Archive for the ‘Design’ Category

Mechanic Sketch – The Limit Break

Posted: September 9, 2011 by Guy in Design, Rough, The Tribal Game

Just came up with a small idea for a limit break mechanic, and then expanded it some, and decided to jot it down before forgetting.

I began thinking of “thematic batteries” while also thinking of the manga Vagabond and the long long fight contained therein, and since I’m also thinking of Go again these days the idea of the River mechanic from Weapons of the Gods also popped into my mind, which gave birth to all of this, which I think could and should be slotted into my Tribal Game, should I pursue it (I should, but it’s really about the would).
(Much of it came as generic, but tying it to keys made it neater. I think it’s pretty easy to see how they can be divorced again – just change the conditions).

Mechanic is for a “Roll a bunch of dice, use highest”, or “Highest makes a big difference” system.

When a condition set up by the Key appears, the player can (must?) take the highest die they roll and place it in the magazine. The other dice get a minus (either a static minus 1/2… depends on the die size, or more likely, an increasing – -1 for the first die you add, -2 the second time you add a die…). You can only add one die per roll.

Magazine size I think should be limited at ~5, thinking of a system using D10s, and especially when coupled with the progressive minus. If the minus grows more slowly, (-1 for the first 3, -2 for dice 4-6, etc.), then it could go longer.

Once the Magazine completely fills up, it starts discharging, perhaps one could “hold it in” till a big opportunity comes along, but once you begin discharging, you must keep going: You either don’t roll the dice at all, or you add the dice from the magazine to your normal rolls – you go in LIFO order – Last In, First Out. One die per roll, plus a bonus for its position (as above, either you get a +1 for the first, +2 for the second… or +1 for 1-3, +2 for 4-6…).

Once you finish discharging the magazine, you would get an “Advancement” in The Shadow of Yesterday terms, or some other change should be undergone by the character.
Considering the penalty for “holding it in”, so as your Limit Break fills up you either get a certain benefit or limitation.
Considering the option of discharging the magazine before it completely fills up – makes it more tactical, less thematic – inclined not to. But listing possible permutations.

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In the first post, I discussed the issue: How long it takes you from picking up a game to playing it, or from gathering some friends to playing it, is far too long. Here I’ll address a solution. And ramble some more!

Discussing a Solution:

So, those 2-3 hours, while they may be ok in general, many of us want to play a game in 2-3 hours. I think an organizer would be willing to spend 30 minutes, but if you can do without, it’d be even better. This is why a game where you create the setting (but this must be play, and not pre-play), or better-yet, use Earth, is often a good thing. Another world everyone knows (The Middle-Earth amidst fans) can also work.

There are many games I’d have played, or tried to play/run, if I had known how to transmit them to people who did not, and will not read the rules. I think designers should, or people who run their games at con should (for their benefit), come up with exactly how they teach a game, what they teach before play begins, and what they teach as they play the first few scenes. Andy Kitkowski said this might be best achieved via video-demos, or audio-recordings. I think he’s right.

Because yes, that’s what should happen, and why people can play so many board-games so rapidly. Someone talks for 5 minutes, often with pointing at specific tokens, at specific sections of the board, moving things to engage the other players. After 5-7 minutes, people begin to play, but the teaching of the game doesn’t stop. The person running the game explaines more complicated things that always come up, as they come up. The turn order, the combat/purchase or what have you is usually understood after 10 minutes or so. Some things are not explained, because they never come up, but that’s ok.

Another technique people who run board-games employ, based on the table’s preferances, is that after those ~15-20 minutes of having taught the rules and people playing a bit without guidance are concluded, they clean the board and begin a proper game. In Role-playing scenes, people often teach in specific scenes but also carry them onward, which is better than it being during potentially fatal action; examples include “Initiation” in Dogs in the Vineyard, and “preludes” in most World of Darkness games.

I am currently working on a game, code-named “The Beast Witch” (though it may also be code-named “The Sacred Hunt” or whatever, “The Tribal Game” category). And while talking to Paul Czege I’ve had a thought*, later shared on the afore-mentioned threads: Have a bunch of cardboards, like quick-reference sheets you get in board-games, at the center of a table. At the top of each such sheet write a “Situation” that comes up in the game, and then list on the card what to do, in order. I suggest the player who picks up the card reads the card. This is not easy, because it means you should be able to follow each stage as you reach it. If there are tactically “full” choices, you might want players to read the whole card before they begin following it.

Originally, I thought you’d list each “Sub-system” on the card, but that’s a bit backwards, as you don’t know whether to follow it or not, but something like “My character made another character laugh” or “I thought that other player made a good contribution to the story” tell you exactly when to pick them up.
I also think this will be a fertile ground for ritualistic phrases, or even actions, because you can tell people to make an oath, or perform an action, and the mere act of following such an instruction-card is sort of a ritual on its own.

Some more thoughts I’ve had: I am certain many games could be written, and then you could come up with such quick-sheets for them, and many games come with quickstart rules (but not enough). Also, quickstart rules, and the whole way we write our books might need to be reversed. We put the summaries at an appendix, where they might fit in the beginning, with the “main book” which just elaborates should go on later. I quite like how board-games do it: On the back-cover which avoids page-flipping we have the bare-bones overview, in the first 2-3 pages we have each stage, with a paragraph describing it, and then we have 6-20 pages which describe each stage in (often excruciating) detail.

Likewise, if we have quickstart rules in a hardcover book that’s heavy to lug around, and we might want to flip from the quickstart to the main section, or pass the quickstart rules around… it’s just not a good fit for them to be in the book. Unless you just want to train someone at how to teach the game, but not actually use this document as they go along. For that, I suggest the quick-start rules to be in a small booklet, separate from the main book.

So, to jump a bit back, while I believe most games can have such resources created for them, I wonder if it’ll affect the game’s design if it were designed from the beginning with the plan to make use of these things. We should find out.

For my upcoming game, I both plan to use the “The Big Bang shape” I discussed before, and to make each character sheet contain as much information as the player will need and I could fit on it. I’m taking a page from some of John Harper’s designs. You want the character sheet to contain as much information as possible, and that reading it and then being taught the rules for 5 minutes more should be sufficient.

Of course, giving players pre-generated characters, situation, and even enemies will cut drastically on preparation time, but it will also limit what most people will play in the beginning to just that. I might discuss that in a future post.

* The thought came in a slightly different context, of a game where each sub-system is completely different, with no unified mechanics.

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Ok, this discussion is going to cover several ideas, they may yet get further exploration later on, both exploring how they interact, or just each of them on their own.

The core issue, what it’s all about, is the ability to play games. A “game” does not exist when it is not played. There is no Settlers of Cattan “play” inside the box. There is no D&D Campaign inside that setting book. You only get play when you have people using the thing, when people are engaging in play.

The Problem:

That above theory is one thing, but one thing that is clear is, the focus should be on people playing the game. You want to make it easy for people to play the game. Easy is sometimes more important than good. If it’s easy, people will pick it up and play, and then it should be good. If it’s good, but no one ever plays with it, then how will they know it’s good? And even if they will “know”, will it be worth more than farthing, seeing as it’s not played?

This post follows a discussion on Story-Games, first in this thread, where a discussion on constraints led me to muse and opine on why people can play one board-game after another, though each is focused in scope, but people are loathe to do so with RPGs. My observation was that the main reason is how long it takes from when you pick up the game and how long before you can begin playing, which was spun into this thread, where Joel Shempert uses the term Fluency Play to describe this (or the result).

Well, many of the modern story-games are pretty small games. They run ~80-120 pages, and these pages are more along the lines of 6×9″ as opposed  to most traditional games that are 8.5″x11″. Reading such a book usually takes me about 2-3 hours, which may not be as bad as say, 6-8 hours I need to dedicate to traditional games (usually considerably more..), but it’s far from good enough.

Ok, so it took me 2-3 hours from when I picked up the book to “knowing” the game, now I have my friends with me. I know the rules, we can play, right? Oh, how I wish this were so. If I were to impart them with all the rules it’d take them about 20-30 minutes to learn. Now this brings to mind two questions:
1. Reading is faster than speaking, so why did I need to read it for 2-3 hours when 20-30 minutes were enough to begin playing?
2. Do you think people can sit and listen to you explain the rules passively for 20-30 minutes?

In my experience, people can spend 5 minutes listening attentively, 10 minutes listening, and at 15 minutes they’re ready to rebel. If you are talking for 20 minutes, you are often not going to play the game at all.
Now, it’s true that it’s possible each one of us had spent 2-3 hours learning the rules, but that is both unlikely, and you want as someone who makes a game to assume it is not so. You want to make it easy on people to play your game, remember?

So, we have one person who knows the rules, hopefully it didn’t take him long to know them. But now, what of his friends, the people he wants to play with? This issue is also very acute for game-designers who are looking for playtesters in general, and myself in particular. I just don’t know how to teach a game as I go along, and feel the need to info-dump. This also makes it harder for someone who is looking for playtesters, to just find some people and begin playing. If you need them to read the rules, that’s another hurdle, and at a convention it’s just not feasible.

This is the first part of two, the next will be posted tomorrow, and discuss some methods to address this.

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The Friendship Game V2, an Old New Game!

Posted: June 16, 2010 by Guy Shalev in Business, Complete?, Design
Tags: ,

So, after transferring data from my old LJ design blog over here, I went over this blog’s content again, and came across The Friendship Game again, which I am growing to appreciate more and more.

The Friendship Game (PDF link) is a small engine, yet quite potent, which deals with creating a story focused on the interactions of characters. It provides a somewhat positive reward cycle and also drives play by the use of “Secrets” which come up during the game, make things more difficult, and then end in catharsis.

What I think is more interesting is that one could take this game, almost without any changes, and plug it into a system they have which lacks a powerful social system. In fact, if I were to work on a Juiced Rider, Memory Mecha hack that takes the game into the realm of an anime high school monster summoning setting, it’d be nearly mandatory to add something of the sort. Read later, because the engine is available for you to use in your own games.

After dusting it off, and talking to Per Fischer and Paul Czege about it, and my old discussion with Adam Dray as well, I decided to add some stuff to it.
What was there, is still there, the new content begins at the 4th page, the sentence above “Lacunas” and onwards. Much of it clarifies some situations, gives advice, and is a summary of the game’s rules.

Additionally, there’s a contract! Basically, this game, and the text in it, are quasi-Creative Commons. People will need to email me to ask for my permission, which should be granted in all but the most extreme cases, and they could use the game. All they’d have to do is make it clear in the text of their game which section is mine, and that it is in fact mine. Think of it like licensing art-work for use in your games!

If you play the game, tell me what you think. If you read the game, tell me what you think. If this idea intrigues you, you know the drill, tell me what you think!

Finally, I already have some thoughts on the game, but mostly to make it more welcoming to non-story gamers, stuff most story-gamers will take par the course; such as always have at least one Goal per character, and if you resolve your last one, start a new one (as well as begin play with one). The game’s tone could also be changed by modifying the default target number, and changing how much each invoked Secret adds to the TN, for instance. But that’s for later, if at all.

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Game Design Sketch: The Big Bang.

Posted: June 12, 2010 by Guy Shalev in Design, Rough
Tags: ,

This is for lack of a better term, a game design “sketch”. It’s a rough idea I’ve had and which I am storing here. Quite interestingly, it’s a shape, almost geometrical, for currency and/or story to progress along a game.

I do not yet have content to insert into this form, but it’s here, just waiting for some content.Here is The Big Bang Diagram file, and if anyone has the skills (and time) to help make it look better, I’d be extremely thankful.

Anyway, I call this form “The Big Bang”, at the center there’s a pool of resources, or a situation that begins things (ala the “Bang!” term in story-games). Then the first circle around it has either events or actions. You can do any number of those things, or use your resources on any of these actions (use resource to initiate conflict, to ameliorate consequences, etc.). I am thinking that resources on this level would be either smaller, or be inside the fiction level.

Then, after a while, you get to move to the second circle, the second layer. Now, here it gets interesting. All those “or” are options, because obviously you could do any number of these things in different places.
Perhaps you only get to move resources to the outer ring if you performed certain actions on the inner ring, and this could also control how many tokens you move, or create on the outer ring.
Perhaps any resource used on the inner ring moves resources to the outer ring, but we also have the question of who will own it then.
Also, perhaps you need to earn the right to move, either to move resources or on the type of events, such as a fan-mail style economy. Perhaps you don’t want to move because you can only use Key style mechanics on the inner circle.

To use resources on the outer level, let us say more global events, or resources that are meta-fiction, perhaps the economy is “free”, that you can use resources on the outer ring while also making things happen on the inner. Or perhaps you only get to do things on the outer after a certain threshold of resources/events had occured on the inner. This however, could make it slightly more of a betting game, where you wouldn’t want to get your resources stuck on the inner ring, but you’d also not want to move all of your resources too quickly and be left without a way to affect the inner ring while play still progresses there.

And then, while playing on the outer circle, you also move things to a closure, if this represents story, or perform acts that move tokens if this represents resources. Back to the “Pool” at the center. And if this is not a free-flowing economy where you can exist on all levels simultaneously, after a while there is a “Bang!”, where the previous action (a scene, a series of scenes?) had concluded and this generates a new situation, or that a new resource cycle begins.
Such a resource cycle could lead to diminishing resources if you close the gate and continue with the resources from before, or you could reset it to the default amount each time, and of course, some actions could also create more resources.

Finally, I see the shape not just describing the nature of the game, either the plot’s progress or the resource currency (or both!), but as an artifact in play – a map that is used and has tokens and chips placed on it.

And this is the sketch I had in my mind during a train ride on Thursday. A sketch, where many details can and need to still be crafted.

P.S. I added blog posts from my personal blog here as well, seeing as I’m slightly changing what this blog is about, to general thoughts on games, story (and its form/nature), and game design.

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I think as some friends of mine have pointed out, the most interesting part of the game is the memory interface. How players or rather characters can gain and lose memories. As such, I think a lot depends on how memories are handled, and how you get new ones and such.

I think another important aspect are the “Credits”, though there may be something that needs to be done with them, perhaps to tie them into something that is more story oriented, so the higher your credits, the more the emotional onslaught is going on, so you will want to leave less, or your friends will need you, or you realize how fucked up you now are as a result of the memory swapping that had been going on.

Even if we leave the currency as it is now, the issue I wanted to touch upon was that we need to see how quickly currency is gained, and how quickly in general end-game is reached, either the rare “Salvation” or the more likely “Down-spiral of doom”. Of course, once we find this information out, it’s only half the job because I don’t know what I want to reach. If it ends within 6-10 sessions, it might be great, but what if I want it to end within say, 8 hours, or two sessions? I think knowing will help greatly, especially knowing what affects it, as this will enable me to control different variables to make the game friendly both to longer campaign play and to one/two-shots for convention play or long weekends.

The other reason this is important, and let’s be frank, I don’t need to just “discover” where the game is aimed in terms of length, I need to decide. The discovery is of what affects it, so I could modify it accordingly. Anyway, the other reason it is important is for the memory deck. The memories get added and removed, and currently this happens between sessions, but if the game is to work in one-shots, then is the deck that you have the one that you will have until the game ends?

The upside is that you are much more likely to gain back your memories, even if someone else ends up with a memory of yours, if you can get them to get it back to the joint pile then you once again have a shot to get it. But there is then a much reduced chance of the excitement of not knowing if your memory is there. The two lead to differing themes, one is the chance to reclaim yourself, even if only the player truly knows that this is the character’s true self, as the characters cannot truly differentiate, or the theme of losing hope of regaining oneself and having to make do with the tattered remains and the patch-work quilt that now makes up your history, your past, your friends, your morality, your you.

I think that it is required that there will be specific actions that not only enable you to swap memories with the pile in the center, but also actions that will call for you to remove memories from the joint pile, add memories to the joint pile. I wonder at removing memories without adding new ones, or adding new ones without removing old ones.

I am also unsure about whether it is better to remove the memories removed from the pile without letting players know, or letting players know, in order to be able to highlight the hopelessness the characters now have in regaining their old selves.

This is another issue, will the characters try to regain their old selves? Will they know their self had been modified? I can’t help but think characters will use tattoos and journals to write down who they are, to help them hold on to the fact they had changed, even if the new them is truly them, as the emotions come with it.
On that note, I wonder if the psychiatrists and psychologists aboard the ships will help people cling or will try to get them to remove their hold on their past. I suspect it may be quite a utilatarian world-view in the default setting, where they will merely try to keep them hanging, because this is all that matters.

Here is another issue, Prisoners make the rules kind of murky. Removing the monks seems almost par the course, with enabling them in an appendix for an alternate style of game, with them being not only the default but the only kind of player-character-types.
Anyway, I think that if you look at the setting then the whole concept of “Prisoners” as distinct from regular characters is a bit ridiculous… because in the end, after memory-swapping, how can you tell, and is it truly important who was a criminal before? A criminal might end with a hero’s personality make-up, and vice versa.

Thus, I think any person might volunteer for this thing, and if they manage to get out of it alive and finish their tour, then they get the money and a pardon if they are criminals. Conversely, one might add a dystopic rumour about how due to exactly this clause, whoever is freed is placed under permanent surveilance, because they might be dangerous. Heck, as a result of the war they had participated in, even heroes with heroes’ personality make-up might become somewhat callous, especially if you take into account the set-up that they are in, their comrades, and so on and so forth.

This seems to me to be a much better direction. Things like shooting missiles should definitely cause memory-swap and also erasure, as it warps the psychic-mind in the area around it in space. We’ll see.

I also need to verify that the system is not too fiddly, perhaps there might be also cause for some more RP scenes, though I kind of like the austere and bare-bone quality it has.

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I thought this might interest others as well. I decided to think again of Cranium Rats while in class today, and jotted down several pages of notes.
Of particular interest to most people might be sections 5-7, which explore currency, story, competition, and their interaction. This obviously references Cranium Rats, and its re-design which had been slightly explored in the previous posts on this blog, but I feel like it is more broadly applicable. Feel free to tell me if it is indeed so.

This is also the first post made here, after migrating from LJ.

  1. Creating a generic system of rules, which had “Sliders” which can be adjusted, and to clearly say, “If you do X and you gain 3 dice, it will cause people to initiate more conflicts, but if performing X only gains you one die then less conflicts will be initiated.” For instance, how many dice/points it costs to initiate a conflict, or how many free dice the defender receives.
  2. Even if such a semi-generic system does not come to pass independently, and it is released from the get-go with a setting, with specific rules; then it is possible to release different settings, and if you change the values of different variables then it should change the behaviour (from the players).
  3. Release should include a setting world or two, or at least “Moods” and “Themes” along with the game, along with adjusted systems.
  4. There will be several different types of playtesting required. Both the general system as a whole, which will include how currency is transferred, and for each sub-setting, to see if the values decided upon deliver the expected and desired results.
    1. It will be easier to check the specific systems after checking the general one, because supposedly you will only need to check the effect of changing singular values.
    2. But of course, you cannot check the general system, because each time you test, there will be specific values inserted into the different variables. At best you could check “directions”: “If we will increase X’s reward then…” and less focus on specific values’ effects.
  5. It seems as if the game will require people to think of the currency, or at least understand it on some conscious level. Just like in a board-game you play differently the second time, after you understand better how things work and what yields are expected and desired. What actually works. The thought-patterns of board-games and strategy. A different thought-pattern, nearly tactical/strategic.
  6. Unlimited competition and the creation of a joint story; these have a difficulty coexisting peacefully. In this version it will be necessary to change their levels until they could coexist, and maybe even give up on the desire for it to be a CSI Game (Competitive, Story Interactive Game), merely to have it as a working game.
    1. When the game has an end, and at this end a victory or a loss, then that is the goal.
      1. If the story is the ultimate goal, then victory could not be something you aim for seriously and without limits.
      2. If victory is the ultimate goal, then the manner in which you can tell a story is constrained.
        1. The largest problem is when “everyone wins”, when one focuses on story and another on victory. Because then the victory may feel hollow, as it’s not against someone who was even competing, it was not earned.
        2. The contribution to the story by the one who focuses on victory could be marginal, minimal, and all over the place. It sometimes work in a game where you have random elements that throw you off in various directions, but intent matters, and when another player does it simply because they don’t care? It is not meaningless in the context of the game table. More-over, with the random and hijinks mindset, everyone is geared towards it.
  7. So there is need to make some change, in the manner the story is told, the competition, or in the manner these two elements interact.
    1. Story.
      1. You can see in competitive games what you can do with stories, for instance in computer games (albeit those are usually solo games), and then for a large number of people the story does not matter. We need to assume that whoever plays story-games is interested in the story, even if we cannot leave the creation of story to lay completely within their minds – as that goes against my design sensibilities. So we need to assume there is some interest. Whoever watches Blizzard’s games’ video cutscenes as opposed to those who skip them.
      2. Of course, if there are simply things “on screen” then we will add story, because a large part of every story or perhaps even its majority (and especially “messages”) occurs in our own minds. But we do want there to be a story created together, but what is a story which is created as a joint effort, is there some sort of message and can we get it over? We can try, but the other side has to “pick it up” on their end, because otherwise the message will not be transmitted, and in a like manner it is hard to discern how many stories are told around one table. As the number of characters, as the number of players, a multiplier?*
      3. But it seems I do not want to give up on story, on story-gaming, where the thing is creating scenes, situations, where there are often characters. This is also why my CSI Games project focuses on stories and not characters. Even though characters are another method of story, as explored in 7.1.1, identification, not immersion, but viewer-identification with a character in a book or a movie.
      4. I don’t want to give up on this type of story, even if unrelated to characters, and so I know that I can’t get too far from what there already is in the realm, the genre –  so I need to focus either on changing within the realm of competition, or the interaction; there is not a lot of wiggle room here.
    2. Competition.
      1. It is possible of course to let go of competition, so it will not exist at all, or that it would be merely nominal, but if so it will be a completely different type of design, even though this is also an option. **
      2. Right now I think of changing the extension or the realm over which competition extends itself.
      3. In the joint realm (of story), competition can obviously revolve around story, over its direction, over controlling it, etc.
      4. I find this option or at least its presentation as unfulfilling and insufficient, because every competition which occurs within a game of this sort will affect the story. Either directly, or by its control via currency which is exchanged between the players who will later use it in order to succeed within the game or to modify it on the player level directly. And so, even though it is an option, it could be said that every solution that will be given will already perform this, so there is no need to talk of it as a separate option at this stage.
      5. The change that currently attracts me is changing the point of “victory”, from a final point towards which all strive, where smaller points act as stepping points that get you closer there. The suggested change is to lower the final ending point, and to make the competition one that revolves over the specific, the particular, where there is a certain level of resources that can be transferred between the players, but everyone still have enough in order to influence things. The competition is over the resources which will enable more control within the game-world later. The competition is in order to gain more chances of control when you desire it.
  8. There are different resources, and you can probably exchange in various ways one type of currency for another; even if it’s the same currency! For example, if the same resource can give you 2 dice in one situation and 3 dice in another, and you can also earn 2 in one way and 3 in another, then you could say that you can exchange 2 of “resource X used in Y scenario” for 3 of “resource X used in Z scenario”.
    1. From board games I’ve noticed that too much choice can not only liberate but also paralyse (analysis-paralysis). If each type of currency can only be used in certain places, then in those places it is more likely that you will use these resources, as opposed to wanting to save them for a later date when they are universal. However, when they aren’t universal, you may use them more while they are in your possession, but you may shy from obtaining them, because they are both more narrow in their application and because the other players will know what you are aiming for. This is less of an issue in a less-adversarial mind-set.
      1. Issues of scarcity obviously play a part here, that is, how easy and how often you can regain and refresh different resources.
    2. The resources must renew and replenish, the ones which players use again and again to compete between themselves and to drive the story and the action forward, for the game to not be stagnant. These are temporary resources.
    3. There are also more permanent resources, of which there is a closed economy, the “16” points distributed amongst three players. It is important that they will not dictate the whole game, so players could not lose too many, or gain too many! And yet they must be significant. 5 per player, and a 16th that can be had? This requires more thought as the game is re-tooled from the ground-up.

* Robert Donoghue just wrote today on his blog about “Sub-plots“, which I’ve read after writing this. I think that even if the number of stories is vast, and they are different stories, then it is possible all participants would count the same number of plots and sub-plots, and even point at them. This is pretty wild.
Also, it’s unclear what exactly story is, at this point, even after all I’ve spoken of it before. We know it when we see it.

** It will be a different game either way, but this way I can at least feel as though it bears the same spirit.

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