It’s 2am, I’ve just finished God of War Ragnarök and can’t get to sleep. (My full review on that game is coming November 3rd.)
Lying in bed, I figure “why not go play a bit more of Marvel Snap?” I had played a bit of the recently released free-to-play card game but got sidetracked by Fall Review Season™. Well, fast forward an hour-and-a-half and I find myself still playing Marvel Snap.
I was shocked. While I’m a diehard Marvel fan, I don’t generally enjoy playing games on a phone, especially since, more often than not, they’re littered with unsavoury microtransactions. But for many reasons, Marvel Snap has gotten its hooks into me, and I’m eager to keep playing.
Central to the game’s success is its approachable nature. Developer Second Dinner (a team consisting of several Hearthstone veterans) has designed matches to be around three-to-four minutes long with a clean, mobile-optimized interface and small, 12-card decks. This is particularly welcome as many AAA games nowadays are bloated and extremely long.
Marvel Snap‘s rules are also quite simple. The playing field has three locations containing spots for four cards each on either player’s side. Each card has a Power level that adds to that specific location, and the player who has the highest Power in two of the three locations will win. (Ties are broken by who has the most Power overall.) In this way, Marvel Snap is, like the best of card games, really easy to pick up and play, but also hiding a lot of depth.
That’s because cards all have their own unique effects which shake up the flow of a match. This is important to consider for many reasons, but chief among them is the fact that cards have different Energy levels. Cards with higher Power levels will cost more Energy, and you only get a set amount (which increases each turn). Therefore, it becomes a tricky balancing act about which cards to put in your deck and, while in a match, whether to play low- or high-level ones and where they should even go. For example, opening a match by playing a Hawkeye (who costs only one Energy) sets you up nicely for a follow-up move, as he gains 2 Power the following turn if you place a card in the same location. Meanwhile, Iron Man costs 5 Energy with 0 Power but makes up for it with the ability to double your total Power in a given location.
Locations themselves can also greatly affect the outcome of a match. Based on iconic Marvel locations like Stark Tower, the Triskelion and Wakanda, these randomized areas each have a unique benefits — or even hindrances — on players. Take Xandar, which adds 1 Power to each card placed there. That’s certainly handy, but you might also get Subterranea, which shuffles five ‘Rocks’ into each player’s deck. Rocks have 1 Energy/0 Power, so they’re effectively duds. I say “effectively,” though, because some cards can actually leverage them, like Carnage (2 Energy/2 Power), who can destroy your other cards to gain 2 Power for each. You may even get Ego the Living Planet, who with seize control of player’s turns himself. The ebb and flow of the ways in which Marvel Snap‘s cards and locations intersect and affect one another never cease to amaze me, and it creates a deeply compelling gameplay loop.
Before too long, you’ll also unlock the titular ‘Snap’ mechanic, which adds a layer of tension to the proceedings. At any point during the match, you or your opponent can double down (‘Snap’) to win more Cosmic Cubes, the currency used to increase your competitive rank. Naturally, losing will decrease your rank, so the decision to Snap is centred around a smart risk/reward system. You might even opt to Snap as a bluff to throw off the other player. At the same time, you can retreat from a match to minimize your Cube loss if things are looking rough.
Best of all, the monetization is… actually decent? New cards are unlocked entirely through gameplay, and in-app purchases are only spent on buying currency to upgrade a card’s rarity. Doing this will give it a fancy variant artwork (like pixellated or 3D) that also raises your ‘Collection Level,’ which opens up other rewards. While this helps speed along your progression, you can’t actually buy or craft specific cards outright, making the game refreshingly not pay-to-win. There’s also a $10 premium season pass to get resources more quickly, but you get these at such a steady pace from matches and the associated daily missions, anyway, so it thankfully feels optional.
Everything about Marvel Snap would work well regardless of the licence attached, but the Marvel premise just adds that much more personality. On a base level, there’s just an undeniable appeal to collecting cards based on Marvel characters. And to Second Dinner’s credit, Marvel Snap isn’t just focused on big names like Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America, Wolverine, The Hulk or The Punisher. There are some appreciably deep cuts here, too, like Squirrel Girl, Blue Marvel, Kazar, Wolfsbane and White Tiger. Characters also have little voiceovers and animations to elevate the presentation, like Hawkeye’s card shooting arrows when played or Star-Lord calling out to Groot when both are on the field. Second Dinner clearly had a lot of fun coming up with the card abilities themselves. In an absolutely brilliant bit of dark comedy, there’s a card for Uncle Ben whose only use is to be destroyed so you can draw Spider-Man.
If I had any gripe with Marvel Snap, it’s that there isn’t any sort of campaign at all. I wasn’t expecting some sort of Marvel’s Spider-Man-level narrative, but some sort of single-player mode with even a loose story could have been cool. But really, that’s not needed when the core card game mechanics are so sound. Inviting design choices, a robust and varied lineup of cards, constantly rewarding gameplay loop and fun Marvel theme make Marvel Snap a joy to play. Against all odds, it’s one of my favourite games of 2022, and I absolutely intend to stick with it.
Image credit: Nuverse