Marvel Snap review – superhero showdown card game is utterly compulsive | Games

Eight years ago, Blizzard Entertainment launched Hearthstone, a free-to-play smartphone game that took elements of physical card battlers such as Magic: the Gathering and the Pokémon trading card game, and married them to the developer’s Warcraft franchise. The result was a spectacular global success that inspired an endless slew of similar deck-building games, all based around the same idea: you start with a small pack of digital cards, each with different powers, and you place them on the board against an opponent with a different deck. The most powerful wins.

Designed by Ben Brode, one of the co-creators of Hearthstone, Marvel Snap is a fresh take on the genre, in which players build collections of superheroes, each with different power ratings, and battle with a human or AI opponent to control three locations in the middle of the game board. The beauty is in the stripped-down simplicity of the interface: there are only six turns in each game, and only four cards can be placed at each location. As rounds progress, participants are able to place more powerful heroes. The player whose cards dominate the greatest number of play spaces at the end of the sixth round takes the match.

Marvel Snap
Marvel Snap. Photograph: Marvel

The complexity comes in the variety of cards and locations. Many of the heroes have special abilities that add to their tactical value: Iron Man has no power rating of his own, but he doubles the power of all the other cards at his location, while Multiple Man (I had to look him up, too) can be moved from one location to another but leaves a copy of himself at his previous position, effectively giving you a free card. Also, the three locations in the centre of the board change with each match, and there are more than 50 possibilities, all with their own quirks: Gamma Lab transforms all your cards into the Hulk, for instance.

At first, you’re just throwing whatever random cards you can at the board. But as you begin to understand the game, you figure out different strategies: maybe your deck concentrates on power cards that win through brute force, or maybe you go for cards that can block your opponents from gaining territory or unleashing special attacks. Players can create several decks from their roster of cards, and winning games unlocks new heroes to add to your arsenal.

Thanks to the compact, unpredictable nature of matches, Marvel Snap is a really fun game to experiment with even if you’re a newcomer. In a lot of ways it’s the Super Mario Kart of the deck-building world, as even veterans can be thrown off course if a location pops up that completely ruins their battle plan.

A lot of the attraction comes from the familiarity of the characters: each hero card has a beautiful comic book-style illustration which can be upgraded, adding 3D effects and other frills, and some heroes have different versions to collect. My current favourite is a cool pixellated Jessica Jones that looks like a screenshot from a mid-1990s beat-’em-up.

Monetisation is admirably low-key. The game is free to download and everything you need can be earned through play, but you can also buy Gold, the game’s main currency, if you want to speed up progression. Welcome bundles and season passes also access to different card variants and custom profile pics, but these are cosmetic additions. I’ve been playing for dozens of hours and now have deck of 50 cards and several profile pics, and I’ve not spent anything.

Marvel Snap is the perfect smartphone game: easy to get into, visually attractive, and simple to play in bite-size chunks, but it also offers masses of strategic depth. Deck building purists may wonder about the game’s longevity, and it can be frustrating when your strategies are blocked by an opponent determined to win by attrition, but you are only ever three minutes from your next potential victory. And every time you think you’re done, you face an opponent with a card that features a childhood favourite hero, and you’re right back in.

It all makes for a wonderful combination of nostalgia, fun and challenge. If the seemingly unstoppable Marvelisation of popular culture must continue, let it at least occasionally throw up gems like this.

Marvel Snap is available now on PC and smartphone

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