I, Spy – Dead Drop review

Dead Drop Box

If you sit down with anyone who uses the site regularly to turn games from idea to reality, you’ll undoubtedly hear that “Kickstarter is changing”. As someone who has gone from backer to creator, I can only agree – the site is constantly evolving, and sometimes not for the better. That, however, is a topic that is for another column, and this is a review, not an opinion piece. However, the reason I bring this ever-changing note to the fore is because we now seem to be in a period of negativity. Quality games from established companies are struggling to hit targets, never mind burst through them in a matter of days and go on to pad out the final product with countless stretch goals. A perfect example of this is Dead Drop, currently looking for you to open your wallet and show it some love.

Considering that the entire game consists of only a handful of cards numbered from zero to five, with higher values being much rarer in this slender deck, this is probably one of the more tense gaming experiences I’ve had in a very long time. A race to be the first to deduce (or is it abduce?) the value on a face-down card, the rules to Dead Drop can be explained in a matter of moments. First, begin by placing the mystery card on the table, then lay some face up ones next to it. Immediately you have some information and are able to eliminate some of the possibilities. With a small hand of cards in addition, you’re given a few more clues to what that hidden card may be, but it’s still not enough – and it’s here where our game begins.

Now, it’s probably easier to describe the process of how you announce what you believe the hidden card to be before going any further. To do this, you take two cards from your hand and lay them out before you, the total of which will hopefully be the value on the mystery card. If you’re correct, great – you claim a point and the game restarts for the next round. If you fail, the enigma remains unsolved and left face down while your cards are added to the face up selection for all to see, probably eliminating a few answers from everyone else’s minds as you sit there and curse yourself for not paying more attention at spy school.

A round in which Michael has muffed it completely. It's going to be a bloody zero, isn't it?

A round in which Michael has muffed it completely. It’s going to be a bloody zero, isn’t it? Could be a four, I suppose.

With that out of the way, you’ll need to know how you reach your conclusion. It is, of course, done by giving and taking cards to and from each other. Option one is to take two cards from your hand, sharing them with another player. Should they hold a card that is equal to the total of the two you’ve shown them, they must give you that card in exchange for one of those you’ve revealed. For example, you think they’ve got a three. You correctly show them a two and one, take their three and secretly slide your choice of either the one or two their way. Information has been shared and everyone is delighted.

Should you wish to take a bit more of a chance, you can always choose another player to swap a single card with. Again, they must give you one in return, but at least both parties get to choose how much detail to give away. Of course, you can always just switch a card out with one of the face up ones, but that’s a rather desperate act where you’re not gaining that much information, so why do it? Well, once a player completes their action, they have the option to attempt to grab the victory, but they may not have the right cards in their hand to get the exact total for the reveal – and it must be bang on.

The advance prototype deck I received has some pretty sweet espionage-style artwork going on, and as the campaign has progressed, all stretch goals have been unlocked to entice new backers  into committing to the project. All manner of different decks will be thrown into the box, with the fantastic Kwanchai Moriya’s set probably being my favourite – the kids all running around playing at being agents has a real Calvin & Hobbes vibe, but with another six alternative decks included in the Deluxe Edition pledge level, this is a bloody bargain. You’re essentially getting EIGHT different copies of a really smart card game that will leave you shouting at yourself and your fellow players in glorious, brutal frustration. There are few games out there that offer this level of making you feel so utterly stupid when, only moments before, you truly thought that you’d worked out the lot.

Seriously, how can you not love this?!

Seriously, how can you not love this?!

Now, I’ll have to admit that it takes a few rounds for things to click. It actually took a couple of games for things to fall into place for me, and I found that initially I was winning rounds more down to other players’ errors rather than my Sherlockian deduction powers. However, once that light switch flipped it was awesome. Think like when Keanu Reeves first went back into the Matrix and went “woah”. This moment is just like that, albeit more with cardboard than some sweet shades and an old-school Nokia phone. Once you hit that tipping point, the game truly opens up and you’ll feel very smart – for a few moments, at least.

My one caveat – I don’t really like Dead Drop that much as a game for two. In all honesty, if I only have a single opponent, I prefer to play something a little heavier with them – Agricola: All Creatures Big And Small springs to mind, for example. However, in a pinch it’ll do well as a quick blast, a nice way to spend ten minutes. With three or four though? Give me the box, it’s time to play!

Dead Drop has all the hallmarks of what should be a successful campaign. There’s a young but established designer, Jason Kotarski, who has created entertaining and esoteric games like Great Heartland Hauling Company and FrogFlip. We have a solid company, Crash Games, which has grown over the past couple of years and staked its claim as a name you can trust to deliver a great product. So why is Dead Drop crawling its way to the finish line? With a couple of days on the clock at the time of publishing, it looks like the campaign is certain to fund but man, it’s been a struggle. I only hope that this write up brings in a few more backers because this is a truly fun way to kill a few stolen moments of gaming time. Just remember, never guess that it’ll be a zero. It’s never a zero. Never.

You can back Dead Drop on Kickstarter right now, but you only have until Friday. Get on with it: click here!

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