Dropmix Review - A Musical Strategy Game Like No Other
Quick Glance: Dropmix
Game Type: Real-time electronic music card game
Number of Players: 1-5
Mechanics: Area Control, Area Influence
MSRP: $99.99 (although several places are already discounting the base game heavily), Music packs to add more cards vary in price.
Publisher: Harmonix / Hasbro
Introduction/Overview: Dropmix is the Hot! New! game from the combined forces of Hasbro and Harmonix. The idea is that Dropmix combines the strategy of a card game with the party-like atmosphere of a music rhythm game. It does this with a revolutionary board that reads NFC chips embedded into playing cards. Does Dropmix make it to the top of the charts? Or is it a little flat?
Gameplay: Dropmix is an electronic game that requires a phone or a tablet (iOS or Android is fine) and a free companion app. To ease the amount of time it takes to get started, I recommend downloading the app and music info the game requires ahead of time. Also, if you have a bluetooth speaker, you'll want to attach that as well.
There are three modes in Dropmix: Freestyle, Party, and Clash. Freestyle Mode is a sandbox. You can just grab any card, and play it onto the proper space on the board, and let the music mix however it may. Want to know what Carly Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" sounds like with the guitar line from Blink 182's "All the Small Things" while the drum line from Run - DMC's "It's Tricky" plays along? You can do it. There are literally thousands of ways to mix the cards around to create different mixes. Plus you can do even more advanced things such as change the beats per minute and pitch shift the songs. Not all of the mixes are good (I have yet to find a mix that sounds right with the vocals from "Chandelier") but it's a ton of fun to be able to play with music like this. Plus, if you do find a mix you like, there's a small button on screen that will save your mix.
In Party Mode, players will work cooperatively to try and score as many points as possible. The app will ask for a certain type of card to be played. The faster the card is played, the more points the team gets. The biggest catch to this mode is that you don’t get to refill your hand until you successfully complete all challenges, and proceed to the next round. At any point your team can't play the proper card, the game ends. It's not a terribly difficult game, as it's pure luck whether the team will have the right cards anyway, but there can be some yelling when 2-3 people all have a card, but none of them want to really play it because it’s the last card they may have.
The mode that gets most board game hobbyists intrigued is Clash Mode. In Clash Mode, two teams of 1 or 2 players will square off against each other in a music fueled race to 21 points. Points are scored by laying down cards onto matching color squares and controlling the 5 card areas on the board. There are wild cards that can be played anywhere, special action cards that can change the rules a bit, and if things are going really far south...there's always the Dropmix button. Hitting the Dropmix button brings up an on screen spinner. Wherever it ends will cause some of the cards on the board to be discarded, giving you a chance to take over areas. This mode has a bit of a tug-of-war feel to it. Again, it’s no Magic the Gathering, but it’s a decently fun little strategy game, and a great attention-getter.
Rulebook: The rules sheet in the box only deals with setting up the game. Learning the game is done through tutorial videos you access through the app (although they bring you to videos on the Dropmix website). My only complaint is that they do not adequately explain the icons on the bottom of the action cards, so you have to play them to understand what they do. It’s a minor quibble because you can always pull it back off the stack if you don’t like what it does. Still, kind of an annoyance.
Theme: Such a great theme for a game. Music is something that most people are able to enjoy, and having the ability to play with music in ways we usually can’t is a powerful tool.
Set-Up/Takedown: Setting up the game only takes a couple of minutes. There are 4 pre-constructed decks sold with the game, and if you don’t get any further, you’ll still have a good time. Teardown takes a little longer because it behooves you to return the decks back to their original set up before you put the game away.
Components: The actual Dropmix board is a large, sturdy piece of plastic. The card slots have embedded LED lights that flash a multitude of colors during play. It’s a well put together piece of tech.
The cards, on the other hand, are problematic. Before I start to complain, I will say there is some phenomenal card art in play here. It might actually be fun to play a game like Dixit with these cards.
The cards are printed on very matte cardboard. This means there’s no glare, but the cards also don’t shuffle or deal very well at all. To make the game playable, you HAVE to sleeve the cards, which then brings up a bit of an issue. The plastic of the sleeves can block the board from reading the NFC chips on the tops of the stacks correctly. Without sleeves, I was able to play up to 15 card thick stacks with no errors. With sleeves, that became 7. Now, in the games I’ve played, I’ve only gotten a stack that high twice. It’s probably not going to be a big deal to most people, but it is an issue I’ve noticed.
Also, and I know this may seem minor, but the packaging for the cards is beyond stupid. The Playlist packs have 16 cards, and they come in these cool style clamshell cases. However, the cards are encased in the plastic, and you have to totally destroy the packaging to get to the cards. It would have been so great if the clamshells could have acted as a carrying case for your collection. Such a missed opportunity.
Solo-Play: There is solo play through Freestyle Mode and through Party Mode. Freestyle Solo is just noodling around making fun mixes. Party Mode solo works, however you only get 7 cards each round, so there is almost no room for error, and indeed the round may be impossible right from the start when there are 8+ card requests per round. Dropmix is really best as a party game and a conversation starter.
Final Thoughts: So many thoughts about this game. As a competitive game, it’s not very good right out of the box. If you strip out the music, it is a very basic area control card game. Now, there are extra packs available for purchase, and there are even rules in the works for constructing your own custom playlists so you can battle with a more finely tuned deck. There is even a tournament play environment growing. I think this has the potential to help the Clash Mode be a better game.
As a cooperative game, it’s not bad. There can be some good strategic choices as to which player should play a card, and the speed pressure helps amp up the drama. It does often come down to luck as to whether you succeed or fail, but it’s fun.
As a toy? This is the coolest thing I’ve seen in a long time. The NFC chips work extremely well. The app does a really good job of slicing and dicing the music parts together to construct surprisingly listenable music most of the time.
The last thing I want to nitpick on is the mix of music. There’s a LOT of stuff I’ve never heard of before, and I do a fairly decent job of keeping up with popular music. I feel like the people behind Rock Band could have surely brought in a few more well known tracks. Also, it does bug me a bit that you can’t just buy a pack that contains all the parts of one song. At least the discovery packs are preset and not random cards...
I hope Dropmix succeeds. It so easy to do cool things with this app. A simple update, and there can be an entirely new mode or two. I fear that the quick decline in price of the base set, and the fact that stores are still sold out of many of the sets of cards, may give the perception that the game has failed and no new cards will be released. I hope this isn’t the case. I think Dropmix, while not the best game, is one of the best toys around right now, and more people need to give it a try.