Dropmix (2017) – Accessibility Teardown

Game Details
NameDropMix (2017)
ReviewMeeple Like Us
ComplexityLight [1.36]
BGG Rank2002 [7.14]
Player Count1-4
Designer(s)Uncredited
Artist(s)Sander Berg, Vance Kelly, Jeff Lowry, Eric Nyffeler, Kate O'Hara, Jerome Vogel and James Weinberg
Buy it!Amazon Link

Version Reviewed

First edition

Introduction

The nature of Dropmix, its price, and its sustainability as a product makes it a difficult recommendation. Whether I’d advise people check it out is pretty much based on factors outside my control or ability to predict. If a homebrew scene appears I’d say ‘Yeeeaaaahh, kinda’ but it all depends on whether the base console is still available at reasonable prices. It seems as far as the marketplace is concerned to have been a brave failure that is now being bulk-sold via violent discounts in an attempt to recoup costs. Maybe not though – maybe the physical hardware is now a loss-leader and a brave new world is ahead. Your guess is as good as mine.

How about its accessibility, though? Well, hopefully there my guess is going to be better than yours but to be honest I couldn’t even really predict that either.

This crystal ball I have is rubbish. My advice – stick with brand name crystal balls in future.

Colour Blindness

Predictably, Dropmix isn’t great for colour blindness. Some of the issues can be resolved at the app level but that will vary on a device to device basis. None of the solutions are really going to improve the situation much though.

Colour blindness and console

Colours used for cards fall into problem categories, and when instructions are given in game modes they use only colours, such as:

A card in the app

Since you need to map these on to cards in hand, even if you use colour-correction settings on the app it isn’t going to help with things like this:

Colour blindness in cards

It’s not all as dire as that though. There are only time-constraints on making a selection during party mode, and when you’re playing head to head there are additional hints given on the console. For example, flashing lights will indicate when a column is to be cleared away. The games aren’t really where the fun is to be found in Dropmix – it’s in the freestyle mode and in that there’s no need for hand secrecy or speed of action.

Still, it’s not really possible to recommend Dropmix in this category but if you want to play around with it then you probably can provided players stay away from the competitive modes.

Visual Accessibility

Again, the extent to which the game can be recommended here is largely a function of how everyone is planning to play. Party mode requires both visual information (the colour of card as expressed on the app), timed actions (a decision made within relatively tight time constraints), a physical search for an appropriate card in hand, and then the assignment of that card to a slot on the board. It’s a collaborative activity so there’s support – you don’t need to be the one doing everything. If someone wants a chance to play their cards, and why wouldn’t they, it’s a problem. Clash mode at least removes the timed elements but adds in the need to assess cards on the console by ownership (defined by orientation), intensity, colour and occasionally instrument. Some help is provided in the console, but in the end it’s still a job of assessing the outputs of an app (bringing device differences into play) and comparing them to cards in hand.

It comes back again to freestyle mode, but here it’s not even the case the game can be played without difficulties because of the assumptions in how freestyle mode works. It requires a degree of agency – the key is choosing what seem to be fun cards for the combination of sounds that are being played from the console. That part at least will be auditory information, but knowing what individual cards are going to do (or what you might expect them to do) depends on being able to make out their information.

Cards in the console

There are some workarounds though. For one thing, cards can be stored in stacks beside the slots in which they work, and the ‘game’ becomes picking from a restricted set of options to play the sound you think would be best. The real fun in freestyle though tends to come from choosing just the right card for just the right sounds and that’s going to be a lot more difficult to do without support from the table and a good memory for what cards are available in the deck. The violin from Call Me Maybe goes everywhere (I’d say) but you’d still have to find it in order to add it and remember it’s an option. Otherwise Freestyle mode is mostly going to be flipping cards onto other cards for random effects.

The console is at least somewhat accessible for play, being as how slots are recessed. However, cards get played down on top of each other and so the distinctiveness of one slot from another is going to change over the course of a game. There are only five slots though and their positions can be memorised, as can the colours to which they apply.

Cards themselves are reasonably well structured, with intensity information in the top left corner, large and distinctive art, and the song title and artist in a reliable place on each card. Instrument icons are rather small though, and for some modes using these at speed is an important part of play.

We’ll tentatively recommend Dropmix in this category, provided again you’re not looking for a competitive or even collaborative game and you’re happy just playing about with a toy. In that case, accommodations can be made to support some degree of play even if it might not be quite as free and improvisational as Dropmix at its best.

Cognitive Accessibility

There’s a more positive story in this category because Dropmix, in any of its modes, has very few rules and the largest part of the game is selecting cards according to relatively straightforward criteria. Many of these are marked directly on the board (colour categories for example). Party mode has a timed element, which is not ideal, but Clash Mode doesn’t and the only real rules to remember are:

  1. New cards must be of equal or greater intensity
  2. New cards can only go in matching slots
  3. Press the Dropmix button for random things to happen

It’s mostly a tug of war game there, and as I mentioned in the review the ‘games’ of Dropmix are strictly adequate at best – demonstrations of ways to use the core innovation of the melding musical cards. They’re not things you’d probably want to play beyond that.

Freestyle mode again comes into its own here, removing even the few rules of the game systems and replacing them instead with free improvision. I think in this specific mode Dropmix is maybe even an optimally accessible game – there’s no need for the ‘paper computer’ component of board games to come into effect. You play down a card, and something fun happens. You can spend a lot of time simply flicking cards onto the console and seeing what happens, and it’s easy to undo or redo previous choices. Even the assumed reading level here isn’t a burden because you don’t need to understand or read song titles and artists to play cards. There is a small assumed knowledge of what the songs are, but to be honest there’s a limit to what you can predict of the mash-up that will emerge even under ideal circumstances.

We’ll recommend Dropmix in this category for those with fluid intelligence impairments, and strongly recommend it for those with memory impairments since the app and console together tell you everything you’d ever need to remember. However, we still have to take into account that this recommendation isn’t uniform across the various game modes. We’d recommend Dropmix as something that everyone is likely to be able to have fun with, but perhaps not something for which specific game modes would be well suited.

Physical Accessibility

The key physical inaccessibility here is the need to hold a hand of cards and play them down in slots, sometimes within time constraints. There is also some awkwardness when dealing with the app, but provided there is someone else at the table this won’t be a problem for regular play. If that’s not an option, the key physical requirement is being able to tap the appropriate button on the screen or press the chunky button on the console. The game does offer a solo mode for freestyle so this might be a circumstance under which the physical interaction requirements become onerous.

Part of the issue with card management though is that the cards are really unpleasant to hold and difficult to manipulate. They’re weirdly greasy and yet highly frictive, and separating them out to browse through a hand or deck is inconvenient and uncomfortable. This lightens up a bit after they’ve gone through a few shuffles but it never quite goes away. It’s like they were printed on multiple layers of grease-paper that were later glued together.

It’s possible to play Dropmix in its clash mode through verbalisation and a card holder because the hand you have available is limited to only a few cards. Party mode though is more of an issue because of the need to select very specific cards, indicate their destination, and do so at speed. This is likely not appropriate if someone is acting on behalf of someone else unless they themselves take no direct part in the game.

Freestyle mode, again, is by far the most accessible mode in Dropmix because all a player need do is indicate a card and a slot and the console will take care of the rest. That’s ideal for verbalisation but it’s also a low-impact game mode for those that want to take a direct role in play. There are no complex limitations on card play and no timed constraints that would complicate the situation.

We’ll recommend, just, Dropmix in this category but as with all the other categories the issue here is going to be the mode selected. I’d be inclined to recommend it for clash mode and freestyle, but if players are keen on it for party mode we’d have a much less positive outlook on its appropriateness.

Emotional Accessibility

I don’t really see there being much in here to worry about in any of the game modes. It’s very light competition even at its worst, although the way scoring works is often to remove cards of one player or overwrite their progress with progress of your own. Really though it’s all just an excuse to hear some of the mixes you can create so it never really feels like you’re playing a proper game. It reminds me a bit of those old toys that would come with ‘rules’ for a game you could play with them. They were never the reason you bought the action figures, but they were something you could do if you didn’t just want to let your imagination handle things.

The only other issue that comes to mind is that I suspect Dropmix does have a risk of acting as something of an earworm generator. Mainly because it’s made up cards that encode short, constrained hooks that never fully terminate even when the full set of the cards for a piece of music are in place. Given the nature of the game, almost all of these hooks are designed to be catchy and to integrate into other musical hooks. Note here that this is only a suspicion, but given that earworms are particularly common in people with OCD or autistic tendencies it’s something to perhaps bear in mind.

We’ll recommend Dropmix in this category although I would love to hear if the earworm issue is a problem for people. Happy as always revisit this grade (and indeed all grades in all games) on the basis of informed feedback.

Communication

Technically, Dropmix doesn’t require any formal communication from players. There’s no required literacy. It’s possible to play every mode without hearing a single note of music, and while party mode does benefit from a degree of collaborative planning there isn’t much time for it and it’s only one of the modes you have available for play. Clash mode is a game of matching cards and icons to requests on the app and then playing them on the console. It’s not necessary to actually be able to hear music to play effectively.

The problem is that’s not even remotely enough to get fun out of Dropmix because the whole thing of every game is that it leads to (hopefully) interesting conjunctions of musical effects. Any hearing issues are going to dramatically impact on this. As might be imagined, this is going to be a huge problem for those with hearing impairments or deafness. For those with cochlear implants or such, the shifting pitches, rhythms and unreliability of harmonies is likely to be even less pleasant than traditional music.

So, we have a bifurcated recommendation. If the impairment relates to articulation or speaking, Dropmix doesn’t need you to do any of that. If the impairment is related to hearing, Dropmix doesn’t need you to do it but it’s not going to be worth playing. We’ll average this out to a don’t recommend which isn’t really a good compromise but there’s only so much we can do with a grade system. That’s why we always recommend people read this text if the recommendation grade falls into their sphere of interest. I think here though the important thing is signposting the difficulties for those with hearing impairments as opposed to indicating its suitability for those with other communication difficulties.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

There’s some gendered art on the cards, but it’s mostly abstracted and shows a blend of people, figures, poses and situations. The Dropmix console itself concerns itself with colours and icons. A range of artists are reflected too, from a range of different backgrounds. I haven’t done a formal analysis of this, but it certainly didn’t raise any red flags for me.

Some cards in the console

More problematic is the business model, which is hard to pin down at the moment as we discussed in the review. My current assumption is that the bargain basement price for Dropmix is an attempt to clear out stock as a result of poor sales rather than a meaningful permanent readjustment of an ongoing price. The RRP is £120 and I absolutely can’t recommend it at that price point given how you still need to buy a fairly large whack of cards to get the most out of the experience. At the price-point I got it (£25, with a few packs thrown in) I could recommend it as a gimmicky toy but again – you still need to buy cards and they are becoming increasingly expensive as the supply dries up. If the console is likely to continue being produced, I’d expect the market for cards to stabilise. If this is selling off stock before discontinuing the product, I’d expect cards to get rarer and more expensive. Barring the development of a homebrew community, which I would indeed love to see, I think this represents a poor economic prospect for anyone looking to jump on board. It’s not an exploitative model, and the RRP of card packs is in itself not unreasonable. You’re just going to want a lot of cards to maintain the novelty of the experience.

We can only tentatively recommend Dropmix in this category.

Intersectional Accessibility

The biggest benefit that Dropmix has in this category is that freesyle mode we keep referencing. It has no expected play time and no expected player involvement, so people can simply play about as long as they like and drop out with no impact on anyone else. Other modes are generally more problematic, but we’ve discussed those in individual categories.

Specific intersections where we’d advise caution would be visual impairment and physical impairment, where the sheer tentativeness of those recommendations is enough to act against each other. Otherwise, while Dropmix is a problematic game in many of these categories there is usually some way it can be played even if not optimally.

Conclusion

Dropmix may not offer much in terms of the games it makes available, but it’s an impressive toy. It’s something that is so unique, distinctive and instantly intuitive that you just want to play about with what it can offer. There are few games that you can point to where the gap between wanting to play and actually playing is so small.

Dropmix, Meeple Like Us, [CC-BY 4.0]
CategoryGrade
Colour BlindnessD
Visual AccessibilityC-
Fluid IntelligenceB-
MemoryA
Physical AccessibilityB-
Emotional AccessibilityB
Socioeconomic AccessibilityC
CommunicationD

Some compromises have to be made for that kind of experience though, and we’ve discussed a lot of them here. App-driven games are interesting, and Dropmix is more interesting than most. However, they also enable certain of the practices that we’ve seen causing problems in video games and it makes for a business environment about which everyone should be wary. The cost is not always to be found in the box these days.

Still, I’m inclined to feel positively disposed to Dropmix for accomplishing what it does so well. However, this kind of innovation is not cheap and that’s reflected in both the high initial price of units and the low price of discounted stock that’s now being sold off in bulk. The viability of Dropmix depends on the sustainability of its card market, and if that’s not going to happen through Harmonix the only thing we can hope for is that it becomes the next niche darling of the homebrew community. Here’s hoping.


A Disclaimer About Teardowns

Meeple Like Us is engaged in mapping out the accessibility landscape of tabletop games. Teardowns like this are data points. Games are not necessarily bad if they are scored poorly in any given section. They are not necessarily good if they score highly. The rating of a game in terms of its accessibility is not an indication as to its quality as a recreational product. These teardowns though however allow those with physical, cognitive and visual accessibility impairments to make an informed decision as to their ability to play.

Not all sections of this document will be relevant to every person. We consider matters of diversity, representation and inclusion to be important accessibility issues. If this offends you, then this will not be the blog for you. We will not debate with anyone whether these issues are worthy of discussion. You can check out our common response to common objections.

Teardowns are provided under a CC-BY 4.0 license. However, recommendation grades in teardowns are usually subjective and based primarily on heuristic analysis rather than embodied experience. No guarantee is made as to their correctness. Bear that in mind if adopting them.

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