Ken Jennings

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December 3, 2010

mental_floss magazine recently sent me a copy of their new board game, called Split Decision, so we broke it out over Thanksgiving weekend and playtested it with the in-laws.

Split Decision is a trivia game, but, like Wits & Wagers, the last trivia game I reviewed here, it’s purposely designed as the anti-trivia game, a trivia game that anyone can play. Wits & Wagers went about this by making all the answers numbers, which anyone could guess at (“How many stairs are there in Statue of Liberty?”) but few people would know. Split Decision goes even further: in most turns, the only answers are A or B. Players slap down their “A” or “B” card, and the turn is over in seconds. (Sweet, blissful relief for anyone who’s ever sat around for ten minutes watching some brainiac agonize over a Trivial Pursuit answer he can’t quite remember.)

Most of the questions are of a “this or that” format: do these three items belong in category A or category B? Sometimes the categories are straightforward true/false questions. (Were these movies (A) Oscar best picture winners, or just (B) nominees? Did these events occur (A), before 1900, or (B), after 1900?) More often the categories have a clever twist, built around intentionally ambiguous list items. Are these bland, vaguely New England-y phrases (A) Billy Joel album titles, or (B) brands of bottled water?

(I know this “this-or-that” format was commonly used on some game show I used to watch as a kid, but I can’t for the live of me remember which one. Some version of The Joker’s Wild maybe? Readers?)

It’s a fun, breezy game for a family get-together: everyone can play (even kids who have never heard of Billy Joel can randomly guess “A” or “B”), there’s a good laugh every two or three cards, and a game gets done in half an hour or so. There are few too many superfluously cutesy rules for my taste: the player who can come closest to touching her nose with her tongue goes first, score is kept by crossing out letters “HORSE”-style, ties can be resolved with a dance-off, etc. But the game does what it was fundamentally designed to do: at our table, both trivia buffs and trivia rookies had fun, with no wide gap in scoring. In fact, I wound up in a tie one game with my (very bright but not especially trivia-prone) father-in-law. We did not invoke the dance-off rule.

One tip to aspiring Split Decision champs: my playtesting party discovered that we were inevitably slapping down the “A” card with our left hands and the “B” card with our right before turning them over–in other word, telegraphing every play if we weren’t careful. Luckily I don’t think there are too many Split Decision card sharks out there looking for “tells.”

Card sharks…wait, was it Card Sharks that used this format? This is really going to bug me…

Posted by Ken at 11:45 am