Still Playing: Drop7


Seven is the perfect number. I recall hearing my mother suggest this numerous times over the course of my childhood. The Bible tells her so. Something about end-times prophecy: six is the ‘number of man’ – frequently referred to as the mark of the beast – and seven is the ‘number of eternity’, the perfect number. I don’t know about all that, but I strongly suspect she’s right about the number seven. If only because Drop7 is one of the few perfect games I’ve ever encountered.

It’s been described as the lovechild of Tetris and Sudoku. I like to think of Drop7 as a Valentine’s card to mathematics. The majority of the circular pieces you drop into the field of play – a seven-by-seven grid, evoking a leaf of graph paper – have a number between one and seven stamped on their face. These numbers are tattoos brandished proudly, not tucked away beneath shirt sleeves. If the game has an antagonist, it’s the grey disc, which conceals its number until you shatter the piece in an adjacent square twice.

If games are about rulesets, and the parameters of those rules are fixed by the sturdy spine of mathematics, broadcasting the numbers in play imbues a game with clarity and transparency. The capriciousness of the grey disc helps us appreciate this fact by offering a contrast. Its hue suggests a muddle of the most distinct colour contrast there is – black and white. Even if a grey disc hatches a number that stymies our progress, we’d still rather have the bad news out in the open so we can attempt to deal with it.

You can plot games along a continuum based on how proudly they wear their math. The Gears Of War series has innumerable calculations happening beneath its bonnet, but bury your chainsaw bayonet in a Locust Drone’s chest and it will geyser blood, not numbers. Use an incendiary weapon to barbecue an enemy in Borderlands 2, however, and a fountain of numbers splash forth. No coincidence there. All the way back to their pen-and-paper forebears, RPGs have luxuriated in their stat calculations (hero attributes, hit points, damage points etc). But even the geekiest RPG will supply images of dragons and gem-encrusted loot to help wash the numbers down. Drop7’s numbers are single-malt scotch, no chaser required.

The game offers three modes: Normal, Hardcore and Sequence. I won’t bother going into the rules of each because in my mind there exists only a single mode: Hardcore. This isn’t rooted in some desire to flex my grey matter in front of the mirror. After all, I’ve heard from a reliable source that the developer Frank Lantz considers Normal the more difficult test anyway. Hardcore mode is simply the most concise Drop7 experience. Compared to Normal’s languid ramp-up, it feels like watching time-lapse photography of plate tectonics raising the Himalayas. After every five drops, a fresh layer of gray discs appears in the bottom row, nudging the existing structure precariously closer to the top of the grid.

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