Marvel Snap review: Fast-paced fun hampered only by progession struggles

Marvel Snap artworkMarvel / Second Dinner

While Marvel Snap absolutely nails the fundamentals with engaging gameplay systems, gorgeous presentation, and thrilling bite-sized doses of strategic combat only a collectible card game (CCG) could offer, its obtuse reward pipelines and lackluster progression hold it back from true greatness on day one.

After a tumultuous few months in Beta, a limited testing period that allowed those with early access to advance and unlock as much as they liked, the floodgates have now opened with Marvel Snap’s full release on handheld devices.

Through this extremely approachable yet deceptively complex CCG, players take turns dropping powerful Marvel heroes and villains onto the board in effort to gain control and dominate lanes before their opponent. On the surface, developers at Second Dinner have the golden ticket to success with their first project. With seemingly no limits on which iconic figures they can bring to the game, an unending supply of unique card art variants to keep players hooked even after they’ve unlocked their favorites, and tie-ins with the latest MCU releases should all help drive thousands of casual fans to this free title in short order.

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Once they’re through the door, simple mechanics pave the way for surprisingly rich strategic battles. Though should they stick around for the long run, returning over the course of weeks and months as Marvel Snap so desires, that early enjoyment is all but guaranteed to fade as confusing content delivery systems and arduous collection mechanics hinder what could otherwise be a near-endlessly replayable treat.

Marvel Snap: Key Details

  • Developer: Second Dinner
  • Price: Free to play with a seasonal model
  • Release Date: October 18, 2022
  • Platforms: Mobile (full launch) & PC (in early access)

Marvel Snap gameplay trailer

Approachable game design is Marvel Snap’s biggest win

One prominent downside of the CCG space is often its overwhelming structure. With multiple card types, an assortment of keywords and effects to learn, along with dozens, if not hundreds of cards to memorize, bringing new players into the fold can be quite the challenge. Fortunately, with Marvel Snap’s easily digestible UI and an excellent onboarding experience, coming to grips with the game’s vast collection isn’t much of a challenge.

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When jumping into the game, Marvel Snap first teaches you the essentials with a brief tutorial. Here you learn the basics of card design, how to play around Locations, and most importantly, how to win by overwhelming your opponent. Although this introduction runs barely a few minutes, its the next few dozen games that prove vital in the long run. Rather than just throwing you to the wolves, you instead have to play against AI challengers for a good few hours. At first, this may sound rather lackluster, but over time, you’ll be grateful for this time to not only learn against a multitude of unique deck types, but also for the opportunity to start building your own collection before going at it with other humans. The game’s AI is often indistinguishable from actual players, making these games all the more enjoyable and not a chore in the slightest.

Matches are paced at just a few minutes each, with only six turns in which to stack your side of the board. Only four cards can be played on either side of a given lane, with just three Locations total. Amassing more Power at two of the three Locations is your key to victory and can be accomplished in a number of ways. Be it a deck with chunky late-game characters to trump smaller enemies, or a more creative deck geared around hefty buffs to multiple friendly targets you scattered around the board early, how you go about winning is entirely up to you.

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Marvel Snap gameplayMarvel / Second Dinner
Each card in Marvel snap has its own power level along with a unique ability.

It’s crucial to note that given the game’s smaller size, decks here are more limited than in most other games too, reducing the number of options for players to deliberate on between turns and thereby speeding up rounds once again. Timing is everything in the mobile gaming space and Marvel Snap is keenly aware of that fact, constantly pushing games forward so as to not waste anyone’s time.

While it may all sound like a decidedly casual approach to CCG gameplay, one that limits all strategic depth in its rapid matches with simplistic mechanics, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Cards all drop onto the board with their own powerful abilities, many of which can outright change the course of match. When factoring in the effects of randomized Locations to boot, you’re always having to keep on your toes and out-think the player opposite you. Not only in what cards you decide to play, but also in where you decide to position them and when they can get the most value. It’s not just a matter of building a strong deck and out-muscling the opponent, there’s a great deal to keep in mind with each and every turn.

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Some Locations may provide beneficial effects to both players, like reducing the cost of every card, for instance, meaning devastating six-costs can now feature a turn earlier than usual and completely flip the script. Others may nullify a certain type of ability, all but wasting potential Ongoing or On Reveal effects your enemy was waiting to capitalize on. Certain Locations can even add another turn to the game or outright replace your deck with something different, changing the course of a game in many unexpected ways. It’s this element of RNG that while arguably uncompetitive at times, largely keeps you coming back time and time again. No matter how good your custom deck might be on paper, no matter how effective it seems in one game, the next will be different. You always have to factor in that randomization and play around Locations in effect to win. Brute forcing it to the highest ranks just won’t work.

Dazzling presentation will draw you in

The core loop itself is enough to keep you hooked for hours on end in Marvel Snap, but seeing this game in action is yet another reason to keep coming back. Every single card springs to life with its own unique flair. Be it moving elements in upgraded cards or sweeping animations that rock the entire board, the attention to detail in every sense is unmistakable. Obviously, the more awe-inspiring effects from the likes of a Thanos or Galactus are sure to grab your attention, but it’s the smaller inclusions that bring everything together.

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Be it Daredevil’s visual that reveals enemy plays before the end of their turn, adding a red filter to your screen in the process, Hulk’s earth-shattering arrival that causes your phone to vibrate, or Professor X’s lockdown ability that completely freezes a Location, the style of each vastly different card a sight to behold. Especially as games progress, with both players looking to influence the match, and Locations throwing new variables into the mix, it’s always a joy to watch these interactions no matter how long you’ve been playing.

Marvel Snap CardsSecond Dinner / Marvel
From specific cards to the Locations they battle on, there’s no denying every aspect of Marvel Snap is teeming with detail.

That’s without mentioning unique card variants and subsequent upgrades that further add to the experience. Say for example, Ant-Man is your favorite character in the MCU. If you build a deck around this hero and happen to use that particular card quite a bit, your efforts will be rewarded. That Ant-Man card can be upgraded to have a new pattern, a new visual effect, a rainbow background, or even a golden shine to let your opponents know you’ve got some experience with this deck type. The more you upgrade a card, the more it comes to life and becomes your own.

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Second Dinner also knocked it out of the park in terms of sound design too. As you would expect, every card has its own voice lines and distinct audio cues for a number of situations. You’ll quickly be able to identify cards based on these soundbites alone, as you could in Hearthstone and Legends of Runeterra, to name a few. Similarly, backing music in the menus and throughout games is fantastic as well. It’s a well-rounded package that entirely earns its association with one of the biggest powerhouses in entertainment.

It’s worth noting, however, that we’re yet to test Marvel Snap on PC. While we played the game on a rather dated Samsung Galaxy S9 and encountered no major performance issues, that’s not to say the early access PC build will be just as optimized. A new version built from the ground up for PC is in the pipeline, but it’s worth keeping in mind the current experience may not be flawless out of the gate if you’re opting for the early version on PC.

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Uninspired progression systems kill the fun

At launch, Marvel Snap comes with just a single game type. Your only option is to play in the ranked game mode for now with no casual, arcade-style, or friendly playlists on offer. With such little variety, you’re constantly going at it with other players as you look to climb the ladder, but before long, it’s this always-competitive environment that begins to highlight flaws under the surface.

In order to progress, you need new cards. New cards allow for new deck types and in turn, help you get a leg up on the opposition. But the method in which you grow your collection is extremely tedious in Marvel Snap, making it more of a chore towards randomized rewards than an enjoyable grind towards specific unlocks.

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Cards in Marvel Snap are divided into separate pools. Throughout the Closed Beta just three of these pools existed, though we’re sure to see more added in the near future. These function sequentially. First, you unlock cards at random from the first pool, then the second, then the third. Starting cards tend to be of a more basic nature, with fewer mechanics and simpler effects, while cards in the later pools are often more advanced, and thus, stronger.

By playing games you’re granted specific boosters for one card at a time. Finishing one game with Iron Man in your deck may provide boosters for that particular card. Though the very next game may randomly give boosters for something else in that same deck. These boosters are then used to upgrade the rarity of a card from Common to Infinity. In doing so, your Collection Level rises and you unlock new goodies as a result.

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On paper, this might not sound all too tedious. In practice, however, with both boosters and rewards left up to chance, it’s far from an ideal system. You can spend hours grinding with a particular set of cards, upgrading everything possible along the way in effort to acquire a new Marvel hero you desperately need to bolster your favorite deck type, only to be met with a useless reward due to this RNG-dependent system. In fact, cards aren’t even guaranteed to drop. You can exchange all of your boosters only to be handed in-game credits or an avatar for your profile.

Marvel Snap card upgradesMarvel / Second Dinner
Upgrading cards in Marvel Snap is an arduous process.

Making matters worse is the fact cards in later pools are often objectively superior. At least for the few months in Beta, most of the meta-defining picks were locked in the third pool, meaning you had to grind for dozens, if not hundreds of hours, in hopes of getting them for yourself. In some cases, you might get lucky and nab a trending card early into a batch. In other cases though, you might be left grinding that third pool of cards for a few months before getting what you actually want or what you actually need to compete at the highest ranks.

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It’s a tedious process and one that’s disappointing more than it is rewarding. Rarely do you level up and feel the effort was worthwhile, especially in the latter stages of the game where each jump in the Collection Level takes considerably longer.

Now we do know for certain that devs are working on a more specific means of unlocking desired cards in Marvel Snap. Collector Tokens are on the way at some point in the near future, but it’s obviously too early to gauge how effective they’ll be at combatting this tiresome process. Ultimately, the game could do with a progression overhaul, one that strips the pool system altogether and allows players at any experience level the chance of accessing top-tier cards without having to commit a few months of their time.

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Greatness from small beginnings

As with other CCGs, day one is just the beginning for Marvel Snap. Early headaches with game balance, missteps with Nexus Events, and tedious progression systems could all be nothing more than bumps in the road as Second Dinner builds on this foundation over the years to come.

New content is always just around the corner, devs have shown a willingness to adapt and deploy frequent balance updates, and we’re sure to see more game modes in the mix soon to keep things fresh. All that’s to say Marvel Snap clearly has a bright future ahead given its solid foundation overall.

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The Verdict – 8/10

While not everything is flawless from the jump, Marvel Snap has everything it needs to blossom into one of the most exciting CCGs in years.

Reviewed on mobile