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Shadowrun: Digital Tools Box $19.99
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Shadowrun: Digital Tools Box
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Shadowrun: Digital Tools Box
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Richard B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/21/2014 12:19:56

Felt expensive for what i got out of it, very thin in terms of content and the quality was ok, but not exceptional. Some very useable stuff out of what you get, but I would've felt a lot more comfortable and happy if this had been priced at between 7.99 to 12.99. Having it priced at 19.99 felt a bit of a rip off.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Digital Tools Box
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Kyle W. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/12/2014 21:18:18

Long story short, I lost a very lengthy review because of having a web browser back on my mouse, so I'll summarize:

Digital Tools Box contains what would be two physical boxes. Each contains a lot of interesting content, though Alphaware is far more fleshed out and approaches the size and complexity of the 5th Edition core rulebook, while the Beginner Box is a quick start guide with an attached setting guide and novel excerpt.

The Beginner Box has a lot of stuff that's good. The Quick Start Guide is included here, but it would obviously be in print in a physical box. There's also the Edge of Now introductory setting guide, which is a lot less intimidating but should still give people a pretty good idea of Shadowrun's feel and setting. There's a few pre-made characters, one of whom has a solo adventure to allow you to get acquainted with play (and teach players one-on-one). There's also an excerpt from a Shadowrun novel that is both a great way to have another book on your to-buy list but also serves as an extended immersion in the setting (and covers a run from mostly-start to finish, which could be a great asset to a novice GM).

Alphaware is much more complex, and is essentially the big brother of the Beginner Box. It's also substantially more complex, sometimes in accessible ways (the reference cards could be really useful) and other times in intimidating ways (the adventures included, both solo ones for each character and in the Plots and Paydata booklet, are pretty much frameworks rather than fleshed out adventures, which may overwhelm novice GM's). Still, if you wanted to move up to the big leagues, you could do worse than Alphaware.

My largest gripe with Alphaware is that it's essentially the core rulebook cut up and shortened a little. There's nothing particularly wrong with this, but some of the excisions are pretty crippling. You won't be making any characters using Rules of the Street, though you can at least upgrade the pre-mades. Fortunately, Alphaware may consist of mostly copied page count, but what is new is pretty good for both new and returning Shadowrunners.

Each character (barring Ms. Myth, who had her day in the Beginner Box) has a solo adventure and a play-style guide, which could greatly help with novices who want to learn the game, as well as a more modification-friendly character sheet. Combine this with the reference cards, and players have no excuse for not being able to figure out how to play their character. Rules of the Street is still pretty intimidating, but being in Alphaware instead of the Beginner Box points out that it's really the first step into more advanced Shadowrun rules; rules that leave out technomancers, a good chunk of the spells and gear, and a variety of other things that you wouldn't necessarily notice without having seen the originals but that feel a little painful.

Still, I actually really liked Plots and Paydata; I ran an adventure from it with my street-leve group and they liked it, though they were a little frustrated that they got caught in one of the pre-written plot twists. It's also filled to the brim with great little GM advice snippets, and I'd suggest it for any of my friends who wanted to get into GM'ing Shadowrun.

Alphaware also contains a few maps of locations, as well as a geopolitical map of Shadowrun's North America and a poster for Shadowrun.

In short, the Digital Tools Box, which contains both Alphaware and the Beginner Box for the Shadowrun introductory set is something that does not contain a lot to revisit to veterans of Shadowrun, but for those looking to transition from pre-4th Edition Shadowrun or looking to take up tabletop gaming as a hobby, it's got a lot of appeal and charm. Unfortunately, there are a few decisions to cut things that I don't find agreeable; I find the lack of character creation to be rather stifling, despite the fact that it was probably cut for space constraints.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Digital Tools Box
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/04/2014 06:46:23

Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/02/04/tabletop-review-shadowrun-digital-tools-box-beginner-box-setrunners-tool-kit-alphaware/

January was an excellent month for tabletop releases. Numenera gave us The Ninth World Bestiary, Castles & Crusades gave us The Book of Familiars and Dungeon Crawl Classics released Intrigue at the Court of Chaos. However, not to be outdone, Catalyst Game Labs has released both the Beginner Box Set and the Runner’s Tool Kit Alphaware as a single PDF. The cost? Only $19.99. That’s a decent price, but made all the better when you realize that the purchase nets you three different coupons: $5 off a physical copy of the Beginner Box Set, $10 off a physical copy of Alphaware or $20 off both! Of course, the preorders for the physical copies haven’t gone live yet, so you still have a long wait for those, but at least the digital copy practically pays for itself if you’re thinking about the physical copy.

Originally, both of these Shadowrun starter kits were meant to be one package and it was supposed to be released in mid to late 2013. Obviously, the dates for the sets were pushed back for various reasons (It’s rare for ANY tabletop product released according to its originally scheduled date.) and I’m not really sure why the two were separated out, as it does feel like they could have stayed one big set. For those curious about how much you’ll have to spend on the physical copies – it looks to be between fifty and eighty dollars. Amazon.com has the Beginner Box Set for $14.12 with a MSRP of $19.99 and Alphaware for $36.05 and a MSRP of $59.99. While eighty dollars sounds like an insane amount of nuyen to be dropping on starter kit when you can get the Fifth Edition Quick Start Rules for free, the only way to be sure is to take a look at the contents, which is the whole point of this review. Remember though, this is a review and recommendation of the digital versions, which are all that are currently available.

First up – The Beginner Box Set

•A one page set of Instructions on how to use the box. Simple and straightforward enough

•Quick Start Rules. These are similar to the set that was released in the summer of 2013 for free (mentioned earlier in this review). This new set has the same amount of pages, but is missing the original set of pregenerated characters and has different artwork (to reflect the separate new pregenerated characters). The pregen pages have been replaced with some DM oriented content and a host of NPCs. It’s also better formatted – at least in my opinion. It also contains a very different “Food Fight” adventure. So don’t worry, you are not paying for something you used to get for free. Just something very similar.

•Five Character Sheets. These are the new pregens and each are two pages long. One page is devoted to stats and one to art and a bio. You have Coydog the Elven Street Shaman (no listing of her totem though), Gentry the Human Decker, Hardpoint the Dwarven Rigger, Sledge the Ork Street Samurai and Ms. Myth the Troll Face. So you get a nice mix of roles and races.

•Ms. Myth Booklet. This eight page document goes into detail about the Troll Face’s background, including who she is, her general tactics and how to play her. I’m of mixed feelings about this part, because players really should be allowed to develop the character themselves, even for a pre-gen. Otherwise you’re just following a script. Although perhaps a good idea for someone completely new to tabletop gaming, the downside is that a booklet of this nature can also give the wrong impression that a player SHOULD/MUST have a multipage dossier on every facet of their character. We’re not talking a Vampire: The Masquerade LARP after all. Even worse, a brand new GM could halt the game and say, “You’re not playing your character right,” which of course is wrong on multiple levels that should be obvious to anyone reading this. It’s a character – there should be no right and wrong. So while the idea behind the booklet is sound and well-intentioned (as well as nicely written), there is the potential for more harm than good to be done with it. The booklet also contains a five stage solo adventure for a DM to run with Ms. Myth. It’s very sparsely detailed, but there’s enough here than both a newbie GM and fledging player can run it and find fun in the piece.

•Edge of Now. A twenty-six page overview of the Sixth World (primarily on Seattle) and a short piece of fiction using the pregenerated characters. Really well done and will help more than anything else in this box to explain Shadowrun‘s mood and themes.

•Fire and Frost Excerpt. This is a forty-two page sample of an upcoming Shadowrun novel. I can’t say I cared for the plot or the writing here, and I usually really like the Shadowrun fiction that has been released. I honestly can say the excerpt ensured I wouldn’t buy the book… but I would review it if a copy came in, you know, like everything else Shadowrun we get. It does sound like Clockwork is going to be a supporting character in the novel, which does tempt me though, because it’s interesting to see him taking center stage. I would have preferred Neat or Another Rainy Night in the set, as they were plugged in it, are better written and are far easier for a newcomer to digest.

So, that was the Beginner Box Set. It’s probably not too impressive to longtime Shadowrun gamers, but what is here is decent enough. I don’t know if I’d pay twenty bucks for the physical copy, as everything here has a free equivalent on the web, either through CGL directly (QSRs and pregens) or can be learned from friends or websites (Edge of Now). Still, if I knew a group of people interested in Shadowrun, perhaps due to the recent video game, Shadowrun Returns, this box might be a better investment than the Core Rulebook for getting one’s feet wet. Now, let’s look at Runner’s Tool Kit Alphaware. For newcomers, be careful, because there is a Runner’s Toolkit out there for Fourth Edition. Make sure you don’t buy the wrong one. The Fifth Edition version has Alphaware in the title, which is why I’m trying to refer to it as such in this review.

•Alphaware Instruction Sheet. A one page briefing of what is in the box.

•Edge of Now. Same as in the Beginner Box Set. The digital version only contains one PDF, but the physical copies of the BB and Alphaware will each contain one.

•Five Character Sheets. These are the same pregenerated characters from the Beginner Box Set, but in a different style. These are more traditional SR character sheets, although whoever chose the fake handwriting font for these needs a good talking to. It’s pretty terrible, and you have to increase the PDF to 150% of its original size for the numbers to fully show up or for the “handwriting” to look legible. Even then, this is pretty terrible. You’d be better off recopying these onto regular paper for new players or using the ones from the Beginner Box Set.

•Four Character Dossiers. These are similar booklets to the Ms. Myth one found in the Beginner Box Set. I’m going to assume the physical copy would have Ms. Myth’s, similar to how it would have the “Edge of Now” booklet as well. If not, that’s another terrible oversight by whoever cut this original project in twain. Again, each of these booklets has some well fleshed out information about the character, some tactics to use, a solo adventure and a character sheet. Again, great intentions and these dossiers are really well done – just make sure new players or GMs know these are guidelines and not hard and fast rules about how you have to play your characters. Newcomers should be encouraged to be creative and create their own backstory if they want to.

•Alphaware Cards. I’m not a fan of print and play products for newcomers, but what else could CGL do to convert this to a digital format without doing one card on a page? Well, that’s EXACTLY what they did, and it was such a smart move on their part. The last thing new gamers need is to see if they have card stock or a double sided printer and other print and play issues. You get 110 cards divided into spells, weapons, armor, comlinks, cyberdecks, cyberwear, programs, gear, vehicles and drones. There are multiples of some cards (the spell ones) which makes sense in case you have more than one Awakened character being played. These cards make for a nice reference set, and even long time Sixth World fans should get a lot of use out of these.

•Sixteen Maps. There are eight different maps, but two versions of each. You have one without any descriptions for players and one with a key code for GMs. Usefulness of these will vary, but it’s always handy to have maps just in case. This is especially true for new players, as they get a visual to work with and an idea of what is around them.

•Poster and Map. Pretty cut and dry here. You get a map of what North America looks like in the 2070s and a Shadowrun poster. I love both, but I do wish that the borders of the different countries had different colours so that newcomers could make things out easier.

•GM Screen. This has rules and character reference pieces. It’s not a double sided stand up piece like most GM screens though.

•Rules of the Street. This is a ninety page document that contains all the Shadowrun rules you need to play the game, save character creation. This is like Quick Start Rules on steroids. This goes into all sorts of details about the different type of sourcebooks you can get, plugs for the card game, board game, video game, MMO, and miniatures skirmish sets. You get a ton of details here with Rules of the Street, and I love everything about it. It will probably intimidate the hell out of people completely new to tabletop games, so give them the QSR first and then give them this. I look at the differences between the Quick Start Rules and “Rules of the Street” similar to the Basic and Advanced versions of TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes RPG. Am I dating myself with that ancient reference? Regardless, “Rules of the Street” is so well written. It’s easy to follow and newcomers should be able to get through it, although there are so many things to keep track of I’d be surprised if they didn’t forget SOMETHING. This is definitely the highlight of the beginner box. There’s just so much content here, it’ll be all newcomers need to run and/or play Shadowrun for some time.

•Plots and Paydata. This is for the Gamemaster only. It’s eighty-two pages on how to run Shadowrun with nice easy handholding steps. You get some nice advice, a breakdown of how a piece of fiction holds up under mechanics and rules (awesome idea!), a fine essay on how to read/run adventures, a reprint of “Food Fight,” a second adventure in “Milk Run,” a third adventure in “Steppin’ Up” a FOURTH adventure in “Workin’ the Streets,” a FIFTH adventure in “Going Inside” and a sixth and final adventure entitled “Snatch and Grab.” Yes, you’re getting a whopping six adventures in this booklet. Holy crap, that’s awesome. All six adventures use the Shadowrun Missions layout, which is a very smart decision. The first four are pretty straight forward linear affairs, while “Going Inside” is a little more free form with room for PCs to explore. “Snatch and Grab” is a direct sequel to “Going Inside” and gives players their first taste of story continuity. After that, you’re given some advice on how to put your own adventures together, how to use all the maps included in Alphaware and whole host of NPCs.

There you go. That’s the Runner’s Toolkit Alphaware. It’s got a lot of great stuff in it, although charging sixty dollars for this as the MSRP is probably going to put too high a dollar mark on something that is meant for newcomers. After all, the price should be cheap enough to entice people to try Shadowrun. God knows in this age of fifty and sixty dollar core rulebooks, sticker shock for tabletop games is common.

So while I’m hesitant to recommend the physical copies of the Beginner Box Set and Alphaware for their MSRP prices, I can’t emphasize enough how amazing of a deal it is to get the digital two pack for only $19.99. You get all the rules you will need to play this game for some time, six adventures, pregenerated characters so new players don’t have to deal with building their own and the entire package is exceptionally newcomer friendly. One of the biggest complaints I hear about Shadowrun is that it’s one of the least newcomer friendly games on the market due to the constant referencing of other books. That and the sometimes indiscernible metaplot that assumes you have read and own every supplement and sourcebook to come out for the system. Well, this one two punch of the Beginner Box Set and Alphaware answer all those problems by making this the most new player friendly set I’ve seen the game since the days of Second Edition. This is a pretty awesome package. Plus it’s 2014, so most new players should be fine with digital copies rather than physical pieces that can get lost, stolen, wet, burned or eaten by pets.

Although long time Shadowrun gamers probably won’t get much use out of either set, guess what? THESE AREN’T MEANT FOR US! These are for either people new to the mechanics and concepts of Shadowrun or, more likely, totally new to tabletop gaming entirely! I would honestly give either of these sets (preferably both, in order) to someone totally new who has shown interest in Shadowrun where in the past, I’d have nothing but my own explanations and walkthroughs to help them out. There was a time when I’d hand someone the Sega Genesis game, as it did a better job of introducing Shadowrun to newcomers than the tabletop game. Now, I can actually give out dollops of the Beginner Box Set or Alphaware based on what their experience with the core product or tabletop games. I honestly think both of these packages are finally going to draw in a lot of new gamers to the Sixth World – although much of it is going to come from people buying the digital version. The physical prices are still a bit too steep for what you are getting. Still, this is a review of the digital two pack, and getting both of these for $19.99 with a twenty dollar coupon towards the physical releases is such an amazing deal I can’t recommend this release highly enough. Interested in Shadowrun even an teeny tiny bit? YOU NEED THIS. Is it perfect? No. Is it awesome? Pretty much, yeah.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Digital Tools Box
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Andrew P. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/02/2014 16:03:17

(Originally published at http://screenmonkey.blog.com/?p=21)This is the digital version of the upcoming beginner box set for Shadowrun, 5th Edition and the Runners Toolkit: Alphaware set.  Included with the purchase was a coupon set good for $5 off a physical copy of the Beginners Set, $10 of the Runners Toolkit: Alphaware or $20 off both as a preorder from Battlecorps, the Catalyst web store.  So if you are planning on getting both sets you can basically consider this to be a somewhat free preview.

Except for the dice, these two box sets contain everything you should be getting in the boxed sets.  The Beginner Box includes The Edge of Now, an excerpt from the 'Life in the Sixth World' chapter from the core book, fronted by a new piece of short fiction.  It also contains the already freely available quick start rules and five complete sample characters, as well as an excerpt from an upcoming Shadowrun novel, Fire and Frost.  The last piece of content is the booklet for Ms Myth, one of the sample characters.  It contains basic information on how to run the Troll Face, how she would normally react, what's important to her, and how she would normally do her job.  For someone new to Shadowrun this last part might be the most valuable thing in the box.  Anyone can figure out how to run a combat specialist or mage based on previous experience with RPG's, but running a face might be a little difficult to get a handle on right at the beginning.  The booklet is partially player resource, part GM, as it also includes the bones of a solo run geared towards the characters particular skill set.  In this case, it's a basic extraction, something else a lot of people are not going to have experience with outside of Shadowrun.  The solo run is incredibly basic and shouldn't take more than a couple of hours to run, but can be a good basic intro to the basics of Shadowrun.

The second part of the toolkit is the Alphaware section.  This includes regular character sheets for all five sample characters from the basic box as well as four more booklets with everything that was in the Ms Myth booklet from the basic set, including the sample beginning runs customized to each character.  In general, each framework puts the individual characters through the paces of their chosen archetype, including such tests as repairing drones for the Rigger, Hacking for the Decker and of course some combat for the Street Samurai.

There is also a map of the sixth world version of North American and a poster, A GM screen insert with some useful tables and summaries of the sample characters, as well as two other Booklets.  These are the Rules of the Streets and Plots and Paydata.

The Map is useful to show newer players how the world is divided up at this point, although it could have benefited from being color coded to allow an easier time of explaining the political boundaries.  The GM screen is really just two pages, one the character summery (something I plan to steal for my own games) and a page of tables from the core rulebook.  These tables are the Ranged and Melee combat modifiers, including visibility and defense modifiers, Perception tests and basic testing thresholds.  Also included are a list of the most common actions and spellcasting summary and a combat turn summary.  In all, it's a useful item, but I hope the full GM screen is a little more thorough (I know it's already out, but I don't have a copy yet).

The Rules of the Street booklet is the one I was most looking forward to, and the main reason I'm thinking of picking up a physical copy of the box sets.  It condenses all the info from the core book down to a 90 page booklet.  It removes character creation, fiction and a lot of details about the setting, but has all the core rules laid out in an easy to reference fashion.  It even includes a full gear section, something that many booklets of this type neglect.  Since one of the parts of character creation that always takes the longest is gearing up, it would be nice to have a second copy of this part of the core book at the table.  I'll probably still bring my core book to the table, but this will be what I actually reference. 

The next item in the box is the Plots and Paydata booklet for GM's.  This includes advice for game mastering Shadowrun and six different adventures fleshed out to show the basic concepts and run types the characters will normally face, from combat and surveillance to infiltration and extraction.  These are all fairly basic and should be able to be run in a single session, but can easily be beefed up to run over several sessions.  The booklet also includes NPC's and descriptions of the maps that are also part of the set. 

Speaking of maps, these are fairly detailed single page maps that have both GM and non-GM versions of each of the eight maps.  Some of these are reprinted from Sprawl Sites: North America, but others are new to me (or are in a book I never got, which is quite possible)Nothing really remarkable, but they make good generic maps and play aids.  The included maps from sprawl sites are  Low Income Tenement Housing, Train Station, Barrens Block, and Gambling Den, with the ones I haven't seen being Luxury Hotel, Dowd Street, Parkview Advance Research Complex and Kondorchid Facility

The last real piece of the box, and the one I am most disappointed in, was the cards.  There are 110 individual cards in the box set, but several repeats.  The spells are nice to have, as long as you already know what they do, as they only include Type, range, damage, duration and drain.  There are basic descriptions of each spell, but the full game rules normally wouldn't have taken much more space.  You get two of each spell card, of which there are 16.  As far as weapons, there are 19, three of which are the Ares Predator V.  Two of the weapon cards, the sword and Browning Ultra Power are also day-glow yellow, although I think this was an error, hopefully one that will be corrected before final printing.  There are four firearm accessory cards, 9 armor card (3 each of the lined coat and armor jacket) and one armor mod, 6 Commlinks (Including a double of the Renraku Sensei).  There are also 4 decks (nice to see pictures of these),12 programs (I'd like to see a complete deck of these actually, as they are one thing that can be switched around a lot on a run), 2 drones the Rotodrone again being that hideous day-glow yellow, 4 vehicles, again with the bulldog van being day-glow.  There are also 7 other pieces of common equipment, including slap patches, goggles and ear buds.  The med kit is once again day-glow.  The last ten cards are cyberware, including arms, legs eyes and ears with various mods loaded to them. These ones I really think are hard because they are so individual, but they did a nice job of giving the standard options a lot of people choose.

Overall, I liked the presentation of most of the box sets, and will probably use my coupon for Alphaware at least, although I might spring for both.  The low spot was the cards included, So I will probably make my own rather than use the provided ones, but the starter characters and the rules summary books I think are a really good value for someone trying to get their friends to play.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Digital Tools Box
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alonso R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/31/2014 03:46:54

Is this purchase worth your money? That depends on a number of things. If you are planning on purchasing both box sets then the $20 off coupon for both box sets pays for this purchase. If you only end up getting the Alphaware, then you only get a $10 coupon.

What about the content?

Edge of Now will be included in both box sets, but for digital distribution is only in the Beginner Box Set. This PDF is a rough re-layed-out chunk of the chapter Everything Has a Price (section 1.0) of the 5th edition corebook. If you already own the corebook, most of it will be material you have already read, with just over 2 pages worth of Seattle content that I don't think is in the corebook. It is a solid introduction to the setting of Shadowrun for those who don’t have access to the corebook though.

Beginner Box:

This is intended for those who do not have the corebook. The Quick-Start Rules are the same Quick-Start Rules which are offered for free already on the website, but the character's have been replaced with new premade characters, which fill out the rest of the PDFs in this box. The character sheets do have beautiful art and are more fleshed out than the ones included in the free version of the Quick-Start Rules and there is also a single page which includes all the character's stats for easy reference for the GM. One of the characters includes a booklet that fleshes her out and includes a premade solo adventure. This is a taste of what’s in the Alphaware toolkit for those who enjoy it.

I wish the Quick-Start Rules would have included a new adventure they didn't already give away, but the value of this bundle is not in the Beginner's Box.

Alphaware Content:

This is the real meat of this product, with real character sheets of the premade characters from the Beginners Box. I want to emphasize that the Sheets in the Beginner's Box have all the stats compressed to make room for the art while the sheets that come in the Alphaware Content allow for character growth and XP (aka, Karma) expenditure. Having the PDFs to reprint premade characters for future groups is a plus.

Each premade character also has their own booklet which fleshes out their story and includes their own solo adventures, like the one in the Beginner's Box.

Rule of the Street appeals to me since it helps me teach others the core mechanics without them getting lost in the catalog of spells, abilities, & equipment cluttering the corebook. It covers the core mechanics in 90 pages. I wish this book was a Print on Demand since I would like each of my players to have a copy at the gaming table.

The Alphaware cards are nice but make me eager for owning the physical product, since just having a PDF of the cards doesn't help much. If you happen to be a PDF guru though, the PDFs are DRM free, so you can extract the ones you need for easy player access.

Plots and Paydata is going to be the most valuable PDF for the GM next to the Rules of the Street. It offers many adventures, Sprawls, and NPCs to use for many game sessions. I am certain that players will have made up their minds about purchasing the corebook long before the material in this PDF runs out.

Conclusion: These box sets are designed for those who want try Shadowrun or introduce Shadowrun to new players without intimidating anyone with a massive neigh 500 page corebook. The learning curve is easier to approach in partitioned chunks presented within.

For anybody interested in the Alphaware content or those who are going to purchase the physical boxes, I think the product is worth it. The best way to view this purchase is as the Alphaware Content with the Beginner's Box Set as a dollar add-on. For those who are not certain if Shadowrun is for them and are just interested in the Beginner's Box Set, I still recommend the free Quick-Start Rules.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
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