Always at the forefront of music and rhythm games, Harmonix teams up with Hasbro for DropMix. This innovative card game aims to give you unprecedented control over music, allowing you to mix-and-match bits of different songs in order to create intricate mashups and mixes without any prerequisite skill in music. Beyond its free-form mixing mode, DropMix comes equipped with multiple game modes that provide structure to the experience.
Does its music-mixing tech work as advertised? Do its modes of play add value to the experience? And should you take the plunge for DropMix and its expansions?
The DropMix experience is comprised of three major components: the game board, 60 music cards, and your phone or tablet. To start, you’ll download the DropMix app to your smart device, then sync it to the game board. If possible, you’ll want to connect your smart device to good speakers as well for the best experience. The board will read which cards are played while your phone plays the music and manages the game.
Once that’s all set up, it’s time to play with the cards. Each card represents an instrument or vocal track from a song, and similar sounds are colour-coded. For example, some of the cards in the base game include Ed Sheeran’s vocals from “Sing”, the drums from “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons, and the bass from “I Can’t Feel My Face” by The Weeknd. Some cards, such as “24K Magic” by Bruno Mars, feature all of the instruments on one card, but you can only listen to one or two of those instruments at a time depending on where on the board you play the card.
Regardless of what mode you’re playing in, you can perform one of three actions: play a card, remove a card, or hit the DropMix button at the edge of the board. Simply play a card on the board and the music from that card will play. Play another card and the game will dynamically fine-tune the beats-per-minute, the key, and introduce the new card to the mix at the right time to make the components from completely different songs mix together as best as possible. The effect is straight-up sorcery. By just placing cards on a board, you feel like you’re the greatest DJ of all-time as you place down card-after-card and your mix seemingly sounds amazing the whole time.
If you want even more control over the music, the game gives you some options. By sliding your finger across the track squares on your phone, you can adjust the volume of each individual instrument or vocal track. You can manually control the BPM and pitch through easy-to-use sliders. Also, by hitting the DropMix button, the music builds to a crescendo before completely adjusting the BPM and pitch of your song. It’s crazy how many permutations of a mix you can create by just hitting that button.
The game shines brightest when it’s not played as a game. In its Freestyle mode, play any card, anywhere, at any time and its phenomenal. In a group, I’ll just place the board at the centre of the table, spread the cards out, and everyone has a blast creating a shared mix. Playing alone, I love creating my own extended mixes and routines. The game has some tools to generate shareable videos, but you’ll need to find your own solution if you want to record your performances in full.
For me, the Freestyle mode is worth the price of admission alone. However, the game also comes with other modes of play that…aren’t as good. Clash mode is a team-based area control game where you’re playing cards of different colours and levels to try and control all five cards slots on the board. All the while, you’re creating a mix while battling for control. It’s an okay game that I would play again, but I find it to be a bit light on strategy, a little too dependent on luck, and its antithetical to the ethos of the experience. Due to the mode’s inherent structure, it runs counter to the fun created by mixing music any way you want.
Party is essentially Simon Says, where you have to play specific cards on the board as fast as you can. It’s okay in a group, but it’s not going to hold your attention for long. Puzzle mode was added in a post-launch update, which takes the Simon Says concept a step further. With the aid of the screen, you’ll see multiple rows of song requests scroll across from right-to-left. You’ll have to play cards to meet the requests, but it can be tough to stay on top of everything coming at you. Furthermore, the game is so involved, that the actual joy of making your own music is completely lost when you play the game this way.
I may play these other modes from time-to-time, but Freestyle is the biggest draw. Even so, there’s one other glaring issue with the package. With only 60 cards, you will start to hear the same riffs and they’ll wear thin more quickly than I’d like. This is most glaring with the vocal cards, as you can only hear Carly Rae Jepsen sing “Call Me Maybe” so many times before you’re over it. There are a number of expansions available for purchase, and having bought a few does help the game’s shelf-life considerably. However, they’re quite expensive relative to what you’re getting. On top of that, buying expansions is the only way you can collect all of the instruments and vocals from one song, as they’ve been spread out across the base game and different expansions. I’m okay with only having parts of a full song, but it will be maddening for others.
DropMix is fascinating. Harmonix and Hasbro have created a product with a core function that is magical. The process of creating your own music mixes through cards is wildly addictive and will be a sure-fire hit at any party. However, as a board game in the traditional sense, it’s underwhelming. On top of that, if you’re not willing to spend extra on expansions, the music the game comes with may wear thin long before the appeal of mixing music does.
I’d skip it if you’re considering DropMix as a board game in the traditional sense. However, if you think you and your friends will enjoy the act of mixing music without any rules, and you don’t mind throwing a few extra bucks for more cards, it’s one of the best purchases you’ll ever make. Wouldn’t be surprised if I fall perilously down the rabbit hole, playing this non-stop in the weeks and months to come, while drowning in debt from having bought all of the game’s expansions.