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I was sent this Hasbro release by the game's designer, David Hoyt, who is anxious to spread the word in hopes of generating increased sales, thereby extending the production run of the game. When I first heard news of the game, I was skeptical. The game uses playing cards -- normally a HUGE drawback for me as I have a dislike for most traditional card games. So, a game using traditional cards and poker chips sounded too much like a poker variant to pique my interest.
The game arrived shortly after my return from a two week family vacation in Germany. The box is quite attractive and eye-catching, and the back photo and description does a very good job of explaining the game. OK, so it began to look enticing.
The components also did not disappoint. The cards are printed on nice card stock and are coated so they won't wear easily. The poker chips are very thick and come in three vibrant colors, while the board is of top quality and design. Say what you will about Hasbro, but at least they do use top quality components in most of their releases.
Another attractive feature of the game is that it can be played with 2, 3, 4 or 6 players, with the 4 and 6 player versions being a partnership game, à la Bridge.
The board depicts a 10 x 10 grid of connected round spaces, each depicting a suit -- or two suits -- (heart, diamond, spade or club). The cards themselves are split in half, as if you took a scissors and neatly sliced them from side to side. Ten of these `half' cards are set beside the board and 7 are then dealt to each player.
On a player's turn, he tries to play a card from his hand which forms a match for one of the ten cards beside the board. There are three types of matches which can be formed:
- Weak Match: the combination of two halves that match in Number or Face (Jack, Queen, King Ace), but NOT in Color. Example: The 4H with the 4S.
- Strong Match: the combination of two halves that match in Number and Color, or Face and Color. Example: 4H with the 4D.
- Perfect Match: the combination of two identical halves. Example: 2C and the 2C.
Depending upon the type of match formed, the player is allowed to place one or two chips onto the board and possibly remove one of his opponent's chips. What you are trying to ultimately accomplish is to form a connected line of chips from one end of the board to the other. This 'line' can weave left and right, but cannot be connected diagonally. Of course, your opponent is attempting to accomplish the same thing, while at the same time trying to block your progress to complete your path.
When a match is formed, the player may place chips as follows:
- Weak Match: place 1 chip on one of the two suits of the match you made. Example: If you match the 4H with the 4S, place a chip on either a space with a Heart or a space with a Spade.
- Strong Match: place 2 chips on the board, one on each suit of the match you made. Example: If you match the 4H with the 4D, place one chip on a space with a Heart and one chip on a space with a Diamond.
- Perfect Match: REMOVE one of your opponent's chips from the board and then place 2 of your own chips on spaces marked with the suit of the match you made. Example: If you match the 2C with the 2C, after removing a chip of your opponent, place two of your chips on spaces marked with a Club.
Matched sets remain beside the board and cards can be played upon this set, changing the type of match from round to round. The only exception to this is if the match was perfect. In this case, the matched set is discarded and replaced by a single half card from the deck.
If for some reason a player possesses a hand of cards from which he cannot make any type of match with the ten cards resting beside the board, he may discard his hand and draw seven new cards. His turn is not over, however... he may then play a card to make a match and proceed. This is a neat feature which instantly gets a player back into the game if he has a hand of unmatchable cards.
The game also has a memory element. As mentioned, each of the round spaces on the board depict a suit symbol. When a chip is placed onto a space, it completely covers the symbol. Players may not peek underneath a chip, but must rely on their memory to recall which symbol besides under each chip. Since the symbols are distributed in a haphazard fashion across the board, there is no easy pattern to memorize. Suffice to say that such feats of memorization are way beyond my capabilities. However, don't let this deter you. In reality, there are only a handful of key spaces which become a hot-bed of contention amongst the players as the game progresses, so it is only these spaces which must be memorized to optimize one's plays.
When playing with 2 or 3 players, each play individually. With 4 or 6 players, the contestants are paired off into teams. No table talk is allowed between team members while a player is deciding which card to play. Once played, however, players may confer as to where to place their chips and/or which chip of their opponent to remove.
The game is actually quite fun and can be nasty as players compete over certain key spaces on the board. It is frustrating to be within a chip or two of completing your path, only to have your opponent remove one of your key links and plop down his own chip in its place. As the game progresses and the board develops, the tension does mount as you're hoping to play the right cards to foil your opponents and steal those valuable spaces. Further, with partners, you are trying to form a `mind meld', playing the correct cards in tandem with your partner so as to maximize your progress.
I've played the game with 2, 3, 4 and 6 players, and both with `gamers' and my not so rabid non-gaming family and friends. I have enjoyed the game in all formats far more than I ever thought I would. All of the groups I have played with were well pleased with the game, which has proven equally exciting played with 2 or 3 players or with partners.
I'm glad I'm sitting down as I right this, because I now have given favorable reviews to two Hasbro releases in one year (the other being Clash of the Lightsabers)! My only hope now is that the game is properly marketed and advertised and doesn't get lost on shelves of Toys R Us between copies of Pokemon Monopoly and Toy Story: The Game. Split is deserving of much better treatment and exposure. It's a fun, challenging and tense game that can be enjoyed by both gamers and family alike. Buy it!