It’s a bit cliched, but a good rule of thumb is: if a game makes you forget what time it is and you end up staying up far past your usual bedtime, it’s likely something special. Marvel Snap, a new digital card game available today for everyone on iOS and Android, has kept me up far too many nights over the last few weeks. The game has a fantastic mix of fast action, short matches, cool cards, and smart ideas that help make every round feel different.
Released yesterday for mobile phones and tablets, Marvel Snap is a free-to-play card game created by former Hearthstone director Ben Brode and his new game studio, Second Dinner. Initially, I was nervous about Brode and his crew making a new card game, as I had gotten so bored and tired of Hearthstone and other similar games taking all their cues from Blizzard’s popular deck-builder. Matches took forever, building decks was a pain, and often the meta would settle a certain way and every match would feel the same. Thankfully, with this new superhero-themed card game, Brode and Second Dinner have built a card game that feels purposely designed to fix all those problems.
In Marvel Snap, matches are only six turns, often lasting less than six minutes depending on how quick players are. You also don’t take turns. Instead, you play a few cards, and then once both players are ready, the game flips all the cards over and chaos ensues. Helping to keep things moving, decks are only made up of 12 cards, so you aren’t sitting there trying to pull something 30-40 cards deep. In fact, in most matches you’ll end up seeing nearly all your cards, letting you plan out various strategies. Lastly, you don’t attack other cards in Marvel Snap. Instead, it’s all about controlling two out of three areas on the board using up to four cards, each with a power level. The highest combined power level after six turns wins that zone and if you win two zones, you win the whole match.
While it might sound like 12 card decks, six-turn matches, and no turns could lead to a messy and basic game, the actual experience is the opposite. You quickly learn all of what your deck and its cards can do, letting you focus more on playing and not learning. Within a few hours I had a few decks built and I was having a blast figuring out ways to synergize my deck. In basically every other card game, building decks and thinking about synergies is like doing homework for me. Here, building decks is great as the smaller amount of cards and the simple focus on building up your combined power makes it easier for anyone to get a handle on what’s happening.
I also appreciate that Marvel Snap is a very fast and aggressive game. You aren’t putting down trap cards or big tanks that soak up damage for 5 turns. Very few cards in the game can remove cards from your board, and with no way to directly “attack,” the game becomes more forgiving. Even a crappy, weak card can be useful and it won’t get wiped from the board two turns later. Marvel Snap makes it fun to fill up your board and play more cards. And if you screw any of this up, well don’t worry. Even a bad match can’t last that long.
Some of the most fun I’ve had this year has come from close matches of Marvel Snap. For example, watching the other player barely lose by one point. Or taking a small lead and “snapping” to put pressure on them.
Oh yeah, snapping! The whole reason this game is called Marvel Snap! This mechanic lets you risk some of your cosmic cubes (aka ranked points) to call out your opponent. If you feel like you are going to win or maybe you aren’t sure and want to bluff, you can “snap.” This doubles the stakes immediately, and if the other player doesn’t accept the wager, they lose, but in doing to they also save some cosmic cubes for bailing. However, people can snap back after you snap, doubling it again and forcing you to reconsider just how confident you are in your position. It’s a simple and easy-to-use system that adds this wonderful layer of psychological warfare to Marvel Snap. Plus, it’s just really fun to snap at someone when you have shit and watch them quit. Like winning a pot in poker with nothing in your hand. Good stuff.
Something that helps keep everything feeling fresh each match is that there are three zones you have to control to win that are randomly swapped out for different areas with various bonuses and disadvantages each match. So a deck built around low-energy cards and spamming the board with small heroes might flop hard if one of the zones bans you from playing low-energy heroes there. Or a board might give your weaker cards bonuses. Or it might just give everyone worthless rocks or powerful dinosaurs. It’s always some new, different combo of zones and Second Dinner is adding more over time, so no match plays the same.
The other thing I appreciate about Marvel Snap is that cards aren’t bought using money, but instead are earned via in-game events, rewards or missions. While you can buy cosmetics and premium battle passes, you can’t just drop $500 and suddenly have every great card in the game.
It’s a bit of a bummer that, in its current state, there is no way to play around with friends just for fun or to create a guild. But developer Second Dinner says that stuff is coming soon, along with a more PC-friendly UI for the recently released Steam port of Snap.
Even with a few missing features and modes, the core gameplay of Snap is so good that I’m finding myself playing it whenever I get a chance. I recently traveled to Las Vegas to get married and brought my Steam Deck. But I just ended up playing Marvel Snap whenever I had a few minutes to kill. And now, I want to stop writing about Snap and play it, so… bye!