Marvel Snap: Ex-Hearthstone dev Ben Brode on why this new project is “the best entryway” into card games
In the modern day and age, collectable card games are doing damn well. Titles like Hearthstone, YuGiOh, and Magic the Gathering have all established their own entrenched positions in the video game market, bringing the decades-old hobby to computers, to consoles, and especially to mobile. Enter Marvel Snap, a new challenger to the big hitters with the word accessibility at its back in gleaming golden letters, and the team at Second Dinner Studios trying to recapture the spirit of an older, youthful card game experience.
To guide me through the game, and the goals the team has for it, is Ben Brode: flannel shirt aficionado, formerly of Blizzard Entertainment’s Hearthstone team and currently chief development officer at Second Dinner Studios. While the studio has obviously got a long list of content courses it’d like to dish out through seasonal releases and ongoing updates, can it make a dent?
But before we get into the nitty gritty, what is Marvel Snap? Well, it’s a quickfire card game which has each play fill out three spaces on the board, each with four card slots and their own active modifiers that range from buffs to cards played there to limits on what you can place there. In six turns, both competitors must try and fill up these spaces with cards in their deck,with every card possessing their own power figure and abilities It’s the perfect type of game for phones in my mind, super fast and easy to grasp.
“We wanted to make sure that the mobile experience was accessible – it was the main focus for us,” states Brode. “We were challenging ourselves to make a game that was super simple to learn, super fast, but still has a lot of depth.” The result of this balance is a game that starts of incredibly simple – for my money perhaps a bit too simple – but slowly introduces its variety of mechanics and intricacies.
What’s interesting is it does so through a non-linear, collection-focused approach. As you collect and upgrade cards, you as the player work through a collection-level that acts as your only source of new cards. You cannot buy cards. Not with money or in-game currency. The reason for this? To force players to play around with their new cards as they obtain them rather than throw them aside.
“So when you get a new card, it’s an opportunity to put it in your deck, level it up a little bit, and unlock additional stuff. So you get an opportunity to spend time with each card, cards you might not think are too good at first but after a few games prove to be quite good! It lets you explore the collection and get comfortable with deck-building.”
However, this also plays into a subterranean goal for Ben and the team: trying to bring back a long gone card game experience, found on playgrounds and living rooms across the world many years ago.
“When I was a kid we used to collect Marvel trading cards, we’d go down to the card shop or local comic book store and get a pack of trading cards, or even other card games. None of my friends had all the cards, it wasn’t a thing people did back then! It was more about slowly collecting cads, building decks with what you had. It was such an incredible time, and when making the game we were trying to recapture that old-school style of card game.”
One of the aspects of Marvel Snap that the inner kid and comic book nerd will love will obviously be the presence of numerous Marvel characters. There are some fairly deep cuts in there, all of which have been tied to a card effect that represents their background.
“Often times we designed cards top down, which means we’d sit down and thing ‘what would Rogue do in Marvel Snap’ before picking out what ability makes sense. You usually come up with fun designs that way. However, sometimes we knew we needed an ability, like boosting the effectiveness of ongoing cards, so we’d find a character that fit the ability”.
Brode mentioned Zero as a great example, a card who strips abilities off other cards. He describes “combing through the Marvel encyclopaedia” for characters that fit the effect.
To finish up my questions on Marvel Snap, I wanted to ask Brode what his goals were for the game (aside from the obviously “make a billion dollars” or “be the most popular card game out there”). The answer reflects what he wants for the game, and what he wants for himself. “With Marvel Snap my goal is to make a big impact. I want Marvel Snap to grow the audience. When I was a kid card games were niche, not a lot of people played them. Card games are so much fun.
“One of my favourite things to do in life is to introduce people to things I love, and I love card games. So I can’t wait to introduce people to Marvel Snap, it’s the best entryway to the genre.”