After a few days with Marvel Snap, the question I keep asking myself is: “Where’s the hook?” I’m not sure this is the game’s fault; if anything, this feels like me being a victim of the mobile free-to-play ecosystem. As I fired up the game to give it a go, I felt hypervigilant, on constant watch for The Hook: the bit of a free-to-play mobile title where I go, “Ah, this is where they come for your wallet.”
The version that exists now out on app stores of all kinds feels blessedly free of heavy-handed monetization, but apparently, this wasn’t always the case during the game’s beta period. The resulting change feels good, really; I’ve played a couple of Japanese mobile gachas for years and Marvel Snap is a (Tony?) stark contrast to what goes on in that particular corner of game design.
Without going into a deep play-by-play of the game’s basic rules (feel free to check out Polygon’s primer on the subject for that), Second Dinner did just fine at making an easy-to-play, understandable card game that’s simple but not too simple. The game’s aesthetic, with its high-impact oblique font and aggressive use of every shade of purple imaginable, has Marvel written all over it, for good or for ill. I still can’t decide if I love or hate the main menu’s persistent, brassy “BWOMP! BWOMPA-BWOMPA BWOMP BWOMP” loop. It really could go either way.
The card art, however, is well chosen, and I particularly love the return of the ’80s- and ’90s-era name art for superheroes, straight off the covers of the relevant comics themselves — or, you know, that one expository page in an X-Men book where we’re told that Scott Summers can never take off his visor lest he obliterate a building with his eye beams, which makes him the uncanny CYCLOPS™.
I’m no diehard, but in my many years on this unforgiving Earth I’ve played my share of TCGs and CCGs, and Marvel Snap has left me slightly confused on one big axis. One of the joys of a game like this, for many, is collecting cards of your favorite characters, putting them together in decks and trying that out. Perhaps overcorrecting for the whole “Nexus Event” situation in the beta, Second Dinner has made it so that you get new cards by winning games (you either earn one card per game win, or by progressing through a season pass-style ladder/level progression). As far as design paths you can take that don’t turn your mobile free-to-play game into an emotional manipulation factory, I think this works.
From the perspective of someone who really just wants to get their favorite characters and use them, which definitely feels like it fits the Marvel fan profile as a consumer base, it could end up being more problematic. I understand the commercial release of the game is in its infancy, so who knows what direction the devs will take from here — but I have to wonder if Second Dinner is going to accidentally be fighting the biggest crossover battle of them all: having a game that can appeal to that collector nature without turning to heavy-handed monetization or, worse, to the mobile game death knell of being labeled “pay to win.”
That’s the future, though. Right here and now, Marvel Snap is a tightly designed, bite-size card game morsel that reaches for your comics nostalgia and brand recognition more than your wallet. It’s extremely easy to grab your phone, play a six-turn game, and call it a day. Sure, there’s a battle pass and ladders and ranks and Reddit posts with detailed tactical breakdowns of when you should “Snap” to try and get more rank rewards. None of that stuff is necessary, though.
My big hope is that Second Dinner can keep threading this particular needle — having a game that doesn’t spiral out of control with new mechanics (a surefire way to sell card packs!), but which does allow players to take some actual control over their deck-building and collecting in a way other than “real money,” “blind luck,” or some combination of the above. I’ve been in that boat for a while now. Marvel Snap was a pleasant vacation from that, and I hope, for its own sake, it can stay that way.
Marvel Snap was released on Aug. 25 on Android, iOS, and Windows PC. The game was reviewed on iOS. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.