The Story of O - A review of Orsogna

THE GOOD
Theatre, Quality, Rules, Maps Counters
The BADD

Nothing at all

THE BAD
Nothing at all
ORIGINALITY
5.00 star(s)
PRESENTATION
5.00 star(s)
FUN
5.00 star(s)
PLAYER'S VERDICT

10 'Essential'

ibncalb

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The Story of O - a review of Advancing Fire’s Orsogna

Full Disclosure

I spent a lot of time playtesting and received a free copy.

I have not provided a description of everything in the module – there are enough unboxing videos already. And I have not looked at or discussed the CGs.

I’m a firm believer that life is too short to play on geoboards, I prefer to play with the rules that exist but are rarely implemented. Give me mud, give me LV, give me combat engineering!

The Problem with ASL Reviews
The only good ASL review would be a review of a product that has been out for years, and that the reviewer has played against countless opponents, innumerable times. Otherwise, it’s just one dude’s opinion, based on feel and experience.
So, by that frank admission this is a bad review. However, if you wait ten years until every known errata and tactic for playing Orsogna is uncovered and put into this review then Orsogna will be out of print.
(But, as one of the 16 play testers, that does make me more qualified than the other 8 billion people on earth to write this review).
So once again, get ready for my bad review.

Touching The Package

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I don’t know why, but there are some box fetishists out there. This section is for you.

I throw away most of my boxes, I keep a couple for overlays and extra counter sheets but in general they go straight into the recycling. I like to think there’s another ASLer working at a recycling centre somewhere who appreciates my taste.
The only other box I kept is the Prokhorovka box as the maps are so chonky they don’t fit in my normal map storage.

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The Orsogna box is the same size. It’s probably some standard European, well researched, golden rectangle, hyper efficient storage ideal, that consequently won’t fit on American shelves.

Mine arrived, like me, well packaged. In terms of toughness, I would imagine that it would stop a tennis ball dropped from a few centimetres (about an inch y’all) but it wouldn’t stop a 5.56 (home defence) round.
Once again, like me, it would look pretty on a shelf, but as soon as I’m done writing this, it’s going in the bin.
I’ll leave the box art review to Jeff and Dave, but there is no egregious spelling error on the front cover. Good Job Sebi!

Stroking The Map
ASL players, being a small subset of a larger deviant population, can complain about anything. So maybe it’s best I don’t even mention the maps. I mean you can keep some of the people happy some of the time, but at the end of the day Jazbutis is still around.

The Orsogna maps are 170gsm, the Biazza Ridge maps, which, like me, were beautiful but very fragile, were 80gsm.

To put this into ASL terms Biazza Ridge is about as thick as the free sheets of coloured paper you get in each MMP module, but Orsogna is a beefed up KGP map thickness.

I’m genuinely surprised that the people who complained that BR was too thin did not also complain that Prokhorovka was too thick.

So that’s the substance of the maps covered.

In terms of content, you get 4 maps. Each map is clearly marked 1-4 on the upper fold of each sheet, so you don’t need to open each map to identify the number.

Each map is 235.5cm by 79.5cm (or for any Imperial readers - 0.0012 Nautical Miles by 45000 twips).

In ASL terms it’s 6cm shorter than two sets of RB, and just to trigger someone, about 5mm wider. This excess is a lovely blue strip that I presume designates an entry area but could be cut off if you’ve only got a feeble gaming table.

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Overall, it’s a wee bit smaller that DAK, so if you have a DAK table somewhere use that. If you don’t have a DAK table, then bro, you gotta ask yourself do you really game?

The maps, together, are 118 by 47 hexes. That’s 5546 hexes. In terms of terrain it covers about the same area as the DZ:SME map.

It’s a good playable size. Not too wide, so if you can play the Germans in RB and whilst reaching for the Volga your gut doesn’t knock down your kill stacks, you’ll be fine here.


There are 10 levels. Colour differences are clear and there is a key at each end of the map. Crest lines are clear.

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There are very few place names, those that are picked out in a pleasant blue, which stands out from the terrain.

There are some buildings which are not on the centre dot, similarly there are a few combination terrain hexes. I know some people don’t dig this, but it’s covered in the first rule of Chapter B. It creates more interesting LOS, so I’m down with it.

One new, to me at least, feature is the use of different coloured hex numbers to delineate two of the maps into separate CG areas. This sometimes negates the need for masking the map during play.

The map is beautiful. Gloomy enough to evoke a winter’s day in a cold and dark December, but variegated and bright enough to facilitate play. The VASL map is the same, during PT I never had a question about the map.
What does the map show? A long plateau dropping off to the North and East into vineyard and olive covered valleys. The head of the plateau looks suspiciously like a frogfish.

At a very rough count about 250 of the hexes are buildings so it’s about 5% buildings. The rest of the map is brush, woods, orchards, vineyards, olive groves.
New terrain types are reedbeds, haystacks, cobblestoned hexes, craters and hillocks.

I can hear the sharp intake of breath when I mentioned hillocks. Well, I got a few things to say. There are very few on this map, in fact it’s a few hex sides that kind of act like hillocks. They cost only a bit extra to move up and don’t block los. Easy eh?
The second thing I got to say about hillocks is that they’re extremely difficult to grok from the ASLRB, but straight forward in this context. The third thing I got to say about hillocks is that they’re a really cool terrain feature akin to slopes that adds some extremely interesting LOS possibilities to maps.

And, another thing, hillocks are here to stay (possibly disguised as embankment railroads) but here all the same.

There are also slopes. This Advancing Fire mix of hillocks and slopes will be discussed in a separate article. Having said that there are very very few slopes or hillock crest lines.

This is as far away from BR complexity as you can get whilst still containing slopes and hillocks.

Downtown Orsogna

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What does deserve special mention is the depiction of Orsogna village. The villages and old town centres of Europe are not at all well depicted in ASL. Narrow streets make an effort, but they don’t tell the story.
(I’d recommend spending a bit of time in Google Street View in Orsogna to see the actuality of what AF is trying to represent).

The small dense village built around the central boulevard is a defender’s dream. Rowhouses surround the central road, forcing the Kiwis to attack along the row houses or to try their luck on the boulevard. They could of course just outflank the town to the West, except there is a massive on map minefield preventing that.

There’s a limited tunnel system, similar to the tunnel complex in Fortress Cassino.

Constricted, claustrophobic village terrain, with Paratroop infantry moving through the village via breaches. The roads into town are mined, or even cratered and then mined.

The contrast between the wide-open terrain of most of the map and the tight cluster of stone buildings making up Orsogna guarantees two very different kinds of fight.

Ruddy Counters!

Two full colour counter sheets. White core, the same quality as supplied with Prokhorovka.

The “British” counters provide a phat boost to any counter tray. 45 regular 457s!

There is also a smaller Māori infantry OB, identical to the regular Brits save an identifying symbol. (Māori are stealthy, can use H2H and can leap across shallow streams). In total I count about 104 squads with associated SMC, HS and SW.

Two dozen colour Shermans – the wreck side is very well done (best get used to seeing that side).

The Germans have about 60 squads representing Parachute infantry, their HS and SMC also. There are a few of the shorter-range FSJ 81mm mortars also. I guess that these shorter-range mortars have never been needed in ASL before, but in Orsogna, where even your normal 60 hex range GrW 34 will often be out of range, I can see why the newer Kz GrW 42 are needed. There are a few counters to represent units of an Italian Paratroop unit which fought also.
And naturally both sides get a few assault engineers.

Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks

One highlight is 4 beautiful, individually illustrated sniper counters per side, two for each side, for each sector.

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In terms of system counters, there are some burnt out woods/orchards counters, debris, haystacks etc.

There is a stack of control counters, which unlike everyone else’s control counters are 5/8” and brightly coloured, good decisions.

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The counters are gorgeous, but do we really need them? (In the spirit of transparency, I hate new counters).

They’re certainly hard to avoid, it seems that nearly every new HASL has counters.

There are certain counters that are needed in greater quantity than are provided for in the prerequisite modules – here clearly there is a need for more 457’s than are in FKAC.
There are counters needed to differentiate similar troops on the same field (Maori, NKVD, British Airborne troops). Then there are new types of troops that the designer feel must be portrayed.

As much terrain, and many battles were unique, then we need to accept that designers, whilst representing these battles through new maps and SSRs, also introduce new counters. New counters are a necessary evil, but in this case at least, a beautiful necessary evil.

May We See Your Papers Please?

A quick word about the scenario sheets and CG charts. There are 14 scenarios. They are full colour on good quality glossy heavy paper. Some are printed on one page, some back printed and some back printed on different pages.

Other charts are a CG roster, a FPP chart (if I want to purchase a blazing haystack I can), CG organiser, CG purchase charts, a terrain chart which gives MP/MF costs for combinations night/mud/elevation change etc. The same size paper is used as Prokhorovka so it will fit in Letter and A4 page protectors. I didn’t know such diplomatic paper existed…

The Rules are bound in a magazine style. This is far, far easier to handle and read that separate punched pages. I applaud this decision.

A Fair Complexion?

I’ve stated before that complexity in an ASL module is measured by how the designer implements some of the less well know rules and how he introduces new rules
.
Well Advancing Fire introduce a third aspect to this complexity – tweaking and as any Floridians know, tweaking is an acquired taste.

So, in the triumvirate of complexity is Orsogna complex?

A resounding yes. Let’s look at how.

In the little or less used rules corner we have mud, rain, night (including lots of vehicles at night) barbed wire fences, hillocks, slopes, narrow streets, olive groves and vineyards.

In the new rules corner, there are Artillery Observer Teams, rules for close urban terrain including cobblestoned areas, craters, haystacks, reed beds and rules for remaining HIP.

The rules in red are the rules that have been tweaked.

Is this a good thing? I believe so, let me example.

1.12A “Ok, wind, nothing. Rally”

The Wind Change step of the ASOP can be the most mundane stage of a game, useful mainly to chide your opponent that he’s lost his reinforcements because he rolled the wind before he set them up. Or it can completely change the face of the game as Chad (the good looking one from Hazmo) recently argued.

In Orsogna, as in Prokhorovka there is a bit more that goes into the WC.

Rain is often the kiss of death for an attacker. (Old Man Shouts at Cloud moment) Each WC there’s a 17% chance that all of your smoke will disappear, and often more importantly, you’ll need to pay 1 MF extra for an elevation change. Now if you’re playing in mud and in an environment with slopes then suddenly your movement expenses are massively increased for the rest of the game! All this for a measly mist modifier that doesn’t even cancel FFMO. Stoopid rain.

Advancing Fire have tweaked the weather rules to be more fun and less devastating. So now rain does not eliminate smoke, but it does diminish it faster. Rain does not automatically increase the cost for moving up and down slopes, only if it rains a lot.

This adds a tiny bit of complexity but is well worth it.

There are minor tweaks – German HMGs that move from their at start position become MMGs. It’s more difficult to remain concealed and advance into CC in a building hex.

There are also systematic, under the hood tweaks which form an AF tradition. HMGs are very rare and there are no leaders in the CG or scenarios that start better than a 9-1.

Some of these tweaks are annoying outside of Orsogna. For example, after months of playing only Orsogna, my regular opponent and I started an OVHS CG. We kept having to relearn the regular rules (“Is that base rules or Sebi rules?”).

So, whilst the commitment is worth it to fully get down in the mud at Orsogna, there is price to pay.

And before anyone pipes up with “too much chrome” remember ASL is a game that represents the thermodynamics of white phosphorus smoke in cave systems. We’re way past the stage of complaining about chrome.

To summarise the complexity. If you’re going to play the majority of Orsogna the extra complexity is a worthwhile investment. If you’re going to buy it and play one scenario, then you’ll struggle with the investment/reward ratio.


Game, play

Orsogna fits a niche. With the exceptions of Crossing the Moro, Casa Beradi, Fortress Cassino and Primosole Bridge (all small) there aren’t any other HASL set in the Italian theatre.

Orsogna is at an interesting point in the war. The Kiwis still have red TH numbers, but the Germans don’t yet have panzerfausts. So, the Shermans struggling through the mud and the mines are very easy targets to the PAK 40s 36 hexes away, which are in turn largely invulnerable.

Weather and ground conditions are an overriding factor in the scenarios.

In terms of visibility, there are many hindrances, combined with rain, it’s often not an easy battlefield to see. One thing worthy of mention is how many of the scenarios allow the player to change the battlefield by using PFZs, haystacks and craters. Like rubble placement in Hatten, it allows the defender to change the battlefield. I like this aspect a lot.

In terms of movement, with the exception, I think of the first scenario, it’s muddy. So, vehicles lose their mobility, if you want to see a Sherman flip over, try driving over a crestline in the mud.

The poor infantry really become foot sloggers.

The most comparable product I’ve seen is FC, where similarly, an outnumbered German force uses the terrain and fortifications to hold off a far superior force. (The same formations fought again at Cassino).

Things I don’t like?

I’m struggling to find things that I dislike in Orsogna. I really am. I know what other people don’t like. But I don’t agree that back printed scenario cards, complex rules and shadows on buildings are important or negative. I’m not too interested in the interviews (I know others will be) but I’m not really a historical player. I do appreciate the bibliography and the clear care and attention that went into this module.

There will be errata. There will be errors. I’ll put my cards on the table and say there’s nothing I don’t like about Orsogna.


Do I Enjoy It?

As I mentioned upstream, I’m not a historical player. I couldn’t tell you the differences between a PzIVJ and a PzIVH in real life. But I’m enthralled by how designers take historical environments and units and turn them into DRMs, terrain costs and VCs.

I think this module is fantastic. It’s the best module that I own. It adds immense depth at a small cost in complexity. It pushes and augments my rules knowledge whilst introducing me to a battle that imposes different challenges on both sides. It demands a style of play I have not found in other modules.

Excellent job Advancing Fire.

Will You enjoy it?

Here we have the reason I’m writing, here we have the reason you’re reading.

Will you enjoy it? I think this is simple. If you’re the kind of player, that 30 years after slopes were introduced into the system, is still moaning that they’re a bit too complex, and that you don’t really like them, then this module is not for you.

If you don’t want to play FW as it’s not real ASL, you won’t enjoy Orsogna.

In short, if you’re happy with what ASL is, then you won’t enjoy.

However, if you’re interested in seeing what ASL can be, then this is a perfect module.
 
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Philippe D.

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Thanks a lot for the review Ben. You almost convinced me to buy the module outright.

Now translate this into French, with as much style, and go post this on the French forum. It will do a lot of good to your language skills (of course every interested reader will already have read it here).
 

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Thanks for your report ;)
Interesting what the italian guys put out. Also like the box - similar to Kampfgruppe Scheerer from LFT. Like that box!

I'm a bit doubtful about that 3D style of the print. The buildings brings a different feeling for what I see now. Got to see that in real and play with it. Looks weird to me. Not really sure about that sytle...
 
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fenyan

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Well written with interesting insights. For what it's worth, Mark Pitcavage (if I'm not mistaken) prefers to use the word "writeup" instead of "review." Advancing Fire is definitely offering the ASL world something fresh and different.
 
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Ben,
Great review/writeup ! In a few cases, I like English sense of humour 😁.

I have a "problem" with Advancing Fire scenarios : the # of squads / # of SW ratio, often close to one. To me, this changes deeply the game and the way you play. It looks like a ROF contest. Is it the same in this module ?
 

ibncalb

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It looks like a ROF contest. Is it the same in this module ?
Thanks for the comment.

No this is not at all the case. SW are not in preponderance and those that are there for their historical reason. As mentioned HMG are very rare and there are no leaders above 9-1, so kill stacks don't exist. However MMG with mandatory fire dirction killing kiwis at 24 hexes with 1-3 shots do exist.
 

Gordon

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Not having played a lot of scenarios from 3rd party producers, I started playing one from Biazza Ridge yesterday and it was a little inconvenient to not be able to glance at the scenario card to see the armor stats of a concealed vehicle on board. A minor annoyance, but one I hadn't encountered before.
 

Barking Monkey

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I've only had the module for less than a week, but I'd take a bit of a contrary view on a couple points. I agree that the quality of the components is outstanding. I guess you can count me in as one of the people who enjoy ASL as it is, since this is where things get a little wobbly for me.
I was surprised at the amount of terrain related rules, given that the battle is played out over generally familiar and common terrain types. At this point one can expect the usual debris and slope rules to be inserted in a HASL, especially a 3rd party one, for better or worse. Hillocks (or more properly the hillock based way red crest lines were incorporated) were an unhappy inclusion and begin to touch on some of what seemed off to me. If I'd put together a HASL with as much added complexity as Orsogna I'd be looking for ways to pare it back where possible. Hence stuff like tossing in that hedges cost 1 1/2 MF to cross rather than one - really? Was this absolutely necessary? There are other examples along these lines.
My bigger issue though is I found the rules difficult to follow and incomplete. I'm still trying to find how the wind and weather are supposed to be determined at the start of each campaign game scenario. There's a paragraph about how it can change during a game, but nothing (that I've found so far - maybe it's in there somewhere and just buried?) indicating what it is at the start. I'm inclined to use 'overcast' since that seems implied but it's just a guess, probably dice for wind and throw out a 'strong wind' result?

I'd buy it again, and I think it's a good product, I'm just not nearly as high on it as you are. It all seems a bit 'some assembly required'.
 

axel65

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Sto ancora cercando di scoprire come dovrebbero essere determinati il vento e il tempo all'inizio di ogni scenario di gioco della campagna. C'è un paragrafo su come può cambiare durante una partita, ma nulla (che ho trovato finora - forse è lì da qualche parte e semplicemente sepolto?) che indica cosa sia all'inizio. Sono propenso a usare "nuvoloso" poiché sembra implicito, ma è solo una supposizione, probabilmente dadi per il vento e butti fuori un risultato "vento forte"?

I'd buy it again, and I think it's a good product, I'm just not nearly as high on it as you are. It all seems a bit 'some assembly required'.
ORS Campaign Game Special Rules
- CG3: EC & WIND - See SSR ORS 2. EC are Mud and Overcast. There's no Wind and Rain at start of each CG-scenario.
 

Sparafucil3

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I've only had the module for less than a week, but I'd take a bit of a contrary view on a couple points. I agree that the quality of the components is outstanding. I guess you can count me in as one of the people who enjoy ASL as it is, since this is where things get a little wobbly for me.
I was surprised at the amount of terrain related rules, given that the battle is played out over generally familiar and common terrain types. At this point one can expect the usual debris and slope rules to be inserted in a HASL, especially a 3rd party one, for better or worse. Hillocks (or more properly the hillock based way red crest lines were incorporated) were an unhappy inclusion and begin to touch on some of what seemed off to me. If I'd put together a HASL with as much added complexity as Orsogna I'd be looking for ways to pare it back where possible. Hence stuff like tossing in that hedges cost 1 1/2 MF to cross rather than one - really? Was this absolutely necessary? There are other examples along these lines.
My bigger issue though is I found the rules difficult to follow and incomplete. I'm still trying to find how the wind and weather are supposed to be determined at the start of each campaign game scenario. There's a paragraph about how it can change during a game, but nothing (that I've found so far - maybe it's in there somewhere and just buried?) indicating what it is at the start. I'm inclined to use 'overcast' since that seems implied but it's just a guess, probably dice for wind and throw out a 'strong wind' result?

I'd buy it again, and I think it's a good product, I'm just not nearly as high on it as you are. It all seems a bit 'some assembly required'.
I would really like to love their work. To me, there are too many terrain alterations and it feels like they have never seen chrome they didn't like. I have close to $5K books covering Prokhorovka. I really wanted to like it. I managed one game and all the SSR's and terrain alterations put me off. I hope some like their work. They do put a lot of effort into it. Just not my cuppa. -- jim
 

Gunner Scott

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Nice write up but as others eluded to, the terrain complications are usually a deal breaker. The maps too me are unattractive and look hard to read, this was the same case with their Kursk module. Very nice packaging and collectors will have a nice investment to gaze upon on their shelf.
 

sebosebi

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I have a "problem" with Advancing Fire scenarios : the # of squads / # of SW ratio, often close to one. To me, this changes deeply the game and the way you play. It looks like a ROF contest. Is it the same in this module ?
Hello, could you make me an example of this? And i should need many since you write "often"
 

sebosebi

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I would really like to love their work. To me, there are too many terrain alterations and it feels like they have never seen chrome they didn't like. I have close to $5K books covering Prokhorovka. I really wanted to like it. I managed one game and all the SSR's and terrain alterations put me off. I hope some like their work. They do put a lot of effort into it. Just not my cuppa. -- jim
The theme is, for example, how simulate the dynamics around the famous "reverse slope" in front of Oktobiarsky State Farm, where III./SS PzGren 2 was resting. I'm sure you read about it on several books, and simulate it with regular ASL hill rules is a very big challenge. We made our proposal, drawing the entire battlefield, we are curious to see other attempts.
 
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Sparafucil3

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The theme is, for example, how simulate the dynamics around the famous "reverse slope" in front of Oktobiarsky State Farm, where III./SS PzGren 2 was resting. I'm sure you read about it on several books, and simulate it with regular ASL hill rules is a very big challenge. We made our proposal, drawing the entire battlefield, we are courious to see other attempts.
I played two scenarios and struggled with it. Reverse slope in ASL is a hard thing to do but you could let the defenders have a -1/-2 DRM on their initial hull down dr and use the crest lines as written for example. The trade off is that might allow for too much LOS for the defender on the hill top. I am sure you played it a lot. I am sure you got it to work as you intended. I am sure others liked it a whole bunch. It just didn't work for me. That's says more about me than it does your work. -- jim
 

sebosebi

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I played two scenarios and struggled with it. Reverse slope in ASL is a hard thing to do but you could let the defenders have a -1/-2 DRM on their initial hull down dr and use the crest lines as written for example. The trade off is that might allow for too much LOS for the defender on the hill top. I am sure you played it a lot. I am sure you got it to work as you intended. I am sure others liked it a whole bunch. It just didn't work for me. That's says more about me than it does your work. -- jim
The problem is the LOS. If you need to go in crest on the top level to see levels below you are simulating a plateau with steep slopes. Prokhorovka OSF reverse slope is not a plateau and the slopes are gentle. Since anyway LOS are obstructed in some positions, you may not simulate it as a single level map. So if you want try to simulate that action you need to use a rule already part of ASL that is the "hillock". Even BFP used hillocks in its work on Zitadelle. Steppe terrain is a part of DTO in ASL and uses hillocks.

I suggest you to make a virtual walk with Google Earth on that fields near Prokhorovka and you will understand better what i mean.
 
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