Secret messages, disguises, and hidden cameras. These are only some of the tools employed in international espionage. But there's one tool that every budding spy must master. Without it, subterfuge as we know it would be a very different endeavor. There is no tool in a spy's arsenal more ubiquitous than the Dead Drop.
Dead Drop has you playing a secret agent trying to intercept a dead drop filled with explosives and in order to do so successfully you'll need information. The game begins with a row of cards face up on the table. This is the stash and provides information to everyone in the game. In your hand are cards that provide only you information. Using these two resources you'll need to correctly identify the single face down card in the center of the table, the dead drop. Do so three times and prove you are the best spy.
In order to gather information you have three actions at your disposal. The first is to share information with another agent. Simply chose a card and trade it with another player. Neither player knows what they will receive, but both will now have information that they didn't before. It's a mutually beneficial action, but you may not get the information you're looking for.
Alternatively, you may find yourself in need of very specific information so you decide to sell information to another agent. This involves selecting two of your cards and revealing them to that player. That player then adds the numerical value of the pair of cards and tells you if they have a card that matches that value. If so, they give you that card and take one of the pair. In this way, you can probe for very specific information, but at the expense of giving another agent a lot of information in return.
Lastly, you can opt to raid the stash in the middle of the table. Simply trade one of your cards with a card in the stash. You'll be giving everyone at the table information with none in return, but sometimes you just need a specific card in order to sell some secrets later or make a successful grab of the dead drop.
You see, at the end of your turn after you've completed your action you can decide to grab the drop. To do so you play two cards from your hand and then look at the drop. If the the cards you played add up to the number on the dead drop, you've successfully grabbed it and won the round. If they don't add up, then you are unsuccessful are eliminated from the round for being an overanxious agent.
Tracking the Drop
With these three simple actions you should theoretically be able to which card is the dead drop if you had knowledge of all the cards in the game. Luckily, the game comes with handy reference cards that tell you exactly how many of each card there are in the game. And you will find yourself referencing it often as you begin learning the game. Even as I internalized the card distribution, I found myself double checking it to fight off the creeping suspicions of self doubt. "Are there two 4's in the game or just one?" For those with stronger memories than mine this will prove a non-issue, but if yours is as equally anemic as mine you might have trouble with the game as a whole.
The entire game revolves around keeping track of information that you've already seen. You begin with imperfect knowledge and gradually work towards a knowledge that's slightly less flawed. It's rewarding to see a cloudy picture sharpen before your eyes. But even when you're relatively sure of what the dead drop is, there's always some doubt because cards are being exchanged between other players. Maybe that key piece of information you need to make the right guess has danced between players, just out of reach of your grasp. Sometimes, you just have to go for it. Trust your instincts and go for broke. And more often than not, in my experience, this proved to be a good tactic. Almost to a fault.
Too short, too sweet?
There's something to be said for having games that play within the time it takes to eat a large burrito. They tend to get played more often and people are less intimidated by a game that takes 15 minutes than a game that takes 150 minutes to play. But's it's not all bubblegum and rainbows. With a long time investment comes comes a stronger emotional investments. Players become more attached to seeing their hard planning and maneuvering come to fruition in glorious victory. Shorter games have a more difficult time establishing this emotional investment. In Dead Drop's case this means players are less willing to let the game develop fully. Players are more willing to guess the dead drop very early on before they have a reasonable guess because even if they're wrong, they've only invested a couple of minutes of time. The stakes are too low to warrant more exploration. I had a player guess on the first turn of the round with a simple stash raid because they were down two rounds and had nothing to lose. Funny enough, they were right! It was a fun and memorable experience, but it still left me a bit empty.
I'll freely admit that memory games are not my strong suit, nor are they my preferred genre of choice. And with that said, there are some genuinely good ideas to be found within Dead Drop. The push and pull between sharing information for broad information or selling secrets for specific information is a nice, relatively meaty decision to make. It also does a great job of fostering player interaction (once everyone have unglued their eyes from the reference card). Watching another player's face light up because of a card you've given them is both deflating and exciting. And yet, I can't help but feel that these same ideas would be better served in a more substantial game. In a game where players more invested to really explore the puzzle. But as is stands, Dead Drop is a decent way to pass the time, if not the most compelling.