PAX Unplugged 2022: The Adaptations

I don’t have anything good to put in this opening paragraph. Maybe I should just talk about how good the food in Philadelphia is? It’s really tasty. Reading Terminal is delicious, even if PAX Unplugged does pack it to the brim. Even if it can take 40 minutes for someone to get you an egg and cheese on a roll.

Anyway, enough about sandwiches, lets talk about board games. Today I’ll be covering the board games at the show that are either adapted from or licensed from video games. It’s an arbitrary category, but one with a fair number of entries. Also, interestingly enough all of them are based off games I’ve played.

Shovel Knight: Dungeon Duels

I want to open this part of the writeup by noting that I love Shovel Knight, the video game. I did a writeup on it where I said as much. Which makes it a bit hard to say the next bit.

Shovel Knight: Dungeon Duels feels like the literal definition of overproduced Kickstarter Ameri-trash.

That’s kind of a bold claim, so let me make some observations, and back it up. From a mechanical standpoint, the game is incredibly uninspiring. The goal is to get the most victory points, by defeating enemies, and clearing out a boss. This is done by moving across a board.

You have three actions per turn, moving, attacking, and jumping. Of those actions, only moving doesn’t require you to roll dice. The problem is, moving isn’t going to be enough, because the board is covered in spikes, and you need to roll to jump over those. And if you fail? Fall into a pit, and lose half your victory points. You want to attack something? Roll dice, and hope you get enough success to do something valuable. Because if you don’t, you might die, and lose half of your victory points.

Should you manage to survive long enough to get to a shop tile, you can spend your victory points to buy a completely random upgrade. It could be +1 dice to all your rolls! It could be the ability to make ranged attacks. It could be an item for a slot you already have filled, and a worse one, because it’s a completely random item deck, not a list of items to buy, making it utterly worthless and forcing you to throw it away immediately.

Of course, dying doesn’t knock out of the game. You’ll get to replace your wonderfully crafted miniature at the start of the next round on the far side of the board. And that’s good, because aside from the aforementioned falling into pits by missing a jump, or just taking enough damage to die, you can also get pushed back into pits by enemies if they damage you.

Of course, this can’t happen during the boss fight. Instead, if you’d get knocked off the board during a boss fight, your character goes prone, and instead has to spend an action to get back up. And if you get unlucky, the boss can do this to you before you even get to take a turn. And yes, someone in my demo was on the receiving end of this.

These are all the mechanical reasons I have for calling this Ameri-trash, and it pretty much boils down to the game being incredibly random with a focus on dice rolls for resolving most meaningful interactions, and minimal capacity make meaningful choices around upgrading/building your character.

But on a more abstract sense, lets talk about the other bit. This game was Kickstarted. It has 44 miniatures. And they are very nice minis! I like these characters so much from playing the video games, that I was and am still tempted by them because of how much fun they would be to paint. But those mini’s are also probably a large portion of why this game costs $125. It has a 58 page rulebook apparently? It has custom dice, and tokens, and lots of playable characters.

My personal verdict: Cut down on the minis and include a fun game. Or even keep the minis and include a fun game! Or, scratch that, screw the game, just let me buy the minis from you directly. Because they’re the best part about what I played here.

SolForge Fusion

Continuing a trend of writing things that guarantee I will never end up on a press list for prerelease copies of anything, lets talk about SolForge Fusion. Like with Dungeon Duels, I really liked SolForge Fusion’s parent game, SolForge. Also like with Dungeon Duels, I really don’t like SolForge Fusion. It’s for a very different set of reasons though, and to explain them, we need to talk about SolForge briefly.

Or perhaps it would be more accurate to talk about what SolForge was. You see, SolForge is dead. And unlike many games that I’ve written about in my end of year wrap-ups, SolForge didn’t really do anything to deserve to die. It just didn’t make enough money to be worth supporting. Which honestly kind of sucks, because SolForge was one of the best digital CCG’s to exist.

The key word in that sentence, and the root of a lot of problems we’re going to be talking about briefly is Digital. SolForge’s key mechanic was digital only, and it worked like this: Whenever you played a card, an upgraded version of the card would be put into your discarded cards. When you ran out of cards in your deck, you’d shuffle your discarded cards back into a new deck, and continue the game, now with some of your cards being more powerful. It also had a reliance triggered effects, and damage/buffs on creatures didn’t wear off between turns.

All of these were good and interesting designs that worked well digitally where the computer could manage resolving triggers/triggered effects, tracking stats, and upgrading your cards. Because all of these were handled by the computer, games were quick, fun, and could allow for ridiculous numbers and scaling.

Perhaps you see where I am going with this.

Works great with a single digitally managed card. Works less great when it’s 3 physical cards that have to be swapped out.

You see, all of these mechanics technically could work in a paper card game. Each paper deck would need to have three times the cards, forcing you to keep track of which ones you played. And because damage and buffs don’t wear off, you’d have to have a billion tokens for keeping track of damage. And you’d need to manually track all triggered effects, and also manually resolve the full combat step for the board.

This is all technically possible in the same way that it is technically possible eat an entire card board box. You can do it, but I don’t know why, and it probably wouldn’t be a good time.

All of this is to say that SolForge Fusion is effectively a port of the aforementioned mechanics to tabletop. It’s not a straight port by any means, with many cards being heavily changed around, and the numbers having been rescaled a fair amount. But it’s still a port!

Anyway, if this wasn’t funny enough, two days ago on Monday, I got this in an email.

So yeah. They’re planning to make a digital version of a physical card game based off the mechanics off a digital game that was shut down for ultimately just… not really making enough money.

It would be cool if this went well, but I’m not exactly holding my breath. And again, it also doesn’t exist yet, and until it exists, SolForge Fusion requires playing a set of decent, but fundamentally flawed in meat-space mechanics.

Storybook Brawl Unnamed Deckbuilder

I’ve debated whether to put Storybook Brawls unnamed deckbuilder here with the other video game adaptations, or with a later page on games I played in the Unpub Hall. Ultimately I decided to place it here.

I’ve written about Storybook Brawl before, but the board game version of this digital game goes the furthest out of it’s way to really be it’s own game. It’s also in the rawest state, if the fact that it doesn’t even have a real name wasn’t enough of indicator of that.

Unlike Storybook Brawl, instead of building a set of characters that you play out onto a single large, it’s much closer to a deck builder with simultaneous play competitive elements. And while it maintains some mechanics such as the idea of trippling, and playing a single spell turn, it mostly puts its own turns on it.

I wouldn’t say that I love this as of yet unnamed game, but given that it’s effectively an alpha, there’s both time to improve and tweak things, and also to refine the game as a whole. And despite both those things, its probably the most interesting of the three, despite not being a full game yet.

So in summary…

What have we learned today? Well, mostly that Panda Cult and Stone Blade Entertainment are incredibly unlikely to send me review copies for any reason whatsoever in the future. And the same is probably true for Storybook Brawl, if for no other reason then the fact that their parent company lost $16 billion dollars.

On a less sarcastic note, I think the main takeaway should be that if you’re going to adapt anything, it’s probably a better idea to try to work with the strengths of that format then to just try to port things straight across.

More PAX Unplugged writeups in the week(s) to come! And in the meantime, why not follow us on Twitter, assuming it hasn’t burnt to the ground yet.

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.