have played with is about an hour, including set up and pack up. A well-presented explanation might add 15 minutes, but is not part of a typical game as it is not required for the majority of games.
Bathroom and kitchen breaks are usually not required for a 1-hour game; they only become necessary when you turn it into a 3-hour marathon.

It might take your group three hours to play, but that is not due to the game.

When playing times are presented for a game, it should be based on the time taken for actual gameplay, as nobody but your group can account for the extra time added by the way your group approaches games. If you find that games are two to three times longer when played by your group, you can do the maths yourself to work out the time you will need to invest to play. The rest of us can't work backwards, because we don't know how your group approaches games.
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Vladimir Atehortua
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What I said regarding game length:

Adun wrote:
In my experience, it usually takes 3 hours (including setup), and never less than 2


It is factual data from my experience. Just let me clarify it a bit:

I am not talking about "play time". I am talking about the whole time I've seen required to play a game of Catan, measured as the difference in "¿what time is it?" when opening the box vs closing it again after the game's over. I always measure time like this in my "reviews for newcomers" because I don't think "net playtime" would give newcomers a useful idea.

Regarding groups, let me tell you a bit about the people this experience is with: I have a regular gaming group, but also, I am in permanent recruiting of new gamers-to-be.

When I play with one or two complete-newcomers-to-boargames at the table... I'm sorry, but Catan has taken between 2 to 3 hours, consistently. This includes setup, brief explanation of the rules, and answering the questions that arise (from the one newcomer). I'm sorry but this is factual data from my experience so what I stated in the review is quite valid.

when I play with my gamer buddies: We are people who managed to crank up 5 player puerto rico in 45 minutes (lunch time at work). With this group it takes long because at the end, when players start getting within 1VP of winning, people start calculating everything, stop trading to leaders, and do whatever it takes to grab the longest-road/largest-army from the would-be-winner. The game suddenly just slows down. I understand what you mean when you say things like "you need to seriously reconsider the group you are playing with" but please remember: I'm not complaining!. I'm just writing a review for complete newbies, and I love Catan, it is just a fact of my experience in dozens and dozens of plays, that it never takes less than 2 hours total, not with complete newcomers, and not with my group of seasoned competitive euro gamers.

Please notice that if you can say things like "if [it takes too long]... then you need to seriously reconsider the group you are playing with", that means that there is a risk in Catan, of it not fitting the newcomer's group-to-be.

I love the Settlers of Catan, but knowing that it may take 2 to 3 hours total with a newcomer's group-to-be, I won't recommend it to him/her, because there are games that have features that control game length regardless of group issues. For example: Traders of Genoa, a similar game with trading, has an internal clock which makes it consistently much shorter than Catan.
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Luis Diaz
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Wow. Great review. Thanks. I actually was looking at this in the store today and contemplating purchase. Thanks for helpin out a newbie!
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Adun wrote:
What I said regarding game length:

Adun wrote:
In my experience, it usually takes 3 hours (including setup), and never less than 2


It is factual data from my experience.

Ah, no. You also said, "A long game compared to other euros", "Many gamers don't like it because of this reason", and "after playing Catan, people are rather tired, reluctant to play other meaty games (as if it they had just played a heavy game!)". This takes your claims far beyond simply relaying data regarding your own personal experience.

The factual data would be the actual length of time it takes your group to play Settlers of Catan, with the box-open-to-close nature of those figures clearly stated. You went further to derive meaning from your data. Via interpretation, you provide information.

And I say that the information you have given (even if it is not the information you intended to give) is incorrect. The phrase "In my experience" is used in a way that only seems to relate to that single sentence. The rest of that paragraph makes it seem quite clear that Settlers of Catan is a particularly long game, and the context strongly implies that this is an experience that the reader is expected to have themselves if he or she tries the game.

But there are a great many other groups who finish Settlers of Catan consistently in under 90 minutes, still talking box-open-to-close and including teaching time for new players.

So what the data tells us is that box-open-to-close time varies greatly with the group. Regular 3-hour Settlers marathons are not the norm across gaming groups, and we should not tell readers of reviews that it is. (And if you find yourself thinking, "But I didn't mean it that way," well, that's how it comes across. Deal.)

Information given in reviews should help the readers get some idea what their own sessions will be like if they try the reviewed game. Without any way to relate it to the expected experiences of others, your own experience isn't helpful.

Adun wrote:
Please notice that if you can say things like "if [it takes too long]... then you need to seriously reconsider the group you are playing with", that means that there is a risk in Catan, of it not fitting the newcomer's group-to-be.

Certainly. I never said that Settlers is a great game for every group. I said that your statements concerning game length are not a good guide for the reader.

Frankly, I don't think Settlers has enough depth to sustain interest in most groups if it takes three hours to play it. A group that likes to play games very slowly and savour every decision over the course of the game won't find a lot of meat for their minds in Settlers. A group that gets routinely distracted by other things, so that they spend more time during a game not playing than playing, would be better off with something that will inject the occasional piece of fun without forcing them to pay attention to get that. I like Settlers enough to have collected a heap of expansions and to play the game every so often, but I'd go nuts stuck in a single game of Settlers for three hours (and have).

Adun wrote:
I love the Settlers of Catan, but knowing that it may take 2 to 3 hours total with a newcomer's group-to-be, I won't recommend it to him/her, because there are games that have features that control game length regardless of group issues. For example: Traders of Genoa, a similar game with trading, has an internal clock which makes it consistently much shorter than Catan.

And again, this information is incorrect. Traders of Genoa has a mechanic that fairly consistently limits the number of events in the game. It does not have any mechanic that controls how long the players take to play through those events. Very few games do. A group that routinely takes 3 hours to play Settlers of Catan may well take 4 hours to play Traders of Genoa, even if your group doesn't.
 
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Vladimir Atehortua
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You are right in many points. I think I should edit just edited the review to make sure it's read in terms of variability of the experience.

Quote:

Traders of Genoa has a mechanic that fairly consistently limits the number of events in the game. It does not have any mechanic that controls how long the players take to play through those events. Very few games do.


Indeed, very few games do. But that's not what I'was talking about. Perhaps you thought I was talking about games with sand clocks or some mechanism to prevent players from over bargaining, over analyzing or taking too long on every turn, but no.

What I was referring to, was to the fact that Genoa has a limited number of rounds. No matter the players' decisions, nor what the dice rolls, there will be no more than the pre-defined number of rounds. This does make Genoa very different from Catan IMHO, because Catan has no limit at all. Catan goes on "until somebody wins", pretty much like Risk does. A strike of bad rolls (like lots of 7s and empty rolls, I've seen it happen) or lots of swapping of 2VP cards can have a noticeable effect on how long the game lasts, not because of players spending lots of time on each decision (¿perhaps what you imagined about my group?) but because those decisions add round after round to the game.

The rules of catan make make it that you can only end the game by winning, and he who ends the game wins. Interestingly this means that for trailing players there is incentive to play moves that prevent the game from ending (for it gives them time to catch-up the leader and perhaps even win). Ways to prevent others from ending the game include grabbing their 2VP-cards, strategic use of the powerful monopoly card, careful robber placement & stealing, blocking road expansion routes (to prevent a player from getting the longest road), etc. It's challenging, but it's often possible, and it is very fun.

Of course only some people (like my group) will respond to that "incentive" by adding rounds to the game. Others (¿perhaps most people?) will not. This however, cannot happen in Traders of Genoa: there is nothing you can do to make the game last one more round with hopes of delivering that last large order.

That's what I was trying to say about being safer with a game with an internal limiter, like Genoa. This exercise, however has been helpful in better articulating the reasoning, it will help me improve the review, and I thank you for it.
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Adun wrote:
What I was referring to, was to the fact that Genoa has a limited number of rounds. No matter the players' decisions, nor what the dice rolls, there will be no more than the pre-defined number of rounds.

But that does not limit in any way the amount of time it takes to play through the game. I knew exactly what you were talking about. I just happen to think you are wrong about the consequences.

Do you really think that your group is playing through more than twice the number of turns in a typical game of Settlers of Catan as what the groups I have played with have? No, that is highly unlikely.

What is far more likely is that your group takes more than twice as long to play through a fairly similar number of turns.

And Traders of Genoa places no limits on this. The group's approach to playing the game - a far greater factor on extension of play times - can extend Traders of Genoa into a much longer game, timewise, than is typical. Groups who are prone to such have just as much vulnerability with Traders of Genoa as with any other game.
 
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Vladimir Atehortua
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Wraith wrote:
Do you really think that your group is playing through more than twice the number of turns in a typical game of Settlers of Catan as what the groups I have played with have? No, that is highly unlikely


Let's assume you are correct.

Wraith wrote:
What is far more likely is that your group takes more than twice as long to play through a fairly similar number of turns.


That means that each player in my group takes more time to play his turn, which means that my players are "slower", not that their decisions by end-game lead to more rounds than "typical". Lets assume you are correct.


Wraith wrote:
And Traders of Genoa places no limits on this. The group's approach to playing the game - a far greater factor on extension of play times - can extend Traders of Genoa into a much longer game, timewise, than is typical.


For a slow group as we have been assuming, this is indeed correct. I fully agree that Traders has no feature to shorten the time it takes for a player to play his turn.

However, what I was stating is that traders limits the number of rounds.
If each player takes X seconds to play his turn, a game of traders with 4 players won't last longer than:

Total = (8 rounds) * (4 turns per round, one per player) * X (seconds per player turn)
Total = 32*X

This means that in traders, the only way for games to be loooong, is if players are slow on each of their turns. There is no strategy, groupthinking nor decision path that can make the game last 50% longer than what the box advertises.

The hypothesis I'm proposing is, that while games like Traders, or El Grande, are only vulnerable to this "slow players" issue, Catan is also vulnerable to not only players being "slow to take their turn" but also to players able to exploit the game's mechanics to extend the game, to "turtle", to delay loosing, allowing themselves a chance to get lucky (get a monopoly card, get some good dice roll). It happens in games like Chicago Express, Drakon, or Through the Desert. It doesn't make these games bad.

¿Is Catan not vulnerable to this? Does it have any mechanism that prevents it from happening?

I believe it doesn't.

Wraith wrote:
Groups who are prone to such have just as much vulnerability with Traders of Genoa as with any other game.


True in regards to the vulnerability to "slow players".

But a group of fast players who are prone to delay loss, are also vulnerable to Catan, and to Chicago Express, but not to El Grande nor to Traders of Genoa.

So since both Catan and Traders are vulnerable to slow players but only catan is vulnerable to defeat-procastinators, I'd say Catan is more vulnerable overall.

Anyway, I edited the review considering your feedback, I'd be glad if you could comment on it.
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Martin Jackson
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Thanks, that's a useful review for a newbie like me.
I'll be sure to check out your other reviews
 
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