Marvel Snap: Could you do this all day?

While we mostly cover miniatures games here at HandfulOfDice we sometimes branch out and cover something a little different if it’s grabbed our attention. There’s increasingly overlap in the world of card games and miniatures games, with Warhammer Underworlds being, I contend, a card game with miniatures, and the recent release of a set of Warhammer 40k inspired Magic the Gathering decks. If you’re a fan of those things you might be interested in Marvel Snap.

Marvel Snap is a new digital collectible card game by publisher Nuverse. Fans of digital card games may recognise the games lead designer Ben Brode as a former lead designer to Blizzard’s Warcraft universe card game Hearthstone. Brodes success with Hearthstone is hard to question, but he doesn’t seem content to simply repeat what he did before and is taking some lessons learned into this new game.

Each game players fight for control over three locations in the center of the board, aiming to have more power at two of the three locations than their opponent, or more power in total in the case of a tie. The locations themselves are randomised each match and have unique game altering effects, that are revealed one at a time over the first three turns. Each of the contested battlegrounds takes it’s flavour from a location in the Marvel universe, with the realm of the ice giants Jotunheim sapping the strength of characters played there, or Bruce Banners Gamma Lab turning all card played there into powerful hulks. Some aren’t very impactful while others can completely change the way you have to play your deck, and on rare occasions give a player a game winning advantage.

Cards cost energy, which players start with one of in the first round, and then get one more every round in a way that Hearthstone players will be familiar with. You and your opponent play simultaneously before both cards are flipped and their effect resolved. The solitaire pitfall, where you ignore your opponent as if you were playing a single player game, is avoided by the need to distribute the power of your cards between locations based on your opponent, and the interaction between cards that often require you to anticipate where your opponent is going to play next.

The most unique new aspect of gameplay is the titular Snap mechanic. Games are played with a stake of one ranked point contributed by each player. At any point in the game either player can chose to Snap. When a player Snaps the other player is given the chance to cut their losses and resign, but if they don’t the stakes are raised and the points on the line are doubled. Both players can snap once, and if everyone sticks around till the final round the points are doubled again for a potential of eight points gained or lost. This is a great way for the designers to mechanically account for the inherent variance of bad draws, or bad luck (some locations like the X-Men mansion can be a huge boon or a massive drawback), and make every game contain an interesting decision. If you think you’re heading for a loss it’s in your best interest to resign before the last round, but what if you Snap instead? Perhaps bluffing a strong hand with an early snap could tempt your opponent to concede and steal you a victory from the jaws of defeat? All the “unplayable” games that plague other card games, where you can’t find the cards you need and nothing seems to go your way, become a little less unplayable, and close games become a nail biting test of resolve as you decide if you need to get out or double down. You definitely won’t see a Snap every game but it’s always an exciting moment when you do.

Players build a 12 card deck from their collection with no limitations except that every card is unique, you can’t have two Tony Starks fighting side by side (until they introduce the multiverse at least). This means you can engineer your own cross over events, and even have heroes teaming up with villain’s. There are loose themes between cards of the same genre, with X-Men Quicksilver and Domino both being drawn in specific rounds, or Rocket Racoon and Starlord both getting stronger if your opponent plays in the same location, but the flavour of the individual character takes president over their canonical team so you’ll end up mixing and matching heroes and villains from across the whole Marvel universe. All the big hitters are here and even some deeper cuts like Moon Girl, and the universe’s most powerful champion Squirrel Girl.

The small deck size means the collection size can be small as well, so almost all the cards you’ll get are worth some consideration with downside that there’s a limited number of viable strategies to employ. It also means you see most of the cards in your deck every game. You start with three in hand and draw one in each of the games six rounds, leaving only three undrawn. This reduces the variance (if your deck has two or three key cards you’ll see at least one almost every game), without completely removing the need for redundancy, but does mean you see the same cards an awful lot, and will become very familiar with a few powerful cards from the starting collection. It’s a surprise when my opponent and I don’t both play Quicksilver on our first turn, but then again his ability makes him a special case.

The games novel collection system, which forgoes card rarities and randomised packs, also eliminates the need for disappointing filler. Instead players have a “collection level” and gain levels each time they upgrade a card. Upgrades improve the cards “rarity” which means nothing but applies extra visual effect to the card art. The first time you upgrade a card the character will break out of the image frame, and then become 3D (by a fairly subtle parallax effect), become animated, and so on upon further upgrades, until eventually becoming “Infinite” at which point you can start upgrading them again, retaining the visual effects you already have.

As is the norm in free to play games these days there’s also a “season pass” with rewards to be earned by completing season pass quests for experience, and additional rewards available if you purchase a premium pass. The first reward on the premium track is a card but the majority of the rewards are cosmetic card variants and resources for upgrades.

I found initially I earned resources and levels at a rapid pace and was able to consistently upgrade cards I was playing and unlock a steady trickle of new cards that I could use to improve my deck or build new ones. At around collection level 70 though I’m finally out of credits and I’ve completed all my quests so will earn more slowly. The quest system is faster than other card games, reflecting the faster pace and pick up and play nature of Snap, in that it gives you two new missions every 8 hours rather than waiting a whole day so I don’t think I’ll ever feel I can’t make progress, even as the pace slows, but the allure of microtransactions is likely to increase.

You can speed up the pace with gold bars, the games premium currency. They can be spent directly on credits, or saved up to buy cosmetic variants of cards with different styles of artwork. You slowly accumulate these through your collection level and season passes so even a player investing nothing should be able to purchase some variants eventually, from a daily rotation of variants for cards in your collection. There is a convoluted link between real money and cards, through turning gold into the credits you need to upgrade cards you own and increase your collection level, but the need to earn boosters to upgrade cards, or to wait for the “quick upgrades” in the shop to refresh means it’s hard to rapidly increase your collection with Stark levels of cash. This will feel fair to some and limiting to others but at least avoids the addictive gambling mechanics of many mobile games, whether out of moral obligation or fear of upcoming legislation.

Marvel Snap is a game that, to me, has streamlined the digital card game into a very different creature to it’s predecessors. Games are incredibly fast, and the feel bad moments of variance in both gameplay and collecting are reduced to almost insignificance. It can start to feel repetitive but the randomisation of locations and their effects on the game help to make each match feel different to the last. Even if the cards you’re playing are largely the same 10 cards every game, how you respond to your opponents plays and distribute your power between the three battlegrounds is a problem that’s never quite the same twice. It leaves you with a game that is very compelling and easy to play over and over again in a way more similar to mobile match three and puzzle games than your standard CCG. It remains to be seen if I’ll lose a year of my life to the Snap, but the mechanics of the game and strength of the Marvel IP mean that at least for now I do feel so good.

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