Free to play games have never much appealed to me. Too often they are saddled with mechanics that are reminiscent of old-school arcades; they are designed to suck money from you at a very specific cadence. Sure, there have been examples in my life, and often, the ones I like I have put money into, especially if they eschew “Pay to win” mechanics. For instance, I think I put about 400 dollars into the now-shutdown Marvel Heroes because it was a fun Diablo-style game, with lots of very nice looking costumes. I am willing to pay for cosmetics generally, not an in-game advantage. I guess Marvel has some sort of rent-free space in my head, because the newest free to play game that has been taking up a lot of my time is once again owned by that infernal mouse, and that game is Marvel Snap.
Marvel Snap (PC, ios, Android)
Developer: Nuverse, Second Dinner Studios
Release Date: June 9, 2022
MSRP: Free to play with micro transactions
Marvel Snap is a card game available for iOS, Android, and Steam, and costs nothing to get into. The onboarding process has you playing a few games against bots, introducing the mechanics gradually, and what unfolds is a simple to learn card game that belies a skill ceiling that seems moderately high. The game starts you off with a basic deck of heroes and villains from the Marvel Universe and gets you right into the flow of playing the game. Winning matches results in ranking up on a ladder, and simply playing the game gets you experience towards your battle pass, as well as boosters, to increase the rarity of your collected cards.
The gameplay is relatively straight-forward, actually borrowing some basic mechanics from MOBAs, and other games like Hearthstone. There are three lanes of play, where players can place up to 4 cards. Each lane has different boons and penalties, which are chosen at random. Only the left-most lane is revealed from the start, with the other two being revealed on subsequent turns. You start with 1 energy, and you get another each turn, with the last turn granting you 6 energy to play cards. Like Hearthstone, and Magic: the Gathering, some cards are vanilla, with no abilities, while others can have abilities that are often “On Reveal” or “Ongoing”. For example, if I had 2 cards in the left lane, then I play Carnage, Carnage destroys those 2 cards, but as a result gets more power for himself. The abilities cards have are varied pretty much right away, and allow for a lot of synergy with heroes you would never imagine working together. One of my favorites is Blade and Apocalypse. At the end of the 6th turn, the game tallies the power level of each player’s groups in the three lanes. Whoever has more power in at least 2 of the lanes is considered the winner.
What makes this game so much fun is how freaking fast it is. Matches in general take between 3-5 minutes, and the penalties for losing are so low that getting back into a game is so easy. It has that “One more match” mentality that other games can’t compare to due to how quick the games go.
Okay, how does this game make money? Well, it’s actually not complicated. The game has two currencies, only one can be purchased with real money. You can buy gold with real money, as well as earn it through play. Credits can be purchased with gold, and earned through gameplay. Gold can also be used to buy variants of cards you already own, like a new picture of Iron Man in a different armor, or even chibi versions of characters. The offered variants, which change daily, will only be for cards that you already own, so you can never purchase new cards in this way. Credits are used to upgrade your cards in rarity. It is worth noting that your cards will never change in power by pumping credits and character-specific into them. All that changes is the level of detail present on the card, feeding into that collectathon mentality. Basic cards are just that, a 2D image. Upgrading to uncommon allows the picture to come out of the border, and moving onto rare gives the picture a 3D effect. Cards can be further upgraded, with things like animation being introduced to the image.
While upgrading the cards is purely cosmetic, it actually feeds into the main way you acquire new cards. Upgrading cards adds to your “Collector Level” which is a ladder granting rewards, which are typically either boosters for characters, credits, or new cards for your decks. The other way one can earn new cards is a common mechanic found in games today: The Battle Pass. There is a free one, giving some rewards every few levels, and a premium one giving out rewards like candy. The missions in the Pass are typically pretty easy, and I can tell you from experience, hitting level 50 was pretty easy.
At the low price of free, this is a great game to try for any fan of card games, and would love something that’s easy and fast to play on a bus, train, or sitting at your desk at work. The gameplay is tight, the loop is satisfying, and the game honestly doesn’t feel exploitative in how it tries to get money out of you. Marvel Snap is a download I can easily recommend.