Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dead Drop: A Preview of Quick and Deadly Cat-and-Mouse Deduction

As my physical body continues to wither and deteriorate, the idea of the microgame has become more attractive. Finding an extra moment to sneak in a few games is a real golden opportunity, and Jason Kotarski (Great Heartland Hauling Co.)'s little Dead Drop has the gold, if you have the brains to snatch it before your opponent.

When this showed up in my mail yesterday I looked around the house for a suitable opponent. In my basement I found a 9 year old boy playing Minecraft. Would he have the mental fortitude to handle the Dead Drop challenge? After the plug was pulled on the Xbox, he agreed to come up to the surface for some dining table dueling.


This game is incredibly simple. Dead Drop is about Love Letter sized, including 13 cards and leaving you to find some pennies or other counters to track who has won each round. You can toss this in your pocket on the way out of the house, and the uncomplicated nature of the components mean you could certainly play this while you wait for your cheddar bay biscuits on date night.

The Central Deduction

For 2 players, the game starts with the face-down "dead drop" card along with 2 face up cards. The person to guess the dead drop first, and play the cards to snatch it, wins the round. If you guess wrong, you die. Or you are out for the round, if dealing death is unappealing to your group.

The Actions

So with certain death only a single move away, you want to be pretty sure you know the value of the dead drop before moving in.

Each player is dealt an equal share of the remaining 13 (now 10) cards. So your hand ends up looking like this:

There are a couple ways to move your cards around while subtly prodding your opponent for information.

You can swap a card in your hand with one from your opponent's hand. Similar to swinging your fencing sword lightly to gauge your opponent. It does't open you up much, but it doesn't give you much intel on your opponent either.

Or you can move in for the kill. Through a move called "Selling Secrets" you offer up 2 cards from your hand. Your opponent has to give you a card with the added value of those 2 cards if they can. So you get a lot of info immediately, but you also give your opponent a good idea of what you are hiding in your hand.

Grabbing the Dead Drop

Once you have the intel, hopefully you also have the right tools. To grab the dead drop, you need 2 cards that add up to the dead drop card (just like when you are "Selling Secrets".

This is where the bungling can occur. While you are doing your deductions, you should be keeping a close leash on the necessary cards to grab potential dead drop cards. Because if you figure it out, your opponent is probably only 1 turn away from figuring it out themselves. And they are going to actively avoid giving you the right cards.

So you decide to make your move, play the cards and look to see if you are right. If you were playing with more players a bad guess means the guesser is out for the round, whereas in our 2 player game the non-guesser just automatically wins.

Rounds were short, tense and brutal.

Yeah, but did you like the game?

I loved the game. But I love lots of games.

More impressively, my 9 year old opponent loved the game. Having cut his teeth in day care on may plays of a dilapidated Mastermind set, he was no stranger to mathematical deduction. But Dead Drop offered up the speed he needed to keep focused surrounded by the distractions of modern life.

And even more, more impressively, my wife (who initially poo-pooed the idea of playing cards with me) was soon looking over my sons's shoulder giving him advice on how best to beat me.

So Dead Drop is definitely going in my coat pocket before the next day out. It will be replacing Mr. Jack Pocket which is indeed pocket-sized but way more clunky. I have a feeling I will be playing this many, many times.

Acquiring Your Own Copy

Here is the rub. The version Crash Games sent me is a prototype. This is good and bad for anyone thinking about getting their own copy. Wednesday os when the Kickstarter goes up to pledge for your own copy. This will result in the typical kickstarter waiting game, but the upside is the cards are going to look even better than the ones I have.

And they will be printing different themes! Not only the super spy theme, but apparently a whole slew of other decks. I will certainly be looking.

These are my first impressions. If I get this to the table with more than 2 people I will certainly update my thoughts.

But here's the main idea: a lean, mean, deduction game you can fit in your pocket. I was kept on the edge of my chair using only a few simple rules. And the kid likes it too.

Until next time!

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