Marvel Snap, the latest mobile card game from Nuverse, is an addictive, fast, and free deck builder.

I’m not yet sure if this article functions as a recommendation or a warning. I will do my best to describe what makes this mobile card game so good and leave the determination to you.

The Details

Marvel Snap is a simplified deck building card game, not unlike Hearthstone. Your deck is a maximum of twelve cards; no more, no less. This may sound too small for a deck building game, but considering every match only lasts six turns (usually), it’s just enough.

As you can imagine, this means you have to think hard about every single play. Most cards also have some kind of additional effect, and learning how to synergize these effects is key to success.

Nothing I’ve described so far necessarily sets Marvel Snap apart from other mobile based card games, but there are a few additional caveats which help elevate Snap far beyond its spiritual predecessors.

Resists Usual Scummy Mobile Business Models

By some miracle, Marvel Snap resisted the urge to make “upgrading” a card change any actual numbers on the card. No amount of upgrades increases the strength, lowers the energy cost, or improves the card’s listed ability. Everyone’s Quicksilver remains the same, regardless of rank.

You may be thinking, “isn’t this how card games normally work?” and the answer to that is yes... provided you are thinking of actual, physical card games. Most mobile games thrive on encouraging a zillion microtransactions to power up units. Marvel Snap does provide ways to spend money, of course, but no amount of money buys you new or stronger cards.

Instead, upgrading your existing cards changes their appearance. They become shiny, animated, or foil-like. Aside from bragging rights, upgrading cards also gets you progress towards a track which unlocks new cards to use. Currently, this and the season pass are the only way to acquire new cards.

You can also buy variants of existing cards in the store if you so desire. These cards range from pixel art to anime style versions of Marvel heroes and villains.

The end result is a game where I never feel truly outmatched, only outplayed. My opponent is always working within the same limitations. It’s very rare I look back on a match and decide winning was impossible; there's almost always a few key plays which cost the game.

Play the Field, Not the Player

Marvel Snap has no health pools. Instead, play is decided by locations. Whichever player controls two of three locations by the end of the sixth turn is the winner. In the event of a tie, the winner is decided by highest point totals. In the event of a tie there, well... you actually tie.

The locations are where Marvel Snap provides an element of randomness, but unless you’ve played too ambitiously, it’s a randomness you can work around. Each location is revealed one turn at a time, so while you can play cards at a future location before knowing what it is, doing so is a risk. Take, for example, this location on the far right below.

Yeah. Lowest power wins. By playing here early, I’ve set myself up for a difficult round.

These locations create some insane card synergies, and it’s what keeps every game of Marvel Snap engaging. Sometimes the field ends up completely in your favor, while other times it feels like your opponent has the goddamn reality stone.

Some locations have negligible impact, such as providing a single additional energy for a turn, or shuffling a few rocks into each deck. Others, however, have gamebreaking ramifications. Some zones will actually extend or shorten the match by a few turns, or produce clones of powerful cards all over the field.

You may have designed your deck to do one thing extraordinarily well, but locations force you to be more adaptable. They also create a compelling mind game as the match goes on, where predicting where your opponent will dedicate their final cards makes or breaks the match.

Your Rank is Actually a Rank

The “snap” in Marvel Snap refers to a betting mechanic which makes up the game’s titular feature. At any point in a match, you can touch the cube at the top to "Snap". This will increase the ranking points on the line for the match to four. If your opponent also snaps, the total increases to eight. The winner takes it all, and the loser drops by the same amount. Demotions are commonplace in Snap.

Like any good betting game, you can also choose to fold and “retreat,” which will cut your losses in half. If you feel like you know which way the wind is blowing early, you can admit defeat to save yourself the full punishment.

This betting dynamic adds a fun mind game to every match. Is your opponent confident, or just trying to bluff their way out? Do you call it and snap back? Or bow out before they play some killer combination?

The snap mechanic is just as likely to get you into trouble as it is to net you big wins, but in either case, it creates a second layer of stake alteration I've not seen in any other similar card game.

The most important takeaway is this system also ensures you only end up against equally skilled opponents, as it's impossible to rank up simply from playing a lot — you must improve instead.

What the Future Holds

The real question (which is perhaps a poignant one to ask in the wake of Overwatch 2) is whether or not Marvel Snap will manage to hold strong to these values or become corrupted over time. My two biggest concerns looking ahead are:

The Business Model

Listen, a game's gotta make money. Right now I'm worried Marvel Snap won't make enough to justify itself by selling only a $10 battle pass and completely optional art variants. If Marvel Snap has to pivot, I imagine the temptation to sell more meaningful items in the store will be strong. While giving in would be more profitable in the long run, the end result will also be just another game funded by whales, buying all the latest and greatest cards while everyone else quits and uninstalls.

No Balance in All Things

Balancing a card game is not an enviable task. Lord knows Magic: The Gathering has a long history adding and removing cards from legal play, but a mobile game operates differently by outright changing the behavior or stats of existing cards live.

The concern I have here is one I've seen come to fruition in a different game, Hearthstone. When a particular deck type got too strong in the history of Hearthstone, Blizzard wouldn't just lightly alter some numbers, they nuked the deck from orbit. Instead of coming up with counterplay cards or tuning numbers down, they'd simply kill it outright. What ultimately caused me to drop off the game is having to basically consult a list of "viable builds" to have any hope of a feasible deck.

Right now Marvel Snap feels like it's in a good spot but I dread a future like Hearthstone, where certain deck types are so eviscerated in the pursuit of "balance" the vast majority of cards become useless. It would be the kiss of death for a game so full of creative options.

If Marvel Snap manages to avoid these pitfalls, I could see it occupying a space on my phone for many years to come. It's fast, creative, easily accessible, and gauges your skill level instead of your time commitment or wallet depth.

Now I just need to learn how to stop playing at every opportunity.