Snap into a slim Jimmy-6
I recently went on a little book-buying bonanza, readying my little library for the cold autumn and winter nights that’ll soon be coming to my wee corner of the world. Most of my purchases were novels designed to make me look intelligent and well-informed when guests see them on my shelves. But one was a pure nostalgia purchase. Earlier this year, Abrams Books released a compendium of The Uncanny X-Men trading cards that were illustrated by Jim Lee. These cards were a massive part of my childhood. I used to have an incredibly thick binder that had hundreds of these cards in it, and every once in a while, I would thumb through its pages, gawking at my collection.
While sentimental, the book’s decision to limit one side of one card per page makes it a rather annoying read. But I’ve enjoyed reading it because of all those wonderful memories it unearths in the catacombs of my mind. The cards of Marvel Snap have had a similar effect.
Marvel Snap (Android [reviewed], iOS, PC)
Developer: Second Dinner
Released: October 18, 2022
MSRP: Free-to-play w/ microtransactions
From developer Second Dinner, a team founded by several people who helped develop Hearthstone, Marvel Snap is a quick-paced card battler that pits characters from the Marvel universe into a numbers game. The rules are simple: each player will build a deck of 12 unique cards from those they’ve unlocked and then play those cards in one of three locations. Each card has an associated cost and power, and the player who can build the most power at two of the three locations, or by a larger margin if you tie at one or two of the locations, wins.
Most cards are equipped with either ongoing or on-reveal abilities that can boost your hand or set back your opponent. The locations themselves, each based on an iconic locale in the Marvel Universe, can have gimmicks that greatly alter the effectiveness of your deck. Some can be very beneficial, like doubling the strength of abilities for cards played there. Others are a hindrance, like locations that destroy any card you play there. Depending on which cards you have in your deck, you won’t know the full scope of these location gimmicks until you reach the third round.
There are six rounds in total in each match, and the amount of energy you’re given in each round corresponds which round you’re in. Unspent energy does not carry over, so if you don’t play a card in round two, you’ll still start the third round with three points of energy. Cards with low energy costs don’t offer too much in the way of power, but they can prove clutch if you’re able to augment their strength with more powerful cards in your deck.
Putting together a compatible deck is very much a trial-and-error process. But with most matches wrapping up in around three minutes, it didn’t take me too long to put together a few decks of cards that complement each other. There is no greater feeling than seeing a well-planned strategy come to fruition thanks fine-tuned deck and a bit of luck in the draw.
Actually, there is a greater feeling than that, and that’s when your opponent decides to snap.
The eponymous snap of Marvel Snap is what can best be described as upping the ante. At any time during a match’s six rounds, you can press the Cosmic Cube at the top of the screen to snap. Players are encouraged to do this when they think victory is in the bag as it doubles the number of Cosmic Cubes at play. These cubes determine your season rank, and I let out many cackling laughs watching my opponents snap only for me to steal victory from them with an Odin or Devil Dinosaur. If you or your opponent does snap and you don’t think you can actually win based on the cards in your hand, you do have the option to escape while losing only the number of Cosmic Cubes currently in play.
Let’s talk Mister Money
With all this talk about Cosmic Cubes, I should address the many different systems and currencies in place here. Marvel Snap has two main currencies: gold and credits. Gold can be purchased with real money—it can also be earned in-game—to spend in the shop on credits or variants of the cards that are already in your possession. Card variants do not provide any benefit over the standard version; they’re just an opportunity to let the game’s artists get really creative with their beautiful artwork.
Credits are used to upgrade the rarity of cards, which in turn, increases your collection level. The more you build your collection level, the more cards you’ll unlock. Though predetermined at first, the cards you unlock with your collection will eventually be randomized, and it can be a punch to the gut to play against those with powerful cards you haven’t unlocked yet.
Unless there is some wild caveat I’m missing, players should be able to earn every card available in the core game by increasing their collection level. Arguably, this levels the playing field a bit, as all deck builds have an element of chance associated with them. However, if somebody manages to pull The Infinuat, that might give them an insurmountable advantage. With so many cards still missing from my collection, it’s tough to say right now just how balanced this game is. I would like to think the people behind Hearthstone know what they’re doing, but even Magic the Gathering is still creating cards that later get smacked with the ban hammer.
Seasons in the Sunspot
As is the case with many popular free-to-play mobile games, Marvel Snap is making its money with a season pass. Right now, there is a Symbiote Invasion season that’ll give you access to Miles Morales. Variants for Carnage and Spider-Woman are part of the season as well, and the latter is particularly handy as she siphons power from cards played against her. If you can hit level 50, you’ll unlock a variant for Morales, but you’ll need to pony up $10 and level your way up through the pass to get it.
Increasing your season pass level goes a bit slower than I would like. The only expedient way to do it is by completing daily and seasonal challenges, but these unlock over time. After speed-running through the first two chapters of the Symbiote Invasion, I was left twiddling my thumbs and fine-tuning my deck until the third set of challenges unlocked. While you’re obviously encouraged to keep playing and winning those Cosmic Cubes, just beating your opponent provides a pitiful amount of XP. I guess when there are just 50 levels of unique rewards to the season pass, they don’t want players powering their way through it.
And yet, that’s what I’ve been doing for the past week or so with Marvel Snap. At work and at home, I just can’t put it down. With its structure and speed, it doesn’t feel as tactical as some of the other card games I’ve played, but it finds a way to be satisfying in its brevity. I really have no complaints about Marvel Snap with the Early Access period. Here’s to hoping that remains true now that it’s in general release.
[This Early Access review is based on a code provided by the publisher.]