I’ve been playing the recently released digital trading card game Marvel Snap longer than most. Since the beta began earlier this year, I’ve been addicted to the superhero game like nothing else. Every time I open it up, I remember why I called it perfect for beginners and a great refresher for the trading card genre. But like all relationships, there have been a few rocks along the way that questioned my love for it — ones that have carried over to its full release.
One of those rocks was the game’s progression system, which separates it from other trading card game entries. Unlike those where you gamble your money away for the hope of pulling a great card from a surprise pack, Marvel Snap instead has you gambling time away with card unlocks through battle passes. It’s one of the excellent card game’s few roadblocks at the moment, one that’ll give lower-level and less patient players a good reason to drop the game altogether — though there’s a secret benefit to the approach too.
My issues with Marvel Snap began once I understood the game at what I’d call a low midtier level. I was winning a good amount of my matches (the bots flooding the beta servers helped with that), but I never found myself on some type of streak that helped me level up quicker. In fact, at one point, I just felt like I was stuck in a grinding rut.
Where the issue arises is that, unlike other physical trading card games, you don’t get cards by buying packs and hoping you get a card you need to complete a specific deck. In Marvel Snap, you’re locked to winning matches, completing the battle pass, and spending money to get boosters and points, which are used to level up cards. As you level these cards, your card level rises, allowing you to unlock more boosters, cards, and points to pay to level up said cards.
My frustration with this system came sooner than I thought it would. Around the time I hit a 200-card level, I realized I was barely getting new cards anymore. This usually wouldn’t be a problem, but in a player-versus-player game, your deck and card variety can lead to win-or-lose situations. Some may get bored of the decks they’re stuck with and want to play something new with another useful or meta-defining card, yet they won’t be able to get to it because they’re still stuck with an early deck.
This problem has been present since the early days of the beta. I remember watching content creators play the game and reading comments from players who were frustrated that they still didn’t have cool decks like the ones being shown on stream because they were too underleveled to use them and failing to progress. Those issues resonated with me at the time — so much so that I put the game down entirely for a while.
However, sometimes a rainbow can come out after a storm. That’s exactly what happened for me once I started thinking about how the muddy progression system shines a light on what Marvel Snap ultimately does well.
The card-level system forces players to really learn the game. While I’ve found myself annoyed when stuck with the same basic levels looking at cards I’m tired of, subconsciously I’m learning the game on a basic and deeper level simultaneously. Not only am I getting the fundamentals down, but I’m forced to really learn what different cards do. That’s one of the most important steps to getting good at card games, and it’s somewhat of a necessary evil that helps players out in the end.
While Marvel Snap‘s road to card collecting can be tiresome, I can see what developer Second Dinner was thinking, aside from getting players to spend money on leveling up faster. The issue only arises when combining that idea with casual players who may not have the time or patience to stick around for the ride. And considering this is a free-to-play game, that’s no small audience.
Marvel Snap is out now on iOS and Android devices.