There’s a new card battler out there that has been climbing up the charts for both Steam and mobile app stores: Second Dinner Studio’s Marvel Snap. It’s a fast-paced card game with new mechanics and a change of pace for the genre from Ben Brode, the former game director of Hearthstone, Blizzard’s genre-defining card game.
In Marvel Snap, players build decks of 12 cards and battle against other players. Like other card battlers, each card has an energy cost (from one to six) and a power level (but no health – these cards do not fight each other). On turn one, you have one energy. On turn two, you have two, all the way up to six at turn six.
Each battle takes place over three locations – neutral cards that have their own effects (e.g. “Cards can’t be played here after turn 4” or “Cards here get +1 power.”). The first location reveals itself on the first turn, the second location on the second turn, and the third on the third turn. In order to win each battle, you simply need to win two of the three locations. Tiebreakers are determined by total power.
That’s all well and good, but why is it so successful? A few key factors:
The games are short
Since Marvel Snap games are six rounds each (although in special cases they might be slightly shorter or slightly longer), each game runs at about five minutes long (and definitely no longer than ten). That’s the perfect length for a “pick it up and put it down” mobile game.
The cards look cool
The game and the cards are built primarily to be played on your phone – as opposed to many other games in the genre that are designed for computers or tablets and then adapted to phone use. That means the cards look great vertically on a smartphone, and they look even cooler as you upgrade them (which is how you get new cards). Your first upgrade breaks the card out of its frame, and then eventually your card can become 3D, or animated, or other cool features to improve its look.
New spins on the genre formula
The location mechanics keep things fresh, as each battle involves a different set of stakes that unravel as the game progresses. The “two out of three” locations mechanic also encourages different sorts of strategies, and guessing where your opponent will likely play their cards.
And perhaps most crucially…
It’s free and not pay-to-win
Yes! It’s true! While you can buy a season pass that will give you some more rewards, every card game in the game is unlockable without spending any money. Additionally, you cannot pay money for specific cards, or craft specific cards with in-game currency. It’s all random! Which makes it all the more fair (or at least equally unfair, depending on how you look at it).
The Marvel factor
Your mileage here varies – for some people, it’s the reason to be interested in the first place, but for others, it’s a reason for skepticism. There’s no doubt the ever-present Marvel IP has helped this game get more attention on launch. From my point of view, I’m glad it doesn’t lean so hard into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, instead relying on the rich comics history of characters and style variants.