The answer to the POP quiz no one asked for: Marvel comics is to Marvel SNAP as World of Warcraft is to Hearthstone. This card game developed by Second Dinner is the brainchild of Ben Brode, who also was the lead designer of Hearthstone until 2018. My feelings on Hearthstone are well documented in my top 10 games of the decade article for BSF. I ended that paragraph stating how “I long for another game that grabs me in the way Hearthstone was able to.” I can gladly state that Marvel SNAP is that game.
Gameplay is extremely simple. The game pits two players against one another. Each player has a deck of 12 cards and begins with 3 in their hand. Cards have a power level and a cost to play, i.e., turn one; you can only play cards that “cost” one power. These cards are played in one of the board’s three locations. After six turns, whoever has the most power at the location wins the territory, and whoever controls the most territories of the three on the board wins the game. Honestly, this sounds a lot more complicated than it is, and the game does an excellent job of integrating new players into the game.
One of the items that make the gameplay unique in Marvel SNAP is card abilities. Each card has only one ability. For example, the Nightcrawler card can be played at a location. This card has the ability to move locations 1 time after being played. So Nightcrawler can be played to a spot, and later, the player can move that card to a location. The fun part comes when card abilities work together to stack against one’s opponent.
For example, let’s say I have a card that increases the power level of cards when they move. When Nightcrawler would move, his power would increase by 1, making this lower-level card increase in power. Experimenting with deck building is fun and rewarding. The initial decks provide some fun combinations. Some of the highest power cards may seem like a must-have in one’s deck, but it may be wiser to pick different cards that better stack abilities as combinations come together.
The second portion that makes gameplay unique is location buffs/nerfs. Each location that players try to control with their power has a specific buff or nerf. Also, to start, only one location is revealed. For example, Nidavellir gives cards at this location +5 Power. To use the Nightcrawler example from earlier, maybe Nidavellir doesn’t appear until the third turn, and now one can use Nightcrawler’s ability to move to that location to receive a buff of +5 power. Other locations decrease power. Some locations destroy cards, while others clone copies of the player’s hand. Each combination of cards and locations causes players to think about strategies to defeat opponents.
The best part about this game is it is not “pay to win”. Players cannot purchase individual cards. Sure, the player can buy the season pass and gain access to certain cards, but the uniqueness of the card abilities ensures that players can have effective decks without spending a dime. Plus, players gain access to additional cards very easily. The leveling system is based on various tasks, not just wins and losses. So players struggling early on will still level up and gain access to additional cards and, in turn, ability variety.
The artwork in this game is beautiful. Each card has variant versions where one can see different styles of artists’ renditions of favorite heroes and villains in the Marvel universe. And the best part is that this does not change a card’s ability. For example, one may see a Nightcrawler with a 3D background and pixel artwork that pops off the screen when played, but he still will only be able to use his ability to move once. No special abilities are unlocked by making cards look cooler, but it is quite fun to roll into a match and drop a sweet-looking card.
Marvel SNAP is my favorite game of 2022. This mobile game is easy to pick up and play while allowing for intense mastery of the deck-building aspects within its structure. The screen will pop with color as intense matches wage over 5-to-10-minute increments. However, the stakes never feel too high, as the brevity of matches seems to fit that hard-to-capture feeling of “just one more match”. Free-to-play mobile games are the norm now, but this game feels like a throwback to a time when one can hop into a play without the pressures of buying a pack of cards. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up on Android or Apple now.
Ryan Files is an avid comic book and video game consumer, reviewer, and critic hailing from the boondocks of Illinois. He has taken his ethnographic cultural studies background and applied it to his love of geekdom. He is a huge Star Wars nerd, Castlevania fanatic, and his power level is definitely over 9000. When he isn’t online writing about how he misses old school beat ’em ups like Final Fight, Streets of Rage, or TMNT IV Turtles in Time, he raises his 3 Dora Milaje warrior girls with the most awesome wife a blerd could ask for. You can reach the mumbly one @moblipeg on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.