Thoughts: Brave New World.


I’m not convinced.

Brave New World is the latest – and probably last – expansion for Civilization V, following up the excellent Gods and Kings which was released around about this time last year. Gods and Kings introduced new mechanics that papered over many of the flaws in the original’s gameplay, like the slow pace of the early game and the big technology gap separating cannons and riflemen from tanks and infantry, and turned Civ V into a game worth playing. But it still wasn’t perfect. The late-game in particular suffered from the non-science victory conditions (Culture and Diplomatic) being dreadfully boring and simplistic, and since this basically comprised half the game it was clear that Civ V still had ample room for improvement.

Brave New World attempts to make these improvements. It introduces a new diplomatic endgame, tightens up the social policy trees and completely revamps the culture system. Unfortunately in doing so Brave New World also largely undoes the fine work Gods and Kings undertook with regard to the game’s pacing. The result is a late-game that’s now finely-honed and very enjoyable to play, but getting there is an awful slog through a dull and repetitive ancient age that goes out of its way to penalise you for trying to get ahead of the curve.

Now, the weird thing here is that everyone else seems to be enjoying Brave New World very much. I’ve seen it written in several places that the addition of Brave New World turns Civ V into the best Civilization game yet, and that this expansion pack is nothing short of a triumph. Usually when faced with a significant difference in opinion between me and the rest of the world I’d just assume it was the rest of the world that was wrong; however, in this case I haven’t seen a single other person say they had the same problems with it that I had with it and I suspect it might just be a failure on my part to properly adjust my strategy to match up with the new mechanics.  I can certainly accept that those new mechanics are very well-designed, and my problem with Brave New World has more to do with what isn’t there than what the expansion pack has actually added. So let’s focus on that new stuff first, and then I’ll try to explain why the early game now feels wrong to me at the end of the review.


Brave New World’s signature improvements are the World Congress, Tourism and Ideologies. The World Congress is an expanded version of the endgame diplomacy already present; once one civilization discovers all the others the World Congress is founded and everyone gets to periodically vote on proposals that affect every civilization in the game. Much of this is prosaic, if effective in gameplay terms; you can vote to embargo a civilization that’s been a particular thorn in your side, or ban a certain luxury so that nobody gets the benefit from it. The more interesting proposals include adjusting great person spawn rates, beefing up bonuses from tile and city  improvements and – my favourite – starting a global project such as the World’s Fair. Once that proposal passes everyone gets a chance to contribute city production towards the project, and once the project is complete you get rewards which are commensurate with the size of your contribution. It’s a very nice, wholly positive mechanic that comes at a particularly appropriate point in the game when there’s a bit of a wonder slump and the player is likely to have a high-powered city or two with nothing else worthwhile to build, and the rewards are things like culture boosts and free social policies that are well worth getting involved.

Of course the ultimate point in the World Congress is to get yourself voted in as World Leader in a diplomatic victory, and it’s here that the cracks start to show slightly. The diplomacy game is based, as it always has been, around controlling city states and adding their votes in the Congress to yours to get your measures passed. If you’re not specifically going for a diplomatic victory it can be very fun to vie with other civs for enough votes to successfully push your proposal through the World Congress, and it’s also nice that the other civs actually take note of whether or not you’ve screwed them over on the global stage when determining their attitude towards you. Unfortunately if you are planning on a diplomatic victory the chances are you’ve gone down the Patronage social policy tree, which makes it incredibly easy to gain control of every city state in the game if you have a halfway decent source of income. The AI simply doesn’t contest committed attempts to control the Congress anywhere near as hard as it should in order to prevent you winning. And so while the World Congress is great for global politicking, the actual method of diplomatic victory is just as dull as it ever was: buy up all the city states. It’s an improvement, but it hasn’t fixed the core problem.


Fortunately the same can’t be said of the new culture system, which is a hell of a lot of fun in the late-game. Flat culture bonuses for culture improvements and wonders have been much reduced – often down to just one or two culture per turn — and in their place are Great Work slots. These come with each culture building and most wonders, and can be filled with the appropriate type of Great Work; the Great Library has a slot for a Great Work of literature, for example, while the Opera has a slot for a Great Work of music. The Great Works are generated by expending Great Writers, Great Artists and Great Musicians, all of whom now have a separate spawn system from the other Great People so that going heavy culture doesn’t mean missing out on those lovely Great Engineers. Each Great Work you create generates two culture per turn, as well as an equal amount of something completely new: Tourism.

Tourism can best be thought of as offensive culture. It represents the influence your culture has on the other civilizations in the game; a city with high Tourism is a very desirable place to visit because of all of the cultural artifacts you’ve amassed there. Tourism isn’t a factor in the early to mid-game, but towards the end of the game when Ideologies and Tourism improvements become available it can have a dramatic influence on how things play out. The total amount of Tourism you’ve collected over the course of the game is compared to each civilization’s total of regular culture, and if you have more Tourism than they do culture you’ve basically beaten them in the culture wars. Cultural victory relies on beating every civilization in the game in this way, but even if you’re not going for a culture win Tourism is still important because of the way it interacts with the new ideology system. There are three endgame ideologies: Freedom, Order and Autocracy. If you have a high Tourism output compared to another civ’s culture and that civ is following a different ideology to you, then it will start to experience civil unrest and possibly outright revolt as you saturate their country with your subversive ideas.


This is probably the best and most natural way of dealing with culture that the Civilization series has ever managed. With the offensive side of culture being hived off into its own thing that you actively have to make an effort to spread, Civilization takes the choice of government beyond a simple case of “Communism is good for big empires!” and attempts to simulate a genuine nonviolent clash of ideologies. The ideologies themselves are an expansion of what used to be the last three branches of the social policy trees and fulfil the same function, but now you have the additional problem that if your Tourism and culture is weak and you pick an unpopular ideology you’re probably not going to end up doing very well with it, eating a substantial happiness penalty as that democratic propaganda eats into your approval ratings. There are measures you can take to avoid an undesirable build-up of enemy Tourism – closing the borders, obviously, as well as cancelling trade routes and following a different religion – but these carry their own drawbacks. It turns the lategame into a fine balancing act and makes being culturally competitive a very desirable thing even if you’re not gunning for the culture victory directly, and the game makes spewing out Great Works a lot of fun by showing the appropriate piece of art or snippet of music in a little popup when the work is created. There’s also the new Archaeology system, where you excavate the relics of ancient battles and turn them into cultural relics similar to Great works; however, while it can be kind of fun to send Indiana Jones into somebody else’s empire to steal their cultural heritage on the basis that it belongs in a museum,  this didn’t really do enough to separate itself from the regular method of creating Great Works to really endear itself to me.

So the culture system at least is much more well-rounded than it was, and diplomacy is no slouch either. With these key aspects of the game being much-improved, what, then, is my beef with Brave New World? Well, it has to do with the sacrifices in basic culture output that were necessary to make everything work nicely with Tourism and Great Works; even if you stuff a couple of guys into the Writer’s Guild accumulation of culture is much slower than it used to be, and this is a problem for me because I was reliant on culture to speed up that early-game slog. It’s no longer possible to have three social policy trees filled out without really trying before you even reach the Renaissance era, and as a result of these missing bonuses no longer coming up every twenty turns or so — and the fact that it’s harder to get started with a religion now to boot – the early game reverts back to what it was in vanilla Civ V: a horrible mud-pit that it feels very, very difficult to escape from. Things don’t spring up organically through city growth and expansion any more. Instead if you want to improve some aspect of your empire’s output – money, say, or faith – you actually have to spend time building the relevant city improvements, and while this is a perfectly fine design principle in theory the build times in the early game mean that it’s often just a succession of clicks on the End Turn button. There’s not enough to do in the first hundred turns any more, and it just completely sucks.


It doesn’t even stop there, though; if you thought that maybe you could spend the time fighting a nice war or concentrating on settling some prime city sites then you will be appropriately horrified to know that Firaxis have loaded even more penalties for going wide1 into the game. Each city you found now increases technology costs by 5% in addition to the happiness and culture costs that already existed, and for me this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back by inhibiting expansion to the point where it is no longer fun. I mean, I’m grimly amused that they’ve circled all the way back round to the point they were at a decade ago with Civ IV by reintroducing what essentially amounts to an updated maintenance mechanic into the game, but it’s still fucking annoying because I would like to run a continent-spanning empire while also having a respectable tech level, thanks very much.  It’s much harder to compensate for than maintenance ever was thanks to how hard science is to generate in the first place, and it completely screws with the established risk/reward inherent in going to war to seize territory or squeezing out a settler early for the potential payoff of extra cities when those extra cities will now drag you down more than they’ll help you.  What they’ve done here is consciously sabotage the second X in 4X2 and I don’t think the genre works anywhere near as well without it.

Bah. What Brave New World boils down to, essentially, is that Firaxis want you to play the game their way. Their way happens to be the way a lot of people are already playing it, but it’s not my way, and I don’t like any design philosophy that introduces so many purely artificial checks and balances to how a player behaves, especially when it looks so ugly compared to the elegant new tourism system. So while I do acknowledge that the end game has been changed very much for the better, it’s something that I’ll rarely see thanks to having to batter through an uninteresting and repetitive early game to get there, and I can’t help but think that Civilization V is now a far lesser game because of it. I’ll keep playing it in the hopes that at some point it’ll just click and I’ll start having as much fun as I did with Gods and Kings, but for the moment I remain firmly unconvinced that this Brave New World is an unambiguously better one.


  1. Civ parlance for having a big empire with lots of smaller cities. Going tall is the opposite, where you have just a few highly-developed ones.
  2. Explore, expand, exploit and exterminate, for those of you not keeping up with gaming arcana.
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27 thoughts on “Thoughts: Brave New World.

  1. I happen to like playing 4X peacefully and culturally (yes, i’m a pussy) but even I had a problem with my single Civilization 5 BNW game. I was Venice, single-city civ. I happened to puppet several cities (self-defence!) and my happiness skyrocketed down. Then came Industrial age with Tennents that helped me restore the happiness… But then I got owned by other civs tourism. Dissedents appeared and nation is unhappy again.

    I understand that good Civ players always actively use mechanics so that they still manage to conquer the world, become unhappy but make others even weaker. Warmonger always wins, cause he’s the guy who brings a gun to a knife fight. You still can beat him with culture/space in Civ 4-5, but you do it passively, you can’t do a thing to stop warmonger, while he can conquer you – though it requires warmonger to check everyone’s status. Now culture can work on other civs too and you can fight swords with pens, as well as pens with pens.

    …The problem I have with Civ is that it has several not connected interfaces. Spies exist in their own world (with frustrating interface), trade is seen on the map but too forces me to choice from the list of cities without ability to see where city is (which is important cause you have to guard trade route), culture also exist in it’s own dimension… I don’t know a way to do it differently but it looks wrong somehow.

    • Hentzau says:

      The UI and the isolated game mechanics have always been a problem for Civ V, even in Gods and Kings. I think culture is fairly well-integrated into the game through dint of having been built on top of the old culture system, but you’re absolutely right that the trade UI in particular is utterly terrible and they still haven’t really figured out a way to make spies play nicely with the rest of the game. They feel like a bonus feature added on top of an already complete set, rather than part of that set.

  2. Gap Gen says:

    That face in the first image says “I have sacked a city, burned it to the ground, and felt nothing.”

    I was umming and aahing about this, but I think I’ll pass based on what you say, at least until the whole thing comes out as a Complete collection in the Steam sales. It sounds like there’s a lot more stuff jammed in there, which becomes a case of learning a bunch of disparate systems that ultimately act to obscure strategy. I could be wrong, of course, but given how much depth SMAC gave from a few simple choices on the Social Engineering screen, I’m unconvinced that more systems is what a game needs to achieve depth and humanity. I do sympathise with the need to add more peaceful ways to grow in strategy games, though – even in SMAC the standout moments in the game were usually huge continental invasions, and peacetime development was less interesting once you filled up the continent with cities.

  3. Oli Hutt says:

    I’ve only played through once, as Poland, but I really enjoyed it. Just started another as Shoshone and so far it’s going pretty well. I haven’t really noticed the slog but maybe I just need to play it more (and I’m pretty slow anyway).

    • Janek says:

      I’m in much the same position, and also played as Poland. Perhaps the bonus social policies mitigated the slowed cultural income? Don’t know.

      Should be noted that I’m not an ultra-serious Civ player, and barely actually played Gods & Kings, so I’m reacting positively to the whole package in comparison to vanilla Civ 5.

      Wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a couple of balance patches to come (before they declare it finished and move on to Civ 6, presumably), but if not I suspect some of the issues are moddable.

      • Hentzau says:

        One of the two good games of BNW I’ve had was as a warmongering Assyria, and I suspect it’s for much the same reason as you guys enjoyed Poland: stealing a tech with each city I took went a long way towards counterbalancing the slow pace of the early game. I have yet to try Poland, largely because I don’t think 5-6 bonus social policies really amount to much in the long run, but maybe it serves to make things a bit less painful.

  4. Josh says:

    You’re dead right about the slow-down in pace in the early game. I’ve not noticed any slowdown in culture acquisition, but I do think that most of the trees have been gently nerfed, which has an impact. I think a part of that, which you seem to have missed here, is that the diplomatic AI is now slightly less sociopathic: I’ve noticed far fewer wars before the Renaissance, even when you start racking up Warmonger penalties (which, yes, remain bullshit). The lack of juicy ancient war has taken a lot of the spice out of the first 100 turns.

    The early game mechanical pick-ups, then, are trade routes and faith. Making the Piety tree Ancient and not mutually exclusive with Rationalism has sped religion up enormously, meaning that you can now be pushing missionaries well before 0AD.

    The largest part, though, is that you now just can’t do everything. Even under G&K you could pursue a full-spectrum approach, but now, with trade units eating into precious early game hammers and science being harder to come by, you really have to chose between religion and culture – and you have to do it more or less immediately, alongside the decision to go wide or tall, when choosing between tradition / liberty and piety. Do both and you risk falling behind on science or military or economy. That gives the paradox that while BNW has broadened the player’s options in the macro sense, it’s actually limited them at the level of the individual game.

    I love BNW, but it is a step-change. The early game doesn’t deliver the constant thrills that G&K did, but unlike vanilla it does allow for strategic positioning. The decisions it offers aren’t sexy but they are meaningful. I don’t think it will be for everyone. I think the decision to de-emphasise and discourage war in the early game is phenomenally brave and potentially massively misguided, but it is a reality that the game simply can’t handle early wars any more; build queues don’t have the flexibility to cope with the need to rush defenders, and an unexpected invasion in the ancient era can be strategically crippling. It is a different emphasis, a different ideal for what a 4x should be: one in which the fourth x is on the same footing as the three that precede it. I’m not sure it’s wise; it still feels clunky. Firaxis would argue that the diminution of war was an inevitable consequence of the enhancement of culture and economy. Future patches will doubtless alter the balance.

  5. (Looks like my previous comment got eaten…)
    Tom Francis also agreed with you, but in a slightly different way:

    There’s just so much faffing. The actual decisions I make, like “Let’s make loads of archeologists”, take a dozen or more turns to enact, and each of those turns involves five or six mandatory micro-decisions that aren’t individually interesting.
    You have to choose a new project for this city. You have to pick a policy. You have to propose a resolution to congress. You have to tell this unit where to move. You have to tell this unit where to move. You have to tell this unit where to move. That blocked where the first unit was going to move, so now you have to tell the first unit where to move.
    In each case, there’s only one course of action that makes sense for your larger-scale objective, like increasing Culture. So these aren’t really decisions, they’re just work.

    • Gap Gen says:

      This is one reason I wonder if videogames are the way forward – board games have the hard limit that they have to make systems pure and fun because the players have to compute them themselves. By contrast, videogames can jam stuff in everywhere, and avoid stripping out busywork masquerading as strategy. If I’m the emperor of a continental empire, I shouldn’t have to decide whether to upgrade a clay mine in Butfuc, Sichuan. In fact, games should penalise me for micromanaging, given how disastrous that is for leaders in real life.

    • Josh says:

      This is reductio ad absurdum though, because you can make anything sounds boring by reducing it to sufficiently banal constituent parts – “take off pants. Adjust limbs. Raise hips. Lower hips. Repeat enthusiastically.” They’re not really decisions, it’s just work.

      You make a decision about and outcome and take steps to achieve it. The steps don’t have to be fun individually; it’s about seeing your strategy actualized.

      • I have to point out, I’ve barely touched the BNW expansion myself, so I’m not necessarily agreeing with Francis’s point, but I do think that the Civ should be about the bigger decisions as opposed to the smaller ones.

        Whenever I play Civ, I tend to make use of the auto-explore and worker automation, simply because I dislike the need to bother with this. I realise that this is not the optimal way to play, but I simply don’t care (as an aside, the fact that you have to design ships in games like Endless Space I find to be utterly boring in the first place, let alone having to do it every single time you start a new game, _but_ I get that it’s part of the appeal for most people).

        To take your example, I don’t think it would be anything like an enjoyable experience if those constituent parts required an explicit decision to be made: would you like to raise or lower hips?

        • Gap Gen says:

          Indeed, the question is not whether individual actions themselves are worth making, but whether having to consciously think about them makes it more or less fun or interesting. Having to control breathing in an FPS would be stupid in most cases, but some FPSs do include breath holding for stabilising sniper scopes for short periods, etc.

        • Josh says:

          See, for me, the smaller decisions are simply part of the process of the larger ones – moving units tactically to ensure position, micro-managing worker placement in cities to achieve output goals, having to go through a chain of micro-decisions to reach a big one. I know that some people aren’t into that – hell, in this age of microscopic attention spans, it’s like as not the norm – but it is, for me, what the 4X genre is all about. Sure, auto-explore is in the game, sure, but ‘explore’ is literally one of the four Xs in a 4x game – theoretically a quarter of the genre’s foundational principle! Worker automation is there, but ditto “exploitation”, which prioritises the gathering of resources and the development of acquired goods. What I’m saying is, a lot of players come to Civ interested primarily in the combat, and those players aren’t going to have fun. They’re going to get maybe an hour’s crunchy battle simulation out of each 9+ hour game, and the rest of it is going to be building, exploring, politicking. Tom Francis isn’t arguing against BNW or even Civ, he’s arguing against an entire genre on what seems like quite a nebulous basis.

          (That may appear to be an implicit criticism of you – it’s not intended to be, and I do note that you haven’t played much BNW. I’m arguing against Tom Francis, though, because I do feel like his contention is fundamentally dumb.)

          Players don’t have to like the 4X genre – if they don’t, there are the wonderful Total War games, or the Paradox grand strategies, which offer perfectly cerebral tactical/strategic systems without the micro-management. But it seems a bit peculiar to hate on Civ for being a true example of its genre.

    • Hentzau says:

      I partly agree with this, from a “Oh my god they still haven’t fixed the UI” perspective. There is an awful lot of unnecessary faff in the game, not from a design point of view, but a usability one. I especially like periodically and repeatedly having to confirm my trade route destinations, which was great fun when I was playing Venice and had 18 of them. And of course because there’s such a big inhibition on going wide now it’s more difficult to do things in parallel; instead of three cities building three Archaeologists you have one city building an Archaeologist three times. It adds to the sense of there being a lot of make-work in this game, and it could definitely do with being a bit more streamlined.

  6. Darren says:

    I had noticed that there was a little slowdown in research, but I hadn’t realized why. I don’t think it’s a bad decision, though, as now you end up more specialized in the early-to-midgame and can use a mix of religion, policies, trade, and espionage to pick up the slack where needed. Because science is based first and foremost on population, large empires previously had an enormous advantage, and I rarely found myself–as a more culture-oriented player–anywhere near them in terms of scientific output. I don’t mind being behind, but being utterly eclipsed puts you at an enormous disadvantage.

    I’m very surprised to see no mention of trade in your review. That’s an enormous change that impacts so many systems. It spreads religion, increases science, and generates huge amounts of gold.

    Similarly, I found policy gains to be faster than ever, simply because the game no longer penalizes you so heavily for going tall (Tradition is much better thanks to the Hanging Gardens exclusivity, religion offers more options, trade makes purchasing military units easier, etc.) allowing smaller civs to thrive.

    From my perspective, the game is much more about synergies. You still need to pick your victory condition early and stick to it, but you now have so many more back doors into other aspects of the game. Religion can be used to purchase just about any unit now, so an early-game theocrat can easily become a late-game conqueror. Freedom can allow you to purchase spaceship parts, so a tycoon can jet off to space before the eggheads. Every time I fire the game up I have to think about how I’m going to combine the various game systems to maximize my effectiveness.

    • Josh says:

      I agree with this, especially about science. The thing is, going wide always featured scientific disincentives – it was fine if you could do it peacefully, but if you made enemies (and going wide pretty much always involves making enemies) then you can wave farewell to the massive late-game Research Agreement market. I tend to see the 5% city cost in BNW as a balancing measure; now that making a few friends is generally easier no matter what your circumstance, the wide players needed something to bring them back in a bit.

      • Hentzau says:

        My thing with the science penalties for large empires is twofold. First, building a large empire is actually a pretty big risk and you have to cripple yourself in other ways to achieve it. The huge lategame science you get once all those crappy cities have built their science buildings is a return on the investment of happiness, money and time. Second, the game still scores you based on how wide you are, with no acknowledgement given to a tall civ beyond the wonder bonus points. I know I’m the only one who likes to try and beat their high score in Civ, but it still rankles a bit that it’s now so difficult to do.

        (Also it’s far easier to pick up warmongering bonuses now; this isn’t necessarily a BNW thing but it certainly wasn’t present in G&K. If you go wide, everyone will still hate you if you’ve done it via force of arms.)

        • Josh says:

          “Second, the game still scores you based on how wide you are, with no acknowledgement given to a tall civ beyond the wonder bonus points.”

          Actually that’s not true – score takes in a wide variety of things, including (but not limited to) tech advances, religion, land covered etc. If you mouse over your score on the score list you can see what it’s made up of.

        • Josh says:

          Oh, and on your first point, all I’d say is that any build strategy carries its own risks and returns. Going tall leaves you really vulnerable militarily, and faith production is directly keyed to empire size. Failing to get the wonders that you need invalidates the tall approach altogether. And I find that no matter what kind of empire you go for, you never have enough science.

          That said, the change does seem to push wide empires more towards domination victories. I can’t see wide empires getting culture victories any more.

    • Hentzau says:

      In general if I don’t mention a big game feature it’s because I ran out of space and prioritised the other stuff above it, and in the case of trade caravans they didn’t make much of an impact for me beyond being one more thing that I had to focus on in the early game. The science bonuses aren’t enough to really make a difference (and usually I’m in the lead anyway so I’m giving those bonuses to other people), and while the religious pressure is nice I’ve always had trouble gauging what “+6 pressure” actually means in game terms. I liked that they gave a boost to Tourism, but again that’s late game and not something I usually paid much attention to because I rarely got to the late game.

      I hear what you say about the synergies, but it seems to be that Civilization is a game spectacularly ill suited to picking a strategy at the start of the game and sticking to it — which you have to do, now, because everything is specialised — since its epic length means that if you get it wrong that’s often several hours play down the drain. I’ve always enjoyed being able to improvise and take advantage of unexpected opportunities to maybe do something a little differently than I had originally planned, and BNW doesn’t cater for that anywhere near as well as G&K did.

      • Darren says:

        Interesting. I think there’s now less emphasis on picking your strategy (though you still should really do it) than before because there are more routes into the different areas of the game.

        • Ross says:

          I agree – tourism doesn’t kick off until late game so you don’t really have to commit earlier. Voting on GPP can swing you one way or the other quite drastically.

          Regarding wars, I play on 6-7 difficulty generally and there will almost always be an early war. In fact the safest way to play now regardless of the victory you are pursuing, is to mass produce military and take your neighbour’s capital before settling into your strategy.

          • Hentzau says:

            See, this is why I was a bit hesitant to outright diss BNW — I had a suspicion it was more to do with me than the game since there’s so many ways of playing Civ, and I think everyone in the comments has made valid points on how it’s supposed to work. There’s a bit of a game glut on at the moment, but once it’s over I’ll go back to Civ and try to get out of my rut with a different strategy.

          • Darren says:


            Yeah, conquest is now pretty important for a cultural victory. Reducing the number of cities reduces the amount of culture they generate, which reduces the time it takes to dominate them culturally.

            On the flip-side, a conquering civ can be difficult to beat culturally, as they can generate a TON of culture. They may not get as many policies, but they may be nigh invincible to cultural assimilation.

          • Ross says:


            Yeah precisely, you can’t really afford to 3-4 city turtle to culture like you used to. Even if you overcome 6 of the 7 civs the culture of the last one is often insurmountable without a late game invasion, which makes the whole thing a lot more active as you monitor and try to hamstring other civs.

            I’d be happy to play through a game or two with you, username is Raeynn.

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