I’ve never been a fan of many card-based games, after succumbing to the wiles of Magic: the Gathering back in high school, I swore them off. The genre never quite pulled me in easily, but apparently, the trick to getting myself and a lot of others to reconsider is to pair card mechanics with an IP we are already invested in. Between Marvel Snap and the Midnight Suns, however, all I can say is that 2022 became the year of “deal me in.”
Midnight Suns started off with a solid story concept and touched on some of my favorite comic characters. I love Blade, Nico, Robbie Reyes, and Magik, all of these people who are on the smaller side of Marvel’s mystical properties. Leave the world-ending demon stuff to Doctor Strange and Scarlet Witch while the lesser-known supernatural soldiers handle what really bumps in the night. Sure, a lot of other, more mainstay characters found their way in, but having the Suns as a foundation was a great starting point. Then there was an excellent trailer, one that perfectly used Metallica’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls,” and a handful of animated vignettes were released to show how the initial team was assembled, and help intrigued players feel involved.
The promotion was working for me, but the gameplay I’d seen caused a small bit of pause. I wanted to join in on the fight, but how did I do that in a strategy game that focused on character placement, environmental attacks, and used cards for my attacks? After some fantastic action games featuring the Guardians of the Galaxy and Spider-Man, this felt like it had taken a misstep somewhere and was not going to be as enjoyable. I was reassured by friends that Firaxis knew what they were doing, that just didn’t understand the glory of XCOM, and that this type of game could be just as entertaining, tense, and full of life as the other two I mentioned.
What sealed the deal was watching Galarian stream two battles, one for me to figure out the system and one more to see how engaging the combat could be. I was hooked. Now I had to see how it played in my hands, how creative I could be with my customized decks for each character, and in between missions I’d get to socialize with some of my favorite heroes and help solve the mystery of the abbey.
Midnight Suns plays slow in some ways, but every move feels like it counts. It’s chess and Uno, but with better violence. As a Marvel fan, I was immediately engrossed in the story, the array of characters that were showing up, fun references, and some really deep cuts from the comics mixed into the dialog. While I searched the grounds and uncovered secrets, I took time out for movie nights, painted, and helped Blade start a book club, just so he could hit on Captain Marvel. I’m really rooting for those two crazy kids.
The game is long, and I’m just now on the last few missions. It’s full of side activities and bonuses, but nothing feels like a waste of time. After each day/night cycle, I find myself poring over captured intel to send characters out on missions, selecting my training partners, and choosing between new cards. I study my decks before each mission to make sure my team is as ready as they can be and it’s tough to put the controller down. I’m not just seeing this mission through to the end, I want it done right, and I want to make the most of it.
Marvel Snap was an even harder sell because at first, I thought it was strictly a mobile game. Albinism causes my vision to be quite horrible, and I already spend too much time on my phone, so with those two factors, I tend to ignore games on those devices. I had recently rediscovered my love of X-Men Trading Cards, however, and the nostalgia and love of those cards immediately got me looking at all of the available artwork for this new game, even if I was never going to play it. One simple nudge from a friend was all it took, as he told me that Snap was also available on Steam. Nothing else needed to be said.
To say I was hooked on this new time sink seems like a drastic understatement. It wasn’t long before I had memorized the names and abilities of the lands, or at least knew the image well enough that I didn’t need my magnifier to play. I had a solid understanding of the cards, and on the occasion I ran into a new one, the little bit of reading involved didn’t slow me down too much. Now I was snapping everywhere.
The premise is incredibly simple. There are three locations/lanes/lands, and the winner is the person who has more points than their opponent after two of them (a tie goes to the total score). Each card has an energy cost and a power level, adding up those numbers is how we win, but many cards also have an ability or condition for playing them, which is where things get interesting. Every deck is 12 cards, and games are usually six rounds, but there are a couple of things that can change that.
There are also a few wildcards here, like Agatha Harkness or Ego, who decide players’ actions for them, as well as locations like Murderworld, which destroys all cards there after turn three, or Oscorp Tower, which forces cards to switch sides. Things can get a bit wacky, and losses are going to happen, but sometimes even that is fun. I genuinely don’t mind losing if it was humorous (like when my Hobgoblin backfires) or it’s to a truly creative deck. I’ve seen some magic happen on these battlefields.
Part of what I love is knowing these characters and sites from the Marvel universe and getting why they were given the ability they have, showing the minds behind this game at Second Dinner (including a few people who worked on Hearthstone) are doing the property right. Vulture is more powerful when he’s moving, Quicksilver is fast so he always starts in the opening hand, Ultron and Doctor Doom summon backup, and there are plenty of characters that come back for cheaper or get stronger if they’re destroyed. I think the favorite of many here is Jubilee, who has spent most of her career as a sidekick, so it makes sense that her low power is offset by her ability to play a random card from the deck at that location.
Not every card fits that well into the comic lore, but almost all of them do. It’s also been good for exposing me to a few new characters I’m not as familiar with and pushing me to try out different cards other than just making themed X-Men and Spider-Man decks (not a great idea, actually). Almost all of the cards and locations also have sleek animations to go with their artwork and once again, so much of that feels right for the character and makes the game so visually appealing. Even when I’m on a losing streak, I’ve embraced the collector role again, like with my old X-Men cards, and so many of my friends are playing that it has taken over many of our conversations. The real thing that has been snapped away here is my time, but it’s a sacrifice I’m more than willing to make.
Both of these games came with initial hurdles, things I had to get over to let myself truly enjoy a property I should have trusted a little more. Not everything Marvel is going to be great, and that’s fine, but I’m also glad that these developers are using the IP for something different. As much as I love Spider-Man (2018) it’s good that they aren’t just doing action games. I had been shying away from exploring genres I’m not as familiar with because we’ve had such a great set of games to choose from lately, but that’s the penalty of getting comfortable. 2022 may be the year of the tiger on the Chinese calendar, but for me, I’ll always remember it as the year of the addictive card game.