Marvel Snap maker Second Dinner revealed some fascinating game design tips and tricks during a GDC session earlier today.
Marvel Snap has been a hit for Second Dinner – as we reported recently, Marvel Snap has hit 18m downloads and $50m revenue since its launch in October 2022, according to Appmagic data.
Second Dinner’s associate design director Kent-Erik Hagman is responsible for the deck-building element of Marvel Snap, and spoke about how to overcome systems problems with design choices – and how attending improv classes helped his design work.
He first spoke about how early Marvel Snap players often requested a mulligan, or a re-do of their starting hand, a common feature in other card games like Magic: The Gathering.
New players to Marvel Snap would often complain that they had no card to play in round one of the game, and in a six-turn game, this represented a big problem. But the Second Dinner team felt that adding a mulligan feature could slow the game down and over-complicate it, especially for new players.
The solution to this system-level problem was found through card design, said Hagman. The team took the Quicksilver card and, in a nod to the character’s speed, added the unique ability for the card to always appear in the player’s opening hand. Once that card was added, new players stopped requesting the mulligan feature, and the game’s pace and structure was left intact.
Hagman also talked through how the Second Dinner team very deliberately chose card unlock paths to teach players about how cards work together, particularly those with ‘on reveal’ and ‘ongoing’ abilities.
Second Dinner ensured that several ‘ongoing’ cards like Iron Man and The Punisher would be added to player decks as they progress, culminating in the addition of Spectrum, which adds +2 power for all ongoing cards. This subtly teaches the player the potential benefits of coherent deck-building, without being too hand-holdy.
Similarly, cards like Odin, which triggers all ‘on reveal’ effects again when played, were used to show the power of chaining together ‘on reveal’ cards. Second Dinner deliberately set the unlock path to lead the player through using cards like Ironheart, Wolfsbane and White Tiger, capping it off with Odin, again to show players the power of combining complimentary cards.
Hagman’s other piece of advice for game designers came from a walk he took with Second Dinner boss Ben Brode. When Hagman asked Brode how he could become a better designer, Brode told him to attend improv classes.
Why? Because during improv sessions the leader would shout ‘new choice’ to force the scene being played out to suddenly change direction. This ‘new choice’ idea was helpful for designers, said Hagman, especially those stuck iterating features over and over.
He said opting for a ‘new choice’ helped him move on from a now-defunct in-game shop feature called The Market, as well as card ability ideas for Debrii and Spider-Woman that weren’t quite coming together.
Summing up, Hagman added: “It certainly begs the question: at what point in time do you play that ‘new choice’ card? If you keep working on iterations over and over and over, I can’t tell you when to do it. But I’ll tell you this, if you’ve started to iterate on something more than three times, it might be time to consider the new choice. It’s very liberating and it worked for me.”