Friday, 1 May 2020

180! (Mastertronic, 1986)

Developed by Binary Design (1001 Ltd.)
Atari XE/XL programming by David Forward
Commodore 64 programming by Andrew Routledge
ZX Spectrum and MSX programming by Garry Hughes
Graphics by Steve Pickford and Jeremy Nelson
Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum sounds by David Whittaker
Amstrad CPC and Atari XE/XL sounds by Jason C. Brooke

Amstrad CPC programmer hasn't been documented.
Neither has the sound programmer for the MSX version.

Published by Mastertronic Added Dimension in 1986, except the MSX version published in 1987.

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GAME STATUS


To my recent shocking discovery and horror, I noticed an utter lack of comparisons of games in the numeric part of the alphabet, so I decided to pick one that I knew well at least on one machine. To my surprise and delight, I found that this game, One Hundred and Eighty from Mastertronic, was released on all the 8-bit platforms that ever really mattered in these 8-bit wars. Not that I recall this particular game ever being a huge part of that battle, but it's interesting to find 180! is one of the few that was released on C64, Spectrum, MSX, Amstrad and the Atari computers.

At the time of starting to write this entry, the scores and ratings at our favourite haunts are as follows: 7.6 from 27 votes at Atarimania, 6.8 from 64 votes at Lemon64, 14 out of 20 at CPC-Power, 8.16 from 69 votes at World of Spectrum and 4 out of 5 from 6 votes at Generation MSX. It's an interesting lot to start with, so let's not tarry.

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DESCRIPTION & REVIEW


180! is a relatively niche type of a sports game, that focuses on the utterly unsimulatable sport of throwing darts, and as the title would suggest, we're talking about the traditional darts game with a dartboard that has points from 1 to 20 with doubles and triples, as well as the two bullseye rings worth 25 and 50.

The main focus in 180! is on the game known as 501, in which you try to get 501 points wiped off as soon as possible, with the last dart having to hit a double. In single player mode, you need to play against three computer opponents, the last of which is always the legendary and elusive Jammy Jim, and you will have to play perfect rounds against him in order to become the champion. There's also a game, in which you need to hit all the numbers in order within a time limit. Of course, you can also play against a human opponent, which is what gives these sorts of games a proper reason to exist.

Considering that the act of throwing darts has been practically impossible to simulate up until perhaps the VR goggles and weight-based infrared controllers have come along, it's always interesting to consider how anyone ever thought making a darts computer game at that time would be a good idea. But here we have one, and there are many more, and some of them surprisingly good. I'm not completely sure I'd recommend this for any other reason than its charm in graphics and sounds, but the gameplay is surprisingly good for what it is, too. Is it a classic? Perhaps not, but it's a rather well-known budget game from that time, and well worth taking a look at.

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LOADING


Seeing as we have all the five usual 8-bit machines under inspection here, all of which had 180! as a tape release, there's no escaping a loading time comparison now. Of course, you get the loading screens here, as well.
Loading screens. Top row, left to right: Commodore 64, Atari 8-bit, Amstrad CPC.
Bottom left: ZX Spectrum. Bottom right: MSX.

ATA: 15 min 23 sec
C64: 3 min 47 sec

CPC: 5 min 34 sec
MSX: 2 min 4 sec
SPE: 4 min 55 sec


No real surprises there, but there's one oddity to be found: there are at least two known tape masters of the C64 version, in which the "found" says either "180" or "NAME", but the loading length is almost exactly the same. The MSX version has no real loading screen, apart from a text indication that the game is actually loading. The ATARI loading screen is barely noteworthy, but at least it does start changing colours after about 7 minutes or so. The SPECTRUM loading screen is perhaps the prettiest of the lot, which can be attributed to the more usual method of wider pixels and easier use of colour in both AMSTRAD and C64 versions, which is probably why the said screens are also completely different.

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PLAYABILITY


One would think, that when practically the same team is responsible for all versions of a game, there wouldn't be any notable differences, or at least all that many of them. Well, this game is about to prove that theory wrong.

For most versions, the title screen either is or features a menu. The MSX version is the only one, in which the title screen is just that, and pressing the space bar takes you to the game menu. The MSX and SPECTRUM versions share the exact same game menu, which shows that the game menu was made with the SPECTRUM version specifically in mind, since that one starts off with a controls menu first, and then you get to the game menu, which has an option called "Oops", which takes you back to the control menu, which doesn't exist in the MSX version. In the AMSTRAD version, the title screen is nothing more than a simple menu, but you do get much more options for the lack of graphics there, including three colour options for the dartboard, and a view of the rating system. For the ATARI version, they decided to go for a OPTION-key-operated options cycler under the title logo and other text. The C64 version has no properly visible menu, but an insanely fast and big text scroller below the obligatory title screen texts hide the instructions within, which will tell you that pushing the numerals 1 to 3 on your keyboard will start either a single-player mode, an "Around the Clock"/"Tune Up" game or a two-player 501, in that order.

The selectable games are the same for all versions, although the "Around the Clock", or "Tune Up" mode has some differences. In the C64 version, you need to throw from 1 to 20, and in all other versions, you throw from 20 to 1. Also, while all the same other versions give you 99 seconds to get through the numbers, the C64 version only gives you 60 seconds. Then again, the timer seems to runs a bit faster in all the versions with 99 seconds. For some reason, this alone makes me think that the game was originally made for the C64, and modified for the other versions, but that's not all.

How you actually control the hand that throws the darts is another pointer towards that theory. In the C64 version, you always start moving from the center of the screen, and you can only start moving the hand by pushing the joystick up. When you throw the dart, it always flies the exact same amount (maybe about 10 pixels) above the throwing point. The joystick alignment has been turned 45 degrees for all the other versions, which I have pictured below, to give even more further proof towards the theory.

Control alignments.
In the ATARI version, the hand also resets to the center after each throw, but the dart flies just a couple of pixels below from where you threw the dart, instead of notably above. For the MSX version, the hand has been made to start each round at a random spot, but for each consecutive throw, the hand resets to the left side of the screen, making it considerably slower to play than any other version. The SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions are much more difficult than others, because the dart flies notably higher when throwing the dart as you move to the right, instead of left. When you start a game, your hand starts automatically moving at a random point on the screen, usually towards the top-right corner. Also, for these two, your hand continues moving from the spot you threw the dart, instead of resetting to some zero-point. Perhaps this makes the two versions more simulation-like, although considering the event, the attempt at simulation is mostly laughable and frankly unnecessary; however, the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD version do give you a much bigger challenge than the C64, ATARI or MSX versions do, if that is what you're after.

There aren't too many other things worth noting, but each of the little ones affect the experience. For one, the hit areas in the ATARI version are a bit questionable; I have found it's possible to get 5 points from a clear 20, for example, when you hit close to the border. Secondly, while all versions have Jammy Jim as the common final opponent, the AMSTRAD and ATARI versions seem to have a slightly more humane version of Jammy Jim, who is able to make a mistake on either the first or the second round (although he doesn't always do that), which sometimes gives you one more turn to beat him. Also, in the SPECTRUM version, you only need to beat him once to complete the game, while in all the other versions, you need to beat him the usual two rounds. As a lesser, yet notable difference, in the SPECTRUM and MSX versions of the "Tune Up"/"Around the Clock" mode, beating the game makes you continue straight into the regular single-player mode, which is also unnecessary, but a difference nonetheless.

I admit to being the most comfortable with the C64 version, having grown up with that, but I also acknowledge, that it's mostly a matter of getting used to something. A gamer who grew up with the MSX version, for instance, might not be all that comfortable with the C64 version, and appearances can also be a deciding factor for anyone's comfort, as much as the actual gameplay. In that sense, I could probably give all versions equal points, but I will not, because there are other points to consider. You have to remember, this is a budget game, which was never meant to be taken all that seriously, so I don't think learning different throwing techniques in the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions were even a consideration - more of an accident, although I might just as much be wrong there. Also, the time it takes to complete a single-player game is just about enough on the C64, which is the fastest version to play, and while the starting point of your hand is an explanation, the hand also moves notably faster than in any other version, but it's still comfortable. Taking all that into consideration, I believe we have a clearer order here.

1. COMMODORE 64
2. ATARI 8-BIT / MSX
3. ZX SPECTRUM / AMSTRAD CPC

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GRAPHICS


A game that focuses entirely on one sport is, by rule, unlikely to offer a whole lot of variety in graphics. Therefore, any additional material to the actual action screen is welcome and adds some bonus points for immersion.

Title screens, menus and cast of characters where available. Top left: Commodore 64. Top right: MSX.
Bottom row, left to right: ZX Spectrum (2 pictures), Amstrad CPC, Atari 8-bit.


The usual purpose of a title screen is to display the game's title, to avoid any misunderstandings. Most versions have the title shown as an alphabetized version of 180, in the designated plain font, but the ATARI version has a great big 180 as numerals, filling almost the entire top half of the screen in a gleaming golden hue, and the AMSTRAD version doesn't  feature the title at all - just the menu items and the obligatory copyright.

The dart highlighter in the SPECTRUM version is the only graphical element in it, which flies off to the right, dragging a new screen with a sideways V-shaped opening, once you have chosen zero to start the game. This reveals the game menu, which is displayed left to the usual dartboard screen. The MSX version's title screen also features the cast of characters in hi-res monochrome pictures, and pushing the fire button takes you to the game menu, which has been copied from the SPECTRUM version, only without any of the graphics.

Aside from the MSX, the C64 version is the only other one to have a full screen featuring the entire cast of characters, but it's only displayed once you have started a single-player mode, and unlike the MSX screen, your opponents are shown in lesser quality but with more colour. The title screen only features some coloured basic text and a big and stupidly fast text scroller below, written in blocky blue letters.

Screens showing the next opponent in whichever round you happen to be on.
Top row, left to right: Commodore 64, Atari 8-bit, Amstrad CPC. Bottom left: ZX Spectrum. Bottom right: MSX.

As the C64 version had a dedicated screen for displaying your opponents, the screen mentioning your next opponent doesn't have any graphics in it. This omission has been corrected for the other versions. Similarly to the C64 version, the ATARI and AMSTRAD versions have designated screens for displaying the randomized (apart from the final) opponent, while the SPECTRUM and MSX versions have a green opponent display card overlaid on the usual dartboard view.

Dartboard screens at different occasions, left to right:
Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Atari 8-bit, ZX Spectrum, MSX.


Which gets us to the actual dartboard screens. If you happen to be very particular on the colours in a dartboard, you'll be happy to know, that the AMSTRAD version is the only one to offer three different colour modes, one of which is modeled after the official Brunswick dartboard (red/black/yellow). The most common dartboard has four colours: green, red, black and white (or some sort of light beige), which is something that none of these versions get to, or even particularly aim for. The way I see it, the idea has been to make the game playable without risking colour clash, which is why the AMSTRAD version is the only one to feature more than two colours on a dartboard.

That said, the hand moving over the dartboard also uses the same monochrome style on the SPECTRUM, MSX and ATARI, but is of a clearly different colour from anything on the dartboard on both C64 and AMSTRAD. The hand animations are basically the same for all versions, though, so that needs no further analysis. One small detail regarding the dartboard itself remains, and that is the number of darts attached on the board simultaneously. The C64 version only displays one dart at a time, while all the other versions can show up to three.

Then, there's the score display, or chalkboard, as it usually is attached to a dartboard cabinet. The C64 version has a nice, wooden brown framing around the chalkboard, which has been turned grey for the ATARI version. The AMSTRAD, SPECTRUM and MSX versions have the chalkboard on the other side of the screen, however, the AMSTRAD version has no framing at all, and the other two have simple wireframes with rounded corners. Your current opponent's face is also displayed in the AMSTRAD, SPECTRUM and MSX versions where the opponent's score is.

Pub interiors with different opponents, left to right:
Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Atari 8-bit, ZX Spectrum, MSX.


When it comes to the pub interior graphics, showing our opponents in action, we have a much clearer division. The ATARI version was clearly modelled after the C64 version, but all the colours were switched to various shades of brown and yellow, and the barely animated bartender lady was taken out of the picture. While the two different pub environments are nice by themselves, they are rather lifeless.

The AMSTRAD and MSX versions were modeled after the SPECTRUM version, which has the most colour and the most animation and variety in the backgrounds, even though the pub is always the same, unlike in the C64, where there are two distinctly different pubs. Whereas the randomly appearing dog in the SPECTRUM version, which takes a leak after the opponent has finished his turn, comes as a nice touch of variety, the MSX version has the dog as a constant and unanimated companion, and the AMSTRAD version has no dog at all. Nor does the AMSTRAD version have a bartender lady, nor any customers, nor much of colours. Another nice element is the bartender lady occasionally drawing a pint and sending it to the single customer sitting at the left side of the screen. One thing that I found a bit disappointing, though, was that all the opponents utilized the same body, when compared to the C64 and ATARI versions, you would find two vastly different body types on the competitors.

Messages of wins and losses, left to right: Commodore 64 (top: win a round, bottom: complete the game),
ZX Spectrum/MSX (win the game/lose a round), Amstrad CPC (win/lose), Atari 8-bit (win/end rating).


From what I have seen, making a big deal of winning or losing a game was never in the agenda for the makers of One Hundred and Eighty. The SPECTRUM, AMSTRAD and MSX versions just give a black screen with white text at whichever case, and the ATARI version only gives a rating at the end of the game whether you lost or won. Only the C64 version has at least some effort put into it, although different looking large, blocky text scrollers isn't particularly interesting, either - unless you find the small reference (zarjaz) to 2000 AD comics interesting - but it is variety.

This is a tough one to make any decisions upon, because while I appreciate the different colour options for the dartboard in the AMSTRAD version, it's just not important enough when it comes to the graphics being actually entertaining, which the game really is all about. It's a fairly nice-looking version, to be sure, but there's just not enough to look at there. From that lot, the SPECTRUM version easily takes the lead. Between the C64 and ATARI versions, then, the C64 version is easily the winner, with much more colours, details, animations and other content. Between the SPECTRUM and C64 versions, the C64 version has the more pleasing dartboard screen, while the SPECTRUM version has slightly more interesting pub interiors. However, once again, it's the additional stuff, like the big text scrollers, that gives the C64 version a slight edge. So, a conclusion can be found after all.

1. COMMODORE 64
2. ZX SPECTRUM
3. AMSTRAD CPC
4. MSX
5. ATARI 8-BIT

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SOUNDS


The main selling point in 180! is the voice sample yelling "One hundred and eighty!" when you manage to hit a triple-triple-20. That is featured in all five versions, although it sounds like there's at least two or three different samples between all five versions. Not that it matters much here, but perhaps it's a point to consider for some, who have grown accustomed to one voice or another.

But it's the music which gets us to yet another bit of evidence towards proving my theory, that the C64 version was the primary one Binary Designs developed. The soundtrack consists of only two songs. The title track is a bright and energetic, almost hillbilly'ish tune with three parts in it, all of which are repeated twice before moving onto the next part; then the song loops after about 45 seconds. David Whittaker's handling of the SID chip gives the song a fairly wholesome orchestration, with drums, bassline, a clear melody and some arpeggiated trickery to get some chords into the mix. The other song is played only when you win a round against your opponent, and it's a looping sequence of four bars, slower than the theme song, and has no drums, but it's in the same major key to fit the bill. When you win a round, the loop plays twice, but when you beat Jammy Jim, the loop continues much longer because of the different text scroller.

There are only a few sound effects in the C64 version: the thump of a dart hitting the board, the aforementioned voice sample yelling "180!", and the other two are featured in the "Around the Clock" event - the timer counting down with a rather odd sound effect with a delay effect, and a swashy "Time Up!" sound effect, which feels like something not completely out of place in a game like Thing on a Spring.

The SPECTRUM version was made with both 48k and 128k machines in mind, so you get enhancements when you load the game on a 128k Speccy. The 48k version only features three or four sound effects, depending on how you count: a loud "tschwup" when the dart hits the board, the obligatory voice sample yelling "180!", and a much more fitting ticking clock noise for the "Around the Clock" game. Similar ticking sounds can be heard when navigating through the control and game menus. The 128k version adds the two tunes from the C64 version in full form, although whether you like the AY-versions better or worse is a matter of taste, really. What they did better here, is that every time your opponent takes his turn, the theme song continues from where it left off the last time. What the did worse here, is that when you win a round, the corresponding tune only barely gets started before it gets cut off by the beginning of the second round. Only when you are promoted for the semi-finals or the final, you get to hear the tune once before the first round starts. The same goes for winning the game.

For the ATARI version, they made some more drastic changes. The title screen plays the full song as it's supposed to be, but when your opponent takes his turn, the title theme is reduced to a single round of the main melody's first part, which then gets cut off and a major 7th chord is added to give it a more graceful ending. Winning a round plays a unique set of three ascending splurts of sonic fireworks, in a manner of speaking. The tune elsewhere known as the round winning tune has now been reassigned for the screen displaying your next opponent or next round, and it only plays once, which I grant is quite enough for a screen with no animation. As for the sound effects, you still get the obligatory "180!" (which turns the screen black for the duration), the dart hitting the board is an oddly clear bit of white noise, and the timer in the "Tune Up" mode is a thankfully undisturbing yet odd choice of a sound, which reminds me of a bouncing ball.

I suspect the amount of additional dartboard colour schemes in the AMSTRAD version resulted in a relative lack of sounds. Even the title tune has been reduced to the same version you can hear in the ATARI version, while your designated opponent takes his turn - in other words, no full theme tune here. Winning a round will play the usual tune, but again, only once. The library of sound effects on the CPC is a bit different from the rest: you get no timer ticking noise in the "Tune Up" mode, but you do get an additional applause noise for getting 100 points or more in the regular 501 game mode. Dart hitting the board makes a nice, slightly wood-chopping-like noise, and then, of course, there's that "180!" yell. Nothing more to it.

Finally, we have the MSX version, which is a mixture of the previous three versions. You get the full theme tune in the title screen, but the screen with your opponent taking a turn has a similar reduced version as ATARI and AMSTRAD versions have - the one with the ending chord. Winning a round plays the designated tune once fully, even though the game commences before the music stops. The sound effects are a rather nice mixture of the dart hitting sound from the ATARI version, the timer ticking from the SPECTRUM version, and the usual "180!", making it the least intrusive set of sound effects of all versions. Whether that's a good thing or not, depends entirely on your taste.

To be honest, I was never that much of a fan of the sounds in the C64 version, although the main title theme is good fun. Apart from the dart-hitting-the-dartboard thump, the sound effects were a bit too much, and the abrupt cuts for the two tunes during play always made the game feel a bit unfinished. Then again, all of that makes it feel like the prototype, ground zero for the other versions to make adjustments from. Sound-wise, the 128k SPECTRUM version is probably the best compromise of the lot, but the MSX version feels the most... I guess, "realistic", in a way. The AMSTRAD version has a bit poorer set of sounds than the rest, with more emphasis on quality over quantity, and the ATARI version's sounds feel slightly in the opposite. However, there are not enough differences to make for a clear order here, so I will have to stack the versions a bit.

1. ZX SPECTRUM 128k / MSX
2. COMMODORE 64
3. AMSTRAD CPC / ATARI 8-BIT
4. ZX SPECTRUM 48k

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OVERALL


And now we get to the point, which will undoubtedly raise some objections, as it usually does. But then, after these objections, I usually urge every objectioner to actually read the article through. The Overall scores given here follow a stupid mathematical tradition, which began at the beginning of this blog, which is why the scores are not to be taken exactly literally, but more of a pointer towards one kind of a view about the truth of the matter.

1. COMMODORE 64: Playability 3, Graphics 5, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 11
2. ZX SPECTRUM 128k: Playability 1, Graphics 4, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 9
3. MSX: Playability 2, Graphics 2, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 8
4. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 1, Graphics 3, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 6
5. ZX SPECTRUM 48k: Playability 1, Graphics 4, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 6
6. ATARI 8-BIT: Playability 2, Graphics 1, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 5

When it comes to viewing 180! in any critical sort of eye, you will realize that it's not just a flawed game, but a flawed idea, and any attempt at getting any enjoyment out of it forces the gameplay to be as simplistic as possible, while giving it some sort of a purpose and challenge. Not only the challenge of forcing you to think mathematically as you play (unless you cheat and actually plan your moves by browsing through the suggestions within the tape inlay), but the challenge of learning how to align your throws, and how be the most efficient in moving the hand around the screen. The graphics and sounds are secondary, but create enough of millieu to make the game an attractive thing to revisit. Which is exactly why I would rather play the 128k SPECTRUM version than the C64 version, for instance. But oh, there's more.

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BONUS: WORLD DARTS


Unexpectedly, I learned from MobyGames, that Mastertronic had released 16-bits versions of 180! as World Darts, which was also designed by the team formerly known as Binary Design, now Zippo Games, and released for not only Commodore Amiga and Atari ST, but also as an arcade game by Arcadia Systems, all in 1988. In fact, World Darts was originally made as an Arcadia coin-op.

Although the cover art clearly hints towards this being an upgrade of 180!, it didn't take too long to see, that this is different enough from the 8-bit game to separate it from the main comparison, which is why it's featured here as a bonus section. I haven't played the Arcadia version, but the Amiga and ST versions differ from each other a vast deal, at least concerning playability. The ST version plays more like the original 180!, while the AMIGA version has a much more free-roaming hand movement in both speed and directional sense, as if you'd be playing the game with a trackball controller instead of a joystick. 


Screenshots from World Darts. Top row: Commodore Amiga. Bottom row: Atari ST.
The relation to 180! becomes clearer when you hear the soundtrack and see the 1001 Ltd. logo in the screen where you see your opponent taking his turn. The "Around the Clock"/"Tune Up" mode has been taken out, perhaps as a further attempt at masking the potential copyright infringement of a game they made themselves. What a strange world we live in.

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VIDEO LINK AND FINAL WORDS


This entry is also a good occasion to celebrate finding a new associate on YouTube: mikroman01's channel, which has a bunch of comparison videos recorded on actual retro machinery. The channel has been around for some years, but I only came across it while trying to find a comparison video for 180!, which I found from this channel, so I immediately requested, and was granted, a permission to link Mikroview videos on my blog to any appropriate comparison entries, which I shall begin with this one. So, immense gratitude to William for his permission!



A Finnish dartboard.
(Picture from Wikipedia.)
Anyway, this darts thing got me thinking... We have a much more simplified dartboard in Finland, that goes from 1 to 10 in clear ringed areas that go from 1 point at the outer ring and 10 being the bullseye, as you can see in the picture. The darts we throw at this board are much heavier and sturdier than the more global ones, so it's also a custom to throw the darts from much further away. Because of that, this game is mostly played for leisure at summer cabins, and being such a localized darts game, I'm not surprised that it hasn't had a computerized version yet, nor am I completely certain it should even have one. But as a point of fleeting interest, I thought someone might make something out of that idea.

I guess that's it for now, hope that filled some sort of a void. Next time, I'm going to try and revisit another genre that hasn't had too much focus on the blog. Whether it's actually of any interest to anyone, remains to be seen, but you should at least expect it within this month. So, until then, cheerio, and happy May Day, and for all you Finns out there: Hauskaa Vappua!

3 comments:

  1. This was one of my favorite MSX games, at least for short gaming sessions. There just was something addictive about it. Speaking of lack of number games compared: 1942, 10th Frame, or 4x4 Off-Road Racing. I remember 4x4 in particular having very uneven releases.

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    1. Good suggestions! Also, I've been pondering on writing about 720, but 4x4 Off-Road Racing got me more intrigued right now. But we'll see when I get around to another number game; right now I've got 8-10 other comparisons on the line already. Thanks for the input, Zaltys!

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  2. That Finland version of darts is included on the reverse of some of the cheaper "Child" dart boards you can get in the U.K.

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