Marvel Snap is dangerous.
I didn’t know what Marvel Snap was two weeks ago. But since its official launch early last week, it’s become my most-played game during the busiest gaming season of the year. In a week where we saw Gotham Knights, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope, Persona 5 Royal on Switch, Bayonetta 3, and the impending arrivals of Sonic Frontiers and God of War Ragnarok, somehow a deck-building PvP puzzle game set in the Marvel universe has risen to the top and become my gaming obsession. I can’t say how long this will last, but I’m absolutely loving this honeymoon period I’m having with Marvel Snap.
On paper, Marvel Snap shouldn’t be a game for me. I have very little interest in the modern boom of beloved deck builders and card games like Hearthstone (which several of Snap’s developers previously worked on), Slay the Spire, and Monster Train. Inscryption was the only one that really grabbed me, and that was mostly because of everything that wasn’t related to the actual card game. The only CCG I ever really got into was Pokémon during its early years, but I tapped out of that relatively early.
So why has Marvel Snap been able to hook me when really no other game of its ilk has? Honestly, I’m not 100% sure. But it feels like there’s a potent cocktail of incredibly quick matches, a fairly constant drip of rewards, a genuine love and affection for the source material, and an excitement to see how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Matches in Marvel Snap are deceptively simple, yet remarkably deep. You build a deck of 12 different characters from the Marvel universe, ranging from well-known X-Men, Avengers, and all of their adversaries, to deep cuts like Hellcow, a vampire cow whom I’ve quite literally never heard of but am now in love with. Matches only take a few minutes, with three locations to place your cards throughout the six rounds.
Cards cost various amounts of energy to play, depending on their power levels and special abilities. The amount of energy you can spend grows with each round, so you’ll have one for the first round, two for the second, and so on until the final round. At the end of the six rounds, whichever player controls a majority of the locations (or has more total power on the board, in the case of a tie) wins. It has shades of tic-tac-toe and Texas hold ’em, but with characters in spandex who have cool powers.
The depth here comes in the sheer amount of variables at play in characters you can have in your deck, as well as the unique effects of the locations in each match, and I love how much thought and care was put into all of this. Nightcrawler can bamf to a location other than the one you originally placed him on. Uatu the Watcher shows you unrevealed locations. Captain America strengthens other cards at the same location. Carnage devours your own neighboring cards but becomes more powerful afterwards. The list goes on and on, and I’m constantly adding new characters to my collection.
On top of this, locations have their own unique effects that totally make sense in the Marvel universe. The Bifrost shifts all cards one location to the right after the 4th turn. The Danger Room has a 25% chance of destroying any card played there. And Central Park adds a low-powered squirrel card to each location for both players. Given that the specific locations are only revealed throughout the course of each match, there’s a constant sense of mystery and excitement, leading to thrilling comebacks and heartbreaking defeats.
And the fact that matches are so short, along with new missions and challenges refreshing every few hours, has me constantly checking in and playing a few rounds. I was playing before the previews started at the movie theater, playing in the waiting room of my doctor’s office, and even playing while co-piloting Nick’s stream of Outlast 2 (please don’t tell Nick).
But even with all of this, there was a distinct moment where I knew Marvel Snap had its hooks in me this past weekend. I love using my Switch as a second screen while watching NFL games on Sundays. But this weekend, I found myself watching football games on my TV, replaying Persona 5 Royal on Switch, and then getting in some Marvel Snap matches while my Phantom Thieves were having long conversations about what their next heist would be. I should probably be ashamed of that story, but I’m not.
The game itself has its own built-in carrot on the end of a string that’s really compelling. The first few hours of Snap had me seeing familiar cards from most of my opponents. I’d occasionally come across one I hadn’t unlocked yet, like Morph who transforms into another card the moment he’s played, but I’d usually end up unlocking that character a little while later.
But all that changed in one match where a location was revealed to be The Triskelion, which had the effect of filling both of our hands with completely random cards. This included a bunch of characters I had never seen in the game before and still haven’t seen since. Thanos! Mojo! Nick Fury! An Uncle Ben card that has the unique ability to, when it’s destroyed, summon Spider-Man into your hand. Getting a glimpse into how deep into the Marvel well Snap goes is one of the reasons I’m hooked on it.
Up until a week ago, Pokémon GO was the only ongoing mobile game that had ever stuck with me. I’ve been playing it fairly consistently since its launch in 2016, and I’ve happily put $200 or so into it during that time for various events and festivals. If something provides me over half of a decade of entertainment, I don’t mind supporting it financially. But cut to this week, and I spent $10 on Marvel Snap’s first season pass, making it only the second free-to-play mobile game I’ve ever spent money on.
With that said, Marvel Snap does not feel predatory with its microtransaction model whatsoever. It doesn’t inundate you with pop-ups to spend real money on the in-game currency like a lot of other games I’ve played. Along with that, the in-game currency isn’t used for loot boxes or gacha pulls or unlocking powerful new cards, but rather cosmetics and new variants of the cards you already have.
Like all games, Marvel Snap isn’t perfect. There are plenty of changes, fixes, and additions I’d like to see added in the coming weeks and months. Instead of just having my collection displayed as a giant wall of cards ordered from least to most powerful, it’d be great to be able to sort through and rearrange them in different ways — and maybe even have a little biography that can teach me about weirdos like Hellcow. It’d be great if they credited the artists on cards, and I’d love to have a friends list where I can check out what kinds of cool new cards my pals have.
Talk to me in a month or two, and honestly, I have no idea if I’ll still feel the same way about this game. But for now, I can safely say that Marvel Snap has been my most delightful gaming surprise of 2022, even if it’s starting to border on an obsession.