Thursday, July 18, 2013

Sword of Aragon: The Empire Grows

One city has joined my side. I prepare to attack another.

Sword of Aragon presents an odd but not-unlikable fusion of strategy game, RPG, and adventure game. It has defied the expectations that led me to start my last posting with an explanation about how I don't enjoy strategy games. Now that I've played a bit of Aragon, I suspect strategy-game lovers might actually dislike it.

To enjoy Aragon, I've had to shake off the template created by my previous exposure to strategy games, where you start the game with a general campaign goal (usually to conquer the realm) and choose the specific ways that you achieve it. This game gives you a standard campaign map but requires--or at least strongly suggests--that you approach "conquest" in a specific order, and not always (in fact, so far, hardly ever) in ways that involve laying siege to other cities.

A typical RPG quest amidst strategy-game-style logistics.

Instead, I've received a selection of standard RPG-style quests--kill a monster, rescue a child, find some treasure--but instead of setting out to complete them as a lone hero, I have a company of cavalry and a battalion of bowmen at my back. One frankly wonders why more RPG protagonists don't try this route. Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar--Accompanied by the 9th Mounted Legion and Space Rogue and His Fleet of Mercenary Ships would sure play a lot faster, although I recognize they would lose some of the challenge.

When I last wrote, I had finished the first quest (defend the city from orcs) and was trying to finish the second, to slay a monster holding captives to the southwest of the city. I spent a fair amount of time futilely trying to win combat against some giants before I realized I was in the wrong place, and the "monster" was actually a cyclops a lot closer to the city than I had been searching. He was pretty easy--just one creature with no allies. I overran him with my main hero, my mage, some javelins, and some bowmen. The cash reward, 3,500 gold pieces, was far more than I had when I started the game. As I'm only making about 100 gold pieces per month in city income, I can see why my commenters have said that most of the cash in the game comes from combat.

The land that I must unite into an empire. All action has been taking place in the northwest quadrant so far.
While I was still in the midst of the cyclops quest, I got a suggestion as to another one: a young boy kidnapped by a horde of goblins somewhere between Marinia and Brocada (not too far to the north of my city).  His merchant father was offering a 5,000 gold piece reward for his return. I returned to Aladda, swapped out some units, and rode north to find the goblins.

But even as I was hunting them, I got yet another quest, from yet another local merchant, who reported that a "hideous monster" had kidnapped his daughter and taken her to his lair northwest of Aladda.

A less benevolent ruler wouldn't put up with this.

Clearing these two quests involved a couple of different approaches to combat. The minotaur was just one creature, but all of my regular soldiers were too afraid to fight him, so I stacked my heroes, attacked, and wiped him out with one charge. It took but a few moments.

The heroes against the minotaur.

The goblins were arranged in various battalions of archers and infantrymen and took a little more strategy, and my success wasn't nearly so clear-cut. I've found that enemy archers seem to have a better range, and do more damage, than my own archers, and it seems almost inevitable that my heroes and soldiers will take some damage as they approach enemy positions. Sometimes, the damage is enough that the hero's or unit's morale plummets and I can't do anything with them for the rest of the battle. In this battle, I had my ground soldiers attack in two groups while my archers supported from the rear. I lost one of my priests in the battle but only five regular soldiers.

The neat thing is that the enemy will declare defeat when its loss percentage gets to a certain level, and that number isn't necessarily very high. The goblins surrendered when I'd defeated only 40% of their army. This, it must be said, is more realistic than the typical strategy game, where units will bravely fight until utterly obliterated.

The post-goblin battle summary.

Unfortunately, when the battle was over, I didn't find the merchant's kidnapped son--only a pile of charred bones. I don't know if there was anything I could have done differently to save him (get there faster?) but I declined to reload and kept playing. When you successfully complete a quest, you get a certain number of points (one of the adventure game elements), but I didn't get any for this one. I don't know if this will have a long-term effect on my success or not.

By the time these battles were over, winter was almost upon me and I had almost 10,000 gold pieces to spend. I had no more quests for the time being, and both commenters and experience taught me that marching around in winter is a very bad idea, risking death and desertion for everyone. Hence, I decided to hole up in Aladda during the winter to form some new units, develop the city, and train everyone. Among the new recruits (morale was high in the city, supplying me with lots of bodies), I made a new company of bowmen, made a company of cavalry, and hired a knight. I trained both companies of bowmen up to Level 3. I ensured everyone was equipped with the best weapons and armor and developed the city's agricultural, lumber, and mining resources.

Forming and equipping a new unit can get expensive.

A couple of things happened during the winter that were worth noting:

  • I got some intelligence that Brocada--a city directly to the north--was perturbed at my growing might and that of Paritan. There were rumblings of war between Brocada and Paritan, but then later some intel that they were thinking about an "economic and military alliance." I'm not sure if I should have done anything with this.
  • In a neat interlude, the people of Aladda approached me with a petition to pardon Olaf, a young man accused of robbing and murdering another man whose body was reportedly dumped in the river and never found. Though there were two witnesses implicating Olaf, he had so many character references--including some from extremely prominent citizens--that I decided to pardon him. Everyone was happy with this decision, and it turned out to be the right one, because a month later the "victim" showed up alive and well, saying he was robbed by the two "witnesses" who had accused Olaf.

A neat role-playing option in a strategy game.

  • The Duke of Marinia (a city to the northwest) died of a pox and the city descended into civil war.
  • I received an emissary from the Tranavan Elves claiming to want relations with my people, but upset at all the lumber development I had initiated. At his request, I agreed to reduce our lumbering. The ambassador later told me that the elves hate King Pitlag of Paritan.

Every month brings new intrigue.

Just as winter ended, I received news that Malacon, leader of the Marinian cavalry, had been exiled from the city on "patrol" to keep him from leading the peasants against the corrupt army junta that had taken over after the duke's death. I took this as a sign to gather some forces and head up the road to Marinia. I met Malacon on the way and agreed to support him in his coup against the city in exchange for his vassalship.

This is one way to conquer a city, I guess.

The fight against the "rabble" was a little harder than I expected, though perhaps I didn't bring enough with me (three heroes, one company of bowmen, one company of cavalry). The defenders clustered in the city in a single knot, making it difficult to pick off one group at a time. I tried to weaken them with my bowmen and then charge with my heroes, but the heroes ended up getting largely dispersed and demoralized, as did the units from Malacon's army. Fortunately, the enemy didn't seem to be interested in leaving the city, so for the last three or four rounds of the combat, I just shot them with arrows until they surrendered.

Approaching the city of Marinia.

Malacon took over Marinia, and Marinia became a "vassal" city to me, which means I can't control anything about its development but I get gold from them now and then.

After that, some time passed in which the game didn't give me any hints as to what to do next. There are only a few roads out of Aladda. All northern roads lead to the cities of Brocada and Paritan; the southern routes branch off a bit, but you have to deal with a giant camp no matter what. It felt like I needed to deal with Brocada and Paritan before I continued onward, but every time I approached those cities, I was warned about their military strength, which far exceeded that of Marinia, where I'd already had a difficult combat. I dithered around for a couple months, seeking random combats to build my sense of tactics and to gain levels.

Eventually, I got word that Lord Pitlag of Paritan was sending an Armada to destroy Brocada, leaving his own city undefended. I immediately headed up the road to attack. When I arrived at the city, I was joined by 100 soldiers sent by my allies, the Tranavan Elves (there was a previous rumor that Pitlag had put out a bounty on their ears).

Companies of bowmen lay siege to the city.

The battle was long and devastating for my side. The elves were slow to come out of their starting points, and Pitlag's cavalary was horrifyingly effective in its attacks on my footsoldiers and heroes. I lost two heroes and had most of the rest of my units dispersed in the first three rounds. Oddly, though, Pitlag's forces seemed curiously reluctant to engage archer units, and so my companies of archers and the elves were able to slowly chip away at them. After we took care of the cavalry, we hovered near the city and just fired volley after volley at the entrenched defenders until they surrendered. Unlike Marinia, Paritan became fully mine, with the ability to make units, levy taxes, and develop the city.

I suspect I'll see him again.

As I left the city, I had a weird encounter with an old man (he'd cackled something at my army on the way past him to Paritan). He called me the "rightful ruler of the ancient empire," did a somersault, and vanished, giving me 10 points for virtually no effort.

In the next round, I heard that Pitlag had taken Brocada, so I gathered my forces and headed in that direction. I met with the defeated Brocadan forces south of the city and agreed to help them retake it, but the game warned me that Pitlag has more than 550 fresh soldiers in there, including 100 cavalry, 350 infantry, and 100 bowmen. I think I need to spend some time building units before I can hope to prevail against them.

This is going to be a tough battle.

A few notes:

  • The game really wants you to follow a particular path. If you try to go too far from the Aladda in the opening stages, you get warnings to turn around.

Maybe we'll go south anyway. What is my "trusted advisor" trying to hide?

  • As you explore the wilderness, there are frequent random encounters with monsters. You have the option to "ignore" them--an option I've been mostly taking to avoid depleting my unit strength. Perhaps I should spend more time on random encounters as a way to build my units.

I assume "surprise" means I start combat with an advantage.

  • Each game session starts with a copy protection screen. It asks you to match the icon of a city with the name of the city on a poster, then type the first word in the paragraph description of the city. It's an annoying process, and it might not even be necessary, since I'm pretty sure I've gotten it wrong a few times, to no ill effects.

I'm curious about a couple of things, and perhaps my commenters can contribute here:

1) Despite the game's intentions, could you win by simply ignoring the "quests," building armies, and conquering each city one by one?

2) What happens if my main hero--Gideon, the ranger son of the old king--dies? Is the game over, or can his followers continue his dream?

3) Does the "score" affect your ability to win the game? (I guess that's related to Question 1.)

I'm enjoying it, but have limited time to play this week. I hope to give it a lot more time this weekend and devote the next posting to combat tactics, which I'm finally beginning to understand.


  1. 1) Yes. But the point of the game isn't to win, it's to score as high as possible. You get points not only by conquering cities, but the RPG stuff as well.

    2) If you die, then the game's over! Really cool, I always like wargames that have a "you" unit.

    3) You "win" by conquering the last city, but the game tells you you can keep playing if you like.

    You going to just take that lip from those smarmy Tranavan elves? Let them boss you around?

  2. Forgot to add, you need a lot more troops in your army. Fighting the rabble with one archer and one cavalry? You need another archer and two infantry, fast. Try to keep a 'standard' number of men in each unit, I use 30, but people use 50 or whatever they want. After they gain a few levels then go equip them again, there will likely be new options available. Oh and have your priests cast Rally after your troops take hits to help against dispersion. Enjoy!

  3. This looks like a really cool and innovative game. Even its extended CGA graphics are growing on me. Pleasant surprise.

  4. Maybe the old man giving you 10 points was for pardoning Olaf (unless you already got points for that).

  5. Awesome game I played to completion many times.

    re:conquest vs vassals - some cities which provide income as vassals actually cost you money for a long, long time if you conquer them.

    Standard units were 30 for cav and I think 50 for bow/infantry initially. I think bow/infantry became units of 100 once you start heading south.

    As Harland said you need a much bigger army. With more units you can protect your weaker ones from cavalry charge with infantry units with spears/pikes or similar.

    Preserve clerics/mages (all heroes really) as they become very powerful later. Mages especially.

    As units level you can change their equipment.

    Maxing score is how you "win" the game. Unless you want to consider having fun as a "win" objective.

  6. This looks absolutely fascinating, and I'm glad I'M not the one playing it.

  7. AFAIK, the merchant's kidnapped son can't be saved. Pretty entertaining that, you rush to save him and find only bones and end up cursing due to the fact if you'd rushed, you'd have probably led a severely understrength army which would have lost quite a few followers in the process.

    Along incidents like Olaf, it gives flavor to the game.

    You've actually done pretty well thus far. Vassaled Marinia, conquered Paritan and are looking to subjecting Brocada. That's pretty much SOP. Although the standard route to do it is Marinia -> Brocada -> Paritan.

    Look at the screenshot above in your article labeled "I suspect I'll see him again" after conquering Paritan. Last line of the second paragraph, "In addition reports are that Brocada has fallen." Yet the next month Pitlag conquers Brocada (from what base? He's lost his city).

    So you were a bit too quick there in taking out Paritan first. :p

    On the side, a hint, always have small quick unit (bowmen/horsebows preferred - well trained) permanently in Aladda. Malacon may run into trouble at times and you'll have to respond quickly or else lose that vassalage fee permanently.

    Responding to "A Few notes" in your article above.

    Particular path - The game does encourage you to follow a certain direction (north before south) since the enemies you face in the south are generally a lot tougher. In fact, if you send a unit south a few steps before conquering Paritan, an adviser screen will appear encouraging you against continuing on that path until you subjugate Paritan.

    Random encounters - You're on the right track for leveling up your characters/units. Another hint, take along your army with you as you try to find random encounters (up to the point that they hit level 10). Cheap way of training. Use up half your movement points away from your city, and use the other half to move back.

    Eventually with enough heroes/levels, after doing the above, you can dump your army at home once they run out of movement and then continue with your heroes out alone looking for random encounters. (Heroes with horses have a lot more movement than foot soldiers)

    Random encounters going south are a lot tougher. Some of the enemies you face have a missile weapons that are a lot stronger than goblins.

    Copy Protection - I'm assuming you downloaded the game from an abandonware site. Most such games have had the copy protection patched, so you can just key in random letters at the screen.

    I had the original game, and yes the copy protection worked then. :p

    1. In answer to your questions.

      1) There _is_ an endgame. It doesn't require you to do the standard Kill Everything/Conquer Everything to achieve. Doing so will very likely get you there, but it's not necessary.

      In fact that old man prancing about declaring you the "rightful ruler of the ancient empire" is a prelude to the endgame of course. (insert Dun-dun-dun music riff here) :p

      And no, the 10 points he gives you is not related to Olaf AFAIK (per Zenic Reverie's comment above)

      After achieving the endgame, it's still possible to keep playing but by then you'll have no real enemies to take out except for Medeval/Trananvan if you're still raring for more. (Both fights are entertainingly brutal :p)

      2) Game over. Shows you your score, what year you died, what level, how much gold and then offers you the option to return to the saved game load screen. No Hall of Fame attached to this game.

      3) Nope it doesn't. Score's just a way of showing you that you might have missed out on something/doing things in a different way which might be more rewarding. I.e. you could have conquered Marinia before the old Duke died/after he died but before Malacon got sent out on patrol. You don't get the 10 points for making the city a vassal instead.

      One thing I liked was that some events in the game are time sensitive. I.e. Marinia's ruler dies, Malacon gets sent out on patrol. If you don't respond within a couple of months, Malacon bites it and you can no longer make Marinia a vassal state. So it keeps you on your toes.

      Of course you can't always tell if an event is time sensitive. I.e. your alliance with the elves against Paritan is not. If you only go after Paritan 3-4 years later, the elves are still there to back you up during the battle.

  8. This was such a refreshing change from the typical RPG scenarios. I thoroughly enjoyed it both as a strategy lover and an RPG lover. Somehow a company 30 years ago got the mixture right and it has not been replicated since. (AFAIK)
    Your doing very well so far, keep it up.
    Later on I found stacking my units (not heroes) hurt me more than helped me. An arrow barrage will hit every unit in a stack for top damage and separating them limits this.
    Just keep doing what your doing and I bet you'll finish this in just a few days.
    Also I found speeding up the battle msg's (Shift and +) along with about 13000 DB cycles helped immensely with time.

  9. "I hope to give it a lot more time this weekend and devote the next posting to combat tactics, which I'm finally beginning to understand."

    It would be good if you could also expand a bit on the resource side of things as well as the city management. You mentioned lumber and gold, is that it? Did stopping your lumber production affect being able to afford more troops, or do you need it for city upgrades?

    1. All the upgrades simply affect the tax revenue. Nothing militarily is hindered by abandoning the process altogether, besides cashflow.

  10. This seems like a very interesting game. I wonder what other expand-and-conquer strategy games are out there that have these RPG/quest elements? I wonder if this is an evolutionary branch that ends with this game, given the monster success that Civilization was going to have very soon after this.

    1. Majesty comes to mind.


    2. Civ is a 4x, and 4x games tended to shy away from fixed content (i.e. quasi linear quests) because it damages flexibility. 4x games give the player the tools to create their own narrative, as opposed to blindly following a script.

    3. The Spellforce series are RPG/RTS hybrids.

    4. There's actually a whole line of 4x games that have RPG elements. Games like Master of Magic, Heroes of Might and Magic, Age of Wonders, and, nowadays, Fallen Enchantress tend to have RPG progression elements, equipment, and, often, quests. However, none of them operate quite like this. Following Civ, you tend to fight other comparable Kingdoms/Empires in a more dynamic fashion, rather than the laid out-type scenario in this game. In any case, it's a fascinating combination, and I'm surprised we don't see it more often. I guess some of the "campaigns" in these games operate a bit more like this, but most people play in the more dynamic modes.

    5. I just started Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic, and like the play, I just wish it was more technically competent (it has load times, despite low res 2D graphics, the tutorial locks up forever if you click on the wrong thing, as it locks out all but one button. So if you click on another screen between messages, or your hero levels up placing that screen over the one it wants you to click...) that said, I'm really liking the gameplay. It is less railroady then this, but not by much in the intro missions.

    6. Never tried AoW:Shadow magic, I was put off by AoW II (love AoW though, so there's potential).

      On topic, the problem here is that wargames\tbs titles have a degree of feature overlap with crpgs.

      I assume that when Rotgrub asked about 'RPG/quest elements', he's talking about RP elements, not linear narrative, stats and random sub-objectives (for example, 'quests' in the warlords series) because elements like unit names\types (characters\classes), experience, stats, and attachments\upgrades (equipment) are pretty standard issue for wargames\4x in general.

    7. Ever tried the FIRST Age of Wonders? I keep trying it and not getting very far. That was a coolish game. Interesting concepts. Kept me wondering what the hell was going on, AND I bought it so I have the paper manual :)

    8. Yes I have; It isn't nearly as good as AoWII from what I can tell, though it doesn't have the stupid thing where you need to keep your hero in the first city.

  11. It seems that games like this,back then, just didn't do a great job of declaring themselves a true hybrid, with equal strength in both categories. They seemed like strategy games pretending to play "RPG" more than anything else.
    Or maybe I just didn't pay enough attention.

  12. 14-15 year old me loved this game in high school. I never finished it but after what seems like a year I recall I did eventually get an army to the gates of the very last city. It was so brutal I don't think I had the patience at that age to try more than a couple times to beat it. But I remember loving the journey getting there. Like the altoholic I've become in modern MMOs, I spent a lot of time re-starting the game and replaying those first couple years.

    One of the things I liked about it most was that sound it makes when your unit moves onto an enemy stack and creams it - that fat "thunk" PC sound. After POR this was the game I was most looking forward to hearing you write about, as it was one of my favorites from that era and no one else I've ever met has even heard of it. I can't believe no one else ever made a game like this since.

  13. I'm kind of surprised noone has mentioned the extreme effectiveness of experienced priests. In the later game it's quite possible to win many fights without any losses.

  14. It is extremely heartening to see the way these posts have flushed the Sword of Aragon enthusiasts out of the woodwork. Something everyone should know is that an original SoA dev has been working on a sequel of sorts over at

  15. Even when the game gives you the option of ending the battle early, it's a good idea to play that last round, the more enemy you kill the more of their gold you get in the end, also that last turn is useful for healing up units with your priest/ranger so they won't need to be reinforced and lose XP.

    There are many more cities that can made vassals, Brodica and Nuralia, in the north, but only under the right circumstances, as someone pointed out, your rapid progress may be outrunning the triggers for these events, which isn't really a problem if you don't mind running so many cities. I find the vassals very useful in the early game to keep your fledgling economy afloat, less so late game when their 4-500 gp/month is hardly noticeable. Tentula is an interesting case, some people have suggested it's may be a bug, If you conquer Tentula and take ownership of the city, you will be given a quest to find (some item), if you bypass Tentula and take out Char first(home of the giants), Tentula will then offer to be a vassal (but you don't get the points for the quest).
    I'm not sure how you're deploying you're forces, but try to have a Mage and Priest(Ranger for bow units) in every stack. Once the Mages have teleport you can jump about the battlefield crushing your enemies with ease, and your priest can cast "Rally" and "Vigor" to keep the troops from running away so much, heroes also add a moral bonus.

    When building unit stacks, keep an eye on the unit size, max is 200 and it's based off horses or lack of. A foot soldier is size 2, horse units are 4-5-6 (lt,med,hvy), as an example my bowmen all have 96 troops (size:192) a Mage(4) and Ranger with a light horse(4).

    Equipping your units can be confusing and a lot of fun. You really have to experiment with different armor/weapons, giving up mail for chain or leather and not taking a shield will allow Infantry (lv 5+) to use 2H-swords, Halbards or Pikes, as well as Javalins or Slings instead of a "Thrown" (spear).

    I've read a lot of comments about similar games and there are plenty of (master of magic comes to mind) But even after 2 decades nothing has ever quite captured what made Aragon so great. I have been wishing/waiting for a sequel for all those years but nothing ever materialized, even had a look at "Aragon Online" but it's more of a multiplayer thing.

    Glad you are seeing Aragon's RPG merits! All of us long time SoA fans are pleased to see the Addict approves!


  16. It's very interesting to read your play through of this, Chet. I drew up a list of strategy games (all kingdom-themed) that I want to play, and Sword of Aragon is one of the first.

    1. I'm curious how you'll like it as a strategy game. My experience with strategy games is so limited I can't make a good comparison, but I feel like the traditional strategy game elements in SoA are probably a weaker part of the game.

    2. Well I am certainly no expert on strategy games; I haven't played too many myself. I like them because they are (usually) quite replayable, and the ones with a medieval setting just appeal to me more than the others.

    3. @duskfire - You should totally start a blog to chronicle it. "The PC Tactician" maybe? XD

  17. I'm quite a bit behind in responding to comments, but let me say a few things in response to almost everyone on this thread:

    1. As Rowan notes, wow, where did you all come from? A couple weeks ago, hardly anyone had mentioned this game, and no one was writing and saying that they were anticipating it, and suddenly I have a bunch of SoA die-hards! Not complaining, of course. It's a great game.

    2. While I appreciate tips--and of course the answers to things I asked about specifically--many of you are getting a little bit too enthusiastic with the spoilers, so I didn't read these comments carefully until I'd finished the next posting.

    3. I get objective to score as high as possible, but it seems to me that certain points are only available if you make certain role-playing choices (with a little bit of luck besides). I think it would be more interesting to win the game by role-playing a certain way (e.g., a tyrannical conqueror who makes peace with no one), or by adhering to certain conducts (no bowmen would certainly make it more challenging). Maybe those things aren't even possible. I'll probably have more to say about it at the end.

    1. Back I the day, I found this game way too easy using bowmen so I limited myself to a small number of them. I also didn't use priests or mages at all.

    2. Yeah my strategy as a kid (once I discovered recruiting negative numbers of troops in Sur Nova) was to make like 2 or 3 armies of 100 archers each and most enemies barely survived a couple of rounds of that onslaught. Though honestly the cool thing was that there were a few armies/monster types, as I recall, that did stand up fairly well to that tactic, particularly in very heavily-fortified areas. Just such a great game.

  18. Has Ogre Battle come up in these discussions around Aragon yet? It was an awesome console strategy RPG. Loved playing it, though I never played it to completion (as with just about any other game I've ever purchased). Highly recommended, even just to get another take on what a strategy RPG might look like.

    Also, randomly discovered recently that Aragon was a kingdom in northeastern Spain, with the same region of the country still bearing the name today.

    1. Ogre Battle is great, but it doesn't have the same city simulation and strategy aspects. Each character is a unique unit that levels up and can change class. A group can only have up to 5 characters. I'm really not sure how to place it alongside other strategy games.

      I think a closer example to Sword of Aragon is a Saturn game called Dragon Force. There you have city building, exploration, and generals commanding armies of faceless fighters, mages, harpies, and others. The only thing that might be missing are quests, which I don't remember any specifically popping up.

    2. Ah, Ogre Battle 64. Probably the game I have the biggest love/hate relationship with. I *love* its combat, and managing units, and changing classes, and capturing monsters. I *hate* the alignment system, and the fact it is just about impossible to liberate cities, as you can't see what the overall alignment of a unit is.

    3. Gemfire by KOEI, probably comes closer, I guess. But the AI was worse off than SoA. I completed the game within 3 hours... THE FIRST TIME!

  19. And finally, after almost a month, I'm caught up! Now I have to go climbing in a few hours so i should really go to sleep. Maybe after this game of nethack...

  20. If you play the game on hard, I found that you get more interesting quests and vassal options. It may just be that playing on normal, I was going too fast for all the quest options to appear.

    I really liked this game when it first came out and would love to play a sequel.

  21. This game is awesome. Just got it running on DosBox.


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