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I accidentally played the wrong way the first time (according the the HARD variant below), but it gave me a good idea:
EASY: Classic rules -- use any letters plus vowels and JQXZ.
MEDIUM: Each side can use any letters that are on the board or have been captured by that side plus vowels and JQXZ.
HARD: Each side can ONLY use letters that are on the board plus vowels and JQXZ.
Each difficulty level takes about the same amount of time due to the 30-second limit for each turn, but higher difficulty levels make the game more frantic and exciting.
Let me know what you think! I've sent this along to mmaaaxx from otbgames, who said that he'd give it a try with his family.
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Missing old BGG
I would think that the HARD variant would take forever to end. When only W, Y, and C remain, not a lot of categories are going to work. So I'd think that a game would take a lot more rounds (rounds where you get only a short word becoming more common).
Well, when I played it that way for my first game, it took about 30 minutes to finish the game. I can definitely see your point -- I guess that the hard variation would have the potential to end in a stalemate.
It's possible that we lucked out and were able to use the harder letters earlier in the game. I'll have to do some more play-testing with that level. MEDIUM still works pretty well so far, though!