Board games

Great Mechanics – Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective

So this year we have had a frenzy of excitement around a board game translation of the Dark Souls video game series, this isn’t that noteworthy as franchises and board games have got on hand in hand since someone first made an Egyptian chess set. It’s so pervasive I’m surprised we don’t yet have Game of Thrones monopoly (Oh wait). I can remember getting a copy of the Lost board game when that was at its peak of popularity and expecting the special rules for John Locke to read “you win”.


The thing that worried me about this franchise is that the Dark Souls video game is known for its hardness and that doesn’t really translate well into a board game for 2 or more players. If you get beaten down by a player over the course of 2 hours you are unlikely to ever want to play it again, many games have mechanics to stop players from taking too much of a lead, the thief or robber in Catan for example or the in-character alliances in Diplomacy. They also tend to shy away from player elimination unless the game is so quick it’s not much of a problem having players repeatedly “die”. The developers have promised that the hardness will make its way into the games design so it remains to be seen exactly how they will balance this out while keeping it fun for all players.


The awkward part about this is that some people are drawn to hard challenges, the game has been widely successful because like many retro games it punishes people relentlessly, there are many reports online about people taking hours to clear the first level and getting hooked on trying to get further and further into the game. Is there any way of taking that kind of difficulty and porting it into a board game? Maybe instead of causing death, you could be investigating it.


Yes, I know a transition from Dark Souls hack and slash fighting into Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective seems like a tenuous one but SHCD has also got a fearsome rep for difficulty, the difference is only that in Consulting Detective you are working cooperatively to solve a crime (the rulebook has a mode for working in individual groups but that would require working in silence for 3-4 hours at the time while players across from you silently read a book).


After you start your investigation and decide on where to visit on the giant map of London provided you are free to travel anywhere, just take the number of the house and the compass direction and search though the mission book to read out what you find. If you need to find a different person then try the games huge directory of everyone living in London, get their address and visit their house. Still stuck? Why not go through the days newspaper for clues, a double sided broadsheet sized page of news done in an appropriate 1888 style is included for ever case. There are even areas of interest like Scotland Yard and characters like Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes himself ready to lend a hand.


After you think you have got everything you need skip to the back and read out the conclusion to the case where Holmes himself tells you how he solved it in typical Holmesian style. The trouble is that murder investigations are really hard work, and the investigations are so well written to give you red herrings, uncooperative witnesses and even people who out slam the door in your face to avoid being questioned, thus ending certain lines of enquiry unless you take another path of course Sherlock has no problem and will happily point out how logical his solution was leaving you feeling so small if you got it wrong.


I have completed all 10 missions in the game, my success rate is around 60% but despite this I will be going back in once the original French expansions are translated to English. I hope they come with a pipe and deer stalker.

Review – Dreadball version 1

Dreadball is Mantic Games’ Tron style future basketball sports game. It was conceived as an attempt to get a slice of the BloodBowl gamers pie and launched on Kickstarter back in the day, its about to get a second edition soon like Deadzone but I gave the latest version a whirl to see how it played.
First impressions, I liked the board but the low resolution artwork and the blur effect on everything left it lacking in visual effect, the miniatures are some of the worst ever sculpted, even with nice paint jobs they eye wateringly ugly. Giant oversized spikes shoot out of the goblin’s hands while some of the human (Enforcer) sculpts looks like they were sculpted from scratch in one go and left next to a hair drier to melt and distort while the designer went to the pub, sadly this is endemic of Mantic and a serious issue that are only hair trying to fix.
The only benefit is that they are all plastic which makes them super light and durable although if you were going to invest in plastic moulds you’d have paid more attention to the models. The rules are both simple and abstract at the same time, your team has 5 activations a turn, you mark which players you activate on a table to the left on the board and can activate models twice if you need. I liked this a lot as its an elegant way of marking which models you use and ensuring that the turns get done quickly and saves the 11 player shuffle that starts off some games of BloodBowl. There are turnovers which also end your turn but they only trigger if you make a mistake while carrying the call, again I like this as explaining everything that can cause a turnover in BloodBowl to a new player is tricky to say the least.  The combat, dodging, picking up the ball and other tests are done by Mantics trademark dice test where you roll a number of dice and count the number of successes you get. It works well here but I did like the special block dice BloodBowl gave you that produced a much more thrilling result when double skulls get rolled. When you attack another player you count the number of successes you have against theirs then the difference is how many turns that player is out for, 4 turns means the player is dead, but before this happens the defending player rolls 3 dice and for every 5+ reduces it by one. Unfortunately this kind of streamlined, mechanical, elegance causes the game to lose a bit of the humour BloodBowl had in its slightly longer injury system. For instance in Dreadball your Enforcer Jack can be removed from the pitch for 2 turns after taking a strike from a opposing Striker, however in BloodBowl your Orc Blitzer can be pushed into the crowd and in the ensuring brawl get knocked out. Notice how one of these statements sounds good and the other sounds a bit bland.
Simple is all well and good and there is a benefit for having a lighter simpler ruleset, unfortunately when it come to Dreadballs turn to inject its own flavour into the matches everything takes a turn for the worse. One of the most evocative parts of BloodBowl is the invisible referee that is constantly abused by the players on the pitch and the crowd. He might send a player off for carrying a secret weapon or assisting a foul but other than that his involvement is minimal, in Dreadball you move a ref model around the pitch every turn, the only trouble is that fouls in both games are rare enough to sometimes never occur during a match. This is fine as fouling a downed player is a “Win More” mechanic and really something only high end players have to be worried about remembering to do but it does rub the wrong way against all the other streamlined parts. Another part I didn’t like was the deck of cards that sits at the side of the board and is dealt out to players at the start of the game to give random free additional actions during their activations, I really didn’t understand the need for this other than also being used to  generate movement for the ref and sometimes powerful random effects, it’s obviously a replacement for the Kick Off table in BloodBowl but the only problem is the Kick Off table used to add flavour into the game by depicting crowd riots and random gusts of wind to effect the ball however this just seems to churn out cards like “Your striker gets an extra move” and the like.
One thing I do like is that the game doesn’t wait till you stop the half before allowing you to send new players onto the pitch to replace those that are injured, you can move them on from the back of your side of the pitch with your standard action orders, this allows you to push up into the opponents pitch, lose some players and be pushed back down again only for fresh players to bolster your defence leading you to rebound back down the pitch, weirdly it reminds me of a multiplayer online battle arena game like League of Legends or Smite with the shifting focus on different areas.
All in all there is a mechanically sound game at the heart of this system although heart and soul is what the game is missing, there are 25 races for Dreadball but virtually no trace of any crowds watching, virtually no hint of a larger universe that can be gleaned from gameplay, no debris from previous matches in the roll out pitch just distorted figures moving around a hex grid system trying to move a ball into the glowing red or blue areas so they can make a dice test.
Sadly I wouldn’t recommend buying this, not just because of the poor quality of models or the flabby rules, it’s because you could improve the game immensely by replacing all the miniatures with hexagonal tiles like the ones in Hive with the position of the player and their stats and have the fast cheap experience that the core of the game is supposed to provide. That being said giving how Mantic have no problem in gutting their game and provide a better experience I wouldn’t be surprised to come back and find the cards and ref had all been replaced with the dice based order system in Deadzone.
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Review – Deadzone version 2

Do you like Necromunda, if so I’m sure Mantic Games would never try to exploit the facts it’s out of production with a similar style game for you to buy instead. Actually that’s a poor opening statement, the only real similarity between the games are the skirmish setting and the plastic scenery in the box. Now it looks like I’ve written click bait in order to distract your gaze from the latest multi part Space Marine or Warjack kit out this month in a desperate attempt to further increase viewers to my blog, well it worked and now you can either stay here and read my thoughts on it after playing some games or close the browser is disgust. It’s your choice but as the WordPress dashboard doesn’t record how long a click-through lasts I’ve already won.
We used the deluxe gaming mat and fully painted scenery with two fully painted forces courtesy of my mate Simon “Morat” Brown. Simon airbrushed his scenery to achieve a oily used look where as I hit mine with a couple of different colours via spraycan before giving it a white spray coat and using ripped foam to stipple dark brown weathering all over it. I think I will use some Flory Washes to darken it down in the next step, but they served their purpose for now. The game seems to come with 75% of the scenery required so I would say those ruin sprues with the expansion are mandatory for someone wanting to buy into this.
The rules were easy to pick up: roll the command dice, move squares and when necessary roll tests to shoot or fight against your opponent, the process of learning them and playing a first 100 point game took slightly over an hour and left me quite happy, I screwed up, was punished for screwing up and could see what happened and why so I could alter my mistakes in the next game. The key rule here is that you roll a number of command dice at the start of a turn which give you extra shoot actions, extra combat actions, extra movement or can be used to individually add extra dice to a test, you can then re roll any number of them if over half of your force is still alive. You then have to pick when to use them all during your turn. The real zinger is that one dice result is a Special Order which can be used by whichever leader you picked to produce a special effect. Enforcer Sergeants can order their squad members to make an extra free move, while Plague stage 1A‘s can mutate a friendly model for a random effect.
I found that playing as Enforcers and moving into the centre and shooting didn’t work as trying to bring down large creatures in cover with laser rifles was completely ineffective, I discovered standing on scenery and shooting down was much better too late as after early luck a stage 2 got in amongst my forces and tore them to pieces.
We swapped sides and discovered that when used correctly Enforcers can manoeuvre quickly into great firing position and rain down pain, in fact I managed to lose a stage 2 in my deployment zone on the first turn before even activating it after Simon used a combination of special dice and his leaders ability to sprint a Enforcer over to the top of a building to shoot into my deployment zone. The game was saved by the monstrous stage 1A mutating itself to give itself the ability Agile via a special order and extra movement order then leaping over a nearby building and ambushing and killing a Enforcer who got too close while trying to capture a 2 vp objective. The following turn he managed to shrug off the effects of the remaining Enforcers fire before once again using a move order to pounce on the Enforcer Sergeant who was nearby giving me another 3 vp.
This prompted a discussion on how exactly to kill giant creatures like this, we thought that every force needs to have access to some ranged weapons with an AP value or ensure that they keep further than two squares away from it at all times while they capture other objectives, however in a following game we found that rolling the command dice until you get the extra dice result and then waiting until you can get a clear shot on it ensures that you can get a couple of wounds in.
Regardless, the rules are quick simple and engaging, the combat mechanic is one of the fastest ones I have seen in any skirmish miniatures game and lends itself to making tactical decisions based on model positioning rather than giving someone the best skills and weapons and watching them clean house. Squeezing models into the squares could be tricky as although Mantic has made the bases for the models very small sometimes they have to rest ontop of gantries or barrels to fit in the squares.
As I was writing up this report Jake Thornton published an FAQ for the rulebook which clears up some areas of confusion and fixes overpowered units making the game even better, sadly some of the errors were in the editing and they could have saved themselves some embarrassment by more in depth reading, however that being said with loads of leaders, troops, specialist and vehicles to test some balance issues are going to creep through.
Another thing I liked is that for 100 points you have a huge variety of things you can use and you really only scrape the surface of force design, we only used between 5-7 models each so it’s ideal for painters who work slowly as they can slowly build up their forces over time. The models are a mixed bag, the Orc equivalents and some of the weird aliens in the Rebs faction are embarrassing ( but appear to have been removed from sale) while the larger stage 1A Plague leaders and Enforcer Peacekeepers are quite nice, the tiny bases size for the infantry are the only problem because you can’t easily use alternate miniatures like the new 32mm based Space Marines and expect them to fit into the squares.
On the whole this is an ideal entry level miniature skirmish game to show to people who are put off by measuring distances or painting huge amounts of miniatures why miniature games are fun. Once Mantic start producing nice miniatures as standard as they are starting to do with Dungeon Saga: The Dwarf King’s Quest or The Walking Dead hopefully they will revist the models and I will be able to recommend this as one of the best miniature games around.
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The Cost of a Game

I was drawing up a list of all the current miniature games in existence and came across many companies who are nursing a popular franchise of a game into its 3rd or 4th year and for the reasons of wanting to turn a profit or keeping the game fresh have expanded the initial rule set or printed more cards or created more models than they originally planned. This is entirely normal for publishers as they need to create more content to sell to players to employ their staff. The bigger the company the more of the staff and the more of the product needed to sell to support it.


Let’s have a look at how much product complete your collection for what I would consider the largest traditional miniature or card games out there:

Games Workshop 40k 7th edition released May 2014 and kept most of the previous editions supplements

  • Rulebook: £25
  • 16 Codexes £320
  • 7 Codex supplements: £140
  • 9 Campaigns and expansions: £180

Total: £665 or £330 per year plus an army of £300 – £500

Games Workshop – Age of Sigmar released July 11th 2015

The rules on how to play and stats for each unit was published for free on Games Workshops website so I’m not sure how much of this you actually need. There also aren’t any agreed conventions on force size so you have to agree on that before the battle. However in order to enter into a discussion on this you have to know what it does, so you will need:

  • Age of Sigmar book – £45
  • Grand Alliance 4 book collection – £60
  • Realmgate Wars: Godbeasts, Balance of Power, Quest for Ghak Maraz: £130

Totalling: £235 per year (well 10 months worth) plus the cost of buying an army. As there is no defined limit for an army it’s hard to say at this point.

Privateer Press – Warmachine / Hordes

  • Prime Mark 2 rulebook – £20
  • Primal Mark 2 rulebook – £20
  • 21 expansion books over the last 6 years: £525 or £95 a year. Plus £150 for a competitive 35 point army.

However in June 2016 a new rulebook will be released online along with 12 faction decks with each unit in the game published up till that point.

Up till that point rules were published in either the boxes with the models or in the factions main book for people willing to look at them all before creating an army.

Wizards of the Coast – Magic the Gathering, Standard Format is everything published in the last year so:

  • Dragons of Tarkir – 264 cards
  • Magic Origins – 272 cards
  • Battle for Zendikar – 274 cards
  • Oath of the Gatewatch – 184 cards
  • Shadows over Innistrad – 297 cards

You won’t need all the cards in the same way you won’t need all the models a company produces so estimates online are around £1000 a year but it depends on how far you want to really go.

Top end competitive decks for the yearly standard format weigh in at nearly £400 but that assumes these players won’t ever buy a booster pack or a core set, it also depends what players believe their cards are worth, the best cards are around £20 each.

Netrunner – standard rotation since 2012

  • Boxed game x 3: £75
  • 4 Deluxe Expansions: £88
  • 5 cycles of 6 (30) data packs: £330

Total: £493 or £120 per year

12 older data packs will rotate out next year.

Fantasy Flight Games – X Wing the miniature game Since 2012

  • 23 small ships: £230
  • 4 deluxe expansions: £100
  • 9 large ships: £180
  • 4 Huge ships: £220
  • 2 core sets: £60

Total £790 or £195 per year

This takes into account 1 of everything, rules can be found on Wikipedia style websites online if you wanted to. If you wanted to play against others or in a organised event you need to buy multiples of certain models, however you could just skip one huge ship or faction to cut down your costs.

Hearthstone standard

  • 133 Basic cards – free
  • 245 Classic cards – £30 when starting

Totalling 378 cards always available, plus:

  • 132 The Grand Tournament £30 for launch promo
  • 134 Whispers of the Old Gods £30 for launch promo
  • 31 Blackrock Mountain £30 for launch promo
  • 45 League of Explorers £30 for launch promo

Totalling 342 cards that can cycle out over 2 years. In addition, as a digital card game, old or unused cards can be converted to “dust” which can then be used to create individual cards for your collection. Also playing games daily allows you to buy packs in game. Daily playing accumulated easily enough to get almost all the carded needed in the expansions.

So what does this tell you, well if cost per year is your key factor the list goes:

  • Hearthstone: £120, Though you can play and win for free if you are good enough
  • Netrunner: £120
  • Warmachine / Hordes: £95 (plus models for £245)
  • X Wing: £195
  • Magic: £400
  • Age of Sigmar: £235 (I’m assuming you will be playing with £200 worth of models)
  • 40k: minimum £600 for a years worth of rules and a small army

This isn’t entirely fair as a) the figures are estimated for a hypothetical person b) this assumes the gamer wants every rulebook, it doesn’t factor in deck protectors, paints, brushes and the cost to travelling to get a game and d) no one thinks about this kind of yearly cost before planning out a hobby, in fact when these games are released the company won’t know how much product it’s planning to release that year.

But what about the cost of picking up the previous rulebooks in order to know all the rules to play competitively. If so 40k rockets up to £965 and Warmachine to £675, Netrunner to £493 and X Wing to £570 (huge ships are not tournament legal). It does make recommending games like this a tricky prospect.

But wait you cry, “I just want to play a few games with my small group of mates and won’t be interested in playing competitively”. I don’t need / want / have the time for all these rules damnit. This is fine it that’s your Jazz, let’s look at what that costs.

  • Hearthstone – free to play
  • X Wing 4-9 models a side £40-£90
  • Magic fat pack each – £30 (although due to the nature of the game things will rapidly escalate)
  • 40k – “lets play” miniature boxed set, rules and codex £100
  • Age of Sigmar – God knows but probably a “lets play” set £50
  • Warmachine – Battlegroup each with rules included and main game rules £45, however rules are currently and will be free online in its 3rd edition.
  • Netrunner – A core set each at £25

The problem here is that at these small scales I’m not sure how playable Warmachine, Age of Sigmar and 40k are, if it’s just a small scale game between two players you might be better off with a skirmish game like Infinity, Mantics Deadzone, Dreadball, Blood Bowl or Malifaux.

This is a problem if you want to buy into 40k and Warmachine games, except that as wildly popular franchises it clearly isn’t. So in conclusion we have learnt nothing from this exercise, see you next week for another thrilling article.


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Wyrmwood Gaming

One of the things I’d like to write about in this blog are the smaller companies that don’t get a lot of press in the gaming industry, I’m not doing it as paid advertising or being given free product so if I write about something then it’s just that I want to offer my opinion on something that deserves being written about. Today I’m going to be writing about a company I backed on Kickstarter called Wyrmwood Gaming, they have done 5 campaigns at the current time of writing this, the Dice Vault, the Magnetic Dice Tower System, the Hero Vault, the Dice Tray and the Deck Box with optional Bluetooth tracking tile. As you can tell especially with the last one, they are high end gaming accessories for tabletop gaming.

I picked up the Dice Vault and the Hero Vault on Kickstarter. Depending on the wood you pick, the Dice Vault goes for $25 to $125 and the Hero Vault goes from $24 to $110 with $24 shipping. So that’s £17.27 to £86.38 for the Dice Vault and £16.58 to £76 for the Hero Vault with £16.58 shipping.

First things first, these are luxuries, there should be no one out there who is under the illusion that you should need a special wooden box to hold 8 dice or a single model or a magnetically assembled contraption to roll their dice or store their cards so picking this up should be the last call on your gaming shopping trip.


Both are well made, and match the pictures and description on their website which is sometimes a problem with Kickstarter products, especially those using natural materials like wood or stone, they know what they are doing and have attached rare earth magnets into the wood using screws to secure them in place so that the two halves of the Vault snap it together and secure with enough force to make it clear no jolt or knock is going to open it when it is being carried around in your bag.


This smoothly leads me on to my next point, these items are so nice and so expensive I would not recommend just throwing them in a bag full of other equipment that might damage them, their price and the varying hardnesses of the wood needs to be taken into account, I suggest checking out the style of wood here and seeing if it matches your needs first.

If I was going to pick the most useful it would be the Hero Vault as its great for taking an individual model around for a game like Descent or Imperial Assault when even the smallest carrying case is too large and yes, it does garner looks of envy from your fellow players. Maybe one day when I have the full games room setup I will have matching Wyrmwood dice towers and other accessories but probably not just yet.


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Great Mechanics – City of Horror

Monopoly is a scourge against board games and in my opinion the reason why most people who don’t know anything about them would rather have their fingers cut off than play one. There are so many reasons to dislike it, long lengthy games with no end point, play and go mechanics, no twists or shifts in tempo and a slow endgame based on player elimination, but one of the worst aspects of it is the house rules system. This is the area where groups of players will substitute their own interpretations on how to play the game in certain situations, for instance rolling doubles, going to jail, getting out of jail and the process of mortgaging off properties. These rules are pretty much comprehensively covered in the rulebook, but that doesn’t stop house rules regarding these events to be ruthlessly enforced by the cabal of players who came up with them in the first place.
If you’ve ever experienced pressure to succumb to house rules why not get your own back by buying a copy of City of Horror and exposing everyone to a nice family game of feeding the smaller and weaker amongst your number to a hoard of brain eating zombies. The basic setup is simple, each player gets 4 characters and then these characters are assigned to one of 6 locations on the board. Over the course of 4 turns zombies build up outside these locations and once they meet a certain threshold the players with characters in that location have to vote amongst themselves to see who is thrown outside and eaten. Each player in a location gets a number of votes equal to however many of their characters are inside and ties are decided by the last player who had a character eaten. To add to this players are dealt a hand of cards at the start of the game that when used give one off effects like reducing the amount of zombies outside, moving zombies to another location or more sinister abilities that effect the voting process.
'One way to get through the ordeal of existence is to behave as if youíre no longer sentient':  Lond
The way this usually manifests is that during the start of the game when there are only a few zombies on the board, players are trying to pick them off with the cards in their hands to avoid their locations meeting the threshold required for a vote. As its quite hard to acquire new cards it transitions into a midgame where players are starting to run out of these cards and are instead faced with a hand of effects that allow them to manipulate the vote instead. If you think you are going to be outvoted you could force a player to vote for whoever you chose, if there are only two of you in a location, why not prevent the other players from naming anyone and if all else fails and you have made powerful enemies you could remove yourself from the voting and sacrificing process entirely by playing the “hide” card.
This game has several warnings from people by who have reviewed it who say that it ruins friendships and leads to people holding lengthy grudges against each other after having a character betrayed and eaten. But all that’s happening is that the game is exploiting a psychological quirk in human nature, namely that people will work harder to avoid losing something than they will to try and acquire something.
Each player starts the game with 4 characters where most games would only give them 1 and the moment it looks like they might lose one they panic and start trying to compensate. This loss aversion is demonstrated extremely well at the end of the game when the scoring begins as the characters can only be counted as surviving if they have picked up a vaccine token to immunise themselves against the virus. How much time do you think most players spend worrying about picking up the vaccine tokens? You guessed it. Not as much as they should have.

Smog 1888 – Farewell sweet prince


Here as little something for you. When I decided to start this blog I wanted to quickly publish a series of articles outlining key areas of interest for me to get some groundwork in for articles going forward. This one can be filed under the banner of “weird area of interest that I haven’t seen anyone else writing about”. Back in 2010 a company called Smart Max appeared at Salute in London showcasing a series of 52mm (!) resin models with a Victorian Fantasy Steampunk theme. I picked a bunch of them up and immediately set about painting them and waiting for the promised board game. Interestingly at the time people mentioned the high price for the miniatures which was about £18 per piece (what Games Workshop now charges for a single 32mm character model) however it was clear that they were collectors only pieces a ‘la Mike McVeigh miniatures. The board game came out around a year later with little fanfare and resembled a much lighter and quicker version of Malifaux. It was playable in about 20 minutes for a 4 model a side skirmish, which sadly turned it into a more expensive and less deep version of an already incredibly popular but niche game.

The number of models produced gradually decreased until the company launched a board game on Kickstarter using different sculpts in late 2014 raising lightly over $100k. In 2015 the entire range of Smog 1888 miniatures was sold off at half price and discontinued and their separate range of alternate history world war 2 miniatures going under the name of Mauser Earth was sold to another French company called Wonderlands Projects where they can now be purchased. If you want to get hold of any of these you can find someone currently selling them on Cool Mini or Not or eBay but be quick because unless he’s a garage recaster his or her stock will eventually dry up.

The Smog models were lovely characterful sculpts with loads of little details in places and presculpted bases. As they weren’t heroic scale a lot of the smaller details would sometimes break off which made them completely unsuitable for a miniature game but great in a cabinet. So if you think you can give them a paint job that does them justice and you like the Steampunk theme then its worth tracking them down. Unfortunately I think the guys at Smart Max found that the intersect in the Venn diagram of: “Good painter” / “Interested in Steampunk” / “Not interested in using this miniature in an existing game” was just too small to sustain them and found a larger audience using the pattern: “Interested in board games” / “Interested in steampunk”.

Its worth noting that Kingdom Death found a much greater intersect with their $1 million Kickstarter by drawing the circles: “Interested in women” / “Weird”.