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Marvel Snap is 5D chess in six minutes or less

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I love Marvel Snap for one very specific reason: the games are short. I’m a lover of collectible card games — Magic: The Gathering, specifically. But I know when I sit down to play a game, I have to be prepared to give up a significant portion of my time. As a result, it’s rare that I commit myself to a random game of Magic: The Gathering Arena because of the time involved. (Which is why I remain a below-mediocre player whenever I participate in my monthly casual MTG league.) But with Marvel Snap, one of the game’s biggest selling points is that a match can be completed within five to six minutes, with the same thrill and strategy of a 30-minute MTG game.

Marvel Snap is the debut game of Second Dinner, an indie studio co-founded by former Hearthstone director Ben Brode. Marvel Snap speaks most of the same language as other collectible card games (or CCGs). Cards have an energy cost, an attack value, and abilities that trigger at specific times or when specific conditions are met. Where Marvel Snap differs is that the win condition isn’t whittling down the life totals of my opponent’s cards to zero. Rather, I have six turns to use the attack power of my cards to win control of two of the battlefield’s three zones. The fact that players take their turns simultaneously, that you’re not working to drain a set life total, and that you have a scant six turns to win means I can stuff a whopping 14-ish games of Snap in the same hour it would have taken me to play a full best of three Magic Arena match. It’s easy, then, to get sucked into completing battle pass quests and missions, and I found myself doing the “just one more game” thing instead of coming here to tell y’all about it.

The basic structure of a Marvel Snap match is relatively simple. You start with a hand of three cards and one energy. You spend your energy on the appropriately priced cards and place them under one of three zones on the battlefield. Once you’re done, you hit the end turn button, and you and your opponent’s cards are revealed at the same time. Whoever has amassed the greater attack power at a zone wins that zone, and whoever is in control of two of three zones at the end of the sixth turn wins the game.

I found myself doing the “just one more game” thing

Like in any CCG, strategy is important in Marvel Snap, but it’s not overwhelming, and you can easily sus out pretty decent game-winning plays. Each zone has space for only four cards per player, and zones convey special buffs, debuffs, or other effects that are slowly revealed throughout the game. The cards themselves also have pretty interesting interactions that make formulating strategies extremely fun.

There’s a zone that prevents cards from being played there after turn four. My opponent then stuffed that zone full of low-cost, low-power cards while I bid my time. Then, on turn four, I played Jessica Jones, a card that adds plus-four power if, on the next turn, you do not play a card in that zone. I play Jessica Jones on turn four, the zone locks on turn five, my opponent is stuck with a low value to control the zone while my card doubles its attack power and wins the zone. Now, just to put it in perspective, I’ve played Magic on and off for 10 years, and I still have trouble remembering that you usually want to play an instant speed card on your opponent’s turn. But Marvel Snap went live yesterday, and my Jessica Jones play made me feel like I was playing 9D chess.

Screenshot from Marvel Snap featuring the game’s battlefield populated by three zones

What a typical match of Marvel Snap looks like.
Image: Second Dinner

(As a fun aside, when you play cards from the same series in the same zone, they have cute little interactions. All of the cards also have neat animations for entering the battlefield. Spider-Man slings webs, Iron Man rockets in with his repulsor hands, and so forth. A lot of thought went into the game to make card abilities feel appropriate to their characters.)

The rest of Marvel Snap is all your typical free-to-play trappings. There’s a battle pass, and there are missions to complete to win battle pass points. After each match, you win little blobs that, when you have enough of them, allow you to earn new cosmetic effects for your cards, and the more you upgrade your cards, the more new cards you earn. One thing I’m not keen on is the actual “snap” portion of the game. Once you progress to a certain player level, you gain the ability to “snap,” meaning you can double the number of cosmic cubes you earn from winning a match. What does a cosmic cube do? Good question! I’m not sure, either. That the game’s namesake is nothing more than a double-or-nothing gambling move feels a little weak. If snapping was something that maybe gave you a significant buff at a steep cost, it might be more fun. But from what I can see, cosmic cubes are merely points you accumulate to increase your player level, and snapping lets you accumulate them faster for levels gained more quickly. You mean to tell me there’s a Marvel game referencing “the snap” and I can’t dust my opponent with it? All that for a drop of… nothing.

That said, compared to the rest of the game, it’s a minor gripe. Matches are fun enough on their own, and with Second Dinner working from the length and breadth of the Marvel Universe for characters and zones, it seems like the possibilities for Marvel Snap are as expansive as the multiverse.

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