I am not a gambler. That doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the ebb and flow of games that were designed around departing people from their hard earned cash. The thrill of the turn of a card, your fortunes rising or crashing down in a single moment of revelation. Pushing your luck on the roll of the dice. The excitement of a win and the stab of a loss.
The Split is the first game from Michael Fox and Rain Watt, the minds behind new UK publisher Wayfinder Games. They demonstrate their understanding of the thrill of gambling games as they take the venerable Casino game Blackjack and give it a Reservoir Dogs layer of theme.
It’s all come down to this. The heist is done and now you have to split up the loot and get out of town. The heat is round the corner. The loot is split into piles, so jumbled you can’t make out everything that is in there. Only the top of each pile glints through the gloom of the dive bar you’ve ended up in.
A hand of Blackjack to divvy up the spoils seems fair. You stick, twist, raise an eyebrow, and go for broke. Each of you wants to get as high a total as possible as you split the loot in descending order of hand strength. Too close to the edge though and you might go bust. This is not just Blackjack though. This is Wayfinder Games Blackjack. Going bust might not be the end of the story.
Dealt at the start of the game, cheat cards can shove the points totals of your hand around, force the discarding of cards, give you new ways to earn cash, and generally mess with the ebb and flow of blackjack. More come from the loot cards you play for every round, some giving you a choice between banking the money for later or getting a new way to manipulate the proceedings now.
As the rounds progress the loot accumulates till you’ve divided it all up, however unevenly. With the cops closing in you need a disguise to escape. Being the out for top dog people you are, you sell spare disguises to your fellow thieves, but someone is going to end up without. They get got by the cops, the rest of you free to head off into the night with the most loot taking the day.
I kind of like The Split. It’s fast playing, has some lovely moments of turnabout and surprise and hinges on a strong thematic basis. I’ve laughed and groaned as fortunes have gone against others or against me with the turn of a card.
Unfortunately, I have two gripes that stop me giving it a full throated recommendation.
The first is the matter of disguises. There is one less disguise in the loot deck than the number of players i.e. 3 in a 4 player game. Without a disguise at the end of the game you just lose. Now we laugh when moments like this happen sometimes and in a game as short as The Split, player elimination is not necessarily a deal breaker. Coming at the end of the game as it does, gives it a feeling of being unfair. I could have the most loot and still lose through very little fault of my own. There is a variant where you can play with an equal number of Disguise cards, but I like to review the core experience of a game.
The other issue is the rules. I get that Wayfinder wanted to be brief with the rules and fit it into a tuckbox. I really felt like it could have benefitted from just a bit more work. For instance you deal a cheat card to each player at the start of the game. The first time we played one we instantly wondered if you got more as there was a deck of them. Now we eventually discovered that there are loot cards you can discard to get more cheat cards. I would have preferred that information up front. I’m all for emergent properties in games, but not confusion. Now we wanted to know if we discard the card on pickup or can do so later? We played the former but I could see the latter. Again no help from the rulebook here.
Another section of the rulebook that really annoyed me came at the end of the game. Some of the loot revolves around set collection getting a bunch of money for most and another for second. Some of the cheat cards also give a bonus for having the most of a certain type of loot if they turn up during the game. What if you tie with another player? Well the rulebook says “Ties are Friendly”. What does that mean? I’ve asked a few folk, all regular tabletop gamers, and I’ve had the following possibilities:
- We each get the full amount
- We split the full amount evenly
- In the case of money for 1st and 2nd we add together and split the result. Or it could be 1) where we both get the full amount or 2) where we both split the full amount.
My point here is you need to be specific about what you mean by “Ties are friendly” as it is open to interpretation.
Now do any of these things make The Split a bad game? No they don’t and you can interpret these rules as you choose. It will change the outcome of the game though. I’m a stickler for holes in rules, that’s me, and part of my reviewing process. I cannot deny that The Split is a fun game with good production values. It’s Blackjack with player powers, a strong heist theme, and I love that as a concept. I just wish the rulebook had spent a little more time being straightened up before it went to print.
A copy of The Split was provided by Wayfinder games.