Could a semi-digital board game really be worth $100?
Price: board retails for $100/£120, companion app free
Size: 507 MB
Developer: Hasbro, Inc.
Platform: iPhone & iPad
DropMix is a unique proposition; a physical card game played on a light-up plastic board that connects to your iPhone or iPad in order to remix songs on the fly. We’ll give you a moment to digest that.
Here’s the lowdown: Harmonix, best known for creating the hit Guitar Hero franchise, teamed up with toy makers Hasbro to create this outlandish mash-up of game genres. Fitting, because the game itself involves making an outlandish mash-up of music genres. Each of the 60 playing cards included in the box represents an individual track from a well-known song – say, the iconic drum beat from Run DMC’s It’s Tricky or the lively vocal line from Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe.
Placing a card on one of the board’s five panels will automatically add the specified track to the mix, and it’s surprising just how seamlessly DropMix manages to meld songs together. There are a lot of clever adjustments at play here to ensure everything syncs up, and for the most part the results are really impressive. Even more so if you connect your device to a proper set of speakers.
Setup is a breeze – simply download the free companion app and hit the DropMix button on the game board to sync via Bluetooth – and each of the game’s three modes is clearly explained by a slick tutorial video. Let’s take a look at what each mode does.
Taking center stage is a competitive “clash” mode, which pits teams of one or two against each other and involves laying down cards to change the live mix and earn points. There are some basic rules to adhere to involving each card’s color and “level,” but overall the gameplay is simple and the app is excellent at keeping score and signposting whose turn it is. Bonus points are awarded for special feats like controlling all five tracks at once, and the first to 21 points wins.
It’s fun, but there’s not much strategy here and the gameplay itself would grow old fast if it weren’t for the musical accompaniment. Luckily mixing tracks is great fun, to the extent that most players will get more joy out of adding their favorite songs to the mix than actually winning the game.
If you tire of competitive play, the fast-paced “party” mode has players working together to fulfill song requests for a virtual crowd. Each player draws a handful of cards, and when a request pops up on screen anyone can play a suitable card to win points. You score higher for acting quickly but are penalized for wrong moves, keeping players on edge and rewarding them for quick wits.
Though we found this mode to be frantic and fun, disappointingly the requests are abstracted to simple choices like “play a level two card,” rather than anything inherently musical like genres or instruments or songs. Ultimately, this makes party mode feel less like a rock band playing to a rabble of fans and more like playing Uno Extreme with the radio on. (Though we admit, that’s still a fairly appealing prospect.)
Finally, “freestyle” mode is exactly that; an anything-goes playground to mix cards however you please, with no points or turns to worry about. This is where you can get seriously creative with the tracks, and swapping cards around in time to the music to lay up slick transitions and beat drops makes you feel like a bona fide DJ – no musical talent required.
You also get to tweak the tempo and key of your mix in this mode, giving players much more control of the sound and potentially making it something musicians could have fun jamming along with. Our playtesters inevitably ended up spending the most time here, messing around with favorite card combos.
The included song selection has a tendency to make anyone above the age of twenty feel profoundly ancient; though the 60-card deck covers a number of genres, it skews toward contemporary pop and even the “classics” don’t stretch back much further than the mid-nineties. That said, we had a lot of fun “improving” songs outside of our usual tastes, so keep an open mind.
You can buy expansion packs to expand the range of songs on offer, though they’re not cheap, working out to around $1 per card. That’s a big investment if you want to get everything on offer here, and considering the bundled tracks get stale relatively quickly we’d have liked to see a few more included in the base game.
It’s a little gimmicky, sure, but DropMix has great novelty value and kids especially will love its magical tactility. Beyond that, its merging of the digital and the physical could be a telling sign of things to come. Imagine a future in which real-life trading cards duke it out across virtual arenas and chess battles at the kitchen table are represented by augmented reality holograms. DropMix has got us dreaming, and if you can stomach the cost it could be the perfect social game to crack out next time you have visitors.
Note: at full price, DropMix may be a hard sell – but keen shoppers will notice it often dips well below retail price. We’ve seen it hit a bargain $50 in the US and as low as £80 in the UK. Pick this game up in the sales and you won’t be disappointed!