Marvel Snap Review by Mccgu

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The advent of digital collectible card games has led to an explosion of different approaches to the genre. Mostly, though, new games have adapted the fundamentals of CCGs. With Marvel Snap, Hearthstone veteran studio Second Dinner has reduced the collectible card game to its most essential pieces and reimagined them, creating a combination of systems that are elegantly simple without ever feeling simplistic.

Like many other modern card games, Marvel Snap automates its equivalent of mana or energy, adding one unit per turn. But then it streamlines the genre even further: Each game lasts only six turns, and there is no direct action between characters or choosing whether to deal damage to enemy scrubs or “go face” for direct player damage. Instead, your goal is to accumulate the most power across three locations. At the end of six turns, whoever controls two of the three locations wins the match, and ties are determined by total power across all three.

Those three locations are randomly selected from a massive pool, each introducing their own intricacies and elements, and the areas range from the straightforward to the silly. The symbiote planet Klyntar will depower every card played on it, while NYC’s Central Park adds a 1-power squirrel to each other location. The locations are revealed from left to right over the first three turns. The random nature means you can be halfway through a match when a surprise third location completely shakes up your strategy, and sometimes you’ll need to gamble by blindly playing a hero into an unrevealed location.

The locations are, as you might expect, inspired by famous locales from the Marvel comics and universes. Westview, taken from the Marvel Universe, changes into another random location on turn four, an homage to the story of WandaVision. Bruce Banner’s Gamma Lab turns every card into a Hulk, which can make for a big power swing if you manage to stash a lot of low-value cards there. These locations are some of the most inventive homages to Marvel canon, especially if you’re familiar enough with comics to recognize something like The Space Throne.

The hero cards themselves are built around Marvel mainstays as well, with similar but occasionally less inventive concepts than the locations. The vast majority of the cards are clever, creative envisioning of how to express the famous power sets of these heroes inside the medium of Marvel Snap’s mechanics. Iron Man, for example, doubles your power level at a location by equipping all your cards with an arc reactor. Captain America inspires his teammates, giving an ongoing boost to other cards wherever he is. And in a cute touch, Quicksilver always starts in your opening hand, as visualized by him arriving before all of your other cards. Half the joy of obtaining a new card is seeing how these famous heroes have been given a fitting power in the game. There are a handful of cards that feel like the game mechanic application came first and were then awkwardly mapped onto a hero, but those are rare exceptions.

And within those mechanics, Marvel Snap isn’t afraid to break its own rules. One location makes the game last seven turns instead of six. Another location sets the goal for its area of control as having the least power, so you might win by simply not playing anything there at all if your opponent accidentally plays or generates a card there. And sometimes, the game will surprise you with a completely unexpected curveball. At one point my game’s starting location was Ego, a living planet that takes over the game and plays both player’ decks for them. This essentially turned it into a two-sided A.I. match, and it was a hoot to watch. These wild situations seem engineered to come up only rarely, so they’re a delightful surprise when they do.

By making the game center around locations that are randomly, no two games feel exactly the same, and it encourages thinking on your toes. In a traditional CCG, you build your deck around a game plan or win condition, and most games revolve around fending off your opponent and executing your plan. Marvel Snap certainly maintains that level of initial planning strategy, but the conditions on the field can change on a dime. You might end up winning in a completely different way than you had planned, simply by adapting and anticipating your opponent’s moves. And sometimes, for better and worse, the conditions on the field will render your plan functionally impossible to complete. I had built a deck around a big one-two punch on turns five and six–but found that’s unworkable when I happen to play a match that calls the Time Variance Authority location, which ends the game after turn four.

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