Dome Keeper

Dome Keeper is a small and solid game, but didn’t offer enough variety in runs to keep me hooked.

Author’s Note: Not big on reading writeups? Why not just watch me play the game here?

Dome Keeper is a score-attack mashup of Motherload and Space Invaders. I think it’s a good game. I don’t really recommend it, for reasons I’ll get into in a moment. I know that sounds weird, calling a game good, and then not recommending it, but I promise it will make sense in a bit.

Anyway, back to Dome Keeper. You have a Dome, which functions as your little base, and venture out from it into the earth to mine minerals. And this dome as needs to be Kept. Specifically it needs to be kept from being shattered into a million pieces by various spooky shadow monsters that show up in waves on timed intervals. This is the games core tension: mine resources, drag them back to your dome, and try not to get caught at the bottom of the mineshaft right as you as the next wave comes in to smash it.

Defending the dome is done with it’s weapon systems. There are two dome weapon base sets, the Laser Dome, and the Sword Dome. The Laser dome plays somewhat like a turret defense game, you have a big laser, you can rotate it alongside the outside of your dome, and you press another button to fire. The laser moves slower when fired, so it’s faster to move it into position, and then fire the beam. It has various upgrades, including moving the laser head faster, having the laser deal more damage, etc. Honestly, outside of a double laser upgrade, there’s not too much here that’s very exciting.

The Sword Dome is unlocked later. Instead of having a projectile weapon, it has a large sword that can be swung back and forth across the dome. It can also be launched like a harpoon to skewer long ranged projectile using enemies, or even to just tap melee enemies a bit before they reach the dome.

Personally, I very much think the game was designed with the sword dome in mind instead of the laser dome. My reason for believing this is that certain enemy behaviors and patterns interact in a much more interesting way with the dome then with the laser. As an example, one of the earlier enemies is a small bat like creature that does the following: It flies on the screen cloaked and unable to be hit, flies to an area on either the left or right of the screen, uncloaks, shoots a few projectiles, then recloaks and flies to the other side. Rinse repeat.

With the Sword Dome, there’s an element of skill to this. It takes the same amount of time to uncloak every time, and it can be one shot after just one damage upgrade, so there’s a sort of elegance to predicting where it’s going to be, pre-launching the sword, and steering it into the bat right as it uncloaks.

Another good example can be seen in the later game enemy, the launcher. It’s a large blobby snake that swarms out of the ground, waits for a moment, and then launches a large shadow projectile through the air. With the laser, there’s no real option other then to just blast it down, but hitting it with the sword before it launches the projectile will stagger it and force it back down into the ground.

However, both of these have the same problem, that sort of feeds into the back of the game: Despite having multiple options for upgrades and changes, there’s no real reason to experiment on any given run. Enemies just show up randomly over time, so instead of building for a certain encounter or fight, it felt better to just do the same build each game, and play through. The end result? The fights kind of just feel all the same. Ramping intensity and difficulty, sure, but not changing how things feel mechanically between runs, unless you choose to take a risk and force it.

That’s only half the game though. The other entire half is mining and digging for resources from under the dome. If you’ve ever played Motherlode, this will feel somewhat familiar. If you haven’t it works like this. The keeper is controlled with cardinal directions and will automatically mine walls/blocks if they’re pushed into them. Different dirt has different strengths, but as you get deeper, the strength just increases overall. This means that it can be easier to mine deeper into weak dirt, then to try to dig out stone at your current level, but generally you’ll need to get upgrades to go much further.

The goal of all of this digging is to get resources, of which there are three. Sulphur, Water, and Iron. Sulphur is used to repair your domes health, and buy a single set of special resistance upgrades, and is the rarest. Water is used in small amounts for most non-primary upgrades, IE, anything that isn’t your shield, weapon, or keeper suit. Iron is used for pretty much everything else.

One thing I haven’t talked about yet is the win condition of Dome Keeper. There are two modes, the primary mode, Relic Hunt, and the secondary Prestige. Relic Hunt is just a standard “Dig deep, find a special relic, and bring it to the surface to win”. Prestige is the primary mode, and effectively a score attack mode.

I’m personally of the opinion that Relic Hunt is effectively an extended tutorial/relaxed mode, and Prestige is intended to be the primary game. Which is a bit unfortunate, because I’m personally not interested in prestige very much. High scores are not particularly motivating to me as a factor, unless the entire game is designed around that as a core component, ala Hazelnut Hex.

In Prestige Mode, you get points based on spending resources to increase a score multiplier, and a score total, and you get points after each survived wave. So it’s beneficial to spend resources early on increasing the score, at the risk of not spending those resources on upgrades. It is a interesting tension, but it’s not one that I’m very compelled by.

There are a few systems I’ve not covered here, like the semi-random relics and the upgrades they offer, but I think I’ve covered enough of Dome Keepers system to explain my problem with it.

Dome Keeper is a good game, but any single run can often feel indistinguishable from another run. There’s only a single unique relic that modifies combat, with every other relic modifying resource acquisition. The end result is a game that felt the same each time I played it. It was interesting, but it wasn’t fascinating, or ever really felt like it scratched the itch of something like Inscryption or Spelunky. It never really forced me into a situation where I had to really rely on an understand of game mechanics, or systems to pilot my way out. Instead, it was just more about “Oh, I should have just done X instead of Y”. There was no adapting, just learning, and some small improvements.

This is why I don’t really feel like recommending it. It’s good! It’s well made, it’s polished, and it has some clever mechanics. But I don’t get that vibe of it being a unique or super rich experience that stuck with me.

Anyway, if you think my opinion is stupid, or you really like games like Motherlode, you can find Dome Keeper on Steam for $20.

Author Note 2: I played most of my 20 hours of Dome Keeper before the update that added a second playable character, with a different mining style. It’s a neat update, but I didn’t really like playing the Accessor. It’s also entirely possible that Dome Keeper becomes a much richer games with updates, but that’s not what was available when I bought the game on release day.

Marvel Snap, Space Lion, and Convergent Design

This is the fourth and final post in my Marvel Snap week series. I want to take this opportunity to answer a question I asked in the first post. Why have a Marvel Snap week? Why direct four full posts of coverage if not for personal gain of some sort?

Well, as I mentioned in the first post, there were just too many things it made me want to talk about, and I didn’t think I could fit them into one post. One of the biggest ideas that I wanted to discuss was that of convergent design. Convergent design is the phenomenon where different groups of individuals working in completely different circles, end up making similar things.

So let’s talk about that. Marvel Snap is a game where you have a hand of cards, with various power values and abilities, and your goal is play them to locations, and then have the highest total power value at those locations.

Several weeks ago, I wrote about a board game I liked. In it, you have a hand of cards, with various power values and abilities, that you play to locations, with the goal of having the highest total power value at those locations. It’s called Space Lion.

To be clear, because this seems important, and since I’ll be talking about something much less pleasant in a bit: I do not believe that either Space Lion or Marvel Snap took or stole mechanics from the other in any way whatsoever. I just think the fact that both of them have some similar mechanics is an fascinating example of convergent design.

And despite both games having gameplay with some interesting parallels (such as both relying on hidden placement, and trying to read your opponents’ plays and options) there are also tons of things that set them apart!

Space Lion is a longer form board game, and has no deckbuilding or drawing cards. Instead, your entire set of cards starts in your hand, and the decisions to make about when and where to play them are entirely up to you.

Marvel Snap, on the other hand, has the traditional drawing from a deck, and energy/mana system that’s used in games like Magic and Hearthstone.

In this case, both games just happened to use similar mechanics as part of their primary systems, and it’s neat to see how despite that, they’re both very different games.

So let’s talk about the opposite.

Flowering Heights, Towering Perfection, and Stolen Designs

Several weeks ago, I saw this tweet.

Click to go to the actual twitter page. Due to world events unrelated to this minor scandal, it may or may not exist by the time you go to read it, so I’ve also go the screenshot above.

For me, it was an interesting sort of philosophical question. What constitutes copying someone else’s design? Was there actual theft going on here or was this someone being over protective of a mechanic?

I chatted with some folks, had some discussions, and assumed that it would never really be clear who was in the right in this situation.

After all, it’s not like the person who claimed they were being ripped off would post about it right?

And it’s not like their post about it would have exact comparisons, right?

And it’s not like they would have a full set of screenshots of the person accused of stealing the game, playing the game in question in a tabletop simulator playtest session, right?

Oh.

Oh dear.

The Kickstarter for the stolen game in question is down now. It was at a bit over half its goal at time of cancellation, and based off my research*, this seems to be the end of the whole affair.

*Reading Connor Wake’s twitter posts from the last few weeks, and literally nothing else.

Now we’ve moved out of the arena of convergent design. I still find this really interesting. Because outside of the community action and outrage, there’s no other real way to resolve something like this. Board game mechanics aren’t protected by copyright, trademark, and probably not by patents (although there’s some debate). There’s nothing outside of community outrage that actual stops me from just completing ripping off the gameplay of, say, Glory to Rome, naming it Honor to Carthage, and running a Kickstarter.

I also found how people feel about cases of board game copying. Most board game designers I saw talking about it see this as a somewhat necessary state of affairs. Few designers want to make playtesters sign expansive NDA’s, or to stop playtesting in order to deal with possible theft.

The biggest concern I heard was the fear that at some point, someone too big to stop, such as Hasbro, would rip off an indie design, and just bring it to mass market. Hasbro can’t be canceled on Twitter. And to be clear: there’s no legal framework or tools to stop this. Right now this shit operates entirely on the hope that corporations won’t see it in their best interest to rip off an indie designer’s board game.

Anyway, with that series of paragraphs that have absolutely nothing to do with Marvel Snap, this concludes Marvel Snap week! I’d say that you should follow me on Twitter, but it’s possible that platform is literally dead by next week. Or even if it hasn’t died, that it should. You could also watch my stuff on YouTube, but that’s almost entirely Magic: The Gathering. So maybe you can just stay here on this site. Browse the archives. Wait for next week’s post.

Yeah, maybe do that instead.

Marvel Snap and the Inherent Unfairness of Card Games

Marvel Snap can be random and unfair. Personally, I think that’s a good thing. Here’s why.

I started this as Marvel Snap Week, but now it’s Marvel Snap Weeks, because I didn’t get these posts finished in time. You can read part 1 and part 2 here.

Let’s talk about something that everyone knows, but nobody really says out loud. Okay, nobody except game designers. They say it, but no one else does. Game designers and… Maxamillion Pegasus from Yu-Gi-Oh. Who, in-universe is a game designer, so I guess it’s still all game designers. Anyway.

This is the ideal game designer. You may not like it, but this is what peak performance looks like.

Card games are not balanced. They are not inherently fair. In a game between two players, the strongest player won’t always win. The strongest deck won’t always win.

This isn’t a design flaw. Allowing weaker or unskilled players to beat stronger or higher skilled players is intentional.

Marvel Snap’s mechanics lean into this in several ways, both with card effects and core gameplay. But they also offer an out, allowing players on the receiving end of the RNG stick a way to minimize losses.

So let’s talk about Marvel Snap’s gameplay for the first time in this short series, and how it handles both having a wide variety of RNG, and controlling RNG’s effects.

Marvel Snap is played with a deck of 12 cards over 6 turns. Each card starting in a deck must be unique. Players draw 4 cards to start, and an additional card each turn. Cards have a cost and power. The cost is energy, and has to be paid to play the card. You start at one energy, and get an additional energy each turn. Leftover energy doesn’t carry over.

The game itself is played across 3 locations. To win, you just have to have the most power at two of the three locations when the game ends. Each player can only play 4 cards at any location. In case of ties, whoever has the most total power wins.

Locations are where the RNG first comes into play. There’s a fairly wide pool of locations, and when a game starts, three are randomly selected and placed face down. A single location is flipped face up when the game starts, and additional locations are flipped on turn 2 and turn 3. Locations can have a wide range of effects. Some buff or debuff units played on them, while others might give additional energy, or create copies of cards at random locations. One location will even play your cards for you. (And he’ll do it very badly, screw you Ego The Living Planet.)

Locations provide a huge amount of variance. Playing to an unrevealed location can be a big gamble. Sure, it might be the location that gives a free 6 drop if you fill it first, but it might be the location swaps the units located there to the opposing player after turn 3.

And this just the start of things that can randomly go wrong. There are plenty of cards with semi-random effects, or that can pull random cards into your hand or from your deck. In short, there’s a lot of space to “lose to” RNG.

The thing about Marvel Snap, though, is that losses and wins are not created equal. Let’s talk about the “Snap” system.

There is no unranked mode in Marvel Snap. Every mode is ranked, and in every game, you’re competing for cosmic cubes. The wager starts at one cosmic cube, and if the game reaches the last turn, the wager is doubled to 2 cubes. That’s if the game reaches the last turn, though, because both players can retreat at anytime. Retreating counts as a loss, but in exchange, you only lose cubes you’d already wagered.

But while you can retreat, you can also choose to snap. Snapping doubles the number of cubes staked, and you can only do it once per match. Your opponent can also choose to snap.

In a normal game, you’ll generally lose win or lose 1-2 cubes. But if both you and your opponent end the game confident you can crush the other player, the amount can go up to 4-8 cubes. And I think this mechanic, where players can state their confidence (and bluff) about whether they’re going to win is part of what balances out RNG. You’re likely to get lucky and unlucky in generally even amounts in the long run. But if you push when you’re winning, and retreat when you think you’re going to lose, you’ll come out ahead.

Players can always retreat, and simply take a one-cube loss. Choosing to push into poor situations with higher losses is an active decision you choose to make. There’s no “I have to play it out” mentality where every game is equal. If you’re doing badly, you can surrender and minimize the pain of RNG.

As a brief side note, I think it’s also interesting that retreating is displayed with the message “You Retreated” and a friendly color scheme, while losses use a harsh aggressive red. There’s a definite goal of making retreating feel like a smart choice and a good option.

Anyway, that’s all I have to say about Marvel Snap and RNG for the moment. Come back later this week, for part 4 of Marvel Snap Week(s), where we’ll talk about convergent game design, and wrap this series up. Or follow me on Twitter to see when that post goes up.

Brothers’ War Sealed Write-Up

I went 4-0 at a Brothers’ War pre-release, and made $1.42. And you can, too, if you read this writeup!

The newest magic set releases on Arena in three two days. But I’m an impatient motherfucker, and that’s too long to wait to play with the new cards. So I decided to do something I haven’t in years:

I went to a physical pre-release in person. (I looked it up, it’s been at least 7 years!)

Generally speaking, it was a fun event, and decent use of a Saturday, but it did get me thinking about things. This article will be divided into two-ish parts: actually playing in the event, and general thoughts about the game of Magic.

The Actual Event – Sealed Brothers’ War

The event was a sealed event, which means you get 6 boosters, you crack them open, and then you build a deck. Or if you’re me, you get six boosters, pull the rares out, look at their price on TCG Player, get sad, and then try to see how many of them you can stuff into your color pie.

Anyway, onto building the deck. My deck building strategy and thoughts went something like this:

  1. Wow, these are a lot of big artifact creatures.
  2. I have no real green ramp or powerstone ramp to support any of these.
  3. Shit, that means I’m going to get thrashed if games go long.
  4. I guess I can’t let games go long. Time to break out Ol’ Faithful.

Ol’ Faithful is my limited format strategy for when I don’t have another strategy and it works surprisingly well at the start of new sets:

Just go black/red and try to stab your opponent to death before they can do anything clever.

Fritz’s Ol’ Faithful

With this incredible strategy in mind, I built my deck. The end result was this list right here. If you like visual deck lists, here it is over on AetherHub.

2 Clay Revenant
1 Disfigure
1 Gnawing Vermin
1 Soul-Guide Lantern
1 Go for the Throat
2 Scrapwork Mutt
1 Thran Power Suit
1 Thran Vigil
1 Key to the City
1 Dwarven Forge-Chanter
1 Thraxodemon
1 Mishra's Domination
1 Gixian Skullflayer
1 Junkyard Genius
1 Quietus Spike
1 Giant Cindermaw
1 Excavation Explosion
1 Gixian Puppeteer
1 Ravenous Gigamole
1 Sibling Rivalry
2 Goring Warplow
1 Mishra's Foundry
7 Swamp
8 Mountain

Ed Note: This is a recreation based off of what I remember playing. More on why that’s the case later, but I’m highly confident this is accurate. It’s missing maybe 1 card, tops.

So, the end result is aggro black/red. There’s a bit of unearth with Scrapwork Mutt, and some graveyard synergy with Thran Vigil and Clay Revenant. Most importantly, everything in this list is a 4-drop or under. (The Goring Warplow can be played un-prototyped, but 75% of the time, I’d say it came in on turn two. )

So, how did I do playing Magic for the first time at a pre-release for the first time in 7 years? In sealed, a format I don’t even play digitally?

Well, I went 4-0. I won every single match.

That said, at least half of the games in those matches were decided by these two cards:

Key to the City is pretty good. Quietus Spike is also pretty good. Together, they’re a lot more than that.

While my memory isn’t perfect, my opponents were as follows:

  • White/blue long game with life gain + Teferi Temporal Pilgrim
    2/1
  • Red/blue combat tricks/prowess/flyers
    2/1
  • Green/white ramp into stompy boys
    2/0
  • Green/white/red control into big boys
    2/1

It’s also worth noting these matches are in order. My prediction that folks would go for ramp into big things was correct. But those decks that could ramp into big stompy things did quite well, as I faced the two ramp decks when I was 2-0 and 3-0 respectively.

So, here are my thoughts on Brothers’ War sealed after a single event, in a nutshell.

  1. Ramp is good, but surprisingly hard to get. I think draft will allow for much easier power stone generation. Even actively trying to get power stones, I only had two cards in my deck that made them.
  2. There was a weirdly low amount of artifact removal. Across my 11 games, Key to the City never got removed, and Quietus Spike got removed maybe once. Creature removal, sure. Small tier burn, also sure. But there’s not a lot of hard artifact removal. Once those big prototype creatures get out, they are going to stick around.
  3. On the subject of the prototype mechanic! I think it’s very good. A 2 drop 1/1 deathtouch that can also be a 5/4 deathtouch is some serious value. Those were the only prototype cards I ran in my deck, but some of my losses were to just things like 8/8s for 8. Go For The Throat doesn’t work on artifacts.

Of course, there’s one more big one, and that’s Retro Artifacts.

I think Retro Artifacts might be the most impactful cards of the set, by a wide margin. This is in part because of the incredible value I got out of Quietus Spike and Key to the City, but I was also on the receiving end of some of them. I lost a game to Psychosis Crawler, and almost lost a second to it as well. Platinum Angel won a game I wasn’t in. Someone else won a game off Millstone of all things, and another person took a similar win with Keening Stone. I had a Chromatic Lantern dropped on me on turn three, which didn’t feel great. (See the aforementioned lack of artifact removal.)

Retro Artifacts aren’t broken, but they’re powerful. Maybe they’re more impactful in sealed than draft, where there’s only 3 packs worth compared the 6 you get in sealed. But in any case, they did a lot of work. Not just in my game, but other folks’ games as well.

So. Those are my thoughts on the set. If you don’t care about a random dude on the internet’s opinions and thoughts about Magic on the whole, you can skip this next bit. Otherwise, read on.

Selling All My Cards

I really like playing TCG’s. I think this might be evident from the fact that I have an entire YouTube channel that’s mostly Magic. Or the fact that I’m a Pokemon Professor. Or the fact that I’m writing a multi-paragraph article about attending a pre-release.

I do not like how collecting cards feels. There’s a post or two in this, and how I reached this conclusion, but it’s irrelevant for the purpose of this conversation. All you need to know is that I love playing Magic and I also have the goal of never obtaining another physical Magic card.

This presents a problem when you want to play in a physical pre-release, which costs money, and gives you cards in exchange. So upon arriving, I set out to try to find someone to buy my cards.

There wasn’t anyone interested in paying for what I’d get sight unseen, which was a bit of a bummer. They would get anything I’d opened, if they gave me the $31.88 it cost to enter. This was both kind of reasonable, and also annoying as hell. I did not want these cards. I did not want to keep them, and I did not want to throw them out.

Things got worse on the whole “Not paying for the event” goal when I actually opened my packs. While there was a chance I could open something big worth selling, I opened jack shit. The single mythic was worth $8. Everything else was a trash rare worth maybe a $1. This was across 6 packs.

However, as the event went on, and I ended up going 4-0, things got a bit better. The prizes were 1 Set Booster per win, so I ended up getting four set boosters, and selling all the cards I opened to my last opponent for $35. To recap, this was six opened draft boosters, and four unopened set boosters. Cost to enter was $31.88, and the bus was $1.70. End result: net profit of $1.42 for five hours of playing Magic.

Anyway, if anyone from WoTC is listening, here’s my terrible opinion I’d like you to hear: that’s garbage. I came second place overall in the event (because I had slightly worse tiebreakers than the other 4-0 player) and walked away $1.42 and 5 arena packs. You can do whatever you want to try to make opening booster packs exciting, but your players are only going to care about how much they can exchange those cards for other things they actually want. In my case, that was cash. In other folks’ cases, that was cards for their commander decks.

You know, the format people actually play.

Overall Thoughts and Wrap-Up

So, after doing my first event in 7 years, would I do another one? Frankly, I’m leaning towards no, even though I like Magic. If someone else invited me to play, and covered my entry fee, I might be inclined to say yes. But for someone in my position who doesn’t care about obtaining physical cards, and just wants to play the game, the 5+ hours of time it took to just BARELY cover my entry after pretty much wining the event was too much.

If I took the money I spent on playing in a physical event, and spent in on Arena, just straight, I could get 5000 gems. That’s 25 booster packs, or 3 drafts, or 2 Sealed Events and 10 packs, MINIMUM. And I could likely play those events in under two hours each, and they’d likely pay out in a way that I could actually then enter MORE events in Arena.

And it’s not like Magic works like Pok√©mon, where I could enter (or run) an event, and then trade my physical cards I don’t want for pack codes. You can only use one pre-release code per account, disappointingly enough.

So in conclusion: I probably wouldn’t go to another physical prerelease. Magic: Arena and Magic as a physical card game are two competing ecosystems instead of a single synergistic one, and they’re both expensive.

But I did make a $1.42.

If you’re interested in more of my terrible takes on Magic, or want watch me play, may suggest following me on Twitter? Or alternately, if that site burns to the ground in the next week, just subscribe on YouTube.

Authors Note: I have a lot of other thoughts about the state of physical Magic events, but they’re complex, and after consultation, I’ve opted to remove them from this writeup. They may come back in a separate writeup. They may vanish into the air. I hope it’s not the second one.

Marvel Snap and Dark Patterns

Marvel Snap has its fair share of dark patterns and skeezy progression design. Let’s talk about them for a bit.

Welcome back! It’s time for part two of Marvel Snap Week! Did anyone who worked on the game see part 1 and think “Wow, that review is positive,” or “He’s an illiterate hack, but at least he appreciates the game?” Well now it’s time to get rid of those nice feelings.

Mobile games are unique in that they’re the only platform where the games are usually “Free,” but have the potential to end up costing you more than a full ticket to Disney Land. As a result, the only sane approach is to enter with caution. They’re the only games I engage with while actively looking for a reason to NOT play them.

When a game is “Free,” you should always keep in mind panel 2 of XKCD #870.

Just replace “typeset” with “Spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop and put on the app store.”

To be honest, Marvel Snap isn’t that bad. It wouldn’t rank anywhere in my list of worst video game business models. But not being at the bottom of the barrel shouldn’t be the standard for this stuff. So let’s talk about Marvel Snap’s prices, the concept of dark patterns of design, and how the bar for mobile games is so unbelievably low that something like Marvel Snap seems “Fine.”

Let’s start with pricing. Marvel Snap currently sells two objects. Battlepasses, and Gold. Battlepasses work like most battlepasses in games do, but they can only be bought with real money for about $8. Complete quests that unlock over time to earn battlepass experience points. Level up the battlepass to get additional resources. It’s a fairly standard design, even if it does reinforce a lot of the dark patterns we’ll be talking about later. If you pay the $8 you get some gold, extra resources, and special card styles and avatars.

Now let’s talk about gold, and how Marvel Snap’s progression and collection works, because it’s a bit more insidious.

Marvel Snap has a very unique design for its progression system, one that I’ve actually never seen used before. Instead of opening booster packs to get cards, or pulling from boxes, or having a wildcard system, Marvel Snap has a single value for your collection level.

Your collection level increases as you acquire new cards, and level up your cards. As you travel along the collection level track, there’s a variety of rewards, and some of those rewards are mystery cards. What the game doesn’t really ever tell you, though, is that those mystery cards aren’t random. Instead, they’re random from a pool, and removed once you get them. So as your collection level goes from 1-216, you’ll unlock cards from pool 1. And once you reach 216, you’ll have unlocked them all, and you’ll move onto pool 2. This part is reasonable.

What’s not is how the tracker changes.

As you travel down the collection level, the amount of levels you need to unlock a new card starts to shift. First it’s every 4 levels. Then every 8 levels. I’m currently collection level 358 and I unlock a new card every 12 levels.

This means that even if you play the game the same amount every day, you’re going to start making progress far, far slower. This is because gaining card level comes from upgrading cards, which requires two resources: boosters and credits. And while technically boosters are a limiting reagent, you can get them fairly easily by playing games. Credits are limited by daily quests.

Guess what they sell in the cash shop for gold?

So if two players play, and one spends money, and the other doesn’t, the one spending money will progress their collection faster. This, combined with the fact that your progression is designed to get slower over time, feels scummy. They claim, “You can’t pay to win.” And technically, that’s true. But you absolutely can pay to speed up your collection progress.

Oh, also. The game sells alt-art styles for cards at between $10-$20 in fake in game money. Yes, the expensive art alt styles are 1200 gold. And yes, the closest purchase in gold to buy those styles is $20. So it counts as $20. Skim is a real trick.

Man, I’ve written like a page, and I haven’t even gotten to the game’s dark patterns. There’s nothing super egregious here, but they use a lot of the standard stuff. Daily quests force you to play daily. Limited-time battlepasses make you grind. The aforementioned bullshit where the in-game currency that you purchase is always just a bit more than the expensive item’s cost, so that there’s always some leftovers.

All of this sucks, because Marvel Snap is actually quite fun to play. And that’s what we’ll be talking about tomorrow.