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Jesse Dean
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Lords of Waterdeep by Peter Lee and Rodney Thompson is a worker placement game for two to five players set in Waterdeep, in the Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) setting of the Forgotten Realms. It is the first eurogame that Wizards of the Coasts had produced in their line of D&D themed board games, though I imagine if it ends up being successful it will not be the last. I have not actually played any of the others, as I am generally not interested in cooperative games, but the fact that Wizards of the Coasts (WotC) was going outside of their normal style of games was enough to catch my interest.

Components
Wizards have done a pretty excellent job on the component design for this one, producing a game that is not only visually appealing but also functionally effective. Unfortunately the physical quality of the pieces themselves is somewhat questionable and I suspect it will not stand up to the long term wear and tear of being played.



The insert is probably the best I have seen, and is one of the few where I have not had an immediate desire to throw it away. Not only does it do an effective job of providing locations to play all of the components, but the design also makes it so that the board and various player aids serve to help keep the components in their designated receptacles, ensuring that the components are unlikely to shift assuming you can keep the game in a reasonably vertical position. Shaking the box vigorously can still cause the components to become unsettled, but other games tend to suffer even more from this particular action, and since it is usually a good idea to avoid being in situations where your games will be vigorously shaken this is unlikely to be much of a problem.




The game’s component colors are usually pretty easy to distinguish, and in those instances where they are not there are suitable symbols to aid in the differentiation of the player pieces. I greatly appreciate this as someone who is red-green colorblind, as having a great deal of difficulty parsing the game state usually increases the likelihood that I will find the overall game play experience to be unpleasant.



The cards are of reasonable stock, though they have a bit of a texture to them that I found to be vaguely unpleasant. Also, after shuffling them over the course of a few games they were also becoming slightly bent, though not in a way that harmed their functionality. The meeples have similar quality issues, and after a few games I was already finding that some of the black meeples were starting to miss the paint from their “feet.” Now, it is possible that they came this way and I just did not notice it before, but it is still something you should probably look out for.


Structure and Strategy
Lords of Waterdeep’s game play is rather straightforward, particularly if you have played any worker placement before. Players take turns placing their workers on the board, gathering resources as they do so, and using these resources to get points. Whoever has the most points at the end is the winner.

There are four major types of resources to manage: adventurer cubes (fighter, rogue, wizard, and cleric), money, intrigue cards, and quest cards. There is no particular complexity in gathering these items, and there are no advanced goods to be acquired; each of these items can be acquired from simple action placements on the board, and in fact almost all actions are directly related to acquiring some combination of these items. Specific spots also allow you to construct buildings, which provide new locations to place workers, or to play intrigue cards.

Intrigue cards provide special bonus powers that can be performed by taking an action that is specifically designated to use intrigue cards. This action is special because, much like the Gate in Caylus or the First player spot in Dominant Species, it essentially allows you to trade access to better actions for the ability to gain whatever extra power your intrigue card provides. There are three spots available to play these additional cards, and typically all three should be used every round of the game. The bonuses from the intrigue cards are typically significant enough that if any of the spots are empty at the end of the round the someone made a mistake, though whether you use your first worker, or a later one, to do so is a significant decision. Placing multiple workers on the “play an intrigue card” location is particularly valuable in games with fewer players, as it allows you to potentially perform consecutive actions and thus do something without anyone else being able to react to it. I have used it to construct a building and then immediately use it, but I am sure there are other ways that you can take advantage of this.

Most of the intrigue card powers are pretty straightforward affairs, providing you with 2 cubes and another player with 1, causing all other players to lose a cube of a particular type and giving you a bonus for each other player who does not have a cube, or allowing you to break the rules in a minor way, but there are a few cards that break through the expected and provide something that is new and interesting. The biggest example of this is the Mandatory Quests which are played on another player and prevent that player from completing any other quest is completed. On an initial glance this appears fairly trivial, as you generally lose 1 (or gain 1) point over the end of the game value of the cubes, but when you compare the value of the Mandatory Quests to the benefits you could get from using those cubes to complete an actual quest the loss is actually a bit more severe than that. This is usually something that you can recover from early on, but later in the game, when individuals are more likely to have put together a precise sequence of actions they need to complete their final quests; this loss can be a bit more severe.



Quest cards are generally used to translate money and adventurer cubes into victory points, but there are also plenty of them that provide additional special abilities, either in the single instance when they are created, or over time in the case of plot quests. This results in some opportunity for clever play in the form of being able to chain quests together, to make payouts for previous quests help with future ones, but this is extremely tactical, as you are never quite sure what quest are going to be available. I also appreciate the differentiation that plot quests, which provide more long term benefits, provide, as they change the valuations of the various action spots, but their declining utility means that they are essentially “dead” by the time you reach the later part of the game. This is particularly problematic with the single plot quest that provides you with an additional worker; it is expensive enough that you cannot get it during the early game, but by the time you can afford it, the additional actions it provides are probably not worth all of the cubes you have to spend to bring it out.




The buildings are largely just improved versions of the regular action spots. What makes them interesting strategically is that, Caylus-style, they also provide a secondary benefit when someone takes the space instead of whoever constructed it, allowing them to get resource or victory point income even without having to take actions. This makes is so that the earlier your construct a building, the more valuable it will be. This is reflected neatly in the mechanism that they use to track the current round. Three victory point chits are stacked on each round spot, and are distributed on top of all the current buildings as the game goes on. This makes it so that most buildings have a victory point value, and that buildings that are less appetizing early on, or are very expensive, end up slowly accumulating victory points until it suddenly becomes a much more reasonable proposition to construct them. Of course, since the money you use to construct the buildings is also worth victory points, where, exactly the point where constructing an individual building is worthwhile remains somewhat ambiguous and will depend on the dynamics of an individual game. Of course, if you have the scoring card that rewards you for buildings, it becomes much less ambiguous.


Buildings and some plot quests do intersect in interesting ways, which can sometimes be sufficient to push a particular building from worthless to must have. Plot quests can provide cubes, money, or intrigue cards based on cube or money acquisition, and making it so you get these bonuses both when you take your building and when other people do so, can push the value of plot quests and these special buildings up to a whole new level. These combinations are valuable enough that it is usually a good idea to keep an eye out for them during the initial seeding of quests and buildings, both so that you can gain the combination for yourself and to ensure that nobody else is able to get them.

The game ends with a final scoring based on your cash (1 vp for $2) and cubes (1 cube = 1 vp) on hand as well as bonus points for your secret goal card that corresponds to one of the Lords of Waterdeep. The vast majority of them provide 4 VP for each completed quest that fits into one of two categories, but one of them provides 6 vp for each completed building. The bonus points for buildings are very rewarding, but it is also the most easily interfered with. Generally it does not seem worth it to steal a quest from someone else just because you think it is one they are specialized in, as actions are fairly valuable, and mutually destructive play tends to simply aid whoever else is playing.

Criticism
The game’s quests and various worker placement locations seem to be fairly well balanced, though I do find the plot cards to be questionable. While I have not gone through and done a statistical analysis of the quests, and I probably will not at this point, the inputs generally seem to correspond to the outputs, though considering the limited number of quests you can acquire it seems that a balance between less expensive, but still valuable, quests and more expensive high victory point quests is best. The worker placement locations available on constructed buildings are better than those available on the base board, but that is both perfectly understandable and perfectly reasonable; nobody would use money to purchase the buildings if they did not provide additional benefits beyond those that are available for the base board locations. They seem to be balanced based on their financial cost, but as noted earlier they are more worth the money earlier in the game. Later in the game the amount of victory points stacked on them will be a more significant concern due to their lack of resource return on investment.

The intrigue cards are where the notion of “balance” becomes a little bit more problematic. There are definitely some cards that are more useful than others, and some of the more offensive cards allow you to essentially cause one or more other players to lose what amounts to an action or two, which can be painful in higher player count games where you only get 20 actions. The limited ability to play intrigue cards only adds to this, as in four or five player games, someone will always be shut out of the intrigue card spot, meaning that you will have no chance to play one of your own. Of course, this makes the first player spot more valuable, and the fact that you get a free intrigue card for playing on the first player spot supports the idea that taking first player is primarily used to set yourself up for taking one of the intrigue card spots in the following round, but there is no guarantee that you will end up with cards that are helpful to your cause.

The combination of targeted negative cards (the low VP mandatory quest which your opponent is required to complete before they perform any others and the card which allows you to steal a cube) and beneficial cards that have a secondary bonus that your provide to one other player combine to making it so the game encourages players to fly under the radar so that other players are less likely to target them directly and more likely to help them when they have to provide a secondary benefit to someone else. While this does not bother me that much, as this is simply an aspect of the game rather than actually being the game, those who dislike this kind of dynamic will probably dislike Lords of Waterdeep.

The biggest problem I have with Lords of Waterdeep is its overall triviality in the grand universe of worker placement games. There is nothing particularly new or innovative about the game, and both learning and playing the game is fairly easy. After a handful of plays you will know most everything there is to know about the game and what remains is a series of relatively straightforward tactical decisions that plays in about an hour. It is light and breezy with marginal tension and no more than one or two points in the game where you will have to really think deeply about what you are doing. For many people, including the likely target audience of D&D players who are not necessarily into more in-depth board games, this is probably perfect, but for those of us who tend to like deeper and longer games, Lords of Waterdeep will be roughly equivalent to having one or two pieces of candy instead of a full meal: tasty but ultimately unsatisfying.

I do think Lords of Waterdeep does a good job in distilling the essence of more complex workers games down into a form that is more approachable for those who prefer lighter or shorter games. Ultimately though, I personally do not want a distilled form of the more complex worker placement games. I want to actually play these more complex worker placement games, and I do not think there are many situations where, having the time, I would chose to play Lords of Waterdeep over my deeper favorites. Now, if we have an hour left at the end of the night then I would not be against playing it, especially since some of the people I game with find the game to be quite enjoyable, but even there are other approximately one hour games I would probably prefer and because of this, Lords of Waterdeep has left my collection.

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Jimmy Okolica
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Great Review as always! Your comments echo my impressions from reading previous reviews of the game. I'd be interested in playing it but have no desire to own it. Any idea what you'll be reviewing next? possibly Hawaii?
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Jesse Dean
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Hey! No peaking into my brain!

It will actually be a review of Hawaii and Pantheon at the same time. I like one of them a lot better than the other one, and for various reasons I found that odd enough that I am going to talk about them both in one piece.
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Buz
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How many times have you played this title? I know usually you have several before a review. If it has been several, what kept you coming back through those plays?
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Jesse Dean
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I played it five times total. Once with each player count except for four, which I played twice.

The first reason was simply that I had decided I was going to review the game, and thus I wanted to give it a fair shake as I intended to review it. The second was because I was winning every game of Lords of Waterdeep that I was playing and I did not know why I was winning, so I wanted to see if a) I lost or b) I could figure out why I was apparently good enough to go undefeated even though none of us had ever played the game before.

The game is not unpleasant to play, and some in my gaming circle like it quite a bit, which means that I will almost certainly play it more. I just think that for those people who like the bigger worker placement games and that are able to get them on to the table regularly Lords of Waterdeep does not have a lot to offer beyond play time. I am able to do so, and would be perfectly happy not playing it ever again.
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Jesse Dean
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I also forgot to mention it in the review, but I have known one of the designers (Peter Lee) since the mid-90s. We used to play D&D minis together at various national conventions and talked on various message boards related to the game and worked with him a bit on redesigning old D&D miniatures once he got hired for WotC. We briefly discussed me playtesting this game, but nothing ever came of it. I really doubt that impacted my review in any way, but you can consider me to be biased if you like!
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Rich P
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Good to see you weighing in on the vigorous box shaking debate - a big issue surrounding this game, I believe.
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Jesse Dean
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You know me, always staying up to date on the current gaming issues of the day. goo



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Lee Fisher
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Quote:
The plots cards are where the notion of “balance” becomes a little bit more problematic. There are definitely some cards that are more useful than others, and some of the more offensive cards allow you to essentially cause one or more other players to lose what amounts to an action or two, which can be painful in higher player count games where you only get 20 actions. The limited ability to play plot cards only adds to this, as in four or five player games, someone will always be shut out of the intrigue card spot, meaning that you will have no chance to play one of your own. Of course, this makes the first player spot more valuable, and the fact that you get a free intrigue card for playing on the first player spot supports the idea that taking first player is primarily used to set yourself up for taking one of the intrigue card spots in the following round, but there is no guarantee that you will end up with cards that are helpful to your cause.


Are you referring to Intrigue Cards? I found it confusing if you were referring to Intrigue Cards or Plot Quests.
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Jesse Dean
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Yes. Let me fix that.
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A. B. West
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Good review. I am puzzled by this game's largely positive approval since it seems to be a rehash of so many games before it. Isn't the common criticism of the day that there are no original games? Yet this game is forgiven.
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:C.h.r.i.s. M.c.G.o.w.a.n:
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Out of curiousity - What are some of the longer/meatier worker placement games which you are comparing this one against?
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Jesse Dean
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Well, I have a particular fondness for worker placement games, and currently have three in my top 10 (Agricola, Ora et Labora, Dominant Species. In addition to those three I also rate Caylus and The Manhattan Project highly.
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Jesse Dean
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jerseydvd wrote:
Sp would this be a good 1st worker placement game for me to begin with as compared to other 'simple' games?

Absolutely.
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Karen Knoblaugh
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doubtofbuddha wrote:
Well, I have a particular fondness for worker placement games, and currently have three in my top 10 (Agricola, Ora et Labora, Dominant Species. In addition to those three I also rate Caylus and The Manhattan Project highly.
Thanks for giving these comparisons as I also love worker placement and these rank highly for me as well. Might have bought it prior to your comments, so you just saved me a few dollars for a more compelling game. Thanks!
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Tom Flatt
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Excellent review!
Like it or not, I think LoW is going to be a similar situation to 7 Wonders; many people are not going to find it "meaty" enough but it has a mass appeal which will propel it high on to the charts.
The good news of course, is that this is the type of game that will bring more gamers into the fold; as a gateway or family game it's interesting and relatively unique.
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Dave Kudzma
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Someone mentioned LoW being comparable, if somewhat derivative of, Belfort. Belfort itself is derivative of so many other games, which like Jesse, I would rather play.

We are not the target market for this game. Hopefully it will bring new blood into gaming, to BGG, and ultimately to a local table near you for some good times.
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Big Head Zach
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locusshifter wrote:
We are not the target market for this game.

Who's this "we" you speak of? If that includes me, why haven't I been getting weekly meeting notifications? ;P
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Jesse Dean
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I think he means himself and I, and other games like us.
 
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adamw wrote:
Good review. I am puzzled by this game's largely positive approval since it seems to be a rehash of so many games before it. Isn't the common criticism of the day that there are no original games? Yet this game is forgiven.

Because it takes all of those mechanics from those games and actually applies them correctly in a game. So that you aren't screwed on turn one and every space on the board is meaningful and useful at all times. You get all of that in a game that scales with 2-5 players and clocks in at an hour or less regardless of player number. To me that actually is something NEW in this genre of games.

While i appreciate the OP review of the game i get the idea that going into the game you were expecting Agricola Part 2. LoWD never pretended to be soemthing overly deep and is meant as intriductory style game like thier other D&D line. Heck 4th edition D&D is more or less "introductory D&D".

When i have a less gamer friendly group to play with this game is my go to. If i have a real gamer group to play with that wants that deeper Euro i'll go for Dominant Species.
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Jesse Dean
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I did not really have any expectation for it to be anything but a worker placement game. I have my particular tastes and preferences, and it is very clear that this was designed for people who are not me. I am cool with that, but I think it is worthwhile to point out to people who share my tastes that they probably can skip LoW.

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bhz1 wrote:
locusshifter wrote:
We are not the target market for this game.

Who's this "we" you speak of? If that includes me, why haven't I been getting weekly meeting notifications? ;P

Just as WE are not the target market for, say, Monopoly. I apologize for the ambiguous generality. I still do not believe the average regular on BGG is the target audience for this game. It's a lighter game for those who prefer lighter games or a good introductory game for those who rarely, if ever, have played games like this before. I believe anyone who has played worker placement games before will walk away unfulfilled. Stone Age, Egizia, Fresco, and more play in the same time frame and offer more to me in strategy and variety yet remain simple to learn and quick to play.

You'd be surprised just how many brilliant gamers I know that struggle with getting into deeper, longer, or more complex games. Many of these are regulars at my FLGS who play CCG's, CMG's, and roleplay who have tried time and again to adopt board games as a new addition to their gaming lifestyle only to be turned off by one or more hurdles. This product seems to be pointed more towards that sector of gamers. I actually commend Wizards for putting such a well thought out, highly themed, competent game together. As I said, it's just the thing to bring new blood into the hobby but I feel like it will be lost on the majority of us on BGG.

Everyone's mileage will obviously vary and likely the theme of the game alone will carry the game much further for some.
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Paul Paella
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Excellent review. I agree with you that LoW could be beefier for my liking. That's my only significant complaint with it. It is a bit shallow after a few plays, but only a bit. There's a fine line for my preference; too shallow and the game isn't thought provoking enough; too deep and the game can take longer than I have patience for and AP players tend to cause a long delay between turns.

For me, LoW is very close to perfect but I would prefer a bit more depth to the strategies.
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Lee Fisher
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locusshifter wrote:
bhz1 wrote:
locusshifter wrote:
We are not the target market for this game.

Who's this "we" you speak of? If that includes me, why haven't I been getting weekly meeting notifications? ;P

Just as WE are not the target market for, say, Monopoly. I apologize for the ambiguous generality. I still do not believe the average regular on BGG is the target audience for this game. It's a lighter game for those who prefer lighter games or a good introductory game for those who rarely, if ever, have played games like this before. I believe anyone who has played worker placement games before will walk away unfulfilled. Stone Age, Egizia, Fresco, and more play in the same time frame and offer more to me in strategy and variety yet remain simple to learn and quick to play.

You'd be surprised just how many brilliant gamers I know that struggle with getting into deeper, longer, or more complex games. Many of these are regulars at my FLGS who play CCG's, CMG's, and roleplay who have tried time and again to adopt board games as a new addition to their gaming lifestyle only to be turned off by one or more hurdles. This product seems to be pointed more towards that sector of gamers. I actually commend Wizards for putting such a well thought out, highly themed, competent game together. As I said, it's just the thing to bring new blood into the hobby but I feel like it will be lost on the majority of us on BGG.

Everyone's mileage will obviously vary and likely the theme of the game alone will carry the game much further for some.

You may overestimate or have a more elitist view of "the average BGG regular". So far I find LoW more "fun" than Stone Age, which I haven't pulled off the shelf for over a year and haven't yet bothered to even try the expansion. I think it fits a great niche of fun, light worker placement game and so far the ratings are strong.

But sure there are people who would always prefer heavier games so it won't be as good for them.
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locusshifter wrote:
bhz1 wrote:
locusshifter wrote:
We are not the target market for this game.

Who's this "we" you speak of? If that includes me, why haven't I been getting weekly meeting notifications? ;P

Just as WE are not the target market for, say, Monopoly. I apologize for the ambiguous generality. I still do not believe the average regular on BGG is the target audience for this game. It's a lighter game for those who prefer lighter games or a good introductory game for those who rarely, if ever, have played games like this before. I believe anyone who has played worker placement games before will walk away unfulfilled. Stone Age, Egizia, Fresco, and more play in the same time frame and offer more to me in strategy and variety yet remain simple to learn and quick to play.

You'd be surprised just how many brilliant gamers I know that struggle with getting into deeper, longer, or more complex games. Many of these are regulars at my FLGS who play CCG's, CMG's, and roleplay who have tried time and again to adopt board games as a new addition to their gaming lifestyle only to be turned off by one or more hurdles. This product seems to be pointed more towards that sector of gamers. I actually commend Wizards for putting such a well thought out, highly themed, competent game together. As I said, it's just the thing to bring new blood into the hobby but I feel like it will be lost on the majority of us on BGG.

Everyone's mileage will obviously vary and likely the theme of the game alone will carry the game much further for some.

Funny you mention that struggle with deeper games. We had a game of Dominant Species going last night and two games of LoWD going at once in our local store. People were coming back to watch us and oddly enough we heard more comments about the theme of D&D with LoWD than we did about some animals moving around playing DS.

Obviously this was based on how LoWd is marketed and designed because in my mind DS is far more thematic while playing it but just looking at it, one can see how general it can appear in theme.
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