Marvel Snap Week or The Joy of Digital Card Games on Release

Welcome to Marvel Snap Week.

You may be wondering if this is sponsored content. Or maybe if (like the last time I devoted a week to simping for a single brand) this is an elaborate attempt to get free shit.

Sadly, no and no. Marvel Snap Week is just the result of Marvel Snap being interesting. I don’t think Marvel Snap or Ben Brode is going to give me a hug for writing any of this. For starters, in the scale of influencers, “I’m just a little guy.” Secondly, one of these writeups is going to say some rude things about their progression model.

I’ve instituted Marvel Snap Week mostly because the game made me want to write about a bunch of things, and so now I am going to do that. Starting with…

The Joy of Digital Card Games on Release

In many ways, I think digital card games are best when they first release. I’m talking about games like Hearthstone and Runeterra, but non-digital native games like Magic: The Gathering Arena can also fit this pattern.

There’s a bunch of reasons that digital card games are best at the start. The company running the game hasn’t peeled back its upper lip to reveal a set of fangs uniquely designed to latch onto your wallet. Instead, just like Dracula, they’re graciously inviting you into their home, and right now they want you to feel welcome. The knobs for the value extraction machine are, for the moment, in the hands of the actual design team and not the C-suite.

The other reason digital card games are best at the start is that this first set is the longest the design team will likely ever have to make a set. Someone once said of music that you have 12 years to make your first album, and 12 months to make your second, and I think that’s true here. No other set is going to have that luxury.

In addition, though, first sets tend to have the most clang. If you haven’t heard the term before, it’s an industry term used to refer to the equivalent of “tasty mouthfeel” but for games. Clang is the dropshadow on every card in MTG. It’s the little cloud of dust and thunk when you pull a card from your hand to smack down in Hearthstone. It’s the special animations and voice lines for the rarer cards, and the carefully made background boards.

That’s clang, and it’s on full display currently in Marvel Snap. Virtually every card has some sort of custom animation thing going on. Ant Man is real tiny when you first play him. It’s the slashing and chomping of Carnage as he eats your other cards, and the missiles launched by Deathlok. It’s the jets firing out of a Sentinel, and Captain America’s shield bouncing from edge to edge of your phone.

And if it wasn’t clear from the last paragraph, Marvel Snap is currently brimming with it. As live service games go on, though, they slowly walk the path to becoming dead non-service games. Clang tends to vanish. Why bother creating voice lines and animations for a card that won’t be played? Why bother making a million clever details that might not be noticed, or if they are, are complained about for “Slowing down gameplay?”

Maybe it’s just so the graphic designers have something to do on Fridays. Maybe it’s so people who review games can write about it.

Maybe it’s because the people who make games like this have a deep and abiding love of these properties and stories. And more than embodying them in mechanics, they want to show them in every little detail. They want to personify not only the characters that get feature length movies, but also the little weird ones that hide in the edges.

Maybe there’s something to be said for what you can do with a modern mythos of characters, built over the last 90 years by hundreds of individuals, each adding their own takes to an incredibly creative tapestry. A tapestry that exists despite the constraints of things like the comics code authority, and its current ownership by Disney.

But it’s probably the graphic designers on Friday one.