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Thursday, February 22, 2024

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Marvel Snap shows there's still room for another good card game

Cards with Marvel superheroes on, the most prominent of which is Captain Marvel, stood with glowing fists, hair flowing, red and blue suit. It's quintessentially them.

Hello! Wes and I have been playing Marvel Snap over the last week or so, and thought it would be good to get together and have a chat about what makes it special – and what tempted us both back for another collectible card game.

Donlan: I was getting to the point where the last thing I was after was another collectible card game, but Marvel Snap has come along and were both swept up in it. I guess I should try and describe it: you have three lanes in which you battle with cards, trying to get the highest point value. At the end of six turns you have to have won in two out of three lanes. Is that a fair description of the very basics?

Wes: Yep! I love the locations, even more so than some of the cards. Not only do they give each match a random element that challenges you to think on your feet, but they are packed to bursting with Marvel flourish. Take Lukes Bar, for example. I love that as you hover a card over it, you hear that classic bar fight kerfuffle. Play your card there, then its chucked out back into your hand, as if Luke himself launches your card by the scruff of the neck.

Marvel Snap is packed with glorious little touches like that, which bring the Marvel part of the game to life. The developers have made each card play like its character should. Carnage, for example, destroys your other cards and gains power. Nightcrawler can move to another location, as if teleporting. Colossus cant be destroyed, moved or have his power reduced. As you play him, you imagine him planting his feet deep into the ground, immovable and determined.

Ahhh! I have so much to say about this brilliant little game! What stands out to you?

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A look at some of the game and cards in action.

Donlan: Im still at the stage where Im being surprised by stuff, and thats always fun. It feels like there are a lot of cards that actually do quite outrageous things. I was winning a game last night and in my sixth turn I got a card so intriguing I had to play it, even though it would lose me the game. It was a really high value card but it destroyed all my other cards when I put it down. I just had to see if I understood it correctly. I absolutely love that theres going to be a strategy emerging around a card like that. It also feels like its solved some simple stuff – like having Quicksilver, a one mana card, in your deck guarantees he will appear in the first round so you actually have something to play. And the way the locations open up over the first three turns to give the early game a lot of dynamism.

Speaking of cards, do you have a favourite yet? As a Hulk fan, Im delighted that Hulk is such a blunt turn-six choice.

Wes: Oh god, Hulk. He literally just turns up to smash and thats it. In terms of pure strategy, Odin is strong because he activates the special abilities of your other cards, which is a great combo with Ironheart for example. I love some of the troll cards that frustrate, too. Professor X locks down a location, which seriously messes with your opponents strategy (bonus points for the yellow chair!). Enchantress puts a stop to all the ongoing shenanigans you may run into.

I think my (current!) favourite card is Multiple Man, though. With the right combos in a movement deck, he can dominate. And he literally multiplies, like he should! Also I have a soft spot for 90s-era X-Men and the art in Marvel Snap certainly knows it.

Does the art encourage you to run any cards in your deck that arent the strongest? I run Jessica Jones not because her card is strong, but because I adore the variant art I unlocked.

Donlan: YES, Hawkeye. I sort of love Hawkeye because of the comic book series where hes living in an apartment building with his dog and hes kind of a loser goofball, so I sort of felt he had to be in every deck because of that. But Ive also got this sort of kids cartoon variant of him which is delightful. I use him regardless of his power, which is actually quite useful in the early game. I use him because Hawkeyes my guy.

I think thats an interesting thing about this – I didnt really know WoW that well, so I didnt have any attachment to the cards in Hearthstone outside of what they did in the game, but here theres this whole other level of meaning to a lot of them that sort of tilts you away from pure strategy towards something more like fondness. And it works the other way, too. Medusa is quite a useful card, but I wont use it because I dont really know who the Marvel version of Medusa is?

The digital card game Marvel Snap. A Rocket Raccoon card dominates the screen here. Its bright and colourful.

The digital card game Marvel Snap. Copies of one card flood the screen.

The digital card game Marvel Snap. A special power damages the playing surface, where the cards lie.

Theres some lovely, vibrant artwork on the cards.

One thing I have wondered, and it takes us away from Marvel a bit – how common is the three lanes thing in card games like this? It instinctively reminds me of Artifact, RIP, the Valve and Richard Garfield card game, which I always found completely overwhelming. And this brings me back to the real secret ingredient of Marvel Snap – the games are six turns, its really short, and I think I play it more because it feels, in a positive way, pretty low stakes? Even calling it Snap, which I know is a Thanos reference, but also hints at its sort of low barriers to entry. What do you reckon? I imagine there is a question in all that random stuff Ive just said. (This is what Im like in interviews alas.)

Wes: Ha! Yeah I snap way more than I should. I like that sort of poker game that plays out over the top of the main game. Some people snap as soon as the game starts and Im like, what kind of hand do you have?! Then I feel like I need to snap back, just to show Im up for the challenge. And then it escalates and before I know it eight cubes are at stake!

Speaking of cubes, I like how Marvel Snap doesnt feel pay-to-win. The shop sells variants and fast card upgrades, the latter of which speed up the unlocking of new cards. So theres a pay to access cards quicker feel to the game, but I havent bothered to do that and Ive played loads and feel like I hold my own with a deck made up of pool one cards. Things may change as more powerful cards are added to the mix, of course, but for now, Marvel Snap is at that beautiful early point, which Hearthstone had in its first year, where everything feels nicely balanced, easily-understood and exciting.

Have you felt tempted to spend money?

Donlan: I havent! I think its partly because the game doesnt require it and partly because a bottle of tomato ketchup now costs £3.70. But actually, and I know this is just typical perverse nonsense, but if the game maintains a respectful balance like this the more likely I am to pay just to say thanks for the enjoyment Im getting? Hearthstone is an interesting and probably slightly terrifying analogy for these games – such a wonderful game, but it became really expensive, and also just dauntingly dense and complex. Its lovely to play Marvel Snap right now, where people are still working things out and, I think, also just having a good time. I hope they can keep this feeling going.

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