If Guitar Hero and Magic the Gathering had a baby, what would it look like?
Harmonix, makers of many, many music games and apps (Dance Central, Guitar Hero, and the Apple TV's rhythm game Beat Sports) is making a music board game with Hasbro called DropMix that's arriving in September.
It's an attempt at a collectible card game. Or an impromptu DJ house party. Or a music toy. Or a phone app-cessory.
It's weird. I got to play it briefly. It's arriving this fall. And it's probably better with beer.
What is it?
DropMix is a plastic board and a bunch of NFC-enabled cards that trigger music loops from popular songs. The music loops combine and form remixes, building mashups depending on where they're placed on the board.
The game is expensive at $100 (around £80 or AU$130 converted), far more than a normal board game. It also needs a phone or tablet to connect to, to play music and show your score and stats.
The standard game will come with 60 cards, but additional packs will include extra cards by music genre or artist at around $1 a card.
How do you play?
Think of it like musical Uno. Each player has a set of cards, and each person takes turns laying down tracks on DropMix's open card slots.
Each color-zone represents different parts of the loop: bass, or vocals, or maybe a guitar riff. The cards change the remix depending on how they're played. Some cards only have particular loops, while others can be played anywhere on the board and have more loops.
I don't remember the order I played my cards, but it went something like this: I lay down a card, Skrillex. The person across from me cheers, lays down Meghan Trainor, "All About That Bass." The loops start to combine. I'm told to play another card. I have a few in my hand, so I play Bruno Mars. Suddenly the music changes tempo, and all the parts combine. Somehow it works together. I'm told this is a good move. I'm still figuring out what I'm doing, but the music sounds good. I look at the phone screen for my score. Does it matter? I'm enjoying myself.
DropMix is more about making music than cutthroat timing. This isn't Guitar Hero. But it feels like I'm performing, like a card-dealing DJ.
Weirdly, anything sounds good
What's interesting about DropMix is that Harmonix promises that, no matter which music card you play where, everything will sound "good." There's no failing at making music. Over the few quick games I played, no matter what I played down ended up sounding interesting. There was a continuous sense of gradual music-morphing, a feeling of subtle remixing or mash-ups. If this were being played at a party, I could see DropMix being some sort of ambient innocuous background music.
Will DropMix be more or less fun because there's no way to screw up your music? DropMix does have a high score system for winning and a strategy as far as picking the right card to play for maximum points, but damned if I can remember what I was doing during any of my play sessions. I remember making fun music, and that's about it. I don't even remember if I won.
Are Hasbro and Harmonix making a music toy, or a collectible card game? Or both? It bugs me that you may need to keep buying extra card sets to make the game seem fresh: Harmonix promises up to 300 cards by the end of year, in both genre-packs and random mystery packs of five cards for $5 (about £4 or AU$7).
What type of music?
Hasbro's press release promises "globally renowned artists and award-winning producers." A few artists/tracks have been revealed so far: "Take Over Control" by Afrojack (ft. Eva Simmons), "24K Magic" by Bruno Mars, "Closer" by The Chainsmokers" (ft. Halsey), "Sing" by Ed Sheeran, "Centuries" by Fall Out Boy, "I Want You Back" by The Jackson 5, "All About That Bass" by Meghan Trainor and "House Party" by Sam Hunt.
I'm not totally up on every type of music, but Harmonix said nearly anything could work with DropMix, from current stuff to 50's doo-wop. I'd love They Might Be Giants and John Williams cards, but I'm not holding my breath.
Will this be fun?
DropMix feels like something new: an explorational music experience/game. Maybe it's more about performance than pure competition. I could see myself kicking back and listening to others playing it. Maybe it'll be like Rock Band, where people have DropMix parties. Maybe it'll just be something fun to pull out and play when a lot of guests come over.
It's not as competitive as "serious" strategy games, but it's not really trying to be. The only question I have is whether the novelty of playing with the included cards wears off after a while. Is this musical Apples to Apples, or a music toy, or something else?
I had fun (colleagues Bridget Carey and Ian Sherr also tried it, at different times than I did). I like music remixes and music toys. But the cards I used, after even a few tries, seemed to lose their excitement. It's clever... but would I get tired of setting up my phone and whole game board just to play?
As for how great the whole package is... well, we'll just have to see once we can play-test a set near September.