My own personal Avengers choices are ruining some Marvel tactics games

I love Uatu, the Watcher. I like to refer to him in conversations. I like to use him in extended Marvel-themed analogies when winning arguments. I like to put it in articles, although it often gets deleted. Uatu is one of my favorite Marvel characters. I am Uatu 4 Life.

If you play Marvel Snap, the collectible card game based on Marvel’s heroes, you know it has a Uatu card in it. He’s interesting too. Uatu comes with one prize, two power, and if it’s in your deck, it reveals the rightmost location at the start, allowing you to plan ahead a bit. Uatu is one of the first cards people usually play, and it speaks in a cool voice when you use it, and the reveal effect is beautiful and dramatic. But there is a problem. He’s not an unwanted card, but he’s a card that you should probably pass by pretty early on in most cases. There are better cards that do more useful things and give you a bit more bang in the early game.

However, here is my specific problem. As a Uatu mega fan, I will never not use it. And this means that my deck actually has one fewer functional slots than most people’s decks. Call it fan tax: there is always a seat reserved for Uatu, and so my other cards have to work around him.

Marvel Snap PC Movie. Watch on YouTube

I was discussing this with a friend this week after Eurogamer’s Katharine Castle published a great interview with Jake Solomon, formerly of Firaxis, and the man who led the team behind Marvel’s Midnight Suns. Like Marvel Snap, Midnight Suns is a Marvel-themed tactics game where you choose a selection of your favorite heroes and enter into battle. There are maps in the game, but you have to take into account the placement of characters in 3D levels, rather than in three different locations like in Marvel Snap. You also have a whole other half of the game where your heroes share their home between missions and bicker, watch TV, go for walks, and even start a book club.

It’s a great game, but again fan load plays a role for me. I love Blade, and that means if I can take Blade on a mission, I will. And that’s regardless of whether he works well with the rest of the team and whether he needs to level up and things like that.

Fan load is less of an issue in Midnight Suns than it is in Marvel Snap. Firaxis does a number of things to ensure you use a wide range of heroes, and encourages you to invest your time in different ways. But I still lean towards Blade in a way that makes me neglect other heroes more than I should. Just like I’m still finding room for Uatu and a few other favorites in my deck, when I could really use more of my Marvel Snap cards.

Marvel superheroes sit around a table discussing their book club in Marvel's Midnight Suns

Image credit: Eurogamer/Firaxis/2K Games

Best games of 2022 Marvel's Midnight Suns - Dr Strange and Captain Marvel read books and phones on the couch respectively

Image credit: Firaxis/2K games
Marvel’s Midnight Suns.

However, let’s turn it around. Maybe this isn’t a problem. Perhaps it’s one of the world’s biggest licenses that actually makes these games more interesting. Both Marvel Snap and Midnight Suns get a lot from Marvel. In addition to name recognition and a significant backlog of knowledge, the heroes also guide the designers when it comes to coming up with powers and synergies and even mission designs in the case of Midnight Suns. Both games would be less colorful and potentially less creative without heroes that most players are aware of, but which still have quirks that require a designer to stretch a bit to create tactical interpretations of them.

When I spoke to Eurogamer a while ago, Marvel Snap’s Ben Brode talked about this. He said card designs are often top-down or bottom-up because the art is at the top and the text is usually at the bottom. For example, a top-down approach starts with Uatu and says: what should Uatu’s map connect to? (It should rule.) A bottom-up approach starts by saying, oh, we want to make more cards that clone other cards. How should that work, and who could be suitable for that?

I was particularly interested in what Brode says about top-down:

“But working top-down really expands your brain,” he says in the piece. “As in… What would Mirage, who causes hallucinations, do? What would she do in this game? Or what would Mysterio do? When you think like that, you’re not thinking about mechanics, you’re thinking about delivering something fantasy and there some of the craziest designs come from it.”

The digital card game Marvel Snap.  Copies of one card flow across the screen.

The digital card game Marvel Snap.  A Rocket Raccoon card dominates the screen here.  It is bright and colorful.

Marvel Snap. | Image credit: Nuverse/second dining studios

I suspect fan taxes work the same way. It uses the lore and ideas of Marvel to – perhaps unintentionally – limit me as a player, and in a tactics game limitations are often very interesting because they let you do new things, they let you work around things, they let you be creative in certain ways to make. normally you wouldn’t be. They make you think.

So when I look back on Midnight Suns now, I think of all the times I managed to get a win with Blade, even if no one else would have taken him down that day. In Marvel Snap I can look back on a long line of – admittedly somewhat strange – Uatu victories, which are all the sweeter because they wouldn’t have unfolded the way they did had I built a deck based on the head instead of the heart . I’ve always known that Marvel is great for tactics games because the heroes do specific things, they have specific powers and specific weaknesses and these can be combined and anticipated, and all the things you need for a tactics game. But now I realize there is more. Part of the reason they’re so well-suited to tactics games is because we also like them in specific ways, meaning we favor one hero when we shouldn’t, and ignore another hero when we really should include them. They make us temporarily act against our own interests for the sake of love – and that sounds pretty superheroic.

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