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Author Topic: [Bacchanal] Three guys and a lot of wine  (Read 6106 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: August 24, 2006, 05:01:23 PM »

Hello,

I brought a bunch of games from GenCon over to one of the groups I'm in, an all-guy group which includes Tim Alexander, Chris, and Tim Koppang (surnames included for clarity; this group almost included Tim Kleinert too, which would have been too many Tims I'm sure). Tim K was out of town, recovering from the bar (the legal kind) and from GenCon.

We met at Chris' place for the first time; we usually play at Tim A's, but his wife is pregnant-beyond-pregnant, the two-year-old is bouncin' off the walls, and I think that whole family unit was far happier not to deal with the pack of unbridled guy-ness that usually invades on gaming night. We tend to punctuate our play with ... forthright discussions. We've been playing Sorcerer over the last six months or so, and this was our first get-together since finishing that game. So with Tim K out of town, playing in a different venue, this session was definitely slated for a fun little interlude. I hope it's OK to mention that Chris is also undergoing either a highly-significant breakup or relationship-readjustment with his girlfriend, depending on how you look at it, or what day it is, or ... well, you get the idea.

We had dinner together at a local restaraunt and looked over some of the more portable games I'd grabbed. I should point out, because it's relevant (youuuuu'll see), that Chris lives in "boytown" in Chicago, pretty much middle-class gay central, and the restaraunt fit right in. We had some drinks, including my very good mojito and some really nasty pink not-enough-booze things for the others. That is also relevant.

When we got back to Chris' apartment, it turned out that Tim (A left out from now on in this post) had read my posting about Bacchanal earlier that day, and we decided that an all-male game of Bacchanal wasn't anything to be afraid of. So we opened the bottle of House Red Tim had brought, and designated glasses for dice and glasses for wine. The rest of this story should be understood to be accompanied by a great deal of the latter; in the end, we had knocked off a bottle of Shiraz and a bottle of Zinfandel as well.

[The first try

I'll start with the positive stuff first. I liked my character, a pudgy, stuffy senator-type, and the Companion/Accuser idea that developed. The Companion was his wife who was mildly estranged, the Accuser was her bitchy best friend, and in my first Accuser scene, I was inspired to say that she accused my character of killing his wife. I liked that! It provided the character a reason to try to solve the mystery of his wife's murder, without knowing that she wasn't really dead, and stay one jump ahead of the law in the search. Lots of room for the effects of Minerva and Venus and Pluto, if I could get them. Roman noir.

As it turned out, though, d8's rolled rather well out of my glass that night. In short order, I got zapped by the Accuser + Soldier + last-scene Soldier, so my character was dead as a doornail.

The other neat point was that Chris was inspired by Minerva and Pluto in his starting set to say, "it's a funeral!" which was brilliant. After a few Satyr and winey rolls, after a satyr delivered a stirring toast to the memory of the departed, and when people were dancing with the corpse and staggering around with wine on their fronts, Chris rolled a neutral tie. Another inspiration: he removed Pluto from his glass and narrated how the god appeared to the revellers and made it very clear that such goings-on were not appropriate. "Decrease in thrills" indeed.

But that was it for the good stuff. Tim's and Chris' characters got trapped in a huge street-scene orgy + riot, with rolls after rolls of wine-high, double-wine-high, repeat. They even tried to get rid of wine by using NPCs, but we didn't have many, and they were totally generic. The player-characters themselves were often left out of narrations, the narrations tended to pull back "the camera" to concern the whole block besides any particular character, and it all became painful and boring.

As a real tell for the fact that we obviously had a problem, when Chris finally rolled the Companion, he killed his character for no reason in his narration of the "flight from the city" - the class fuck-this-game technique we've all seen in the past.

So we all stared at one another, exasperated. Some discussion ensued, and here are some of the points that came up ...

1. Chris and Tim totally fell into the trap that Paul warns about in the text, of being over-concerned with fulfilling the requirements of the dice as the primary task.

2. One instant interpretation problem, specific to two-wine-tie results: "an increase in thrills and excitement." To date, in any play I've read about, in any interpretation of the rules I've had or experienced, I always read this as a fun, absorbing narration of some kind - an increase in sensuality which might include the possibility of sexual content too, like my example in the other thread of the woman getting up and dancing. But Tim in particular kept thinking "thrills and chills" in the horror sense, so an increase in thrills might mean someone gets attacked, or blood runs down a wall, or stuff like that. I dunno ... I'm pretty sure that the double-wine result is supposed to be fun and perhaps raucous, or perhaps secretly thrilling, with a strong dose of the erotic if it fits. But if you just leave "thrills" up for grabs for people to interpret, that result becomes awfully strange and disorienting across the table.

3. We are three straight guys who nonetheless have strong ties to gay culture, and in at least a couple of cases, direct life-experiences that leave our preferences in no doubt. Which is to say, for us, man-man sex is a very external topic because of its familiarity + separation, and thus is safe ... and boring. Thus Chris' character having a younger male lover as his Companion, and most of his scenes involving guy-on-guy, were like wall murals to us - mildly interesting, occasionally grotesque when he really tried, but still more like "wouldn't this be shocking and thrilling to someone who was shocked or secretly turned-on by this!"

4. I was in a difficult bind during play, because to some extent, I was the presenter and interpreter of the rules, and yet the nature of play requires personal response as a criterion for game material. So that meant in "making suggestions," it was also too much like tele-playing into the other guy's scene/character, and that meant a severance of connection rather than fostering connection.

The second try

Tim suggested we play again, on the principle that we don't settle for no fun, not in this group. All of us were absolutely convinced that this game would work for us, the three of us in particular, and in some ways I refused to accept that three guys are inherently unable to connect at the level Bacchanal is built for. We talked it over, looked at the rules (the others hadn't read them), and arrived at those four points I listed above. We concluded that if we were turned on by het sex, het sex is what we oughta be doin' in the game; that NPCs ought to be interesting and engaged in stuff that made them move around and do things; that "zoom in," in terms of imagery and feelings (bearing in mind Paul's advice about internal monologues) was better then "zoom out;" and so on. We also busted out the latter two bottles of wine. This was sort of important because by deciding to play again and to ramp up the evening's drinking, Tim and I deliberately broke our respective commitments to our wives and were now on unsanctioned "guys night out" time. Damn it all, at this point, we were here to play Bacchanal.

lt was lots more fun! One of Chris' NPCs became a powerful villain, some sexy stuff happened, and real stories emerged.

I was especially impressed with how well and how easily we ended Chris' and my character's stories almost simultaneously. My character never even got close to his Companion, but instead. again, fell afoul of the Accuser and Soldiers. In lasting a little longer, though, he found himself in a terrifying situation with Chris' character's father, who was his Accuser, and his sister, who was his Companion. Later, after I'd drawn my Soldier and was imprisoned (wrongly, for assaulting the sister, which he didn't do, well, not really) and slated to die as I had no nice dice to save him, I rolled Bacchus. Perfect! He busted my character and Chris' character out of prison, because Bacchus does that sort of thing, and they were staggering down the street, still drunk from the god's presence, and I played my character to be drunkenly blathering, "your father's a real dick! He's got your sister all tied up, too ... hey, you know? Your sister has nice tits ..."

Chris: "I kill him." Perfect again!

Now, Chris had been apprehended by a Soldier too, which was why he was in prison, and now this was his last turn. He had a Soldier, something else bad, and Venus in the glass ... could he save his sister and escape the city, with a high roll on Venus? One little 4-sider against two bigger dice? Well, Venus tried her best. She rolled a 4 and beat one of the biggies, but the Soldier was the high die. Chris wailed aloud, then launched into a perfect narration which combined the high Soldier with the presence of Venus, in that his character nearly got to his sister's chambers to save her ... but the soldiers guarding her struck him down in the dark, thinking he was my character, and the sister recognizes him an instant too late.

Tim's character had a good time, too, in that one, involving a relationship-triangle that was able to get farther than mine had in the first session.

One little rules-question

In the case of a double wine tie, Venus, or a neutral tie, adding a die to or removing it from the glass means that the character represented by the die actually appears in the SIS. However, in the case of the Soldier added by rolling Pluto or the Accuser high, that is not necessarily the case; the law comes into the story as an ominous possibility, although I suppose you can narrate in soldiers if you want. Nor is it the case with receiving the gift of Minerva, or removing Bacchus from the glass upon rolling Wine high.

So that can be confusing. Is it assumed that any addition or subtraction of "character dice" to or from a glass means "narrate that character?" Or are some of these just dice moving around, with others being direct narration-instructions by contrast?

For example, we never, ever rolled Venus high. The only way the Companion ever got into anyone's glass is by rolling a wine tie, and as you can see, that means that the instructions for what to say about the Companion, and whether he or she was even present in the scene, were murky. That caused a few problems, actually.

Related to that, Venus really does seem like one wimpy goddess. With caution about adding too many little-iffy-extra rules, we kind of like the idea that she might have a power similar to Minerva's, in that she can have effects on other dice in the glass on a low tie. Like get rid of Soldiers and the Accuser, for instance, and then she stays in the glass, unlike Minerva.

Well, that's it! I got home around 3 AM. I hope more of you wankers play Bacchanal and post about it.

Best, Ron
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matthijs
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« Reply #1 on: August 25, 2006, 01:18:40 AM »

I've played it only once, with a male friend. We both have places we're slightly afraid to go, when it comes to talking about erotic stuff, and I'm pretty sure we both went to those places. As Ron implies in the mural analogy: In Bacchanal, there's no point in describing things that someone else might find thrilling, dangerous and transgressive - you have to hit your own zone of discomfort. If you play it right, you're entertaining and scaring yourself, most of all.
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #2 on: August 28, 2006, 11:40:01 AM »

Hey Ron,

You're totally kicking my ass with these Bacchanal threads. I'm becoming convinced that some significant factor of my game designing is unconscious, and so gets expressed in the game text only via minimalist but purposefully chosen and intuitively meaningful cues ("surge in thrills and excitement" vs "escalation of decadence" vs "escalation of sexual decadence"). Can I ask, was your personal intuition for erotic drama keen enough to recognize these key cues from reading the game, or did it take actual play?

One instant interpretation problem, specific to two-wine-tie results: "an increase in thrills and excitement." To date, in any play I've read about, in any interpretation of the rules I've had or experienced, I always read this as a fun, absorbing narration of some kind - an increase in sensuality which might include the possibility of sexual content too, like my example in the other thread of the woman getting up and dancing. But Tim in particular kept thinking "thrills and chills" in the horror sense, so an increase in thrills might mean someone gets attacked, or blood runs down a wall, or stuff like that.

Your reading of thrills and excitement is correct. The horror stuff Tim is looking for seems like an option for high Pluto, maybe for a high Soldier, and maybe maybe for mid- or late-game decadence if a player is working up to a Marquis de Sade thing, but shouldn't be considered a requirement.

In the case of a double wine tie, Venus, or a neutral tie, adding a die to or removing it from the glass means that the character represented by the die actually appears in the SIS. However, in the case of the Soldier added by rolling Pluto or the Accuser high, that is not necessarily the case; the law comes into the story as an ominous possibility, although I suppose you can narrate in soldiers if you want. Nor is it the case with receiving the gift of Minerva, or removing Bacchus from the glass upon rolling Wine high.

So that can be confusing. Is it assumed that any addition or subtraction of "character dice" to or from a glass means "narrate that character?" Or are some of these just dice moving around, with others being direct narration-instructions by contrast?


Does it help if I say the gods can possess normal humans, so that a narration can feature a Bacchus-like guy as an expression of his presence and still satisfy the requirements? Because I'm inclined to keep it a bit loose regarding whether a god needs to physically appear. Certainly they can do so, but what's actually important for the rolls where a god is the high die is the presence of their influence. So as a player you just need to call some descriptive or symbolic attention to the agency of that influence, and then as audience we intuit the guiding will of the god. I might even accept something like a mysteriously bottomless wine urn as an expression of the influence of Bacchus on a scene if the discovery of its properties was properly celebrated by characters in attendance. With Soldiers, Satyrs, the Accuser, and the Companion, it's almost certainly a physical presence. Though I'm open to being convinced otherwise. How might you interpret Soldiers or the Accuser without the presence of a physical soldier or the Accuser NPC in your scene?

The only way the Companion ever got into anyone's glass is by rolling a wine tie, and as you can see, that means that the instructions for what to say about the Companion, and whether he or she was even present in the scene, were murky. That caused a few problems, actually.

I had assumed the requirement of the player working the physical presence of the Companion in to the scene. Can you provide some details on a scene in which it proved problematic?

Thanks,

Paul
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: August 29, 2006, 07:15:36 AM »

Hold up, full stop. I think you're missing my point and my question entirely.

Before re-stating it, let me say that I and everyone I've played with fully grasp the whole idea of "essence of the god," "person a lot like the god," and "the god himself" showing up as equivalent, acceptable, in-game effects. That is not at all the issue that I've raised.

To get at the issue I want to ask about, I have to re-emphasize something I said in the last post and tried to mark with italics. I am talking about placing a die into or removing it from one's glass, not about rolling a high die at the outset of the turn. That's totally different. It happens at a different time during the turn, it's a different sort of narration, and so on.

One places a die into one's glass at these points during play:

  • Two high tied Wine: select a non-Wine die and put it into the glass. Narrate the new arrival.
  • Neutral tie: remove a non-Wine die from the glass. Narrate the departure.
  • Pluto high: add a Soldier to the glass. No instructions for narration.
  • Wine high: remove Bacchus from the glass. No instructions for narration.
  • Soldier high: add Accuser to the glass. No instructions for narration.
  • Accuser high: add a Soldier to the glass. No instructions for narration.
  • Minerva (low tie): remove Minerva from the glass. No instructions for narration.

I'm not counting these:

  • Pluto: remove Pluto to the tray. I'm not counting this one because it relies on rolling Pluto high.
  • Venus: put the Companion in the glass. I'm not counting this one because the instructions are explicit. Also, they are unique and significant to the whole game.
  • Satyr/Bacchus: add Wine to the glass. I'm not counting this one because wine isn't a character and it's presumed to be all around anyway, either literally or figuratively, in every scene.

Looking at the ones I'm counting, all of them are totally different from narrating the appearance of Soldiers, Accuser, Satyrs, and whoever as a result of a high die result. I'm not talking about that at all.

Is this making more sense now? I have questions about the Companion in particular, when that die enters the glass in This Is Where The Party Is, but we can't even begin to address them until we're on the same page.

Best, Ron
edited for all those bullet formats, very tricky
« Last Edit: August 29, 2006, 07:18:14 AM by Ron Edwards » Logged
Paul Czege
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« Reply #4 on: August 29, 2006, 11:10:58 AM »

Ah...I think I see where you're heading with this. Let me see if I can reconstruct my design rationale.

In my mind, Bacchanal is a game of creative constraints. And in my experience there's a sweet zone for such constraints where they're empowering creatively to the player, but not so particular that they're stifling. So, regarding the seven you're concerned with, only two (two tied Wine, and the Wine and non-Wine tie) require the narration of the arriving/departing character. But none of the results are without specific creative constraints. With Pluto high, the narration must include the commission of a crime. With Soldier high the narration must include the apprension of your character. With Accuser high the scene must include a confrontation. In designing the game I wasn't so concerned about whether a player narrated the arrival of a Soldier upon rolling the Accuser high, or not until they rolled the Soldier high in a subsequent scene. Getting that specific seemed like the edge of being purposelessly particular. Similarly, I wasn't concerned with players narrating the departures of gods upon rolling Wine high, no Wine tied with Minerva, or a Wine and non-Wine tie when the player chose to remove a god, because whether the god had been established as physically present or not, I trusted a player's natural story instincts to impose some resolution to the physical or influential presence of the god.

But for some reason the two tied Wine and the Wine and non-Wine ties seemed meaningfully different. I think perhaps because I wanted to guard scenes against haring off disconnected from the standard dramatis personae into creative la-la land by fluctuations in Wine alone. The dice characters ensure that the narrative hangs together and it seemed to me that something needed to keep them from moving into and out of the glass at the mercy of Wine results without ever being acknowledged by the SIS.

Paul
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« Reply #5 on: August 29, 2006, 11:38:07 AM »

Hi Paul,

All of that fortunately accords with my extrapolating from the text. However, they were extrapolations, partly based on my familiarity with your games, and I strongly recommend a full re-write which sets the parameters for each option. I don't just mean adding a sentence or two to the existing paragraphs, I mean explaining all about narration in Bacchanal in a didactic fashion, with examples. I suggest that the entire organization of the current text can be let stand as the fine Game Chef article that it is, and re-thinking how it should be organized as a full product.

Now for the next question, which means talking about the Companion.

All right, getting the Companion into the glass via the high roll on Venus is very clear. You do introduce the Companion, but only to the location, and the potential ending of one's character's story is now in place, both in SIS terms and in mechanical terms.

But that's not how I've seen the Companion ever get into anyone's glass. Venus is a very feeble roller. Absolutely uniformly, the only way I've seen that happen is by rolling a high Wine tie. Annnnd, it says to narrate the new character into the location, which means of course that the Companion appears.

Our problem: what do you do with the fuckin' Companion now? Sure, you can roll him or her high, and finish the story, but until then, the constraints are forced to include the unwritten one that the protagonist and the Companion must be in the same scene(s) but must also be kept apart, or at least kept from simply joining hands and getting out of the city.

I presume the same problem may exist with the Venus-driven outcome ... but I also speculate that when and if that happens, the setup provided by the Venus scene, as well as the change in location, will go a long way toward establishing the Companion and the protagonist into a reasonable scene that focuses on the potential of getting out of the city.

Whereas by adding the Companion via a tied-high Wine result, the poor bugger appears into what is certainly an escalating wine-drenched thrill frenzy, and the player is now stuck trying to deal with that SIS (which can be problematic, as I've tried to post about very extensively so far) and keeping the protagonist and the Companion apart as they are simply not allowed to leave. Later tied-high Wine results make this really really annoying to have to put together. That's the point where satisfying the constraints becomes a real chore.

Best, Ron

P.S. I screwed up my summary-list a little; rolling the Soldier high removes the Accuser from the glass, rather than adds him.
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Tim Alexander
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« Reply #6 on: August 29, 2006, 12:21:03 PM »

Hey Folks,

So here I am, really glad we played that second game because I was really frustrated with the first one. There's lots of stuff already in here but I wanted to offer my perspective on a couple of things:

1) Thrills and Excitement. Ron's interpretation is much more clear when you read the examples in the text, so I chalk that one up to watching too many horror movies and not reading the text. That said, I think this is the sort of thing that a revised presentation of the text nails right out of existence.

2) Ron's question about the companion is really important. In both games the appearance of the companions in the midst of the debauchery was more than mildly jarring, and didn't lend itself much to a gracious exit. It was abrupt, and maneuvering around the arrival without interaction was a bit forced.

3) Pacing in general was tough. Our first game was somewhat marred by missing a couple of opportunities to switch venue, and so continuous escalation rapidly went stale. In the second game I felt like things (at least in my character's story) wrapped up pretty rapidly without getting to really feel out was going on. For Ron and Chris' characters that dovetailed really nicely, but less so for mine. Basically though it's somewhat tough to know how many threads to leave yourself in a given scene for later. Too many and you feel like you missed a bit of the story, too few and your struggling with where to go later. This could be the sort of thing that works itself out over multiple plays of the game. It certainly worked better the second time through than the first.

A couple of observations:

1) As has been said already, venus is a wimp. The likelyhood of her beating even a small handful of dice is going to be a rare event, and you might want to make that more explicit in the text.

2) Soldiers and the accuser are by contrast badasses. Having roughly a %20 chance of being high die in almost any pool is a pretty big deal. In the first game I hadn't really contemplated that, and gave Ron the accuser right off the bat. This made for an exceptionally short storyline for him.

3) Not to harp too much on this, but seeing Bacchanal next to My life with Master makes me sad.

I was probably the most outspoken about not having a stellar time the first way through, but by the end of the evening I really liked this game.

-Tim
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #7 on: August 29, 2006, 12:46:21 PM »

Hey Tim,

Thanks.

3) Not to harp too much on this, but seeing Bacchanal next to My life with Master makes me sad.

Because of the format? Y'know, I've been thinking about this a lot since Ron raised it on the other thread. And he's right that the print edition is still very much a Game Chef object. It is what it is graphically in part because I was consciously trying to hide Paul Czege in submitting it, not just through the M. Paul Buja pseudonym, but also through graphic design and presentation. (The layout with footnotes and whatnot is actually inspired by a book of literary criticism I have that's entitled Hermes.)

Paul
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #8 on: August 29, 2006, 12:56:23 PM »

Hey Ron,

Sure, you can roll him or her high, and finish the story, but until then, the constraints are forced to include the unwritten one that the protagonist and the Companion must be in the same scene(s) but must also be kept apart, or at least kept from simply joining hands and getting out of the city.

Is this not a trope common to euro-erotica of the late night Cinemax variety? Mistaken identity, the distractions of drugs, wine, and other lovers, romantic uncertainties, petty fights, jealousies and misunderstandings that keep you from knowing the truth?

Paul
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My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
Tim Alexander
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« Reply #9 on: August 29, 2006, 01:13:19 PM »


3) Not to harp too much on this, but seeing Bacchanal next to My life with Master makes me sad.

Because of the format? Y'know, I've been thinking about this a lot since Ron raised it on the other thread. And he's right that the print edition is still very much a Game Chef object. It is what it is graphically in part because I was consciously trying to hide Paul Czege in submitting it, not just through the M. Paul Buja pseudonym, but also through graphic design and presentation. (The layout with footnotes and whatnot is actually inspired by a book of literary criticism I have that's entitled Hermes.)


Yep, format. I can see why you did the layout the way you did for game chef, but boy does it scream for something better now. One of the things I really love about My life with Master is after reading the text you not only have an idea of how to play the game, but you have an idea for how the game feels in play as well. Bacchanal needs that even more. I submit that 90% of the stuff we ran into in terms of mixed expectations/interpretations could be cleared up strictly in a reformat without any (or really minor) changes to the actual text.

-Tim
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: August 29, 2006, 01:56:47 PM »

Hi Paul,

Quote
Is this not a trope common to euro-erotica of the late night Cinemax variety?

Um, I guess. This is something you've heard about, right?

The key in play will be to make those arbitrary separations and misunderstandings as clear as possible via example, especially examples which show that the tension can increase rather than merely be blocked.

Best, Ron
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Tim Alexander
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« Reply #11 on: September 06, 2006, 07:12:32 PM »

Hey There,

My wife had a baby last week so I've been out of touch, but this conversation petered out before hearing why Venus is so weak. Design choice, or something else. Any insight Paul?

Thanks,

-Tim
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