NFC Brings Music Mixing to DropMix Board Game

The game, from Hasbro and Harmonix Music Systems, allows players to create thousands of unique mixes based on popular songs, with the help of passive NFC RFID and Bluetooth technologies.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 17, 2018

Toy and board game company Hasbro and Harmonix Music Systems released a Near Field Communication (NFC) RFID-enabled board game DropMix last year, and are now considering other technology-enhanced games like it. DropMix serves as a cross between video or digital gaming and card or board games of days gone by.

Harmonix makes such music-based gaming systems as Rock Band. The company began working with Hasbro in late 2016 to develop an alternative to video games that employs old-fashioned board play, with its relatively more sociable and active form of engagement.

The DropMix system
The DropMix system uses Harmonix's music-mixing software, leveraging tags and readers with built-in passive 13.56 MHz ICODE chips from NXP Semiconductors, using an RFID standard that is neither the traditional 14443 or 15693. A reader in the game board captures card tag ID numbers, then updates a music mix that is forwarded to a player's smartphone or tablet via a Bluetooth connection.

Paragon-ID provides the cards, which it manufactures, prints and encodes at high speeds, according to game requirements. It's a market first, according to Alexander Rensink, NXP's business-segment manager: a game that employs NFC, Bluetooth, apps and traditional physical playing cards and board.

Hasbro has been seeking games that can serve as a bridge to the digital world, while still using the traditional props of a board game—cards and an actual game board. The company has been working with Harmonix Music Systems to create a solution.

"We've used camera tech for other projects, like Dance Central, and we explored using optical recognition in early prototypes for this project" as well, says Jonathan Mintz, Harmonix's DropMix creative lead. However, he adds, RFID quickly emerged as the best technology choice for DropMix. "It provided the speed we needed, while working in any lighting condition, with minimal setup." Since the game doesn't depend on optics, he notes, the technology can recognize a single card or a stack of cards in any lighting.

To begin the game, users must first download the DropMix app from the Apple App Store or Google Play, then place the app-running device within Bluetooth range of the playing board. Each of the 60 playing cards has a built-in NFC RFID tag with a unique ID number linked to a specific song and element within that song (guitar, beat, vocals or supporting instruments). The game strives to offer the greatest hits in the R&B, pop, dance, indie, country, rock and hip-hop genres. Users can buy more NFC-enabled cards in the form of booster packs to update or expand their music at any given time.

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