Early Reaction & Hype for Marvel SNAP

There was a time in my life when I was living and breathing an online digital collectible card game. I played Hearthstone daily for years, hit Legend a few times, and truly enjoyed it – until I didn’t. It was about a year ago that I stopped playing Hearthstone for a family vacation and decided to take a longer break. I have not opened the game since and have marveled (pun!) at the time that has opened in my life. Between starting a new job last year, spending time with my son, and catching up on books (The Expanse was excellent) and shows (Arcane was AMAZING) it’s been a nice break from the card-game scene.

Then I caught the preview for Marvel SNAP, and I’m ALL IN again!

(more poker parallels later!)

The announcement below potential players a quick overview of how Marvel SNAP works, and immediately it should feel both familiar and different compared to games like Hearthstone.

Numerous elements of the game jump out to me as if they were designed to satisfy frustrations I’ve had with other games. First, each card is a character from the Marvel Universe. It should go without saying that winning a game with cards the likes of Captain America, Spider-Man, and Wolverine is pretty damn cool. Second, there is no turn taking between players because both players commit to their plays during the same time frame – or Round. Marvel SNAP games are 6 Rounds unless one player Concedes early. The timer for each Round is the same for both players so there is no scenario where a player plays their turn and then waits for their opponent. There is no waiting for your opponent to take their turn and watch that infernal rope (Hearthstone) burn down!

That’s enough to get me excited, but wait there’s more!

Third, Marvel SNAP is FAST as matches are resolved in about three minutes. Read that again – matches are resolved in about three minutes. One cost of any form of entertainment is time, and I have found myself frustrated with how little some games including A+ titles do not respect the player’s time. It was typical for Hearthstone matches to last 5-7 minutes though there are decks and matches that could take 20-30 minutes (or more) to resolve. I’m sure there is an audience that can afford that level of time commitment though I’m no longer one of them. The knowledge that starting a game of Marvel SNAP is no more than a 3-4 minute commitment is enormous. I cannot overstate how freeing that is as a player.

Fourth, the initial descriptions of how cards will be collected strikes me as very enjoyable. For years I would purchase the pre-release bundle for Hearthstone expansions and the vast majority of the cards I opened remained untouched as many were not featured in competitive decks. Crafting a card was expensive and while Golden cards looked great, it was completely unrealistic for me to seek out building a collection of Golden cards. There were not many carrots dangling in Hearthstone to build a collection of cards. The team has increased the carrots in recent years though it is not a major reinforcement system in the experience.

As a side bar, I dabbled in the Topps Star Wars Card Trader years ago and got super into it for a while. I recall maneuvering for a set of the Rebels characters because I liked how they looked; a great friend of mine made it his mission to collect all the Watto cards in that game. There were elements that were enjoyable and players could make deals and trades. I’m not sure if Marvel SNAP will have a Trading Post between players though the collecting aspect of the game sounds fun.

All cards (again, each card is a character) start out as Common and each card can by upgraded to Uncommon, Rare, Epic, Legendary, Ultra, and Infinity. The nifty thing is that each upgrade of the card makes it look more flashy while not affecting power level or gameplay. For example, a Common card for Loki would be a flat, two-dimensional piece of art of him. Uncommon creates a “frame break” effect on the card. Rare adds a three-dimensional effect when you rotate the card, and Epic adds some animation. Legendary adds more effects to the card’s logo while Infinity adds effects to the card’s border. The final upgrade to Infinity allows the player to “split” the card and create a Common copy of Loki with a new graphical touch such as a foil or flare effect – and then that Common copy of Loki could be upgraded.

Looks like I’m going to be on Team 8-Bit!

It is unclear what resources are needed to upgrade cards though I imagine there will be whales that spend a great deal of resources (time and/or money) to get the flashiest cards possible and all the available variants (see example of Captain Marvel above). The art and graphical touches for the game already look fantastic and the “power” or “complexity” of your cosmetic card collection is how you unlock new cards. The prospect of finding specific cards I want to upgrade like I’m leveling a character in Final Fantasy or weapon in Hades (honestly folks, it was too long without a Hades reference; shame on me) sounds like a Skinner Box From Hell that I might enjoy a little too much!

Fifth, it seems the primary reward in the game is the Cosmic Cube, which is earned from defeating opponents in the 6-Round games outlined above. Another intriguing element of Marvel SNAP is the built-in gambling/buffing system with the Cosmic Cubes. The game starts with 1 Cosmic Cube up for grabs and the winner collects the Cube to increase their ranking. However, the Cosmic Cube doubles near the end of the game AND either player can “Snap” to increase the Cube value at stake during the match. Let’s say a player is feeling confident they will win the game, then they can Snap and double the Cubes at risk. The opposing player can stay in the game or Concede and just lose the Cube that was originally at stake. Both players could Snap during the game for a maximum stake of 8 Cubes. This may be confusing so watch this match below to see how it works.

The match (again it plays out in about 3-4 minutes!) shows how the Snap mechanic works and how players can use that to increase the pressure on their opponent. Each player will have a style with the Snap mechanic. Some may Snap all-the-damn-time because they are confident, reckless, careless, or some combination of all the above. Other players might Snap judiciously and only when they are near-certain of a victory. It’ll be fascinating to experience that as it will add an element of bluffing and certainly stream-highlight worthy matches when a player with a stronger hand concedes because an opponent with no chance of winning the match bluffed with an aggressive Snap. It’s a game within a game, which brings back fond memories of playing poker at a friend’s house every Thursday in graduate school.

Sixth (yes, we’re still counting) is the gameplay itself in Marvel SNAP and how it may shield it from meta stagnation. While the cards and their power level and effects remain stable, the board changes each game. Instead of trying to whittle down your opponents health before they do the same to you, the goal in Marvel SNAP is to control two-out-of-three locations at the end of Round 6. The brilliant wrinkle is that the locations not only change each game, only one of the locations is visible on Turn 1. The second location activates on Turn 2, and the third location appears on Turn 3. Each location has unique properties so even when playing the same deck of cards no two games will ever be carbon copies of each other.

Ben Brode (spoiler, he’s #7 below) mentions in the extended livestream above that there are already 50 locations built for the game and that a new location will be introduced into the game each week. The new location will appear more heavily in match rotation, which strikes me as a remarkably elegant way to continuously balance the experience for players without the need to nerf or buff cards all the time. Big, bad villains are crushing the majority of decks – introduce a location that punishes them a bit. Decks that flood the board are running wild – introduce a location that limits or hurts overextending. All the while the constant rotation of locations keeps each match a unique experience.

And did I mention the games are FAST?

Seventh, it’s difficult to not get jazzed when Ben Brode is talking about all the love and effort that went into making Marvel SNAP a reality. The guy was a wonderful public face for Hearthstone in prior years and did excellent work to engage and cultivate a community. I’ve been wondering what the next project would be and was interested when I learned it would be something related to Marvel. I have faith that the years with Hearthstone will allow him and the team to improve upon what makes games like Hearthstone great and correct some flaws to make the experience of playing and collecting as enjoyable as it can be. He seems like he’s having so much damn fun, and I want to be a part of that fun too!

Marvel SNAP as Poker: Think of the Possibilities!

Eighth, while in the shower I found myself mentally outlining this article (as one does) and a thought struck me that is terribly exciting. It is unclear how many play modes Marvel SNAP will have. From the videos so far there are at least two modes: 1) the standard match for 1 Cosmic Cube and 2) a race to 10 Cosmic Cubes between two players based on standard matches.

I imagine they will have a variety of ways for players to square off against opponents and may feature player-created Guilds, AI Events, and who knows what else. Consider this…

Poker-style Tournaments where players buy-in for a specific number of Cosmic Cubes. Just to keep the math simple, let’s imagine $10 gets you into a tournament with 9 other players (10 total) and each player starts with 10 Cosmic Cubes. Players have matches in a rotating fashion with each other and are gambling, bluffing, and playing their best to earn more Cubes from each other. The buy-in would offer some incentives simply for entering though 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in the tournament would offer significant rewards.

The tournaments could have some limits (such as the stakes in any one match not going higher than 8 Cubes) or no-limit where players can one-up each other for a match that becomes worth 10, 20, or 100 Cubes. Not only would players have to manage their deck and each match, they would also have to manage their Cosmic Cube total. This sounds like a wild format to play in and also to watch. It reminds me of when poker on television was cool and interesting.

Could you imagine casters trying to keep up with bluffs and games in 3-4 minute increments with a bunch of seasoned players and personalities? Let me grab my popcorn!

Having watched Ben Brode talk about the Snap mechanic I now have a hard time imagining something like this won’t appear in Marvel SNAP at some point. Regardless, the Cosmic Cube reward system gives the design team a lot of space to create game modes going forward; I’m excited to see where they take the experience.

Eight Reasons I’m Hyped for Marvel SNAP

  1. It is riding the Marvel wave.
  2. There are no alternating turns between players so NO WAITING.
  3. Games are FAST clocking in at less than 5 minutes.
  4. Card collecting and customization sounds delightful.
  5. Gambling/bluffing mechanic (Snap) adds complexity to the experience.
  6. Rotating and random locations should keep gameplay fresh and allow designers to continuously balance the game without nerfing and buffing individual cards.
  7. I trust Ben Brode and his awesome team.
  8. Significant potential for dynamic poker-style tournament with Cosmic Cubes on the line!

Author: The Id DM

The Id DM is a psychologist during the weekdays. He DMs for a group of fairly loyal and responsible PCs every other Friday night. In the approximate 330 hours between sessions, he is likely anxious about how to ensure the next game he runs doesn't suck.

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