“I generally avoid mobile games because they’ve evolved into perfectly tuned addiction machines that can attach themselves to your wallet and suck it dry before you realize you’re the whale developers love.”
I wrote that last month in an issue of my newsletter, a couple of weeks after Marvel Snap came out of nowhere and piqued my interest. It has since become one of my favorite games of the year (the full list is at the end), and one of my all-time favorite collectible card games ever. The mechanics are similar to any other deck-building game you’ve played, combined with a well-executed infusion of a broad range of Marvel characters and settings designed to extract real money from comic book fans’ wallets. Each 1v1 match takes less than 5 minutes to play, and it takes literal seconds to jump back into another, ensuring “just one more” will keep you playing until your phone’s battery is drained.
I gave in at the very end of the first season and bought the season pass for $9.99, which included enough “gold” that I haven’t been tempted to spend any more real money… although the Baby variants will probably be the thing that breaks me.
Deck Fights, Dick Moves
(This is for Snap nerds only; scroll down for my GOTY list.)
Trading/Collectible Card Games are one of my favorite genres, especially digital versions where you usually don’t have to spend any money to play and it’s much easier to experiment with different deck builds to find the one you like most. For a while, my favorites were a Destroy deck built around Nova, Bucky, and Carnage; and a Control deck built around Polaris, Magneto and Kingpin. They served me well over the first two seasons, but halfway into the third season I was consistently losing with both of them — at one point dropping from rank 55 all the way to 36, with no signs of turning things around.
I never could get a Discard deck going, every variation feeling way too dependent on the luck of the draw, and RNGesus was absolutely not favoring me. I built a deck around Ka-Zar called The Losers, which frequently lived up to its name, and I didn’t have the right cards to try out the movement-based deck that had been the most difficult to beat for a while. I also refuse to play a Debuff deck — aka Dick Moves — because winning that way doesn’t feel like a win to me. (Exception: Dropping Yondu on Bar Sinister is a master dick move, whether you’re doing it or it’s done against you.)
Frustrated, I decided to start from scratch and build a new deck around my least-favorite style of soccer: counter-attacking.
It’s kind of a Rope-a-Dope strategy as I often have no cards to play in the first two rounds, but that also means I get to see 2/3rds of the field and a glimpse of my opponent’s strategy before I make my first move. Most of the cards can play both ways, and there’s no single endgame it’s built around, so the draw usually won’t completely knock me out of a match if a specific card doesn’t drop in time.
- Nova: Played mainly for the bonus, it’s also an early misleading signal that I may have a Destroy deck. It’s not completely useless if I don’t draw Killmonger, as it can still be the trigger for Rescue if I need to drop two cards that turn.
- Okoye: With several low power cards, dropping it in the second round is critical, but it can still be the trigger for Rescue if I need to drop two cards that turn, or paired with Enchantress or Shang-Chi on the last turn.
- Armor: On offense, it protects my big guns from an opponent’s Shang-Chi. On defense, it derails an opponent’s Nova or Destroy plans.
- Colossus: Perfect for a blind drop on the third location, or any debuff location.
- Scarlet Witch: Can single-handedly win or lose a game, but it’s often worth the gamble, especially when shutting down a location that’s better suited for the opponent’s strategy, or countering Storm.
- Killmonger: Its primary job is to trigger Nova, but it’s also great against Ka-Zar decks and taking out Sunspot.
- Maximus: One of a just a few higher-powered cards, but it’s a risk if the opponent has a Moon Girl/Devil Dinosaur deck.
- Shang-Chi: An insurance policy that often goes unused, but taking out a high-powered card, or multiple cards, is one of the most satisfying plays in this deck!
- Enchantress: Specifically for Moon Girl/Devil Dinosaur and Wong decks, frequently leads to final round retreats. Also pairs well with Red Skull.
- Rescue: Dropped in the 4th or 5th round, it can lock down a location or draw attention from elsewhere, depending on which other cards I have in my hand.
- Spider-Woman: A potential 11-point play on the right location, it can lock it down or draw attention from elsewhere, depending on what my final turn is looking like.
- Red Skull: Usually played on my last turn to minimize the opponent’s benefit and steal a location, but occasionally played on the fifth turn, followed by Enchantress to turn off its opponent bonus.
I’ve been playing this deck for a week now (swapped Captain America and Abomination for Maximus and Red Skull halfway through), and I’ve gone from a low of rank 36 back up to 54 as of writing this. I’ve been winning consistently again — outright and by retreat — and whenever I do lose it’s almost always because I got outplayed rather than being screwed by RNGesus. Dick Move decks are my biggest weakness because Scorpion in round two or three can do a lot of damage, sometimes causing me to immediately retreat, but my team of Randos has been competitive against every other build.
And that’s ultimately the beauty of Marvel Snap, so far: there’s no single dominant meta everyone is chasing. They’ve mostly nailed the balancing, and a variety of builds are viable, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Some Wong combos feel OP AF and are as frustrating as they are impressive to see executed against you, but Cosmo and Enchantress are legitimate counters — assuming RNGesus serves them up in time. That may be Snap‘s biggest strength: winning is fun, but losing to a well-executed deck can be, too.
NOTE: I’ve added the deck info in the comments if you want to play around with it yourself.
2022 Games of the Year
I’m rarely playing the newest releases so most annual lists don’t often reflect my favorites, but thanks to Game Pass, my 2022 playlist included a broader range of new (and new-to-me) games than usual, including several I probably wouldn’t have played otherwise. After all of the above, it might be surprising that Marvel Snap isn’t at the top of my list, but as much fun as it is, Citizen Sleeper was better in different ways.
- Citizen Sleeper: At roughly 10 hours long, its deceptively simple mechanics and gameplay (basically a point-and-click, narrative RPG) support an enthralling cyberpunk story where every decision has weight and consequences, and the setting is as immersive as any 3D first-person shooter. Conversations branch, but you can rarely follow each one. You will fail some missions and succeed in others, and the stakes won’t always be clear until afterwards. You can’t save before big decisions, because there’s only an autosave feature, and you never really know when you’re making a big decision until after you’ve made it. It’s beautifully written and visualized with an emotional score, and the truly big decision at the “end” legitimately had me paralyzed — freedom (maybe?) vs. the continued unknown (maybe?) — because there were things I’d left undone and wasn’t sure if I’d get the chance to go back to.
- Marvel Snap: See above. Also, Snap has a bunch of characters I’ve either never heard of or know nothing about, so this clickbait article from Book Riot is actually service journalism. Blue Marvel’s generic design makes him seem less interesting than he apparently is, with a backstory that sounds a bit like Hooded Justice from HBO’s take on Watchmen. I’m not a Marvel reader these days, but I’m adding that one to my wishlist.
- Weird West: It had been a while since I completed an immersive sim because they’re so damn long nowadays and I can’t resist side quests, but Weird West‘s five-character structure made for a fun, engaging ~40-hour experience. The fifth act gets a little wobbly as the fetch questiest of the quintet, but every decision you made beforehand matters, so the ending is pretty satisfying. My only quibble was the death of one character you’re not given a clear opportunity to save — I only realized it later, reading a walkthrough — and it falls into lazy stereotype territory.
- Multiversus: I haven’t owned a Nintendo system since the Wii, so there’s been a Smash Bros.-shaped gap in my gaming life that hadn’t been successfully filled until I had the opportunity to fight Batman and Shaggy as… LeBron James?!?! It’s a charming palette cleanser, whether I’m taking a break from getting my ass kicked in For Honor, or only have ~30 minutes to squeeze in a little game time between streaming binges.
- Slay the Spire: While not a new release, I discovered this one thanks to Game Pass and played the hell out of it for a couple of months straight — on PC, Xbox, and even streaming on my old tablet. It’s part deck builder, part dungeon crawl, with a splash of strategy as you choose your path up the spire, fighting monsters, collecting and upgrading cards, and managing a range of randomized perks.
- [HONORABLE MENTION] Football Manager 2023: Every year, particularly from its new release in November through at least February, I’m usually pouring dozens of hours into Football Manager. The past few years I’ve focused on managing my way through Spain, but this year I decided to start with the Red Bulls and Major League Soccer… and that was a mistake! I knew MLS had some byzantine roster and salary cap rules, but FM23’s hyper-focus on realism combined with my virtual hubris means I’ve not enjoyed my 1.5 seasons so far, despite winning the Supporters Shield in my first season. After getting knocked out of MLS Cup in the first match — 100% realistic — my second season has been marred by contract and roster mistakes, along with a very realistic losing streak, and it’s been weeks since I’ve played. I’m leaning towards resigning mid-season to see if I can get a job in Spain before my reputation takes too big a hit, or just starting a brand-new save in Spain. Other games are usually competing with Football Manager for my time, but this year it’s the other way around.
BONUS: It’s the rare game that can consistently demand dozens (or hundreds!?!) of hours of my time, but finding *good* short games is challenging, even as Game Pass makes them more accessible. Enter The Short Game Podcast, one of my first serendipitous Mastodon discoveries, a podcast focused specifically on games you can finish in less than 10 hours! After confirming they liked Citizen Sleeper and enjoying the range of the thinking behind their own GOTY picks, I’m looking forward to diving deeper into their archives.