Even though I am a “one game” type of gamer, I am a multi-platformer type gamer, so while my PlayStation 5 and PC are eternally locked into the latest Destiny 2 expansion and my Steam Deck currently locked into the early access of Spiritfall, there are many games on my phone. My Friend Pedro, Mini-Metro, and Team Fight Tactics were mainstays on my phone but as of the start of the year, there is only one game I login to regularly: Marvel SNAP.
Marvel SNAP is a digital collectible card game from Nuverse that I would describe as a streamlined Smash Up. You are armed with a deck of twelve character/entities from various Marvel properties vying for control of three different locations given an allotment of steadily increasing energy. The game originally launched in October 2022; however, around that time, I was still deep in my fascination with Team Fight Tactics because that’s the power of a good animated adaptation (although, Cyberpunk 2077 is unfortunately not afforded that same courtesy at the moment, although that may change). However, even the fastest TFT games were a minimum 15/20 minutes and I needed something that I could sneak in shorter intervals.
Enter SNAP during its fourth season. When you first log in, the game gives you a preliminary starter deck with super simple cards. The set includes Quicksilver, a 1-drop card that always starts in your hand to guarantee you’re able to play (to wit, one of the developers talked at length at how this design made the game feel better to new players), The Punisher (which subtly teaches the player about positioning in the different locations/lanes), some basic stock heroes (Misty Knight, Cyclops, the Hulk), and Iron Man (a splashy finisher that doubles your score at the set location). It’s not a particularly powerful deck, but it’s to teach you about cost curves and get a sense of interaction.
Like other mobile games, Marvel SNAP features a free to play progression track that can be expedited with the purchasing of premium currencies. While you can’t buy cards directly, you can earn cards with the progression track which requires you to spend credits (you’re able to earn ~450 a day via in-game challenges) and boosters (from winning games and random packs) to upgrade cards to advance your collector’s score which in turn gets you more currency and the process continues. Given how the reward track is structured, I assumed that cards were locked in a semi-set order, although I discovered that very early on I had managed to unlock the rare Armin Zola exceedingly early (although it’d take several other unlocks to fully leverage its potential) as well as some exceedingly pixel variants (the nicer variants were naturally locked behind the premium currency and season passes).
The core gameplay is an addicting loop as matches only take five minutes at most. With only 6 (and occasionally 7 turns), games move at a brisk pace that feels incredibly fair. Drawing 9 of your 12-card deck ensures that there is a pretty high level of consistency, and your game plan is fairly reliable to execute in the abstract. The different locations require a lot of decision making on the fly to respond to the changing landscape. Cards are very intuitive for the most part with various abilities whether they happen when the cards flip over or just innately active.
And to the developer’s credits, the game feels incredibly balanced. This is in part due to the wide variety of archetypes that are available. There are bombastic combo decks built around explosive interaction between cards, zoo style decks that focus on playing lower cost cards in an overwhelming manner, control decks that manipulate the deck and lanes, and more. And this is further bolstered by the devs parsing cards into “Series.” Series 1 cards are the most intuitive and simple cards. Series 2 features slightly more complicated cards while remaining in the realm of the familiar. Series 3 began to cultivate niche mechanics, whereas 4 and 5 are wildly swingy cards, and Series 6 represents the newest, most wild cards that completely change fundamental rules of the game. In a stroke of design brilliance, you’re matchmade with other players based on your collector’s store and division. This means: 1) you’re likely running into people with similar cards to yours, and 2) you’re likely running into people with similar skills. When I was first starting out, I feared about my basic linear on-going into Spectrum build getting washed by some weird combo, but thankfully I was protected from Cerebros and Thanos (although I currently find myself across a lot of cosmic level threats at my current ranking).
However, the fact that it is a mobile game with a microtransaction pricing scheme does mean that even in its less than nine-month tenure, it has managed to perfectly encapsulate every single issue of much more established collectible card games. Card acquisition is a daunting task for newer players. New cards are constantly getting added into the pool with weird niche interactions. Some of the new nuances of the turn by turn aren’t taught spectacularly well. SNAP does at least one advantage over its physical card counterparts in that the cards can be balanced virtually. Also, the fact that it is a digital game means that they can play with some interesting mechanics such as cards only being drawn on a particular turn, powerful effects that would be cumbersome to manage manually, and a fast forward feature when a series of cards results in a loop of indeterminate length.
But on the other end of this brilliantly designed game is the fact that the game pulls from all over Marvel Comics and as a result of playing games, I’ve gotten more invested in learning about some of the characters I’ve played. While there are many I am already endeared to, Marvel SNAP introduced me to characters like Knull, Attuma, Warpath, and the Marvel Specific Dracula. It’s gotten me to properly separate my hatred of Venom the character and Venom the Sony movie, as Venom the card has won me several games. And it makes me giddy that Wave, a Filipino hero, is at the center of a very popular archetype that I’m currently using to collect all of the cosmic cubes. But the different ways in which powers are translated into gameplay mechanics can be fun little puzzles to solve and figure out how they came up with that particular design. It makes every match feel like a miniature Secret War playing out.
In one of my Discords, we share screenshots of end game matches, telling epic stories of how we overcame the opponent discussing strategies and optimizations. It’s a fun game that really encapsulates all of the good and bad of card games and board games, and even though you’d be entering in a new series, I think you’ll still manage to have a good time.