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Marvel Snap’s simplicity is its ultimate superpower

Marvel Snap is an easy card game to learn. It has a short tutorial and a simple “whoever has the most points wins” condition. Each round lasts two minutes at most and requires you to play cards that feature illustrations of your favorite superheroes. It has a wide appeal.

It’s also the kind of game where you can drop a card with a name like Onslaught on a location called Bar Sinister that’ll, in turn, help you get over 1,000 points. Playing other cards in a certain order might even break the app.

Marvel Snap onslaught combo
This isn’t typical, I promise. Courtesy Bryant Francis

Marvel Snap is a casual, free-to-play mobile game by Nuverse and Second Dinner that has taken the world by storm. reported the game made $2 million in its first week and was the number one app on iOS in the U.S. and Canada. It’s a huge game, but it’s also the kind of title that gets people talking. My social media circles are filled with people downloading the game and figuring out that it’s more complicated than it initially seems. The more cards you unlock, the more secrets you uncover.

It’s the kind of game that works because it’s so simple to understand and, for the most part, is easy to play. But the more you invest in it, the better it becomes.

In Marvel Snap, simplicity is the point

All Marvel Snap rounds are similar. You have a deck of 12 cards, with each one representing a character from Marvel Comics’ canon. Over six rounds (well, most of the time), you play cards in three separate locations. The goal is to win two of the three locations by the end of the final round by having the most power points in them. If there’s a tie in one zone, the player with the most overall power wins. It’s simple enough, but both your cards and the locations have special abilities that change up the flow of each round. For example, Central Park adds a one-power squirrel card to each location, while the aforementioned Bar Sinister lets you play a card and then fills the location with copies of it.

Like most standard card games, such as Magic: The Gathering and Hearthstone, the fun comes from using these different abilities and conditions. Then, you combine them for the ultimate advantage. However, unlike some of those titles, Marvel Snap is easy to understand.

Due to the size of Marvel Snap’s decks, building decks and combos is much simpler than, say, Magic, where decks usually have 60 cards. The different abilities are also simple to parse through. Keywords like “destroy,” “discard,” and “ongoing” immediately group cards together in the player’s mind, so they can start out building new decks quickly. Flavor text is usually short, so you don’t have to spend too long with cards to figure out where they can be useful.

The space thjone location in Marvel Snap.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Because decks are so small, games also have to be small. There are three areas to drop your cards, and while the areas’ abilities change up the stakes a bit, there aren’t any additional rules you need to know. Whoever has the most points wins — and that’s it. Plus, each match is short. This means hopping into a match isn’t a huge time commitment. (I like to say that Marvel Snap is the perfect toilet game, since you can get a game in and get out without hogging the bathroom.) If you have a deck that isn’t working, the short matches allow you to go back to the drawing board without struggling.

Even though Marvel Snap is casual gaming at its finest, users can be more involved if they wish. There is a lot of variety in deck building and the random nature of the locations. Second Dinner has created a pared-down version of Hearthstone, which makes sense, since the team comprises former Hearthstone developers. It’s similar in that it’s a point-based card game with short rounds and fun animations, but it’s somehow even more basic. It all works, though, because it has a casual strategy that it sticks with. It’s simple to understand and not-so-difficult to master, but it can be at least more complicated to master if you wish.

Deck of cards in Marvel Snap.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Although it’s a casual game, it doesn’t have exploitative microtransactions. Nothing here is pay-to-win, and it’s all purely cosmetic. So far, the only items you can buy in the store are card art variants and the currency to upgrade your cards, which only adds animations or 3D effects to your cards. There is a season pass you can buy into for extra cards, avatar icons, and variants, but unless you absolutely need the cards in that pass for a deck, none of it is mandatory. You’ll get new cards as you normally play, although they’ll be random. The cards are balanced enough with each other that no card is objectively “better” than another. Each has its uses.

It’s a hyper-casual mobile game for fans of both pick-up-and-play and more strategic play, and I can’t think of any other examples that have done it so well.

What does the future look like for Marvel Snap?

It’s unclear how long the Marvel Snap frenzy will last. It’s off to a great start, but there’s a lot of room for improvement. For one, there is a PC version, but it’s missing some important tabs, like News, and often requires finagling to work properly. Speaking of tabs, while Marvel Snap has limited-time events, they’re hidden under the News tab. There aren’t any notifications on the main page when events are in progress, either. Plus, it’s become clear that some combos can actively break the game. Last week, one featured location caused some cards to infinitely loop and stop progress. Digital Trends’ DeAngelo Epps also criticized the progression system, which seems to stop rewarding new cards at around level 200.

Whether Marvel Snap can keep up the momentum for months or even years is beside the point. It shows that there is a way to do casual games for involved players. It comfortably straddles the line between different audiences in a way few mobile games do, thanks to its simplicity.

Plus, it’s free. That certainly helps.

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Carli Velocci
Carli is a technology, culture, and games editor and journalist. They were the Gaming Lead and Copy Chief at Windows Central…
Marvel Snap is the first game to nail MCU movie tie-ins
Key art for Marvel Snap's Into the Quantum Realm season.

Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania hit theaters this weekend, and you will know that’s the case even if your only connection to comic books is through Marvel Snap. Throughout February, Marvel Snap is in its “Into the Quantum Realm” season. It’s all centered around content themed on that microscopic world from the new Marvel movie. It introduces cards based on Ant-Man movie characters like M.O.D.O.K., Ghost, Stature, and Kang the Conqueror, as well as new locations based on places that have been in Marvel Cinematic Universe movies like the Quantum Realm, Quantum Tunnel, Camp Lehigh, and the Sacred Timeline.
Into the Quantum Realm Season | Developer Update | February 2023
Developer Second Dinner made similar tie-in seasons for Thor: Love and Thunder and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever last year. As a fan of both Marvel movies and Marvel video games, these Marvel Snap seasons have done a fantastic job thus far integrating the two. Marvel’s film and gaming efforts have mostly remained separate, often intentionally, since a couple of terrible tie-in games during the MCU's Phase 1.
Often, it feels like comic book games have to be  either direct tie-ins or wholly disconnected from the films in theaters at the time. However, Marvel Snap shows that any comic book game can still feel relevant to what’s happening in theaters in subtle but satisfying ways.
A seamless crossover
With each new Season of Marvel Snap, I love keeping an eye out for what's new in the card game. Because of how wildly different each round can be, new cards and locations can impact games differently every time they appear. M.O.D.O.K., in particular, opens up some interesting strategies as it can discard your entire hand upon its reveal. Before I know it, I find that I'm using new cards and looking up information on the characters and locations I am playing with.
One of the unspoken strengths of Marvel Snap is how casually it can introduce or reexpose its players to a vast amount of characters and locales from the Marvel universe. Not only is that approach good for shedding light on less popular corners of the universe, like The Savage Land, but it also makes it a good marketing and crossover tool for the latest Marvel movie.
M.O.D.O.K., Ant-Man, and the Quantum Realm are on the top of my mind right now, as Marvel Snap is one of the games I play the most. Now, I find myself a bit more excited to see Quantumania than I was based on the trailers, even after mixed reviews. That's just effective marketing.
This is technically not a direct crossover event or a brand-new tie-in game; it’s just exposing me to the right Marvel content to supplement what I’m seeing in the cultural zeitgeist. Then, once Quantumania being in theaters isn’t as relevant, Marvel Snap can move on and continue exploring new parts of the Marvel universe with future seasons.
Finding success
This seasonal tie-in approach Marvel Snap takes is an effective and clever piece of marketing that keeps me engaged with both the game and MCU films. In fact, no superhero game before has been able to tie into movies quite like this. Marvel Strike Force and Contest of Champions character cameos feel a little too ham-fisted, while Sega’s licensed Marvel games from the late 2010s were too much of a mixed bag to ever work. Marvel’s Avengers, a live service game featuring many characters getting new movies and shows, was also never able to get this cadence right.
Marvel Studios’ Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania | New Trailer
While Marvel’s Avengers would get costumes based on the MCU, it rarely ever felt in line with what the MCU released at the time. Occasionally, additions like the Red Room and Jane Foster’s Mighty Thor would line up correctly, but those felt like exceptions rather than the rule when the game didn’t have a consistent seasonal structure. Even though its narrative purposefully wasn’t connected to the MCU, Marvel’s Avengers' post-launch support could have attracted more attention and even bolstered the movies had it lined things up as well as Marvel Snap has.
As Marvel’s Avengers loses support later this year, its failure to capitalize upon and enhance the game with MCU tie-ins in compelling ways can be seen as one of its many failures. It also raises questions on how future D.C. games will connect to their universe. James Gunn’s current plan seems to incorporate video games heavily, having them filling gaps in his narrative’s story rather than directly tying into a specific film or just serving as supplementary hype material like Marvel Snap.
Admittedly, the resources and effort required for a new game are very different from what’s needed for a new Marvel Snap season. Still, Second Dinner has shown how comic book movies and video games can nicely tie together without stepping on each other’s feet. Simply getting players in the correct headspace and theming for whatever’s in theaters is enough, especially if the game in question is a live service title with a seasonal structure.

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Marvel Snap is dangerously close to becoming a pay-to-win game
Venom effects on a Marvel Snap playng field

Marvel Snap is undoubtedly one of the best free-to-play mobile games on the market. With over 14 million downloads and counting, it's clear that the quality, as well as the casual and card game nature of the title, are doing a great job at keeping a sustained interest among players.

MARVEL SNAP | Gameplay Trailer

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Marvel Snap’s Friendly Battles set a new bar for its post-launch support
marvel snap friendly battle mode impressions key art

I’ve been hooked on Marvel Snap ever since I gained access to its beta in May 2022. The core, fast-paced gameplay has allowed the card game to sustain itself on just one match type and very few game-changing updates outside of the Token Shop. That feeling probably won’t last forever, though. If Second Dinner wants to keep the Marvel game relevant after a strong launch period, it needs to keep expanding and spicing it up in exciting new ways. The new Friendly Battle is a solid first step for that.
MARVEL SNAP's NEWEST Feature | BATTLE MODE | Play With Friends Now!
Marvel Snap’s developers teased a Friendly Battle mode that allows players to create private games with friends for a long time. The mode finally arrived on January 31 and lived up to expectations. In fact, playing it whetted my appetite for the future of Marvel Snap as I think about how the game could expand and improve with more social systems and modes to keep players coming back for years to come.
The strengths of Friendly Battle mode
Marvel Snap’s Friendly Battle mode utilizes the same six turn, location, and card ability-based formula Digital Trends has praised thoroughly. What’s different is the length of the fights and who you can compete against. Typically, matchmaking is random, but Friendly Battle allows players to Create and Join matches via a generated Match Code. This means there is finally an easy way to play Marvel Snap with your friends, showing off your deck or testing new strategies with them.
These aren’t just one-and-done matches like normal, though. Instead, each player takes one of their decks into a round-based battle where they start with 10 health. Whoever loses each round will also lose health equal to the Cube Value. This keeps going until one player runs out of health, with higher Cube Value stakes from Round Five and onwards, ensuring that Friendly Battle retains the speediness of the default game mode. The health-based setup is an enjoyable variation of Marvel Snap’s core formula.
It gives another purpose to snapping during a match outside of account progression. Meanwhile, the round-based setup allows players to stretch their strategic muscles as they adapt to each new round, finding the opposing deck’s weaknesses and trying to avoid their own. Plus, even when I was joining games using codes players posted on Marvel Snap’s Discord, there was a greater sense of community in discovering what decks other players were using and communicating with my opponent more via the in-game messages and emotes.

Seeing the strengths of Friendly Battle mode, it has become evident what elements of the game the developers need to focus on and expand going forward.
Setting a precedent 
Looking at games like Magic: The Gathering and Hearthstone, their communities are what have allowed those card games to stand the test of time. Marvel Snap may be just as good as those from a gameplay standpoint, but it needs interested players to continue supporting it over the long term if it wants to be more than the mobile gaming fad. With players getting increasingly mad at its microtransactions and progression, it is a critical time to renew interest.
Friendly Battle is an excellent first step for that. This new mode finally gives Marvel Snap players a more direct way to connect and potentially set up tournaments that can keep the competitive scene alive. Second Dinner still needs to add more social features in-game, though. Second Dinner teased that it considering the addition of Player Guilds last year, and being able to join a Guild or at least Friend another player’s account would encourage players to stick around and play and socialize with their friends more.
Being able to trade cards with other players is a feature I’d like to see because of how odd Marvel Snap’s progression is. For something like that to work, though, Guilds or an account friending system are necessary prior additions. The necessity of a dedicated social community of players also means that the developers must add more new modes so veterans have a reason to stick around and new players have new reasons to join.  

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