What’s remarkable about Marvel Snap is the way every card does exactly what you’d think it would do. Doctor Doom calls in a pair of Doom Bots to fill up his side of the board, Nightcrawler can Bamf from one location to another, and Captain Marvel swoops in at the end of the game to give your team the winning advantage, just like her MCU counterpart. Sometimes they even match the personality of the character, like Namor, who gets a power boost if he’s the only one in his location. This unfailing accuracy makes Marvel Snap feel like a game that should have always existed, which is especially impressive when you consider what a weird card game it is.
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Marvel Snap is a free-to-play digital collectible card game from Second Dinner, a new studio founded by former Hearthstone director Ben Brode. There are plenty of digital CCGs out there, but Snap does a lot of things to separate itself from the competition - things I think make it a better, more accessible experience for Marvel fans, mobile gamers, and card game enthusiasts alike.
Matches are designed to be quick. There are only six turns in a match, and both players take their turns simultaneously. Each turn you gain one additional energy (one energy on turn one, six energy on turn six) which you can spend to play cards from your hand into any of the three locations on the board. Locations are chosen randomly from an ever-growing collection, and each one has its own unique conditions. Oscorp Tower will make cards swap sides at the end of turn three, Elysium makes all cards cheaper to play, and Fisk Tower destroys any card that moves there from another location. Every card has a cost and a power value, and your goal is to have the highest value in two out of three locations. If you’ve played the tabletop game Smash Up, these mechanics should sound pretty familiar, but that’s where Marvel Snap’s similarities to other games ends.
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My favorite thing Snap does is limit decks to just 12 cards. You start each match with three in your hand and draw one more each turn, so in any given match you’re going to have at least nine of your 12 cards in your hand. This means you can construct decks that are far more consistent than any other card game. You might not always draw optimally, but if you build a strong deck it’s almost impossible to find yourself drawing dead. Games are rarely won or lost before the final turn, which makes every match feel fresh and exciting. When it comes to other card games, I’m an unapologetic netdecker. I’m never going to be able to construct a stronger deck than what the collective brain power of the entire internet can, and meta stands for “most effective tactics available” for a reason. Because Snap’s decks are so small though, I feel a lot more confident about experimenting and creating my own builds. If you want to build an entire deck around your favorite character, you can, and there’s a good chance it will be viable. Swapping out a single card can change the entire identity of a deck. This makes theory crafting a lot of fun, even for someone used to netdecking, but it can also become a friction point when you don’t have the card you need to make the deck you want.
That’s because Marvel Snap does not have packs. Instead, you earn new cards through a unique Collection Level system. First, you earn Credits and Boosters by playing the game, then you upgrade the rarity of your cards, giving them dynamic visual effects like 3D and holographic backgrounds. The more you upgrade a card the more Collection Levels you earn, which unlocks new cards in a semi-random order. You can speed up this process by spending real money on Gold, which you can trade for extra Credits, but if you play every day you will eventually finish the collection. After three and half months of daily and weekly challenges, I’ve climbed to CL1,435 - about halfway to the level you need to reach in order to complete the collection. I have more than 75 percent of the available cards, since you earn a lot of cards at the start then slow down over time, which means there are some pretty key combo makers that I’m still waiting to find. If I’m very unlucky, a high value card I’m after like Mystique, which copies the ability of the last card you played, could be the very last card I find. Second Dinner has announced a limited crafting system that will help you acquire a few specific cards that you really want, so hopefully that’s a problem that will be resolved sooner rather than later.
While you can earn Boosters simply by playing the game, Credits are only rewarded for completing challenges. Daily challenges are fairly ubiquitous in free-to-play games so it’s difficult to hold Marvel Snap to account for using them, but challenges are never a satisfying or player-friendly system, and Marvel Snap is no exception. The monthly $10 Battle Pass is largely tied to weekly challenges, which reward a large amount of experience if you finish the entire list, so the grind can be quite significant. Sometimes you’ll even have a weekly challenge to finish a week’s worth of daily challenges, and it can start to feel like you can’t afford to skip a day.
Compounding the pressure is the fact that most challenges ask you to use a certain type of card or play a certain way, regardless of whether or not it's conducive to winning matches. If I don’t have a lot of time to grind, I find myself logging in and throwing a bunch of games just so I can efficiently complete challenges. There is only a ranked system currently, so every time I play I have to choose between climbing the ladder or doing challenges quickly. There are inherent problems to challenge systems, and Marvel Snap doesn’t make any effort to combat them. There is a non-ranked queue coming eventually, but again, this is a problem in the game today.
I have other minor squabbles with the way your collection is organized, the poor search tools, and the fact that there’s no way to play against your friends (coming soon) but the reality is that I’ve played Marvel Snap every day for almost four months and I’m still enchanted by it. ‘Easy to learn, hard to master’ is the mission statement behind almost every competitive game, but Snap actually pulls it off. There is no other CCG that’s as easy to pick up and play as Snap, especially if you’re already a Marvel fan, including Pokemon. The cards themselves are gorgeous, and I enjoy collecting and upgrading them to see what kind of cool holographic patterns I can add to them. You can also earn and buy art variants of every card to expand your collection and deck customization even further, which is great for collectors and gives everyone something to pursue long term.
Marvel Snap is a highly polished and impeccably designed game that is going to grow and flourish for years to come. It feels early access in a lot of ways thanks to some missing and underbaked features, but the core is rock solid. Collecting cards is fun, building decks is easy, and matches only last a couple of minutes. It’s the perfect on-the-go game, and my favorite CCG right now. You can play Marvel Snap for free on Android, iOS, or PC starting October 18.
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