Tag Archives: Stefan Feld

Hunting High And Low – Amerigo guest review

The Judge returns from his training for his upcoming bout, takes to his gaming table and cracks open the latest Stefan Feld offering from Queen Games. Is it any good? Well, you’ll find out in a moment…

Amerigo COVER

Following Rialto, Bora Bora & Strassbourg, the most successful and prolific designer of his generation, Stefan Feld, is at it again. But first, a personal message…

Dear Mr. Feld,

How do I love thee’s games, let me count the ways! Oh look at your innovative mechanisms that allow me to score a veritable salad of points. Your love of quirky, randomisation devices is so cute! So, you may be unburdened by the concerns of theme? It matters not! None of that flouncy periphery! Just cold, hard, raw game! Yay!

Lots of love! Your favourite fanboy…

(Apology to the editor – I shall use less ‘!’ from now on. I promise!)

[I'm pretty sure you won't but we'll let it slide. Amerigo is worth it! - Michael] 

That said, Stephan Feld’s fourth and last game of 2013 (probably: who knows what magic may escape from his mysterious German laboratory before the year’s end?) is certainly more thematically slanted than much of his oeuvre. It is also perhaps both the heaviest and best entry of the 2013 ‘Feld Four’ (TM: The Judge). The game casts players as assistants to famous Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, discovering and colonising the islands of South America. Players compete by taking actions to move your ships around the large, modular map, placing settlements and expanding to take over the new world. Points are gained by planning and constructing Tetris-esque building tiles, scooping up natural resources to trade – such as coconuts, tobacco and cotton – all in the interest of scoring the most points.

The ‘hook’ that separates Amerigo from its fellow Feld Point Salads is apparent from anyone who opens the box – the presence of a large cube tower pinched from Queen Games’ successful euro-war games, Shogun and Wallenstein. In those games this tower was used to decide the outcome of battles by throwing in the troops represented by cubes and seeing who was victorious by what fell out the bottom and didn’t getting snagged up on the many shelves and compartments inside. In Amerigo, however, coloured cubes are poured inside each round, with the pool of cubes that escape revealing what actions are available for the players. Owing to the nature of the tower, cubes from the current round may be trapped away, and others from previous rounds are nudged free making offering unpredictable actions on each round.

Ludicrous dice tower is ludicrous. It's exactly the same inside as Shogun, by the way!

Ludicrous dice tower is ludicrous. It’s exactly the same inside as Shogun, by the way!

This random element can lead to amazing situations where you pour 3 white cubes in, only to have them disappear (presumably through some kinds of portal to Narnia) and a red, a green and two blues appear… Much like the dice rolling in Bora Bora or Castles of Burgundy, these results are random, though somewhat predictable. Geoff Englestein described this as ‘Pink Noise’ on a recent episode of his excellent Ludology podcast, but put simply the opportunities created will force players to adapt.

What do I really like about Amerigo? Well, the game has a certain narrative. Sailing and claiming ports around the various islands is really important at the start of the game – but less so as the areas are colonised. Building multiple settlements on an island is an obvious winning tactic – as it multiplies the available points for covering the whole settlement with buildings. The thing is, the larger islands can be really big and a heavy drain on time / resources to complete. This forces players to co-operate to complete the islands and share the points. Alternatively, you could always highjack a single port and block the filling of an island to cost a player a ton of points.

This says NOTHING about the game, but it's certainly nice to look at.

This says NOTHING about the game, but it’s certainly nice to look at.

Simply colonising the islands with buildings is fun too, offering a spatial, tetris-like puzzle where the challenge comes from making best use of your available building tiles whilst scooping up the natural resources scattered around. More so than Bora Bora and Burgundy for that matter, Amerigo is remarkably simple to learn. The mechanisms get out of the way and the actions you can select are fairly straight forward. This is not a difficult game to teach and players are able to make short, medium and long term strategies right from the start. So yes, this is more of the same point grabbing from Feld, but with a distinctly different flavour. The clever, innovative inclusion of the cube tower is an interesting and fun way of adding some light randomisation into the game’s design. The spatial elements offered by the map offers fresh challenges, and even the end-game scoring is relatively painless and obvious.

The very lovely designer has done it again. Yes, it’s not a cheap game, but it comes in a giant box that is filled with game that will last you for months – or at least until another masterwork escapes from Castle Feld.

Amerigo, designed by Stefan Feld, was released by Queen Games at Essen 2013. Between two and four people can play with games taking around an hour and a half. Expansions are also available that add even more into the game experience through the Queenies range. Should you want to grab a copy – and why wouldn’t you? You have taste! – you’ll be looking at around £50 for a copy once they become available through retail next week. Thanks as always to Stuart for his review – follow him on Twitter via @Judge1979

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On an Island With You – Bora Bora review

BoraBora COVER

It honestly seems like Stefan Feld, the golden boy of gaming, can do no wrong at the moment. Every game he’s involved in is quickly declared as the Next Big Thing, and even the slightest mention of his name attached to an upcoming release looks to be both a guarantee of quality as well as decent sales. Like many other gamers, I’ve become increasingly fanatical about his work and with a copy of Bora Bora hitting my table, I felt it was time to put down my thoughts in words.

With any Feld game, the keyword is options. You are given a huge variety of ways in which you can win, all of them balanced and as equally viable as the next. Concentrate on maximising a few of them and you should be on the way to a satisfying victory, but spread yourself too thin and you’ll be left well behind when final scoring comes round. Bora Bora, released through Ravensburger’s Alea line, follows this style but still feels fresh and new. Yes, there’s an awful lot to keep track of and it may initially come across as daunting to a less experienced player, but if there was ever a designer who deserved you spending the time to get a proper feel for their games, it’s Stefan Feld. The investment will pay off, I guarantee.

Bora Bora sees players taking control of tribes on the island of the same name as they attempt to spread their people as far as they can, taking control of the best fishing areas, collecting resources to build temples, placing offerings to their gods… the list is pretty long. Played out over the course of six rounds, planning your moves from the very beginning is vital if you’re going to end up the winner – a single mistake can cost you dearly when it comes to handing out bonuses at the end of the game, as only perfection is enough to claim those game-changing points.

Each player rolls their three dice at a time, placing them one by one on the various action tiles available. The rule here is that you may only add a dice to that tile if it is lower than one already placed, so putting a high value on down leaves the action open to others. Of course, plumping a 1 down locks it out for everyone – including yourself – so it’s here that the first difficult decisions have to be made. As all dice are open information, it’s possible to work out what others might end up doing and plan accordingly but the Gods could well have a say in that. Actions available include expanding your tribe across land or sea routes, adding a new male or female member to your tribe,  building, visiting the temple or – last and most versatile – the Helper Action. The Helper allows you to perform mini-actions, the amount of which are dependent on how high you roll, all of which help in some way. Immediately after a dice has been placed, the action is resolved and play moves onto the next person in the turn order until there are no dice left.

Oh my, so many options... what to do, what to doooo?

Oh my, so many options… what to do, what to doooo?

At different periods in the game, certain actions will become more important to you but there’s a certain “build the engine” element to Bora Bora – at least at the game’s beginning. Moving into new areas on the island not only gets you into those precious fishing holes, it also frees up space on your player board that will allow you to take more people for your tribe. Those people can then be used to collect shells that can be traded in for jewellery or tattoos that will build up an influence track during each round, scoring you points and deciding future turn order. Of course, you could decide to ignore that whole aspect of the game completely, building and focusing on the temple instead – this will also bring in plenty of points, but it less useful at the end of the game when the bonus points are doled out.

Once the actions have all been completed, it’s time to put your tribe to work. The special abilities of one male and one female can be triggered to give your side a small boost, increasing your tribe’s reach yet further or their numbers even more. Points can be scored, more shells, more influence… basically, these are little extra rewards that will hopefully put you in a stronger position and help you get closer to completing tasks. We’ll cover those in a moment…

The final part of each of the six rounds sees a bit of a clean up occur. The entire right side of the board is run through, beginning with the influence track getting scored and a new turn order decided. Points are awarded for those who are in the temple, then players may spend shells to take jewellery. Finally, a task can be completed. You begin with three at the start of the game and are looking to complete at least one every turn – this might be something like “have three female tribe members” or “get two different types of jewellery”. Whether you manage to complete one or not, a new one is taken from those available then everything that was up for grabs during the round is wiped off the board to be replaced with a host of entirely new options.

Now, if the game was just this, I reckon it’d be great but… well, hard to do as much as you may want. Thankfully Feld has given you a little wiggle room with the introduction of God Cards that allow you to skew the rules temporarily, opening up your range of options further and making your life a little easier. Only usable if you’ve got an offering to pay for them, they’re also limited to certain phases of the round – and on top of that you might also need them to complete tasks if you happen to grab those tiles. One scores you extra points for a certain fishing area, while another doubles the ability of one of your tribespeople. A couple change rules regarding the dice you play, but you’ll regularly be hoping that a yellow card ends up in your hand as it lowers the requirements for those all-important tasks. Sure, you’ll get two points less, but in a game where you’re clawing for every single one they’re vital.

Bora Bora, put simply, is bloody wonderful. Keeping tabs on everything is a challenge, but you don’t even have to do that – it’s entirely possible to put in a good showing without claiming any tribespeople, for example, or not grabbing any jewellery. It’s a question of balancing out your actions, reacting to what your opponents are doing and attempting to squeeze them out of doing certain things while not blocking your own progress; precisely what you want in a quality Eurogame. Sitting down for a couple of hours with Bora Bora feels like a glorious combination of work and pleasure – every decision you make is filled with weight and worry. Have you done the right thing? Should you have done something else instead? And you’ll wonder that after Every Single Decision You Make, constantly second guessing what moves you make (especially during the first few rounds when you’re trying to work out your plans while figuring out your opposition).

The production is up to the usual good quality you’d expect from Ravenburger and the Alea Big Box series in general – the (many) tiles are nice and thick and there’s a metric ton of wood in there too. One particular nice touch is that the whole game is icon-based and language independent. Sometimes this can prove to be a game’s downfall, but thankfully in Bora Bora it works exceedingly well. Sure, there’s always going to be the odd referral to the rulebook to get the details down, but it all becomes second nature quite quickly. For anyone with even a passing interest in Eurogames at all, any release by Stefan Feld should be amongst the first on your shopping list  - and Bora Bora has to be well up there.

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Out In The Fields – The Castles of Burgundy review

CoBCOVER

So it seems that at the moment, golden boy of boardgaming Stefan Feld can do no wrong. We’ve extolled the merits of a few of his games over the last couple of months here on littlemetaldog.com and – surprise surprise – here’s another glowing write up. This time we’re journeying into medieval era France as we take on the tricksy and delightful The Castles of Burgundy, a game that combines a little bit of chance with more options than a high-end car showroom.

From the start, I’ll say that Castles is not for everybody – if you’re the kind of person who complains that Dominion is nothing more than multiplayer solitaire, I’d avoid even picking up the box. What little interaction there is in the game is limited to someone snatching away a tile that you had your eye on before play managed to get around to you. It’s an exercise in brain burning where you’re constantly having to change your plans depending on what kind of things are available for do.

So, how does it work? Despite the multitude of choices, the way the game is played is simple. Each player has a board comprising of thirty seven hexagonal spaces, themselves formed into a large hexagon that represents the land you’re trying to build on. A central board is filled with tiles that are split into six groups and refreshed at the beginning at each of the game’s five phases. By rolling two dice at the beginning of your turn, you’re given the chance to spend whatever you roll and pick up a tile from that area – so, roll a 5 and you get to choose something from the space marked with the same number.

The Central Board where

The Central Board where the options open to you can be dazzling. Goods everywhere, hexagonal tiles that’ll form your own settlement, bonus points… how did he come up with such an intricate game?

Taking one of those tiles doesn’t mean that you get to add it to your board immediately, though. Three spaces are found at the bottom left of your playmat where you must put a tile first – sort of holding it in transit for a while – before it gets to become a part of your settlement. Again, a dice must be used to ‘build’ the tile, as each space is also numbered. You may think this is limiting in the extreme, and you’d be right in thinking that. Thankfully, players have worker tiles that can be spent to add or subtract from whatever you rolled, allowing for a bit of manipulation.

Those tiles come in many different types, each one offering a little boost or way to skew the rules in your favour. Grey tiles represent mines, giving you an extra silverling (the game’s currency) at the start of each phase that you can spend on a selection of more randomly selected tiles found in the centre of the communal board. Yellows are all about bonuses, screwing with the rules and generally boosting your powers. Greens are farm animals and can prove an immense boost as each time you add one of the same type – sheep next to another sheep for example – the points stack.

The Blue tiles add to your rivers, meaning that you take goods from the central board for you to sell; the more you sell of the same type, the higher the points return. Dark Green tiles are the Castles that give the game its name, and these allow an extra play of… well, whatever you like. They’re incredibly powerful and should be used wisely. Finally, the Brown Building tiles offer the widest variety of options as each type gives you a different ability.

Some bestow money or extra workers on you, while others allow for the immediate grab of another tile from the board or the placement of extra ones to your play area. A true master of Castles of Burgundy will be able to put together a truly impressive chain of these, transforming the two standard actions that you normally get in a turn into a parade of hexes being taken from here and added to there, all of which sending that final score into the stratosphere.

One of the Advanced player boards

One of the Advanced player boards. These are filled with randomised set-ups and everyone will have a different one, but there are Starter boards where each player works with the same spaces. Also, see how everything is language independent!

It can feel that pretty much everything gives you points in Castles; selling goods, finishing off areas of land, getting animals… keeping track of everything that’s going on with your board as well as what’s available (and what’s been taken!) from the central area requires a sharp mind and plenty of focus. Managing to do so is a valuable skill, and it’s that skill that will raise you above other players of this game. As with all of Stefan Feld’s creations, Castles is a game that rewards multiple plays and the investment of your time. While you learn and develop your strategies, you’ll also have to cope with the luck of the dice rolls and the random element of what tiles will actually get pulled out at the start of the phases. Adaptability is key – if something isn’t working for you, a change of plan can often be a better choice than sticking desperately to course.

If I were to have any criticism, it’d be the downtime you get with three or four player games. It’s far from a dealbreaker, of course, but I much prefer to break out Castles of Burgundy as a two-player effort. Not only does it mean that you’re almost always engaged, it gets the play time down to a very manageable thirty to forty minutes – ideal if you’re filling time while waiting for others to arrive. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy playing with more than two though – it’s still an excellent game with three or four around the table, but for a speedy yet deep experience, Castles of Burgundy is hard to beat.

The Castles of Burgundy was originally released in 2011 by Ravensburger / Alea and is designed by Stefan Feld. Between two and four can play with games taking between 30 – 60 minutes.  Copies from Gameslore are a bargainous £24.99, so head on over and grab yourself a truly great game.

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Untouchable – Rialto review

Rialto COVER

Another review from Stuart “The Judge” Platt and – blimey – it’s another game from Stefan Feld! This time Rialto comes under his watchful eye, the English version of which will be coming out later this year from Tasty Minstrel Games. An avowed fan of the designer’s work, does Rialto come up to scratch for our favourite wrestling reviewer?

As a confirmed Feldian, I was champing at the bit to get hold of the second of this year’s offerings by the German wunderkind. Prior to its arrival, I had been warned about it being a lighter Feld, a simpler and less satisfying effort or – heaven forbid – just not very good and perhaps evidence that he is stretching himself too thin! To this I say balderdash! Rialto is something altogether smaller but beautifully designed and a very satisfying game. Feld in about an hour? I’m in!

Brace yourself, confessed Feldites – Rialto has a strong theme of Venetian noblemen deploying councilmen, bridges and gondolas to earn glory… Only kidding! We are right in ‘do things and stuff to earn victory points’ territory and hooray for that! We all know that we’re here for the mechanisms, and Rialto has some very interesting ideas.

Rialto is a card-drafting, area majority game with Venice split into six districts (resolved over six turns) to be fought over. The core mechanism is the selection of a set of six randomly drawn cards (one more set than there are players) – dealt face up from a communal deck – that makes up your hand for the round. Two further cards are drawn blind, and then discarded down to make a hand of seven to play the round. The players now go through a series of turns, bidding a number of cards (and utilising wild cards to boost bids) relevant to a specific action that turn. The person who plays the most on each turn will ‘WIN’ that set, gain a bonus and have to lead the play on the next set of bidding.

Unusually for one of my reviews, here is a light rules summary for options available to you on each turn:

- The Doge: Each card played moves a player further up the Doge track. Your relative position on this track breaks ties and determines turn order for drafting cards at the start of each round. The player who commits the most Doge cards gets an extra space along the track.
- Gold: Each card gives the player a gold piece. The ‘most cards played’ gives you one more gold.
- Building: The number of cards played determines the level of ‘special ability building’ that can be built. Most cards allow one level higher to be built. Special buildings offer cumulative abilities to break the rules of the game e.g. Draw more cards; increase hand size; add a ‘wild’ card etc. All cost 1 coin to activate every round.
- Bridge: 1 Victory Point per Bridge card, -1 Victory Point if NO cards are played. The winner places a bridge token connecting two of the areas on the board and increasing their value for the area control battle at the end of the of the game
- Gondola: Take 1 councilman from the general supply to your player board for each card played. The winner then plays a Gondola token between two areas and places a councilman directly from the supply into one of these areas.
- Councilman: Place one councilman from a players’ personal supply to the region currently being resolved. Most cards played adds an extra councilman. The BIG points given out at the end of the game refer to a straight majority of councilmen in a region (ties broken by the Doge track.) The value of each region relates to the bridge and gondola tiles that have been added during the game.

It's the usual Feld style board - loads to pay attention to!

It’s the usual Feld style board – loads to pay attention to and keep track of!

So, as usual with my mate Stefan, everything is important! You need to be high on the Doge track or you will constantly lose out to your opponents on tied bids and (most importantly) the end-game scoring. You need buildings, and coins to power those buildings, to support your play and combat the randomness inherent in the card drafting. You need to control the placement of bridges and gondolas otherwise that region that you dominate could only be worth 4 points at game end. But all of this is for nought unless you get your councilmen from the supply and actually get them on the board. Well played Feld… Well played.

The magic comes from the way that the bidding works. Now I HATE auction games. Despite everything that it does well, Power Grid leaves me cold [WHAT?! - Michael] . As much as I respect its legacy, I think Modern Art is terrible. So what makes this auction work? Well, the game uses a once-around open auction, so the last player knows how much they need to play to win. Turn order, therefore, is critical. Deliberately not winning a round to put you later in the turn order for the following action is not only a viable tactic – but can be game winning! All very clever and very ‘Feld.’

Any negatives? Well, the production is solid throughout – with high quality Hobbit-sized cards featuring clear iconography that is visible from either end of the table. The score track, however, is a nightmare and one of the worst I’ve ever seen. Difficult to read and adjust – this is a disaster for practicality and aesthetics. That’s it though…

I refer to Rialto as the thinking gamer’s 7 Wonders, offering a similar sort of feel and card-drafting , but with far more decisions, more interesting decisions, and much better player interaction. This may be a lighter, quicker game than Feld’s masterworks (Castles of Burgundy, Trajan, Macao, Bora Bora and the like) but like The Spiecherstadt (which I’ll be looking at soon) it offers a unique and interesting combination of mechanisms and interaction which further cements Stefan Feld as one of the most prolific and in-form designers in the hobby.

Rialto was designed by Stefan Feld and was originally released by Pegasus Spiele in 2013. As mentioned above, Tasty Minstrel will be releasing the English language-only version later this year. Between two and five can play, and a copy can be pre-ordered from the folks at Gameslore right now!

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Island in the Sun – Bora Bora review

Bora COVER

Stefan Feld is currently on an insane run of producing excellent games. Today, The Judge steps up to check out his latest release, Bora Bora. Will the streak continue?

In Feld we trust…

Specifically, I am talking about Stefan Feld, the current wunderkind of Eurogames who has quickly developed a reputation for combining established mechanisms and innovative ideas into deep and satisfying ‘Euro’ style board games – with the lightest smattering of theme dusted on top. Now, these games aren’t for everyone – but from Notre Dame, through Macao to Castles of Burgundy and Trajan, Feld has demonstrated a unique talent for creating interesting, memorable and replayable games that stand out in an increasingly dense sea of mediocrity. Even Luna, which I don’t love, is a curious misstep but never less than memorable and worthy of discussion.

That brings us to 2013 and his new opus – Bora Bora! And it’s fantastic.

Let’s kick the elephant out of the room to begin with – yes, this game is set on the island of Bora Bora. Yes, you are building huts on the board and utilising the skills of tribes folk to expand your influence. Yes, you could even say that the priests you send to the temples are providing you with the glory of the gods. All this is, obviously, poppycock (which, as an editorial aside, is the first time I have ever written that word. It is fun and I recommend you all do that same).

Bora Bora is, at its heart, a mechanical exercise in point scoring. Unlike numerous other soulless Euros, though, the game’s tight 6 round structure features clear short, medium and long term goals that force you to tactically adapt to turn-by-turn pressures whilst maintaining a resolute long term strategy for end game scoring.

If that last paragraph left you cold – then move along because this isn’t for you. If there is a glint in your eye like the sun catching the crest of a wave as it lashes the beautiful island shore then please read on… Oh, and seek help. Each round of Bora Bora begins with players rolling three dice which are their ‘workers’. In turn order these are then allocated to action selection spaces – the twist being that you can only take an action if the number on your worker die is LESS than every other die on the space. This allows potential for some blocking and screwage – especially in the last rounds where players need ONE MORE of something to score big bonus points. The flip side is that the HIGHER the number placed, then the better or at least more varied your options are when taking that action.

Feld himself has included dice as a key feature in his games before (think of Burgundy and Macao) but I think Bora Bora perfectly finds the balance between forcing you to adjust your short term strategy mid-stream and having prepared for the possibility of being stuck with a bad roll with the various “Luck Mitigation Mechanisms” (or “God Cards” as the game calls them). Actually, their term is catchier.

With so much going on, you might think that keeping an eye on everything is a struggle...

With so much going on, you might think that keeping an eye on everything is a struggle…

The other genius of Bora Bora is the mission tiles. Each turn you have the opportunity to ‘solve’ one of three personal tiles for points. You then select a new mission from the tableau (which has been open information since the start of the previous round) that you can score in future rounds. Missing an opportunity to complete a mission can be a big deal – no end game bonus for you! – so you have to juggle completing one mission per turn with setting yourself up to be able to meet all of the demands by the end of the game. Very interesting, very cool and very satisfying when it all comes off.

The missions are just part of it though – You need to get all the expensive jewellery don’t you? Each round you can buy ONE victory-point-awarding trinket for Shells (an in-game resource.) This is resolved in turn order – so you need to keep an eye on what other people have got, what they can generate and make sure you are high enough on the turn order track (modified each round) to get what you need.

Oh, and you need priests in the temple! These give you free points every round. And you need to construct your buildings! They score huge if built at the start of the game and progressively less from each round you wait. Not to mention erecting huts… getting resources… recruiting tribesmen…

So, there’s a great deal going on – and you cannot possibly hit ALL of the end game scoring, and that is the beauty of the game. Even though there are a huge amount of different elements to consider, the missions provide a focus and a guide to your strategy (customisable beyond the first three tiles as you are selecting them each round.) The game is very tightly designed. Despite the diversity of strategies, final scores are often only a few points apart and in a game where final four player totals are around 160 points – this is no mean feat.

Any negatives? Well the lack of anything resembling a thematic connection will disappoint some, though not me. The art style is fresh and bright, but unapologetically busy. To someone trying to learn straight from the rulebook, the graphic design and iconography could baffle as much as it delights – though this is 200 times better than Burgundy which really needed a reference sheet just to make it playable. I was generally impressed with the straightforward nature of the rulebook and the summary text in a side-column makes reference much easier. The decision to include an idiot board as the left hand side of the thick cardboard player mats is also a good call – making what could be a dense rules teach far more straightforward.

Bora Bora is my favourite game of 2013 thus far. Having played several times, I am still really excited about the next opportunity to get it to the table and the many new strategies to explore and exploit. So get hold of a copy (perhaps from those excellent folks at Gameslore where I bought mine) and enjoy my prediction for this year’s Kennerspiel des Jahres.

So, pretty positive then…! Bora Bora is indeed available from Gameslore and will set you back £32.99. Released in 2013 by Ravensburger, between two and four can play, with games taking around 90 to 120 minutes. Don’t forget to follow Stuart on Twitter – you can find him there as @Judge1979!

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