Marvel Snap – Review

Over the last few years it feels like there has been an explosion in digital card games. Kicked off perhaps by Hearthstone, the Blizzard World of Warcraft themed battle game, then followed by Magic getting it together over the course of the pandemic. Beside those games like Slay the Spire ate everyone’s time, numerous imitators ate even more, and in recent years we have seen games experimenting with the form even more with games like Inscryption. Now a new one has entered the arena: Marvel Snap.

Marvel Snap is the latest card to find its way on to mobile, and it has been garnering quite a bit of attention. Enough attention to make me want to give it a try and I’ve been playing quite a bit of it over the last week or so. 

Cards on the table. Marvel Snap is a free to play game. What does that mean for you as a a player? First up the app is free to install and you can get playing without having to give over your credit card details or any other personal information. There is an option to link it to your Google account, I’m playing on a Pixel 3A, and I assume a similar option exists on apple devices. This is supposedly for data backup, but read into that what you will.

Image of the season pass screen in Marvel Snap
You’ll see a lot of this kind of thing

As far as I can tell there is no ‘need’ to spend money to play the game relatively well and enjoy it. You can pay to get gold, the only resource in the game you can buy with real money, which allows the purchasing of extra cards. These are mostly variants of ones you own as far as I can tell, meaning they aren’t new to you in terms of a card you can add to your deck, just alternate art. This does increase your collection of cards and if you are of a completionist mindset, it might annoy you that you can’t get everything without spending some amount of money.   

It is the kind of free to play game that has daily objectives, longer term missions, lots of notifications, and loads of tracks you can increase by playing that will give you different resources to do ‘things’. By playing you get boosters to improve the look, but not power, of your cards. You also increase your collection level which gets you new cards. You can earn credits by playing that you can use to upgrade cards even more quickly. The various objectives you can complete get you points towards a season pass which unlocks yet more cards, gold, credits and avatar icons. 

It’s a lot and I found it a little overwhelming at first. It’s a game that wants you to log in and play daily and for some that may be a deal breaker. It throws constant notifications at you after each game reminding you to unlock the next reward in the season pass, or check out your collection progress. If you hate that sort of thing, this game is not for you. 

If you can get past all that there is a decent game to be found in Marvel Snap. You start out with a 12 card deck, and your deck will never be bigger than that. This gives you a very small number of cards to think about in terms of deckbuilding, and even more to consider when you know that you can only have 1 of any card in your deck. It’s an interesting deckbuilding challenge for those who enjoy such a thing. 

What are we actually doing in a game of Marvel Snap? The setup will be familiar to those who have played Battleline or any of its numerous imitators (including Giant Brain favourite Riftforce). Over the course of 6 turns you’ll play cards in 3 different locations trying to have the most power at at least 2 of those locations by the end of the game in order to secure victory. 

Each turn you get an amount of energy equal to the turn number and you’ll use that energy to play your cards. At the end of the turn, excess energy drains away leaving you with some very tight decisions to make each turn, and a timed turn to make them in. Each card is a marvel character with an amount of power to bring to the fight in that location. 

A game in progress. All 3 locations are revealed.
A game just over half way through. I won!

Many cards also have powers that will do all sorts of strange things to the conditions of the fight. Mr. Fantastic for instance lends his power to the location he is played at, but also stretches to adjacent locations to give them a wee boost. Punisher gets stronger the more cards are opposing him. With only 4 slots on each side of a location, you have to choose carefully when and where to deploy your cards to best effect. 

It’s a very simple game at its core, with the complication coming from the way cards interact. Games are quick to find, with matchmaking taking seconds. Games are just a few minutes long, and you could easily get through a match while waiting in line for coffee. There is a ladder to climb in terms of being put up against similarly skilled players but I can’t speak to how good it is. I think I have won all but 2 games so far and I am about level 21, just bottom of bronze. It’s my understanding there are some bots out there to help with quick matchmaking. If this is the case, the game is bad at telling you when you are playing a bot and when a human. 

For an online game I have seen very little in the way of toxic behaviour and I think this is mostly down to the fact there is not really much in the way of communication between players during a game. Short games help with this too, as if you have a bad one, the next game is just around the corner. 

I’m really enjoying Marvel Snap as something I can play a few quick games of own my lunch break, and get that dopamine hit of upgrading cards, expanding my collection, and just having a fun time playing. For the most part each game feels like a tight dynamic battle, like a well directed fight out of one of the MCU films. I said ‘For the most part’ didn’t I?  That’s because I do think Marvel Snap suffers from an identity issue. 

The deckbuilding and powers side of the game feels like very standard card game/deck building fare, giving you lots of options to build a deck you run at the game in an easy to learn/difficult to master sort of way. The locations throw a spanner in the works. Some are straightforward, having no ability, or just giving you cards a boost, or your energy supply an increase. Others are wacky. Maybe they’ll chuck a squirrel in every location or cause you to draw from your opponent’s deck. They have powers that really muck with your ability to tactically assess the game. In addition they are slowly revealed, one a turn for the first three turns. That can muck with your strategy a bit. That’s fine, but it rubs against the deckbuilding and powers side. 

All that said, it is early days for Marvel Snap. For a free to play game it is really slick and I am enjoying it. You get rewarded for doing pretty much anything in the game and I am sure there are optimal ways to spend your resources, but I am not the sort of person that cares about that. What I do care about is telling you my opinion on a game that is trying to work its way into a very crowded field and whether it is worth your time. I really think it is, especially if like me you were looking for a light game that isn’t too serious or brain burning and fits neatly in your pocket.

Iain McAllister

Tabletop games reviewer and podcaster based in Dalkeith, Scotland.

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