Marvel Snap is a quick and simple deck-building game, but like the MCU, the variations on that simple theme are seemingly endless. That unpredictability ensures no two games are the same and that you’ll likely hit that play button again and again.
Like Hearthstone, Ascension, Magic the Gathering, or any of the other online deck builders, the strategy begins with choosing the cards you’ll be dealt—in this case Marvel Comics characters, each with different costs, power and abilities. Starting out, this is as simple as making sure you’ve got a balance of lower-cost cards to play early each game and high-powered cards to finish it out. But the more you play, the more free rewards you earn, including additional character cards to choose from. This eventually opens up ways to make your cards work together—whether that’s lots of Ongoing cards that benefit from Spectrum or cards that put more cards in your hand to power up Devil Dinosaur.
The learning curve isn’t very steep and it’s made easier by the player-matching system. Starting out (or when the Season Pass resets every four weeks), your competition will be newbies and probably grade-school kids who don’t understand basic strategy. You’ll feel as smart as Bruce Banner and as invincible as the Hulk. But as you level up the competition becomes tougher and it’ll take a little more foresight to win. And the twists on traditional deck-building games means you’ll have to keep adapting your strategy.
Marvel Snap battles take place in three locations each game. Each location tosses a new element into the mix, and those variables are only revealed after each of the first three turns. Cards might get bonuses or penalties or get moved around completely. Random cards might get placed, the game might get an extra round—or two fewer ones. Once Ego took over and finished choosing cards for both players during the rest of the game. There’s plenty of luck involved—especially if you play with Morph, who copies a random card in your opponent’s hand—but there are mostly ways for you to react to lucky or unlucky breaks, and a huge part of that is anticipating where and what your opponent will play next. You only have to win two of the three locations to win, so it’s as much about knowing which match-up to sacrifice as it is where to go big.
The other twist is the titular snap. At any point each player can double the stakes by snapping. It’s a power move, but not quite Thanos-level, and you can always retreat for a smaller loss if you’ve lost all hope of your superheroes saving the day. I’m not too proud to admit that there’s an added satisfaction from winning after someone else has snapped or snapping yourself and scaring them away. But I can also find joy in getting surprised by a complicated final move that beats me in the end. The cubes in the pot will level you up or down, earning more rewards—and more Marvel characters—along the way.
It’s a free-to-play game, as always subsidized by those who’d rather buy their decks instead of earn them and those in a hurry to show off special variant cards, including chibi versions of your favorite superheroes. But there’s no need to pay anything to stay competitive—the only real temptation is to keep playing.
Marvel has become a juggernaut because it delivers a simple, good time with just enough twists and eye candy to hold your attention for a couple of hours. Marvel Snap is exactly that in the form of a mobile game.
Marvel Snap was developed by Second Dinner and published by Nuverse. Our review is based on the iOS version. It is also available for Android and PC.
Josh Jackson is Paste’s founding editor-in-chief. Follow him on Twitter @joshjackson.