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A Gnome's Ponderings

I'm a gamer. I love me some games and I like to ramble about games and gaming. So, more than anything else, this blog is a place for me to keep track of my ramblings. If anyone finds this helpful or even (good heavens) insightful, so much the better.

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How am I doing not buying games?

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As we are nearing October and the last quarter of the year, I'm pausing to assess how I've done with my promise to not buy any new games this year. Particularly since holiday sales could change things, I might as well look now

http://www.gnomepondering.com/2017/01/resolving-not-to-buy-g...

When I made that pledge, I gave myself some loopholes. Thrifted games don't count but within reason. Games for the toddler don't count BUT I can't say 'Sure, he'll play Terra Mystica'. I initially said Kickstarter didn't count but I set a small and strict budget. Since then, I changed that to only getting PDF files for PnP from Kickstarter, while still sticking to that budget.

And, of course, print and play doesn't count and is fair game.

So, how have I done so far?

Lets see, I have made a lot of PnP games (a good chunk for my solitaire binder), I've stuck to my Kickstarter budget and only buying PDFs, the doodle has gotten some games and I've gotten thrift copies of Rolling America and Qwixx. And those only squeaked in by being a dollar or so, taking up minimal storage space and being games quick and easy to get on the table.

So, yeah, I'm doing pretty good.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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The latest night when we almost had a TPK

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Session Ten of the Late Night Lurkers

This was the session where almost had a total party kill come right out of the blue. Plenty of other stuff happened but that's what we are going to remember. Forever. And no one was more horrified while it almost happened as the DM

I wasn't able to log in on time (you know, adult life) so I missed our druid getting cured of being a wererat and the party agreeing to help the dwarf city where she was cured by checking out a cursed mountain path that killed everyone who tried to go through it. I joined in at the tail end of a fight with vine blights, which I have never actually encountered before.

(It's worth noting most of us are the unfavored by our Jarl so we are usually sent on nigh suicide missions)

Quick overview from there: we followed the trail of the vine blights to a foul cave where we fought a pack of ghouls, a lone skeleton sentry and two rat swarms. The vine blights and the ghouls were relatively rough fights but not unreasonable.

(I will note that the druid neutralized the rat swarms with an entangle spell. When someone asked if we could set the vines on fire to kill the rats, the DM reasonably ruled that the vines weren't really there and the rats were held in place by magic. If the vines were real, the rats could just scamper through them.

The reason why I note this is I have seen the effects of flavor text argued during games, sometimes in the name of suspension of disbelief. This can be a problem because it can throw off the balance of spells by giving them new limits or additional powers)

Okay, so here it is. We found a treasure chest that had strange runes on it. The dwarf cleric goes over to examine the runes. They turn out to be eyes. It's a mimic, perfectly reasonably and traditional monster.

And it crits on the surprise round and drops the cleric from full to zero before we are in regular rounds. The ranger runs up to protect the unconscious cleric. Misses. The mimic rolls another crit and the ranger is down too.

This is where half of us started talking about beating a hasty retreat. And the druid decided to run up and fight the mimic hand to hand since they still had shillelagh up from the last fight. So my fighter closed as well while the warlock and the elf fighter (whose player had to sign off early so the DM was playing him very defensive) The mimic moved and critted the warlock and then my fighter, dropping both of us.

Keep in mind, thanks to Roll20, all of the rolls were in the open. None of the rolls were fudged. The DM was more horrified than any of us. He's been running games for over thirty years and he'd never seen a fight go down like this. We really thought we're looking at a total party kill.

Luckily, the druid found a magic chest that was jumping that turned out to be some kind of magic leash for the mimic. (No, this wasn't the DM pulling a desperate deus ex mechina. He has included special items like this in other encounters.) She froze the mimic and was able to kill it.

Some emergency healing later and no one lost a character. For a little bit, it looked like the characters whose players weren't there would be the only ones left. And we still haven't found whose really in charge of the cave that's turned the pass into a death trap but that's for next session.

A lot happened in the session but the mimic fight is what we are going to remember from it. It is the take away. Even as it looked like we were all going to be rolling up new characters, we all agreed this was going to be a great story. And we will be telling that story for literally years to come.

In total, six players ended up playing during the night, albeit there was only a short time when there were all six of us there. That pushed more of a combat session than a role playing session. Which, in all honesty, is really one of Roll20's strengths. If you want to have a dice free, role playing heavy session (which is a totally cool thing to do), you can just use Skype.


Originally posted on www.gnomepondering.com
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Today 6:12 pm
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The Captain's Curse - flawed but captivating

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GenCan't Roll and Write Library - The Captain's Curse

The Captain's Curse is an interesting little exercise in trying to loot an island stuffed with pirate's treasure while the island sinks around you. If nothing else, it does a good job ramping up the tension as the game goes by.

Like all the games in the contest, it's a free PnP and, like most of them, construction consists of printing out the player board. In this case, the board shows an island with thirty-six different treasures (six of each type) and dotted lines cutting up the island. In the center is a box with six columns of numbers, one for each type of treasure.

Okay, here's how you play. On your turn, you roll a white die and a black die. You choose one and circle a number of the column and a treasure that matches that column on the island. You have to fill out numbers in order (half are one to six and the other half are six to one) but you can cross out numbers to reach the one you rolled.

AND, if you choose the black die, the curse goes off. Choose one dotted line, fill it in, and scratch off all the island that's on the far side of the line, sinking it into the ocean. Some of the lines let you get away with only little pieces of the island but you quickly end up sinking big chunks.

Any uncircled treasures that get sunk are lost forever. If all of a type are gone, you have no choice but to cross off the remaining numbers in that column.

The first time you roll doubles, you circle that double on a chart on the bottom and you have to use the cursed black die. However, after that, you can cross off that circle to adjust a die plus or minus one.

The game ends when you either sink the island or finish all six columns. Your score is the sum of the circled numbers minus the number of crossed off numbers. You automatically lose if you sink the island but you need at least seventy points to win. There are other accomplishments, like not sinking too much of the island, to get a higher rank.

I have had a lot of fun with the Captain's Curse. The rules all fit together nicely. I use solitaire games for quick mental breaks so it's short and simple format works for me. And the sinking island creates a lot of excitement.

But... I can't help but think that it has a false sense of choices. You're working with really the role of one die, not the bell curve to two. You will always choose the white die if you can. You're going to pick the outer treasures first so you have them before that part of the island sinks. And you're going to follow a fairly prescribed path of sinking the island.

Ultimately, I don't think this game offers as many real choices as it seems to. The dice are going to end up dictating what you do most of the time. The experiences fun but I think, in the long run, there isn't a lot of replay value here.

There are games in the GenCan't Library that have pretty much guaranteed themselves a permanent place in my solitaire binder. The Captain's Curse is probably a short timer though.

Having just said that, I have no regrets trying out the Captain's Curse. Free files with material costs under two cents and it definitely entertained me.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu Sep 21, 2017 3:27 am
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Change, a game system that just doesn't do enough

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I probably still have two or three copies of Change, since it was so cheap and it is so small. One copy lived in my bag for a while, in large part because it is the size of a box of matches.

And the idea of Change was one that appealed to me and still appeals to me. Instead of one game, it's three different rule sets for a tiny, special deck of cards. You know, a game system.

Really, given the whole found art nature of James Ernst design aesthetic, you could say that game systems are his speciality. In many ways, that has so far culminated with the Pairs deck.

But Change was a very early approach to a game system in the world of Cheapass Games. And, I really hate to say it, it shows.

It's a deck of fifty cards. There are no suits. Instead, there are ten 1's, 3's, 5's, 7's, and 10's. They are decorated with cute pictures of the Fridey's zombies and done up to look like paper money. It's card stock, which might have the word card in it but doesn't make for good cards but this is Cheapass we're taking about.

The games comes with three rules sets: Make Your Own Change Night, Boneyard (which I admit I never played) and Diminishing Returns.

Here's the big problem. Make Your Own Change Night is a retread of Hey Bartender from Chief Herman's Holiday Fun Pack and Diminishing Returns is a retread of Pennywise from the same collection. In other words, they were games I was already familiar with, just tweaked for the special deck.

Now, I have had fun with Make Your Own Change Night so it's not like Change is a total waste. But a deck of cards can do the same trick and I can play a whole bunch of other games with that.

(It's telling that Boneyard has since been released as a rule set for regular cards, although you do need two decks of cards to get the right card count.. I also have to admit the rules to Boneyard confused me when I first read them years ago but they seem perfectly simple now, although I still think calling the auction sets buckets is bad jargon)

What a game system needs, more than anything else, is a great game. A killer app. For instance, if the only game you had rules to play with the Looney Pyramids was Zendo or Volcano, I'd still be happy with those games. Change it only doesn't have that killer game, its games work just has well with regular cards.

I have seen a lot of different kinds of decks over the years. Five or six suits, pyramid decks, multi-suited cards, straight up numbered decks. I haven't seen another deck like Change and maybe there's a reason for that. It would be really interesting to see what a killer game with a deck like this and I still don't know what it would be.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Sep 19, 2017 6:11 am
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Recycling Route - Dice drafting while picking up recyclables

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GenCan't Roll and Write Library - Recycling Route

In Recycling Route, you're driving your recycling truck around the city, picking up different kinds of reusable garbage and effectively trying to corner the market on some of them. Along the way, you're going to get stuck with some legit garbage that has to go to the landfill and you might even get to upgrade your truck. Because there's nothing more exciting than a speeding garbage truck

The centerpiece of the mechanics is a fairly nifty dice drafting mechanic, where you choose either three dice you can see or three you can't. Seriously, it's a cool take on dice drafting and definitely really pretty pushes the game to the next level or maybe the level above that. You also have set collecting and route building.

Recycling Route is one of the finalists from GenCan't Roll and Write Contest. Which means it's a free print and play and, like most of the entries, you just have to print out player sheets and add dice and pencils. Man, I've been writing that a lot but I kind of have to.

In Recycling Route, the player sheet consists of a map of the city, which is a square grid with some squares already filled in with gray, and a checklist of different types of recyclables as well as truck upgrades and the infamous landfill. You get two player sheets per page because you'll need two for the solitaire rules.

Okay, here's the cool bit. On your turn, you secretly roll six dice and divide them into two groups of three. You reveal one set and the next player chooses either the set they can see or the unknown one. And you get the other. You each write down the numbers on open spaces on your map and then you, the active player, extend your route/drive your truck through the city.

Okay, what you really do is draw a line and extend it each turn. You start on the highest left box and will eventually end on the lowest rate box. At the start of the game, you can drive through three boxes at a time.

When you pass through a number, you check it off on your checklist. In game terms, that means you picked up that particular type of recyclable. Each number is broken down into sets of boxes, and you get a bonus if you complete a set first.

Ones and sixes are special. Ones can either be used to upgrade your truck so it moves faster or is wilds with another number you pick up the turn. Sixes are legit garbage that you have to dump into the landfill. That starts off being negative but ends up being positive points, to keep you from trying to dump sixes on someone. And you reroll sixes after you check them off.

The game ends when all but one player has driven off the map. In the solitary game, the robot opponent uses drones to grab numbers off your map. Either way, most points wins.

Out of the four finalists in the contest (Washington D6, Ada Lovelace and Jurassicco being the other three), Recycling Route just barely edges into fourth place for me. Which _isn't_ to say I dislike it or think it's a bad game. I don't. The dice drafting is great and Recycling Route not only is the only game with multi-player rules, it's probably stronger in that format.

However, it feels the most unfinished and least polished out of the four games. I can honestly picture the other three games having a shot at getting it published. Recycling Route feels like it needs some more refinement.

Between being able to upgrade your truck and picking up different kinds of trash and recyclables, I feel like the game is 3/4 of the way to being a full pick-up-and-deliver game. I don't know exactly how you would add a deliver function and still keep it down to one page of easy bookkeeping but if that was part of the game, I think it would be a big boost.

As it stands, I still think Recycling Route is a good game, made better by being free and easy to make. It is staying in my solitaire binder and will continue to see play. And if I get more multi-player games in, my opinion might get better.

originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Sep 19, 2017 6:03 am
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My mental block with Spree

Lowell Kempf
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It's fun reminiscing about older Cheapass Games. While a lot of them weren't particularly good, they were always interesting. Combining James Ernst's philosophy of throwing everything against the wall to see what stuck and the whole minimalist design philosophy meant you'd come up with something you'd remember if nothing else.

(I do wonder if my early exposure to Cheapass Games is part of why chrome isn't a big selling point for me, although I do appreciate it. I could argue that years of D&D where I had to use my imagination as another reason )

Spree was one of those earlier games that I never could get into. Looking back, I honestly wonder if the minimalism/found components element may have been too much for me for once.

In Spree, you and your friends have broken into a mall that's on its last legs to steal stuff and shoot at each other with stun guns. With the rise of decaying and abandoned malls, the theme is even funnier these days.

And, in all honestly, there was nothing appalling with the mechanics of the game. You use a die for moving and shooting and a hand of cards from a regular deck of cards to loot. It's really random but, seeing as how this screams beer and pretzel game, I don't think that's terrible.

No, for whatever reason, using a regular deck of cards just did not work for me. Normally, it wouldn't be a problem for me but I just couldn't handle the disconnect between all of my associations with conventional cards and shooting and looting in a mall. I play a lot of abstracts and use a lot of game systems so you'd think this wouldn't be an issue for me. A specialized deck for Spree would have helped me a lot.

Of course, that would have also probably tripled the cost of the game at the very least, defeating one of its major selling points. And it still wouldn't be a good game.

A couple years after I found Spree, some folks insisted on pulling out Frag and I found it really underwhelming. Looking back, Spree gave me a similar experience for a fraction of the cost. I'm sure Frag fans would be appalled by that thought.

I have a feeling that Spree has the potential to be a fun, sloppy game, a cross between a first person shooter and a party game. Maybe with some house rules. However, what I remember about it how using a regular deck of cards threw me off so much.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Sep 15, 2017 5:41 am
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Ada Lovelace: evolving Tetris puzzle

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GenCan't Roll and Write and Library - Ada Lovelace: Consulting Mathematician

(Which is just going to be called Ada for the rest of the review)

An artifact has been stolen from a hoity toity museum in the 1840s. You take on the role of Ada Lovelace, analytical specialist and sleuth. Examining evidence through out the museum, you need to figure out who the thief is.

Ha ha, I'm totally joking. You are actually filling in an irregular grid with shapes determined by rolling dice and consulting a shape wheel. The grid is the map of the museum. You get points by filling in rooms and surrounding pieces of evidence (which are actually squares that are already filled in) Surrounded evidence will also give you special abilities BUT they are fueled by dice rolls and you have precious few.

Oh, and when you consult the scoring chart, you find out that the real thief is Ada Lovelace and you're just pinning the blame on Lord Byron who's been dead for years.

Ada was one of the finalists for GenCan't's Roll and Write contest and it shows. This is a really good puzzle game. You really don't have nearly enough moves to fill in the grid, let alone use the special powers. So the game is full of of tough decisions and every move means you have to sacrifice other moves.

Ada combines two important things. It creates an interesting puzzle, one that can't be automatically solved because are pieces are randomly generated. Ada also creates tension because you are under the clock. You will run out of dice and you will leave a lot unfinished on the board.

Oh, I suppose I should mention that this is a print and play game. It's a super easy build, two pages with no cutting. Just print two pages and add some dice and a pencil, which is pretty standard for the GenCan't games.

Ada is definitely a game I will keep playing. Maybe I'm just bad at puzzles but I've found this to be a pretty tough game. I'm willing to bet there are some solid strategies but the die rolls mean you can't follow a formula. I'm looking at another game by the same designer, Bento Blocks, which uses a similar shape puzzle formula but is designed for multi-player.

If you like games like Ubongo or BITS or Blokus, you will like Ada. It is very abstract and it is very much a puzzle. If you don't like those things, you probably won't enjoy Ada. But if you've ever dreamed of Tetris shapes, you will probably like Ada.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Sep 15, 2017 5:37 am
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Do Your Chores is charming but not very good

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GenCan't Roll and Write Library - Do Your Chores

As I've been looking through the games from GenCan't's Roll and Write Contest/Library, I've been mostly focusing on the finalists and the honorable mentions. However, I've also been looking at some of the other games. And Do Your Chores caught my eye by being an oddball game.

Most of the games in the library consist of play sheets that you write stuff down on. Do Your Chores is one of the exceptions, actually requiring you to cut out standy tokens. You could substitute wooden cubes but I just took two minutes to cut them out of copy paper and fold them.

The name pretty much describes the game. You're a kid who has twenty-five minutes to try and clean up the house before your parents get home. This pretty much consists of moving around the house, which is a a grid with interior walls, picking stuff up next moving it to new locations.

You use the dice to randomly locate some of the tokens. Then, on each turn, you Roll two dice. One will be how far you move on the X axis and the other on the Y axis, you choose which and you have to move all the way in a direction before you can move on the other axis. You do get to change a die roll three times during the game.

One mechanic of the game that I liked is the hand mechanic. You have two hands printed beside the board and when you pick a token up, you assign it to a hand. It's a cute but effective way to track tokens.

The game has some issues. First of all, despite the fact that you have some choices, the rolling and moving is random enough that you can be going in circles to a frustrating degree. Running into a wall becomes a major strategy.

Second, each chore is worth one point but some chores involve moving on item, like making the bed, while others like picking up toys or washing dishes require moving three. Some chores are going to accordingly prioritized.

It's not a real ding but I am playing most of these games by putting them in my solitaire binder and using dry erase markers. The fact that I can't do that with Do Your Chores means it's a solitaire game I'm not going to reach for.

Despite all those things (and they do add up to making Do Your Chores a poor game), I did find the game kind of charming. Basically, it reminded me of a first generation Cheapass Game. The hand mechanic makes me think of Give Me the Brain and the quirky theme seems like one James Ernst might have monkeyed about with. (Although it's not as quirky now as it would have been in, say, 1996) I can easily picture multi-player rules where you can steal items from other players or maybe slap them around.

That said, I don't know if I'd even give the game that much credit if it didn't remind me of some of the games that I played when I first started exploring designer board games. Do Your Chores is memorable in its own way but I don't think it will hit the table again.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu Sep 14, 2017 6:28 am
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Delve: When Yahtzee meets D&D

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Years ago, a friend of mine insisted that I try a game called God Dice at a con that was basically battle Yahtzee with a medieval fantasy theme. All I remember about it after all these years is that it ended up feeling like a slog with too many turns where no one was able to get a dice combination to do anything.

As I have been revisiting Delve the Dice Game, I found myself remembering God Dice. Since I learned it at a convention, I may have learned it wrong and it might actually be a good game. But I found myself thinking that I was having a lot more fun playing Delve than God Dice. (And here, I'd been thinking I'd be comparing it to Solo Tower Hack)

Delve is a very simple solitaire dungeon crawl that is powered by Yahtzee. You take a small party of adventurers through a series of encounters and each one has a special ability powered by dice combinations.

Delve manages to be remarkably thematic, particularly the adventures that have artwork thrown in. However, what really makes it work is how streamlined and straightforward it is. It's not fiddly or ambiguous. Roll the dice, two rerolls, and the monsters' special abilities are also easy to understand.

Some it's strengths are also some it's weaknesses. Delve is quick and simple but it's also shallow and repetitive. Delve is not gong to replace bigger, more engaging dungeon crawls. Frankly, I don't know if I'd actually buy Delve. On the other hand, I have paid for much worse dungeon crawl games. (Adventurer: Card Game for example)

If Delve still consisted of just the couple of adventures it did when I first tried it out years ago, it wouldn't interest me for more than a handful of plays. How often can you fight the same bunch of monsters over and over again?

But the system has been expanded by other folks so there are more adventures to use and more characters to use. And that includes a random adventure generator. I don't know how balanced they all are but it's pretty quick to find out.

Delve isn't a perfect game. You have legitimate choices but luck can still easily make the game end in TPK. And, while it does a surprisingly amount of theme, it's still a shallow game. But for a free game with almost no construction cost or time, Delve is better than the sum of its parts.

Originally posted at www.gnomeponderng.com
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Fri Sep 8, 2017 5:50 am
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Ultra light game about bored cats

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GenCan't Roll and Write Library

Backyard Buddies wasn't actually high on my list of games to try out from this library. However, as someone who has three cats, it kind of jumped the list for me.

In Backyard Buddies, you play a cat who is busy tracking animals in your back yard. But sometimes, you get excited and fixate on leaves instead of actual animals.

Each animal is represented by a different pip but you will cover one type of animal up with leaves every game. Since the pip serves as a score multiplier, covering up the six will cost you more potential points than the one.

Each turn, you roll five white dice and one black die. You lock as many as you feel like and get one reroll with the rest. You choose one group (you know, one set of pips) to score, marking down each die as one of those animals.. If the black die matches the group, you score it. If the black die matches the leaves, you score leaves, which are negative points.

After ten rounds, you figure out your score. Multiply the number of each animal by the die number that represents them. Those are your happy, positive thoughts points. You do the same with leaves but they are negative points.

There are special multiplayer rules as well. You add a red die to the components and each player can use it to pounce twice a game and to play twice again. Basically, pouncing can negate another player's set if you match the number on the roll die and play can let you get in on another player's set.

Okay. Time to be brutally honest. Backyard Buddies is a mediocre game. The decisions just aren't interesting.

I will give it credit that the mechanics do work and there is some actual interaction in the multiplayer game. However, it's a longshot to pull off either a play or pounce. And the threat of leaves is one that you can usually keep under control.

A simple dice game can be engaging but only if there is some real tension. Backyard Buddies is amusing, mostly thanks to its theme, but there isn't any real tension in it.

For the moment though, it is going to stay in my binder. Mostly because I do like the theme there are also times when a quick game that takes only a couple minutes can be decompressing.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Sep 8, 2017 5:41 am
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