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Subject: Great idea, but flawed - with discussion of possible rule variants rss

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Zoe M
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If you like Scrabble and Dominion, you’ll probably want to buy this game. I love the idea of combining a word game with a deckbuilder. You buy cards with letters on them to put in your deck, and use your hand of cards to create a word on each turn. Each card has a score value, and higher-scoring cards let you buy better letters next time. “Better” letters are the ones that are worth more or have better special abilities—because in addition to your basic scoring, cards also have additional powers like causing you to draw more cards in your next hand. The “better” letters also tend to be harder to use (you know the Q and Z will be worth a lot), so that’s something else to consider when building your deck. There are also wildcards, which contribute to your final score but don’t help in purchasing new cards for your deck.

If you’re familiar with Dominion, this game is extremely easy to learn because the terminology and concepts are basically the same. You draw a basic hand of five cards on each turn, and discard them all at the turn’s end. New acquisitions also go into the discard pile. Trashed cards go out of the game. Etc. Probably the main difference (other than the word theme, of course) is the “common letters” concept. There’s a small deck of common letters, and everyone can use the top letter in their word in addition to the letters in their own hand. The common letters are also valuable for end-game scoring, and are awarded to players who make long words: the first person to make a 7-letter word, the first person to make an 8-letter word, and so on.

Even for people not familiar with Dominion, I think the game would be pretty easy to learn. And even more importantly, I think it could appeal to people who don’t typically like board games. I’m thinking in particular of a friend’s mother, who was never into board games at all but was always up for a game of Scrabble. For that sort of person, this will have the advantage of a comfortable idea (word-building) with a slightly shorter playtime.

As a gamer’s game, though, it doesn’t quite work for me. I love the concept, but I have some significant issues with the gameplay. I think many of these issues could be fixable with modifications to the rules, but I’d rather have a game that’s satisfying right out of the box.

I’ve played with both two and three players, and they had exactly the opposite problem: the two-player games were too short and the three-player games were too long. None of these games ever ended by one player making a 10-letter word and taking the last common letter (one of the possible end conditions), but always by the basic victory point cards running out.

In the two-player game, it seems that the first player to get a slight advantage can basically just move on to buying victory point cards and run through the decks pretty quickly, since the decks are so small. The 11-cent deck in particular, with only two cards, always seems to run out very fast, especially since there’s not really a better option when you happen to get 11 points. Fortunately, there’s an easy fix to this problem of a too-short game: we’re just going to add more cards to this pile.

The problem in the three-player game is more troublesome. Our games definitely went on longer, but not really in a fun way. Most of the extra time was because my opponents were taking too long to make words, and my turns were fewer and farther between. I found the downtime in this game even more frustrating than in a game of Scrabble, because there’s not even a board to look at to think ahead to future turns. (There’s also no element of managing the cards in your rack, since everything gets discarded, so there’s more sense of being at the mercy of the draw. Yes, you control your deck, but even a reasonable deck can lead to some pretty horrible results. The starting decks have five wild cards and five consonants, and if those first two draws happen to split 4-1 or 5-0 rather than the usual 3-2, it can be pretty devastating. Unlike in Dominion, where a clump of victory point cards in one hand means that your other hand is full of money, a similar situation here just leads to two bad hands: you can only score 2 points with a hand of 4 wilds, and depending on the letters, you may not be able to use all four consonants in your next word anyway. Also, each player has significantly fewer turns in Paperback, so the luck of each draw has much more of an effect on the outcome.)

Anyway, the three-player game felt long because my opponents were slow, and justifiably so when one good turn can be so important. There are various possibilities for speeding up the game, but I haven’t tried them yet: I may have to bring in a timer, or else try the simultaneous-play variant that I’ve seen mentioned here. It seems like the game as it stands is designed to be played by people who just aren’t that serious about it, who don’t care much about looking for the best word, and it does work well when played like that. But I prefer games that can be taken seriously without introducing painful AP.

My other, even more important, concern is also related to how taking the game seriously can break it. If you really care about maximizing your score, you’ll be inclined to invent weird words that sound sort of plausible but are ultimately fake. Somehow, the rulebook doesn’t address this crucial situation at all. Obviously, the game doesn’t really work if people can just play whatever imaginary words they want. There should be something in place to prevent this. We tried introducing the basic Scrabble challenge rule, where one player can challenge another player’s word, and whoever’s wrong loses their turn. But that didn’t work, because the penalty for the challenger seemed too harsh, so no one actually challenged any words. I found out after one game that both of my opponents had gotten away with playing fake words, which was frustrating, to say the least. Someone else has suggested introducing a lighter penalty for the challenger, like drawing one fewer card on their next turn, which seems more reasonable and is something that I’ll try in the future. But I don’t want to have to experiment with variants in order to find a satisfying play experience; I want the rules to work well from the beginning.

We also ended up modifying the rule about the common letters, so that the first two were awarded for 8-letter words, rather than having one awarded for a 7-letter word. We felt that 7-letter words were too easy, so that card was just giving an unfair advantage to the starting player.

I’ve been very critical here, but only because I love the concept so much and really want this game to work. I think there is a good game here, but it may take a while to find it. I assume that we’ll eventually figure out what adjustments will make the game work best for us, and I’m also counting on ideas from other people that will come out as the game gets more play in general. For the moment, though, I can’t say I’m entirely satisfied. But I’m still cautiously optimistic, and only time will tell whether that optimism is justified.
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Marty McFly
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Re: Great idea, but flawed — with discussion of possible rule variants
Dunyazad wrote:
My other, even more important, concern is also related to how taking the game seriously can break it. If you really care about maximizing your score, you’ll be inclined to invent weird words that sound sort of plausible but are ultimately fake. Somehow, the rulebook doesn’t address this crucial situation at all.

I agree 100% that there should be some sort of "challenge" rule. Most word games have something along those lines, just in case I'm not as smart as I keep telling people I am, and I get something wrong (which my wife will attest, is a common occurrence with me). However, I'm not sure "taking the game seriously" and "being inclined to invent weird words" (i.e. cheating) are synonymous.
If you're going to house-rule to fix how cheating can break a game, I'd suggest a simple "don't cheat" rule.

EDIT: Hopefully, that didn't come across too snarky. I meant it all in good fun.
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Re: Great idea, but flawed — with discussion of possible rule variants
This review mirrors my thoughts exactly, particularly the parts about downtime while waiting for others to come up with words. The game gives you a very strong incentive to use every card in your hand (with the exception of a few cards that reward short words) and so my Scrabble-loving family would spend forever rearranging their letters to find the perfect word. Timers might be necessary next time.

This aspect would make it great for asynchronous play on a phone app, though...
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Harry Hammermueller
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Re: Great idea, but flawed — with discussion of possible rule variants
Interesting points. I have yet to play it with more than 2 players. However, as a 2 player game it works well for us. My wife is really in word games more than anything else so this gives me a break from scrabble. BTW - we do work on our next hand (laid out in front of you) while the other player is taking their turn. The turns go really fast then. I've also been thinking about ignoring the attack cards as they really only prolong the game and it's hard to work on your next turn if you will be losing a card from your hand (currently, we enact the attack consequence for the next turn after your immediate next turn).
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Brad McKenzie
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Re: Great idea, but flawed — with discussion of possible rule variants
It sounds like you've solved your 2-player problem, and the 3-player problem stems more from the players than the game itself.

I like your idea of adding more victory point cards to the pile. Those cards should kind of flood your deck if you get too many too soon, so more is likely better.

I don't think the use of timers, dictionaries, and challenge rules are unreasonable. As this game is similar to Scrabble in many ways, why not use some of Scrabble's techniques in keeping the game moving? If the challenge rule is too harsh, simply make no penalty for the challenger and the player who plays a fake word loses their turn.



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Patrick C.
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Re: Great idea, but flawed — with discussion of possible rule variants
hammermh wrote:
Interesting points. I have yet to play it with more than 2 players. However, as a 2 player game it works well for us. My wife is really in word games more than anything else so this gives me a break from scrabble. BTW - we do work on our next hand (laid out in front of you) while the other player is taking their turn. The turns go really fast then. I've also been thinking about ignoring the attack cards as they really only prolong the game and it's hard to work on your next turn if you will be losing a card from your hand (currently, we enact the attack consequence for the next turn after your immediate next turn).


This resembles my experience as well. Only 2p games so far - probably a half dozen or more. The only issue has been the game ending too soon which, as noted, can be easily fixed. As for cheating, well, if one of us is cheating (I'm playing with my SO) then we have bigger problems than a potentially flawed game! That issue just sounds like a problem with who you're playing.

If I played against someone who either frequently didn't even know if they were playing words or not or did know they were cheating that would be the last time I played this game with them - or any word game.
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Kaboda
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Re: Great idea, but flawed — with discussion of possible rule variants
Interesting I found just the opposite with downtime between 2 player and 3 player game. I think that is because in a 2 player game you don't get as long between your turns to think through your hand. So turns seem to take a while. Whereas in 3+ games you are given more time to think about your up coming play that most turns seem to go pretty fast as you're ready to play by the time the previous players turn has gone. I found in a 3 player game I would start laying down my word immediately after the previous players turn but in 2 player games my turn seems to take forever. I think in all it takes about the same amount of time to think how to use your cards but with more players your actual turn seems to go faster. More of a perception thing really but with your turn not relying on previous players in this game, when compared to a game of scrabble where the board changes after each players turn, you have more time to be thinking before your turn comes around again.

Interesting take on changing the first common card from 7 to 8 word length. I'll have to keep an eye on our games in the future to see if that would make much difference in the games.

Well written review thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.
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Zoe M
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Re: Great idea, but flawed — with discussion of possible rule variants
Thanks for all the input!

One clarification about the "cheating" issue: I don't think my opponents were deliberately making words that they thought were fake. They were making words that they thought had some reasonable probability of existing, like "bungy" or "unwrench". These aren't bad people, really!

When I play Boggle, I do have a rule that any dubious words don't count, but that's a different sort of game where each individual word doesn't matter nearly as much.

We did actually play pretty openly, tending to lay down our cards on the table to work on words during other people's turns. The problem is that the hands are really varied. There would be times when I had a complicated 8-card hand that I was happy to puzzle over for as long as necessary, and other times when I just had a basic 5-card hand that I really didn't need to think about for 10 minutes.
 
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Zoe M
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Re: Great idea, but flawed — with discussion of possible rule variants
Hmm, thinking more about the idea that sketchy words are equivalent to cheating.... If we wanted to take a really hard line there, I guess we could just check the dubious words at the end of the game, and flat-out disqualify anyone who was found to have made a fake word. I think we'll try that at least once.
 
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John Drake
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Re: Great idea, but flawed — with discussion of possible rule variants
Dunyazad wrote:
Hmm, thinking more about the idea that sketchy words are equivalent to cheating.... If we wanted to take a really hard line there, I guess we could just check the dubious words at the end of the game, and flat-out disqualify anyone who was found to have made a fake word. I think we'll try that at least once.


lol... bit harsh... especially as English isn't a phonetically langwage and evan intelligant people mispell words all the tyme.


Personally, I don't take the game too seriously. If you misspell/fabricate a word, my group will simply expect you to come up with another word quickly; this often means forming a short word using few of your cards... but players seem to interpret that as an acceptable penalty.

Still, there should be an "official" competitive rule for people who want a serious/non-arbitrary penalty.
 
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Adam Porter
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Re: Great idea, but flawed — with discussion of possible rule variants
This review sums up my experience with the game exactly, and is mirrored in my video review. Downtime is a problem. Dubious words are not dealt with by the rules (and looking up in a dictionary only prolongs things). As with the original poster, I have not played with cheats, but trying to find a long word (which is potentially obscure) is an integral part of most word-games; there is commonly a push-your-luck element.

It is not enough to blame players for slowing the game down, or playing in a certain way, or group-think. A game should ideally be playable by different groups with different play-styles. The easy-going casual gamers should be able to enjoy the game without being too competitive, but ideally a game should also function if people take it very seriously and try to optimise their moves. This is where Paperback struggles.

There are many things which make a deck-builder satisfying, but I would suggest that one of the most significant factors is speed of play. I don't mean duration of the game (although that can be a factor) but typically in deck builders turns are taken extremely quickly. This gives the game a satisfying pace which is unusual amongst other turn-based games. Paperback breaks this mould because so much thought is needed for each turn. This is the first deck-builder I've encountered which induces analysis paralysis!

The title to this review ("Great idea, but flawed") could apply to any number of Kickstarter titles. Designers should not cut corners on play testing - it is essential! I'm sure a traditional publishing route would demand it. That said, Paperback is one of the better Kickstarter projects I have played and the concept is ingenious. I will enjoy the occasional game I'm sure. And I can always look lovingly at the beautiful box and artwork.
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Richard Ham
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Re: Great idea, but flawed — with discussion of possible rule variants
Hmm, so surely the solution for players who use fake words is to not play with them? It strikes me as common courtesy to not present words that you're not 100% sure are words and just "hope for the best". Being a "serious player" doesn't mean you have to be a "rude player", IMO...

But still, if you're going to play with less than courteous folks, seems the simplest variant is:

"If a word challenge is successful, the challenged loses their entire turn. If the world challenge is unsuccessful, the challenger immediately discards one card at random from their hand."

Easy peasy, no?

As for the "too much downtime", I think the bounty rule is brilliant and solves this problem, again, IF you're playing with courteous people. When Jen and I play, if we find that we simply can't find a good word, but we *KNOW* there must be one there somewhere, we simply do the bounty thing, and then both players are having fun trying to find good words.

So again, if you have rude players who don't give a damn about causing downtime to others, then simply introduce a timer variant... when a player's turn starts, they get X seconds to play their hand (30? 60?) and if they fail to do so in that time, they have to offer a bounty, so again, everyone can get in on the action and be engaged.
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Richard Ham
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Re: Great idea, but flawed — with discussion of possible rule variants
Of course, the other solution: play the co-op mode...
 
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Adam Porter
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Re: Great idea, but flawed — with discussion of possible rule variants
rahdo wrote:
Hmm, so surely the solution for players who use fake words is to not play with them? It strikes me as common courtesy to not present words that you're not 100% sure are words and just "hope for the best". Being a "serious player" doesn't mean you have to be a "rude player", IMO...


I don't know about this Richard. As a student I would spend my days watching the British daytime game-show, Countdown. A massive part of this game was pushing your luck by trying to present a word you weren't sure existed. The penalty for being wrong, of course, was that you got no points. This never felt like cheating, or rudeness. It just felt like friendly competitive gameplay.
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Adam Porter
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Re: Great idea, but flawed — with discussion of possible rule variants
rahdo wrote:

As for the "too much downtime", I think the bounty rule is brilliant and solves this problem, again, IF you're playing with courteous people. When Jen and I play, if we find that we simply can't find a good word, but we *KNOW* there must be one there somewhere, we simply do the bounty thing, and then both players are having fun trying to find good words.


While very welcome, the bounty rule doesn't solve the problem. Players are under no obligation to take the word offered by other players. Other players are incentivised to offer up a short word for a couple of reasons: to (perhaps unkindly) minimise their opponents points AND more importantly to keep the game moving. A determined player will STILL keep staring at their cards even after a few options are offered by other players, just to make sure they get the best possible word. Regular gamers are inclined to try and optimise their moves. It can take forever playing this game with some players. These are not unreasonable people - I can play any number of other games with them with no problem. It is a flaw in the central concept of the design.

rahdo wrote:
So again, if you have rude players who don't give a damn about causing downtime to others, then simply introduce a timer variant... when a player's turn starts, they get X seconds to play their hand (30? 60?) and if they fail to do so in that time, they have to offer a bounty, so again, everyone can get in on the action and be engaged.


I am intending to use a timer in future games. It feels like this is the only solution. But I don't like it as a solution. Timers add stress and frustration, and make it into a party game. Paperback doesn't feel like a party game in any other way. I wouldn't play with the bounty variant. If a player can't present a word after the timer runs out, they score no points. It is simple in this game to present a 3-4 letter word. No-one should find they cannot come up with anything.
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Richard Ham
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Re: Great idea, but flawed — with discussion of possible rule variants
Adam78 wrote:
rahdo wrote:
Hmm, so surely the solution for players who use fake words is to not play with them? It strikes me as common courtesy to not present words that you're not 100% sure are words and just "hope for the best". Being a "serious player" doesn't mean you have to be a "rude player", IMO...


I don't know about this Richard. As a student I would spend my days watching the British daytime game-show, Countdown. A massive part of this game was pushing your luck by trying to present a word you weren't sure existed. The penalty for being wrong, of course, was that you got no points. This never felt like cheating, or rudeness. It just felt like friendly competitive gameplay.


Hehe, if real money were on the line, then yeah, I'd push everything to the limit as much as possible. When I'm sitting down with nice people and I want everyone to have as much fun as me, I would be inclined to change my tact somewhat. Doesn't mean I don't still want to win, but "winning at all costs", even if it drags the game down (as it clearly does for you) isn't in the cards for me

Adam78 wrote:
While very welcome, the bounty rule doesn't solve the problem. Players are under no obligation to take the word offered by other players. Other players are incentivised to offer up a short word for a couple of reasons: to (perhaps unkindly) minimise their opponents points AND more importantly to keep the game moving. A determined player will STILL keep staring at their cards even after a few options are offered by other players, just to make sure they get the best possible word. Regular gamers are inclined to try and optimise their moves. It can take forever playing this game with some players. These are not unreasonable people - I can play any number of other games with them with no problem. It is a flaw in the central concept of the design.

The important thing though is that the bounty rule is a way to minimize downtime by letting *EVERYONE* be involved in the slowpoke's turn. And in that regard, it works great!

And trying to claim a bounty with a short word is foolish because someone else will win the bounty with a bigger word, and if no one bothers trying to give a biggest best word to the slow player, then the slow player will simply delay the game longer anyway until he figures the best word out himself. You know this to be true, so why mess around with smaller words, preventing yourself from at least getting the bounty bonus?

It's in every player's best interest to come up with the best word possible as fast as possible, so that they can get the bonus, because if they don't do it, the slowpoke will take forever regardless, and will eventually find that word himself.

So if you have a choice of sitting staring at a wall for 3 minutes while the slowpoke eventually finds the best word, oraget a bonus for yourself, and keep from watching the paint dry?

So it really works very well, IMO

Quote:
rahdo wrote:
So again, if you have rude players who don't give a damn about causing downtime to others, then simply introduce a timer variant... when a player's turn starts, they get X seconds to play their hand (30? 60?) and if they fail to do so in that time, they have to offer a bounty, so again, everyone can get in on the action and be engaged.


I am intending to use a timer in future games. It feels like this is the only solution. But I don't like it as a solution. Timers add stress and frustration, and make it into a party game. Paperback doesn't feel like a party game in any other way. I wouldn't play with the bounty variant. If a player can't present a word after the timer runs out, they score no points. It is simple in this game to present a 3-4 letter word. No-one should find they cannot come up with anything.


Yeah, I hate timers too, but again, if you've got players who prioritize winning over ensuring that everyone has a fun time, you'll have to introduce it. But that's true for a LOT of games, not just Paperback

Still, I would recommend the timer leading to a forced bounty, because that at least ensures the game is still fun for everyone, instead of frustrating, which is what will happen if you simply cut them off before they've had a chance to figure something out...
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David Brain
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Re: Great idea, but flawed — with discussion of possible rule variants
I tend to agree with the "common card" observation - I'd actually go as far as to say that I think it should be "8,9,10,11"; indeed it's possible that you only need to go 8,9,10 as ten-letter words are reasonably difficult to pull off - although I don't think you could play with the space bar or the dyslexia cards in that case.

One thing I do like a lot about the game is that it doesn't reward knowing short words (which is a significant flaw in Scrabble.)
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John Drake
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Adam78 wrote:
Timers add stress and frustration, and make it into a party game.


TIL that chess is a party game.

Most gamers are fairly good at regulating their own time and naturally play to the speed of the group. While timers may be necessary with some groups, a hint/nudge is often all it takes to get a player to play his move.

That being said, I don't see AP to be an issue in this game. Yes, AP exist... but it exists because of the brain-burning decisions, not because of book-keeping or some other distraction. As long as a game is engaging, I don't find the length/speed of the game relevant. And I don't think deck-builders should inherently play quickly. In the end, I am looking for interesting decisions and this game provides many.
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Zoe M
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Yes, AP exist... but it exists because of the brain-burning decisions


I think this is generally the cause of AP

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As long as a game is engaging, I don't find the length/speed of the game relevant.


I definitely agree with you here.

Quote:
And I don't think deck-builders should inherently play quickly. In the end, I am looking for interesting decisions and this game provides many.


This is where I disagree. The issue with deckbuilders is that turns tend to be pretty varied; there are some where you have a lot to do, and others where the possibilities are pretty limited. If everyone has a hand with lots of letters, sure, it's not a problem if the turn runs slow. But that doesn't always happen. Sometimes two people have big complicated hands and the other person just doesn't have anything to think about over the next ten minutes.

I guess another possible variant could be letting players plan out more than one hand at a time, especially if you're playing without the attack cards....
 
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Zoe M
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Oops, I got distracted with the most recent post and forgot to respond to the earlier ones. I haven't tried it with the bounty yet, but I may give that a try, possibly in combination with a timer. Thanks for the suggestions.
 
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Zoe M
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Thanks, I should definitely try the simultaneous-play variant as well.
 
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