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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.

Archive for Lowell Kempf

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Hitting play on the Indie Mixtape Megamix

Lowell Kempf
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I picked up the Indie Mixtape Megamix last year from Bundle of Holding. It is a project to help raise money for members of the Indie RPG community with medical issues or other serious issues.

What is it actually? It's an anthology of little RPGs, each one inspired by a song. Hence the whole mixtape thing. And when I say little, I mean it. Most of them are only a couple of pages long.

As someone who loves looking at quirky, little RPGs, this could have been called the Indie Treasure Trove Megamix

Don't get me wrong. If you really want to find RPGs that are only a couple pages long and have a very tight focus, they aren't that hard to find. And there are some gems out there. Lover of Jet and Gold comes to mind as one I want to really try out sometime.

However, with the Indie Mixtape Megamix, I didn't just get a whole bunch of them in one place. I got more than thirty games that have been vetted and quite probably edited. No offense to the brave souls who put their heartfelt designs on the Internet for me to find but I've read some pretty bad games. The quality of the Indie Mixtape Megamix is above average.

At the same time, none of these games are for everyone and none of them are going to replace Dungeons and Dragons or Call of Cthulhu as a go to game to play all the time. These are tightly focused games that are designed to tell specific stories, games you might only play once.

And, being so short, they do require some improvising and house rules when it comes to some of the details. Having some idea how Indie games work is definitely helpful.

Still, even if it isn't the ultimate RPG experience, it's pretty neat.

I am in no hurry to rush through the collection. I'm planning on slowly reading it, looking at every game as its own special snowflake. It'll be fun.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Jul 5, 2016 4:51 pm
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okay, it's a solitaire game about rearranging a tea cart... Did Wodehouse have anything to so with it?

Lowell Kempf
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My recent kick of making Print-and-Play solitaire games got started with Elevenses For One, the thematic sequel to Elevenses, which I've never actually played.

11s-4-1 (an abbreviation that makes the game sound like its about filling out tax forms) was well regarded as a Print-and-Play, nominated for a Golden Geek in 2014. So I made sure to download the files for my records. However, when it got Kickstarted, I decided it was time to take a closer look.

Thirteen cards, including the two timer cards. Cut out the cards and laminate them, boom, done. Low ink images, five minutes of crafting and probably not even a quarter's worth of materials. And there not even any extra parts like dice or tokens.

In 11a-4-1, you play the role of an Edwardian maid who has to get a tea cart ready in fifteen minutes. Which reminds me that I still haven't made good on my promise to my mom to watch Dowton Abbey.

Two of the cards serve as a timer and the number 1 card, the tea trolley, acts as a place holder for stacking the cards. The actual gameplay is made up of the other ten cards, makes 2 to 11. You're trying to put them in numeric order after shuffling them into a row. They all have special powers, some of which will hurt you. You rearrange the cards by doing things like discarding them or flipping them over to use their powers or actually adding them to the stack. Most actions will tick the clock down a notch.

The game will end with either the clock running out or getting all the cards down, with your score based on how many cards you stacked up and how much time you have left.

It amuses me that, when you strip away the hoighty toighty theme and the special powers of the cards, you have the perfectly standard solitaire framework of putting cards in order. Not that that is a bad thing. A solid foundation is important.

And, while solitaire games aren't really my thing, I found 11s-4-1 to be an interesting little five-minute puzzle. Fun and easy to craft and amusing to play.

I don't see myself buying the game when it comes out in punished form but I figure I will keep playing it occasionally.

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/158882/elevenses-one
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Sun Jul 3, 2016 7:08 am
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A Courteous Night gives you two pages to fall in love

Lowell Kempf
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A Courteous Night, from the Indie RPG Megamix Tape, is an eety, bitty little role playing game for two players. No prep, no GM, requires just a deck of playing cards and should play out in just an hour.

In a Courteous Night, the players play two lovers and they play out three events in the development of their relationship. The game is couched in fantastical terms with one player being the Enchanted and the other the Sotted with both characters being under curses. However, the roles really just dictate play order and a curse can be something mundane like crippling shyness, overprotective parents or heroin addiction.

The game has a simple but very defined structure. An introduction, where you meet the characters, three scenes that define the relationship, and an epilogue.

The scenes are played out in a call and response fashion, with the active player describing things and the reactive player responding to them. The active player will be playing cards face up and the reactive player will be playing them face down.

The value of the cards sadly doesn't have a direct correlation to the story. Instead, the face up cards will determine who controls the third act and all the cards will determine who is the 'winner'.

I have to note that the third act is a consensual seduction. Unlike Emily Karen Boss's romance RPGs, there aren't any guidelines for respecting people's comfort levels (to be fair, A Courteous Night is only two pages so there is size constraints) but including the word consensual goes a long way to keep things from getting creepy.

The 'winner' gets to narrate the epilogue, which describes how they break the _other_ player's curse. So really, everyone gets to be a winner. Yay!

To my mind, A Courteous Night has a couple strikes against it. First of all, I'm not terribly interested in romance RPGs. Second of all, if I did want to play a two-player romance RPG, the first game I would reach for would be Emily Care Boss's very excellent Breaking the Ice.

I also wish the mechanics of the card play were a little more tightly tied to the narrative. They do serve as a place keeper and help determine who controls certain elements. However, you can play towards winning or losing without that reflecting on how you tell the story.

However, there are some things I do like about the game. First off, an hour running time. As I have grown older and life has grown busier and more complex, shorter playing times have became more valuable.

Second, it has a tight structure. I have found that with narrative games, particularly short form ones, having a tight structure helps keep the game focused, which can be very important with the free form mechanics of many narrative game systems.

Third, I like how the player with the higher point total breaks the _other_ player's curse. It creates a cooperative, collaborative atmosphere.

A Courteous Night is by no means a perfect game. But an hour playing time and a structure that should keep the game moving along does help it have a definite place in a very specific niche.
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Thu Jun 30, 2016 5:19 am
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If I'm going to play a solitaire game, I'll probably craft it myself

Lowell Kempf
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I have been working on making print-and-play copies of Elevenses-For-One and the chit version of Bowling Solitaire when I realized that most of the solitaire games I've played have been ones that I've made myself. In fact, with the exceptions of Onirim and Friday, I can't think of any that I've bought.

As a rule, I'm not a solitaire player. I'm not even that into playing against AIs. However, over the years, I have ended up playing a number of solitaire games. And, like I said, most of them have been ones I've made in the name of print-and-play.

Looking back, I'm pretty sure the first one I made and played was Malta Convoy. And by made, I mean printed and and got out some dice. The game simulates the WW II American convoy to deliver supplies to Malta. However, you really just roll the dice to see what happens. It tells a story but it doesn't really offer much in the way of choices. It's biggest virtue is that you just need to print one page.

Of course, there are a lot of solitaire games out there that fit that criteria now.

The solitaire Print-and-Play I've gotten the most play out of, beating out even Onirim, is easily Zombie In My Pocket. Tile laying, resource and time management, and a very strong theme. It is a fun little game.

A solitaire card or board game is a combination of puzzle solving, imagination and wool gathering. It's a mixture of meditation and killing time. The process of actually making it just adds to both of those aspects.

I'll freely admit that I tend to make ones with minimal components. And certainly not all of them are winners. Sometimes, they're just interesting ideas to look at, even if they weren't actually interesting to play.

However, crafting a solitaire game adds to the entire experience. It is a game that you play on your own. Making it yourself brings the experience full circle, making it self-contained and entirely your own.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Jun 27, 2016 11:02 pm
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Chief Herman gave the world more awesome madness in the sequel

Lowell Kempf
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In 2000, Cheapass Games put out Chief Herman's Holiday Fun Pack. It was a booklet of rules of quirky little games. Then, in 2003, they gave the world a sequel, Chief Herman's Next Big Thing.

And, for my money, Chief Herman's Next Big Thing is the better collection.

In both cases, Cheapass took games that originally were in advertisements and convention and on their website and then made a collection of them.

However, James Ernest had more practice making games by the time the second collection came out. And it shows. There is definitely more variety in Chief Herman's Next Big Thing.

And, for me, these collections are as much, if not more, about reading for enjoyment. I'm interested in game design, both mechanics and theory. More variety is more interesting for me.

However, what really makes Chief Herman's Next Big Thing shine for me is that it includes Darwinian Poker, also published as Lamarckian Poker. It's a really good game that I have played a lot with a wide variety of people. I bought the collection to read but including a game that I will suggest and look forward to playing is a big bonus.

I think it's safe to say that there won't be a third Chief Herman collection. For one thing, it doesn't fit into their current business model. For another thing, the Internet has changed a lot since 2003.

Cheapass's website has a free game section that serves as the successor for the Chief Herman collections. And, quite frankly, has a higher quality of games on a whole. The Poker Suite, a collection of fourteen card games, is quite literally a miniature Chief Herman collection.

The Chief Herman collections are not a bunch of brilliant games destined to become classics. However, they are testament to the ingenuity and determination of a quirky little game company.

http://www.cheapass.com/freegames/major

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu Jun 23, 2016 5:29 pm
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Chief Herman has kept me entertained for years

Lowell Kempf
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Chief Herman's Holiday Fun Pack has given me years of enjoyment. Even to the point where I've had to get a spare copy. Oh, but not to play but as bathroom reading

Chief Herman's Holiday Fun Pack may be the ultimate expression of Cheapass Game's game philosophy. Cheapass's argument is that you already have dice and cards and chips and pawns so they don't need to package them. They just gave you the bare minimum to play their games, often just rules and the boards. (These days, they seem to be more focused on Kickstarter, btw)

This philosophy resulted in a bunch of half-baked, cheaply produced (but cheaply sold) games for a good ten years in their original incarnation, which isn't bad. I bought a good chunk of those games and they have survived numerous purges. Partially because they're small but also because they are wonky and some are honestly good games.

Chief Herman's Holiday Fun Pack was a booklet with the rules for twenty-four games and six poker variants, plus a couple of game boards. Many of the games had been previously published as ads in convention flyers and such.

Let's be honest. While Cheapass and James Ernest has put out some surprisingly good games, particularly given their rush-it-out-the-door philosophy, this is not a highlights reel. In fact, it might qualify as scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Despite that fact, it has paid for itself over and over again for me in sheer entertainment value, as well as intellectual curiosity.

Published in 2000, Chief Herman's Holiday Fun Pack is an interesting snapshot of Cheapass's early years. It includes lot of their early freebies, as well as a board game that have been slated as a standalone publication.

Pennywise, Spots and Flip, all variations of the same game for coins, cards or dice, had their ruleset included in card game collection Change, as well as being refined for the online version of Pennywise. Hey Bartender was also part of Change. Dogfight is the prototype for Diceland, as well as helped in the development of Buttonmen, which is a brilliant game.

And, if you are like me and have an interest in game mechanics and design, Chief Herman's Holiday Fun Pack is a fun read. They are all bare bones designs and some of them were clearly actually prototypes of later games still being worked on. Plus, the snarky, egotistical comments by the fictional Chief Herman are funny.

I might even reach for the collection if I ever need to host a youth group or other kiddy gathering. It would definitely offer some different activities for that.

Chief Herman's Holiday Fun Pack isn't a brilliant collection of games. Frankly, I've only ended up playing a couple of them. However, it has been one entertaining read.

http://www.cheapass.com
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Tue Jun 21, 2016 7:20 pm
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Keeton's Journey - a tiny little RPG with some neat ideas

Lowell Kempf
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Keeton's Journey is my favorite game that came out of the Free RPG Blog's 2013 Harder Than Granite competition. The contest inspired me to write about several different entries and I saved what I think is the best for last. While it does make some interesting use of dice, it is the structure of the game that makes me appreciate Keeton's Journey.

In Keeton's Journey, one player plays a wandering medicine man named Keeton who travels from village to villages, helping them deal with mysterious supernatural life forms called yokai. One player plays Keeton while everyone plays villagers. While Keeton is there to deal with the yokai, the problems will always be intertwined with the secrets and lies of the villagers.

It's based on Mushishi, a manga I've never read. However, Keeton's Journey does remind me of Dogs in the Vineyard, Princes' Kingdom or Kagematsu. In each case, an outsider has come to solve an isolated population's problems with a strong focus on character development and story.

Setup for the game is quick and straightforward. You'll need a regular pip die for every villager and some paper and pencils. At the start of the game, the villagers come up with a rough description of the village and their roles in the village. They also need to each come up with an important secret they keep.

Gameplay has a fairly strict structure. Keeton has an introductory scene with each villager. Other villagers can appear in that scene but it is that player's spotlight scene. There is then a second round of scenes, heightening and escalating there situation. The outcome of these scenes will determine if the village can be saved, with the game ending on an appropriate epilogue.

So, here's the mechanics. At the start of each round, all the dice will get rolled. At the end of each scene, a die will be used to determine a dramatic revelation or action that will end the scene.

It gets even more interesting that that. It doesn't matter what the number is, per se, but what kind of picture the pips form. Two and three represent the Path, pushing people forward. Four and six represent the Box, when people close themselves off. Five is the Crossroads, tough decisions. Lastly, one is the Loner, isolation.

In the second round, choosing the Path or the Crossroads means you reveal your secret. Choosing the Box or the Loner means you keep your secret. At the end of the game, if more people reveal their secret, Keeton is able to deal with the yokai and save the village.

Yes, that means that the dice rolls will determine if the village is saved or not. And guess what, that doesn't matter. That isn't why you play a narrative-driven game like this. The reward of a game like Keeton's Journey is how you tell the story and a well-told tragic ending can be immensely satisfying.

Part of this is because, outside of the restrictions of the dice, there is immense freedom in what kind of story you want to tell. There is only the illusion of restriction. Instead, the structure in a narrative game helps guide you and keep you focused. The structure is a tool for you to use.

In other words, Keeton's Journey is the kind of game I've come to really enjoy after discovering and exploring the world of indie RPGs.

I like how Keeton's Journey is well designed for a low prep one-shot that still has room for deep and meaningful role playing. With just two rounds of scenes an experienced group of players could finish a game in three to four hours. Less experienced players, I'm guessing two to three hours. (Less experienced narrative players will probably have shorter scenes) I can even see breaking it down into two little sessions with ease.

Keeton's Journey isn't brilliant, although the dice symbolism is a really good idea. It is a game with a structure that I know works and creates some really great story telling. It takes many of the lessons I've learned about indie game design and story telling and puts them in a tiny, pocket-sized pamphlet, perfect for a one-off night of gaming and story telling.

http://www.thefreerpgblog.com

http://www.1km1kt.net/rpg/keetons-journey

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Jun 14, 2016 10:24 pm
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TAJ is a tiny game that aims for big ideas

Lowell Kempf
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TAJ is possibly the most complicated and intricate game of the first series of pack of games. Note that I didn't say it was one of the best games or the deepest game.

A Rug of War, TAJ is about moving oriental rugs about in order to manipulate their prices. Everyone has a secret goal card, letting them know which colors on the rugs will earn them points.

Like every game in the Pack O Game series, Taj consists of thirty skinny little cards. The whole game looks like a pack of gum, hence the sales pitch. In TAJ's case, the cards come in a bunch of varieties.

There are two voting cards for every player, a regular yea/nay card and a special, one-time override card. There are ten rug cards. Each one shows three colors with a value of one to three for each color. The rugs also have eyes on one end, to mark that they've been appraised. There are ten secret goal cards, showing three colors. One color will be worth x2, one x1, and one x-1. Finally, there is the Taj Mahal card. It is an image of the Taj Mahal long ways on each side with a plus one on different ends.

All 10 of the rug cards are placed in the eyes facing down. The Taj Mahal card is placed above the row, which means it will be above three rugs. When the game ends, only the rugs below the Taj Majal will score points.

On a player's turn, they will propose to switch two rugs. Everyone then vote on whether or not to swap those two rugs. If the yea's win, the rugs swap. If the nays win the vote, there is no swap and the rug farthest from the Taj Mahal is removed from the game. Yes, even if it wasn't one of the two rugs proposed for swapping. No matter what, the rugs that were proposed get rotated so the eyes are on top.

If the vote is unanimous either way, the active player must either move the Taj Mahal one space or flip it over so the plus one is on the other end. As I've already mentioned, every player gets a one time use override card which forces the vote to be unanimous.

When there are either only five rugs left or every rug has been turned so the eye is on top, the game ends. Only the rugs under the Taj Mahal count for scoring and the value for each color is added up with a plus one for whichever rug is under the plus one and of the Taj Mahal. And the high score wins.

With an estimated playing time of ten minutes.

Honestly, TAJ has a number of strikes against it. For one thing, my primary gaming group is my wife and two is clearly TAJ's weakest number of players. For another thing, teaching it could take as long as playing it, which is not desirable in what is intrinsically a travel game.

However, the biggest problem with TAJ is that it is too intricate for its playing time and for what you get out of it. The rules aren't intuitive and the decisions are opaque, particularly in the early game. Which wouldn't be so bad in a longer game where elements have time to develop but it's frustrating in a game this short. Too much of the game is spent taking care of the moving parts.

You know, I'm someone who is always on the lookout for micro games that offer some real depth and legitimate tough decisions. So it feels weird knocking TAJ for being too complex. However, complex doesn't necessarily translate to depth. I feel that both GEM and BUS, also in Pack of Game, offer some real depth to their play time and they are much easier to teach.

I don't dislike TAJ, although it probably sounds like I do. It's just that it hasn't delivered the way that the other games that I've played in the series have. I do hope to keep on playing it and seeing if it has hidden virtues. It is staying in my travel library.

TAJ is a legitimately ambitious and unusual game. It has some interesting ideas. However, I think the sheer number of moving parts overcomes the gameplay. At the same time, I have seen a lot of micro games that try and get away with being so simple they offer no actual choices. TAJ is brave to err on the other side of that equation.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Jun 14, 2016 10:18 pm
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Arts and Crafts plus Print-and-Play

Lowell Kempf
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In our house, arts and crafts often crosses with gaming. My wife is a crafty woman, whose interests include chainmail and Cricut paperwork. I am a print-and-play dabbler with the paper cutter in the laminator being some of my biggest tools after the printer.

My wife just picked up a punch that will not just punched out pieces of paper in the shape of buttons, the kind that you find on dress shirts, but emboss them as well. You get a raised circle that is the outline of the button.

This doesn't just look neat, although it does do that. The punch allows you to make discs out of any color card stock you happen to have lying around, and we have plenty, that are both much easier to pick up then a flat disc and stack nicely.

In other words, they are ideal for creating playing pieces or tokens for any number of games. Since they are paper, I could also use a small stamp to add symbols to them. You know, like numbers.

Of course, as someone who has been doing print-and-play projects for years, I already have poker chips in different colors and different sizes that do that job nicely. And, for that matter, are a whole lot more durable.

Still, if I want tokens or playing pieces of very specific colors and I don't mind that they will have a very short lifespan, this button punch will come in handy. Oh, whom I kidding? I'm already looking for some project that will give me an excuse to use it.

On the one hand, the lesson that I might be getting from this is that, if you are into print-and-play projects, everything starts looking like something that you can use. On the other hand, the lesson might be that there are some really cool arts and crafts stuff out there.

Originally posted on www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Jun 13, 2016 8:00 pm
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Falling into real time

Lowell Kempf
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Falling was one of the first, probably the very first, designer game that I discovered that used real time as an element. That is to say, a game without turns where everyone can do something at anytime.

James Ernst, the man who gave the world Devil Bunny Needs a Ham, is famous for his absurd themes and Falling does not disappoint. You are all falling and you are trying to be the last person to hit the ground. Not much of a goal but it's not like you have a lot of time to come up with a better one.

The game consists of a deck of cards. One courageous soul must choose to not be my seriously hurtling towards the Earth and be the dealer. (Wait a second? Choose NOT to fall to your doom? Make that one cowardly soul) They remove the five ground cards, shuffle the rest of the deck and put the ground cards on the bottom. Reasonably enough, you don't hit the ground until the end of the game.

Everyone else will be developing a stack of cards in front of them. The dealer will be dealing out a card to every stack in the game, over and over again, working their way down to the grounds on the bottom. The dealer controls the tempo of the game and they don't have to go too fast for things to be frantic.

The players can play the top card on their stack, using only one hand. If you pick up that card, you have to use it before you can pick up another card.

The cards are either riders or actions. You slap a rider in front of someone, including yourself. They can make the dealer skip someone or deal an extra card or even start a new stack in front of someone. The dealer then sweeps away the rider, leaving an open space for a new one. Actions let you steal or push away riders, as well as the powerful stop card that destroys a rider or causes a ground card to back on the deck.

Because if a ground card lands on your stack, that's it. Game over and you are a pancake. If the dealer somehow runs out of ground cards, they just point and say ground. There's no getting away from gravity.

Like I said, the goal of the game is to be the last person to pancake. You still hit the ground, of course, but you will be the happiest person-shaped hole in the ground.

I have played a number of real time games since I discovered Falling but I have not seen another that uses an objective third party moderator like the dealer, who acts like a dungeon master in this one-way adventure down the gravity well. It gives the game very unique and interesting feel.

And Falling is a unique experience. It is a quirky but fun game, definitely falling on the frantic party game side of the spectrum. I picked it up over 10 years ago and it has remained in my collection.

Falling is far from the final word in real time game if it was a pretty good first word for me.

http://www.cheapass.com/freegames/falling

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Sun Jun 12, 2016 1:20 am
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