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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. Mobilegamer.biz 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.

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.

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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