The 50 best strategy games on PC

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An entirely objective ranking of the 50 best PC strategy games ever made, now brought up to date with the riches of the last two years. From intricate wargames to soothing peacegames, the broad expanse of the genre contains something for everyone, and we’ve gathered the best of the best. The vast majority are available to buy digitally, a few are free to download and play forever. They’re all brilliant.

Before diving into this delicious stack of games, we should define exactly what we mean when we say “Strategy Games”. The answer, quite simply, is that we don’t mean “Strategy Games”. Don’t worry, they’re here, – from grand historical strategy and RTS clickity-clicking to turn-based operational level wargaming – but our church of strategy is broad. Games that concentrate purely on tactical decisions and combat have been considered for inclusion, as have management games that might not fit into Colonel Trousers’ rigid definitions as outlined in the seminal brain-pacifier That Is Not Strategy Vol I-XXX.

There are several reasons to recommend our broader definition. Perhaps most importantly, it means that we haven’t ended up with a list of 50 games about World War II or alien spacewars. The treasures below are varied in theme, style and setting, and there’s surprisingly little overlap between them. Some of the management games included would struggle to find a home on any genre-based list if they didn’t have a home here. Inclusiveness is key.

Of course, you might find that your personal favourites haven’t made the list. When your moment of grieving has passed, remember that all attempts to rank games are arbitrary and ultimately futile, and whether X should be placed above Y might isn’t really all that important.

That’s not to say this isn’t the most accurate list you’ll ever read, of course, because it is.

The links below will skip you forward in intervals of ten, if you like. You can also change pages using the arrows beneath or below the image at the top of each page, or using your arrow keys:

The 50s

The 40s

The 30s

The 20s

The 10s

Onward!

From this site

108 Comments

  1. aircool says:

    Lots of great games. Wouldn’t have put the post Total Annihilation SupCom games in there though, I found the scale too large and spent a lot of the time zoomed out watching some triangles moving about rather than up close with the action.

    • Warduke says:

      Yah, I agree. Figured one of the C&C games would be in there, maybe Generals or Zero Hour.

      • brucethemoose says:

        Modded Zero Hour is still my favourite RTS (and is still being actively developed, I believe)

        But I’m OK with not seeing it here. There’s alot of stiff competition.

    • 321 says:

      Supreme Commander is the peak of real time strategy design. Your personal shortcomings shouldnt relieve the game of its meritorious place.

      • DudeshootMankill says:

        Supcom with Fa:Forever is totally one of the greatest RTS of our time. It requires a buttload of the player, you have to keep track of so many things. But the payoff is watching that stratbomber survive a barrage of AA to bomb your feckless opponents antinuke facility. Paving the way for a nuclear victory.

        Oh yea, best economy system of any RTS too.

    • Eosus says:

      I wouldn’t downplay supcom that much. I find it mind-boggling that a 12 year old game still has such an active community as the forged alliance forever community for forged alliance. On a friday evening still constantly hitting 900 online players. I also think it is quite amusing to see the new planetary annihilation and ashes of the singularity make claims to the same playerbase and their games are completely deserted, while forged alliance lasts.

  2. DigitalParadox says:

    FYI your year on EU4 is wrong, it released in 2013

  3. Premium User Badge

    Risingson says:

    Master of orion/magic deserve more love because I love them, and because they are still much more fun than their later clones (hom&m, galactic civ…). Darwinia as well as the only thing close to rts I was able to beat.

    And those nice difficult games that were in the middle point between rpg and rts as evil islands are still underrated, I see.

  4. benjamin says:

    I am currently enjoying Stellaris. Therefore, Stellaris should be on the list.

    • Blad the impaler says:

      I too have recently enjoyed Stellaris, but I do not agree.

    • Joriath says:

      It should at least replace HOI IV in my opinion. Something about the latest installment of HOI just doesn’t click for me. The production mechanic is good but I found the combat to be incredibly shallow. It just ended up as ‘select units, click on province(s) to be attacked, wait, rinse and repeat’.

      I know this is HOI, not War in the East, but I found HOI III’s combat far more engaging. And then there’s the UI…the Air combat menu… *shudder*

      • P.Funk says:

        Yea, and I find all the HOI3 detractors people always lay out just unconvincing and in the end it just boils down to “accessibility”. The sad reality though is that Paradox games are becoming kind of cookie cutterish. They’re really starting to create a brand and its not necessarily a good thing if you like diversity and esoteric game design.

    • Zenicetus says:

      I think Stellaris is better than many other games on this list, but that’s a result of my preference for the space 4X genre. As an objective assessment, I think Stellaris is still too much of a work in progress to make a list like this. There are still too many gaping holes… like the idiot sector AI, or the lack of deep trade systems and other mid-game content.

      A year from now it should make the list, if Paradox can tighten up the design (with or without DLC’s).

    • brucethemoose says:

      Not as a strategy game though.

      It good strategy game, and a better story/history generator/simulator atm.

  5. Ghostwise says:

    FWIM Master of Magic no longer is “the previous game on the list” that the writeup for Warlords III mentions.

    This mistakes ruins everything forever, obvs.

  6. Tendehka says:

    Darkest Dungeon came out in 2016, or 2015 if you’re counting Early Access.

    2010 gave me a minor heart attack as I thought I’d lost a few years somewhere.

    • Unclepauly says:

      You did. Good thing it is a minuscule loss though. The Mandela Effect in action. Am I joking? That’s for you to decide… (mwauhaha)

  7. McCool says:

    Surprisingly not very mad at this. Scoop out your #1 and #2 and put them on the arse-end of the Top 10, and sneak Heroes of Might and Magic III into 5th place somehow, and this is pretty much how I’d ranks.

    A few gems in there I haven’t seen for years, and more than a few high recommendations I haven’t seen yet, put side to side with cherished favourites (that’s the point of this ranking, right?).

    Also did I miss something or is Total Annihilation absent?

    • froz says:

      I would put Total Annihilation in the Supreme Commander place. It had so much more character and it was one of the most innovative game in the genre.

      • Premium User Badge

        Muppetizer says:

        Definitely, Total Annihilation is still my favourite RTS to this day. One thing that’s always frustrated me is how all of the spiritual successors have focused on the scale, but I think that’s forgetting so many of the details that made the game so interesting. Things like elevation having such a distinct effect on bullet trajectories and troop movement, the variety and effectiveness of base building, the way different maps allowed for completely different economies, the fact that radars and map information were such an important part of the game — and radar jammers alongside that. There’s so many things that TA did that modern games have barely scratched.

  8. Halk says:

    I don’t understand why you keep releasing these toplists. The selections you make are so absurd every single time that they are essentially meaningless.

    But then I guess toplists are a cheap way of generating lots of content, maybe that is why you keep doing it.

    • Golwar says:

      And I don’t understand what there is to complain about. In the worst case: Ignore it.
      Thanks to the list I added 1 game to my wishlist and got reminded of some other games from my backlog.

    • Slaadfax says:

      I actually quite like the top lists. It helps remind me of gaps in my backlog, and the bite-sized overview helps me quickly judge a couple of possibilities when I’m trying to figure out what I want to play next.

  9. Laurentius says:

    How come Master of Magic and Master of Orion 2 lost places on the list in two years (one and half?) is beyond me. These game didn’t get worse and new entries don’t validate that shift. The Banner Saga 2? C’mon, and I say it as somone ho is big TBS series fan.

  10. satan says:

    Rome: Total War and Majesty the Fantasy Kingdom Sim are the two strategy games I’ve put the most hours into over the years. They’re just so replayable.

    edit: Well… maybe they haven’t topped HoMM2&3 for sheer hours played, but I’ve got those games down to such a precise art that there isn’t much strategy left in them.

  11. froz says:

    When I started reading through the list, I noticed many familiar titles. For fun, I decided to count how many games from the list I actually haven’t played – and it was 14. 2 of them I haven’t heard about before.

    I wonder what are the numbers for other readers, share in reply if you want :).

    • Zenicetus says:

      There are 30 on the list I haven’t played, but even then I was including a few games where I haven’t played the most recent version but others in the series (Starcraft, Total War series, etc.)

      I’m not sure what any of that means, because there are games I would have included as classics that aren’t listed here, like the Kohan games.

    • Unclepauly says:

      I refuse to go through the list and count. Off the top of my head though I would say I’ve played about 15 of them. Around 6-7 are brand new to me. I started pc gaming when Half Life 2 came out.

    • Premium User Badge

      teije says:

      Played 28 of them, just not into the RTS type ones. But nice to see RPS loves many of those old classics.

      Still waiting for the true JA2 successor too. Probably never happen, but a guy can dream…

  12. Yachmenev says:

    I wish I could go back to enjoying Civilization 4 that much again. But the stacks of doom and the feeling of being pushed to combat so much hinders that for me.

  13. Aetylus says:

    Glad to see Dominions 4 up there… such a lovely unsung game.

    I’d also have Atlas Reactor in the top ten as the best multiplayer strategy game since Tank Wars… but given the lack of coverage on RPS I’m guessing none there have played it. (Come on guys, give it a little love… its what happens if you turn X-com into an online brawler… of if you made a turn-based MOBA that people over 30 can enjoy).

  14. Werthead says:

    No Hostile Waters? I know it’s more tactics than strategy, but then The Banner Saga 2 is pretty much all tactics as well.

    • Syrion says:

      In my opinion Hostile Waters is even more action than tactics/strategy. I’d say it’s more in line with tactical action games like Republic Commando, although obviously more strategical and much, much better. Although, judging the atmosphere it definitely feels more like Command & Conquer with the ability to jump into each vehicle. Lovely game!

  15. Crafter says:

    Impressed to see SupCom here and so high but to be honest it is the rts I have the fondest memories of.
    However I retried it recently and it did not age too well. The graphics do not scale well to high density resolutions and the UI could use some improvements.

    Still, by far my favorite RTS.

  16. kode says:

    Have played more of these than I anticipated going in. Not sure I’d agree with the order or anything (or leaving out e.g. Victoria II and Stellaris), but if nothing else it’s a list of really solid strategy games.

  17. Jason Lefkowitz says:

    I would argue for the inclusion of one title that’s not on this list: Dani Bunten’s 1990 classic Command H.Q., which is both a historical landmark and a game that still holds up today.

    I wrote an appreciation of it a couple years ago here, if you want more info on what it was and why it was important. Or you can just buy it on Steam!

  18. SaintAn says:

    XCom 2 was an improvement? Seemed shallow from what I played. The first was much better, plus it has cybernetics, which the sequel doesn’t have.

    • Coming Second says:

      The sequel is made to be moddable, which automatically makes it a better game than EU, which had exactly one option if you wanted to mod it.

  19. Elric666 says:

    Somehow it makes me very uncomfortable to see RTS games thrown into the same bucket as turn-based strategy games. They both have “strategy” in the name, but the gaming experience is so vastly different, it doesn’t seem right.

    Edit: I think a more appropriate name for RTS would perhaps be RTC’s – “real time command/control” games.

  20. Monggerel says:

    Where’s
    goddamn
    Red Alert 2
    Huh?

  21. Hellrespawn says:

    Similar to OpenTTD, there’s also OpenRCT2. It’s not quite as polished and there are no freely available graphics (yet?), but it plays quite well and is being actively developed.

  22. left1000 says:

    I definitely think Endless Legend is ranked far too high. I’d definitely put things like master of orion age of wonders sots 1 other civ titles besides 4 above it.

    Endless legends is barely top ten strategy games of this decade let alone all time.

    • abomb76 says:

      Agree, I didn’t find it all that interesting or fun. Did one playthrough and never felt compelled to go back to it.

      A game I’m not surprised is missing but absolutely deserves to be on this list is Renowned Explorers: International Society – don’t let the cutesy simple graphics fool you, this is a deep, engrossing and endlessly replayable turn-based strategy game based on Explorers and Expeditions in the late 19th century. It has a very active and friendly community which extends the life of the game by posting weekly high score challenges. If you call yourself a strategy fan you really owe it to yourself to play this – the DLC is pretty much essential as well, adding a lot of new features to the game.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Endless Legend gets major points for creativity in setting and faction design, and a clean user interfaces.

      The game mechanics and AI for their games need work, but it’s a young studio. They deserve credit for doing something different in worldbuilding (not the usual fantasy or space tropes), and recognizing that a clean UI is important when you have to stare at the same screens for hours in a strategy game.

      • carewolf says:

        To get full credits for world builing though. They need to actually build the world, and not just make cool designs and vague inconsistent background stories. What Endless Legend lacks most of all, especially compared to Alpha Centauri, is proper world building and story telling.

  23. fuggles says:

    Dawn of war soulstorm! Woo!
    Still modding away, this time on imperial guard with pith helmets!
    link to moddb.com

    So many race mods it’s unreal. Join them up to make the most complete wh40k game going.

  24. 321 says:

    “Although it’s not often regarded as part of the pantheon of strategy games, Rise of Nations is the closest thing to a real-time take on Civilization that we’ve seen. ”

    Damn right. Rise of Nations is so profoundly good, so incredibly, unspeakably good – its not just one of the best strategy games ever made, its one of the best games of any genre, on any platform. It boggles the mind how good and rich and deep it is. Perhaps thats the reason we dont see the game more revered and mentioned in strategy discussions – its too much for the average gamer. Who knows.

    • Arkayjiya says:

      I don’t know, I’m very much an “average gamer”, although a dedicated PC one, I touch many genres but rarely go too much in depth (I like UT and OW as FPS but I’m not going to play Arma for example).

      Like a lot of people I’ve grown up on the most popular entries of the genre which are generally RTS(Warcraft 2&3, AoE 2 and my personal favourite of this whole list: Starcraft 2, shitty story but best gameplay of any video game I’ve ever played) although I’ve touched some Civilization (but the fifth which is fairly mainstream) and rise of nations is one of my all time favs. It has that balance between complexity and accessibility and it makes growing cities and territories so god-damn satisfying. I also like legends but nations is definitely better even if not quite as cool looking.

    • Premium User Badge

      SuddenSight says:

      I loved Rise of Nations. It definitely hit the real-time-Civ note.

      That said, battles felt rubbish in the game. I think it found an awkward middle ground between the micro-heavy precision of Starcraft/Warcraft and the unit-massing of Total Annihilation, with mini-squads making everything more complicated. I remember many instances where the best option was just to spam light infantry.

      The governments in the expansion where also neat, but not that revolutionary really. Just a couple minor bonuses wrapped in a new “tech.”

      For me the game really shone in the economic and expansion side, which was more involved and more interesting. Too bad none of the victory conditions made peace a fun endgame.

  25. slartibartfast says:

    CTRL + F “age of empires”

    Nope, no mention in either the comments nor the list. Felt I needed to log in to remedy this. What is wrong with you people? You mean your opinions aren’t the same as mine!? Blasphemy

    • Aseliot says:

      Yeah this site is okay I guess but no mention of C&C and AoE? Star/Warcraft 3 not even in the top 10 and a turn based thing on #1?

      Sure these lists cannot avoid being opinionated but this doesn’t make any sense at all xD

      • Sin Vega says:

        Nah this is a rubbish site for bad jerks.

        Honestly though, C&C hasn’t aged that well. Of course its influence was huge, but it’s long since been outdone, not least by its own sequels. And even they’re hard to call the best ever.

  26. zenorogue says:

    There are no classic roguelikes (e.g. DCSS, ADOM, TOME, Brogue) at all on the list. They do concentrate on tactical decisions, and they do it their own way, so they should be here. Also (not so classic) FTL has its own take.

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      The rougelikes are in the RPG list.

      • zenorogue says:

        Thanks for the information! I believe them to be closer to strategy than CRPG since they concentrate on tactics/strategy rather than on telling a story (I generally love roguelikes, like strategy, and hate non-roguelike CRPGs because they lack challenge and books/movies are generally better for telling stories), but I appear to be in minority.

  27. Tuco says:

    Jagged Alliance 2 for me is top 3 stuff.
    I’d argue even to put it first, but top 3 would already be reasonable enough.

    EDIT- Also, WHERE THE HELL IS MASTER OF MAGIC?

    • Replikant says:

      The thing (vanilla) JA2 really is missing is a transparent cover system. I could never work out whether taking cover behind an obstacle (e.g. a tree) would make a PC harder to hit or would prevent him from targeting an enemy.

  28. v1tr1ol says:

    1. World In Conflict

  29. Mr_Quirky says:

    Really disappointed that there was no mention of the great ‘Combat Mission’ franchise, especially since you guys have always done a great job of covering it.

    • klops says:

      I’d suppose Combat Mission is Tim Stone’s field who’s like a specialist, so the game (or my fav Close Combat 2) missing from the list of more general “strategy games”, such as Civilization, X-Com or HoMM, is understandable.

      Also the Combat Missions I’ve played weren’t that good as a single player, campaigny experience compared to the games listed here. Combat Missions excelled as sort-of simulations of a single battle. Great games, though.

    • bktor says:

      I agree with those criticizing the lack of mention of the Combat Mission series in this “50 best strategy games” piece.

      Combat Mission is a realistic WWII/modern war strategy series, unlike WWII strategy alternatives Men of War and Company of Heroes.

      Arduous attention to modeling what war is actually like yields to Michael Bay ideals of explosions and graphical extravagance in the minds of the authors of this piece. I can’t respect that.

      Hopefully Tim Stone’s influence over this wretched quivering mass of high output, low quality gaming journalists/advertisers will show in the long term.

      If this piece was instead entitled “50 most popular strategy games on pc”, I would be less insulted by the lack of mention of a superior strategy product.

  30. tryptophan says:

    Good to see Alpha Centauri get the love it deserves. LONG LIVE THE HAB COMPLEX.

  31. Jerkzilla says:

    I’m saying this based on maybe 10 or 30 minutes of experience before dropping it for good, but Supreme Commander always struck me as kind of flavorless. I mean, it’s almost definitely not my type of game, managing large numbers of units is not something I do well, but I can recognize that the gameplay has value irrespective of how bad I am at it, it’s just that all the media I’ve seen of it looks kind of bland and generic.

    I did enjoy what little I got to play of Planetary Annihilation and have made a note to go back to it.

    Also, while Massive’s RTTs are all excellent, I thought WiC is the more definitive version. It must have been a hard call though.

  32. Premium User Badge

    Mungrul says:

    I’m assuming when you list Myth, you’re listing the series, as Myth 2 is leaps and bounds better than the first game.

    • Replikant says:

      I am glad to see Myth made it into the list at all. I never met anyone else who’d played it (although I knew that there had to be some, somebody had to create all those lovely mods, after all).

  33. revan says:

    Great titles all around. Alpha Centauri definitely my number one to this very day. Keep expecting something will come out and surpass it, but no game ever does.

    Great to see Myth represented as well. Before there ever was Total War series, I was gnashing my teeth and dreading what the Dark might throw at me back in 1997 and 1998.

    I’d also add some W40K titles. Namely Chaos Gate and Dark Omen. Surprised there were no Westwood classics on this list, though.

  34. Frank says:

    I’m surprised to mostly agree with this, though I’d’ve put Tropico, Eador and Rebuild in my top 10.

  35. khaoselement says:

    50 individual pages? Jesus RPS…thank god for AdGuard.

  36. Premium User Badge

    SuddenSight says:

    I should have known that I would disagree with any list of strategy games, considering the breadth of the genre and how many games in it I enjoy.

    Still, Civ IV was my LEAST favorite CIV game. The new stuff (promotions and great leaders, mostly) just felt like cruft to me while the game took away many things I was familiar with in Civ III. I have since accepted it (and I will always defend Civ V for switching to hexagons), but I definitely do NOT agree with the (apparently?) common assessment that Civ IV was the “pinacle” of square-Civ.

    The one part I will agree is that Civ IV brought with it the Civ Revolution remake, and Civ Revolution is swell.

  37. Syrion says:

    As someone who isn’t into classic RTS games primarily for their typical control scheme, I’m dearly missing World in Conflict in this list!
    It’s just so intuitive being able to fly around the map using WASD+Mouse as if it was an FPS and you had a jetpack, having a great overview and giving precise commands, all the while flying down to ground level and enjoying the atmosphere as though you were just some bystander in awe of what’s going on. Loved it.

  38. Unsheep says:

    40% I agree with: Ground Control, Dragon Pass, AI War …
    60% I disagree with: Starcraft ? Banner Saga ? Darkest Dungeon ? …

    What I would to add to a personal list:
    * Sacrifice
    * Dungeon Keeper
    * Master of Orion
    * Populous
    * Space Colony
    * Tropico 3
    * King’s Bounty Crossworlds
    * Battle Isle 3
    * Gangsters: Organized Crime
    * Patrician III
    * Mechanized Assault & Exploration (M.A.X.)
    * Port Royale 2
    * Etherlords 2
    * Krush, Kill ‘n’ Destroy Xtreme
    * Great Battles
    * Fantasy Wars
    * Perimeter
    * Antaeus Rising
    * Impossible Creatures
    * Massive Assault
    * Off-World Resource Base
    * War Wind
    * Black Moon Chronicles
    * Battlezone 98
    * World in Conflict

    * Ironclad Tactics
    * Battlevoid: Harbinger
    * Zombie Night Terror
    * Creeper World

  39. shagen454 says:

    Glad to see Alpha Centauri up there. I checked my WoW stats recently, it was really scary. I have almost logged an entire year of my life playing WoW in the last 12 years. I think it’s probably a similiar case with Alpha Centauri, I played that game so much over the years – one of the best games ever created.

    I think my top 5 would be:

    1. Alpha Centauri
    2. Homeworld
    3. Dungeon Keeper 2
    4. Warcraft III
    5. Myth 2 and probably Populous overlapping one of these titles.

  40. DarkLiberator says:

    Personally I can’t take this list seriously if it doesn’t have World in Conflict or Age of Empires 1 or 2 on it. Also loved Rome: Total War.

  41. RanDomino says:

    Civ IV is fine. Fall From Heaven is the greatest strategy game of all time.

  42. HeavyStorm says:

    Oh, polemics! Well, I begin to read (every day, many times) RPS after seeing Freespace 2 make top 1 of some list (I believe it was best games), and also X-COM being there somewhere.

    Well, this list might be the one to make me stop reading it. No C&C games? None? In fifty fucking games you can’t find a spot for one of the most celebrated strategy games ever made? Of which there are what, dozen different titles? And may be considered one of the precursor of the genre? Geez, hivemind, you’ve disappointed me.

    (of course I know this doesn’t matter and I will keep reading RPS every day, but I needed to show some nerd rage on this stupid list)

  43. wodin says:

    Graviteam Tactics!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  44. wodin says:

    Command Ops 2
    Decisive Campaigns: Barbarossa

    Combat Mission games

    Steam and Iron with Campaign DLC and Rule the Waves

    All these should at least be in the top twenty

  45. carewolf says:

    No Rimworld or Factorio? I was sure you would have Rimworld in here when you mentioned Dwarf Fortress, but you didn’t even mention it as a similar game with better graphics and UI.

    Also no Dark Souls as #1? A 3D beat-em up is after all as much a strategy game as it is an RPG.

    • klops says:

      “Promising Clockwork Empires in early access” makes me believe that Dwarf Fortress’s text was copied from the last year’s list, and Rimworld wasn’t such a big thing then as it now. Or was it? All these ea games are tough on my fumbling memory.

  46. malkav11 says:

    Gary Grigsby’s War in the East is also available on Steam. And indeed, most Matrix games are at this point, I think.

  47. robotslave says:

    Impressions Games gets shafted again, eh?

    Ah well, there’s probably nothing that can be done about it short of culling an RPS staffer and wearing its skin into the office.

    Until then, it will have to be the grumpy comment for this, instead of its rightful place in the back half of the pack:

    Pharaoh with the Cleopatra expansion (2000)

  48. z-key says:

    2015-2016 must have been good years for strategy games for there to be this many additions to the list. Did you guys get rid of your old list? Any links to that seems to bring me here. That’d be a shame, because partly of what makes these lists great are the ensuing discussions.

  49. Aldous Huxley says:

    Total War: Warhammer is a better strategy game than Medieval II: Total War Kingdoms? And apparently Company of Heroes is better than Graviteam Tactics / Achtung Panzer? And Men of War is better than Combat Mission? Heh… um, ok? And no mention of Dungeon Keeper 2, Nexus: The Jupiter Incident, Jane’s Fleet Command, Harpoon, CMANO, Naval War: Arctic Circle, Theatre of War, Paper’s Please, Sacrifice, Hostile Waters, Ultimate General, Sid Meier’s Gettysburg, Cossacks 3, The Emergency series and a decent Chess engine like say Fritz 15 (Rybka)? Or have you been “guarding” Alice’s wine cellar again?

  50. Winstons says:

    It’s criminal that the Command Ops series isn’t on this list!

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