If you would have asked me a month ago if combining the boards games Risk and Scrabble would be a good idea, I would have laughed and walked away. But that’s exactly what Quarrel, the new edition to XBLA, does and does so in a fantastic way. After playing it, I’m a believer!
The concept of Quarrel is rather simple. It is one part word puzzle and one part strategy game. In the game, you are pitted against up to 3 opponents on an island that is divided into territories. The object of the game is to conquer all the territories and be supreme word master. On each territory there are a number of troops at your disposal. You use these troops to either attack a neighbor territory or to reinforce your own pieces of land. If you decide to attack, you enter into an anagram battle.
Each player is given the same 8 random letters to work with and must form a word using these letters. After you and your opponent have selected a word, they are displayed against each other. Each letter has a different value and the total sum of your word will be added up. The player with the highest value word gets to beat their opponent senseless by hurling the letters at them. If you are the attacker and win, your troops move in and take over that space. If you are the defender and win, you keep your space and reduce your attacker down to one soldier. Pretty simple, right?
Here’s the catch, the size of your word depends on how many troops you have on the territory. If you only have 5 troops, your word can only be 5 letters long at most. This is where strategy comes into play and takes Quarrel from being just a plain anagram game to an addicting and challenging Risk-style strategy game. The more players you add, the more complicated and challenging your strategies will need to become. Even against simple AI opponents, I found myself heavily debating on what move I should do next. Continue my conquest but risk spreading my troops too thin? Play defensive but miss out on the bonus of eliminating another player? The combination of strategies, risk-reward, and head-to-head battles really provides an exhilarating feeling.
The game has a pretty in depth tutorial to help get you up to speed and understand how the game works. After the tutorial you’re ready to take on either AI opponents or real online players (sorry, no local multiplayer but for very obvious reasons). If you choose to take on the AI opponents, the game does a great job of giving you a wide range of competition to match your dictionary IQ. There are 9 AI opponents in total, each with their own IQ, personality, and playing style. In addition, there are four modes to keep you busy. You have Custom Play, Challenges, Domination, and Showdown modes. While each one is slightly different, it really does boil back down to anagram challenges giving a little bit of “been-there-done-that” feeling.
The presentation is extremely colorful and cartoony, giving the game a charming appeal to it. Everything from the soldiers, to the island, to the music, seems to have a quirky bounce about it and can be contagious. While this can become slightly annoying after a while, it’s not very noticeable and the gameplay action will easily distract you from paying too much attention to it. There are a few other issues with the game such as brief audio glitches and a possible bug where you are always “randomly” drawn last during order selection before the game begins. But again, these are very minor
There are a lot of little touches to this game that make it very enjoyable to play. When playing against multiple opponents, you don’t just sit along the side lines waiting for the battle to be over. You are given the same 8 letters as the two players and have a chance to craft a word earning you bonus points which can later be spent on calling in reinforcements. It’s a simple, yet wonderful addition to help keep you in the game. Another example is that after each battle, a scroll bar on the bottom of the screen will display the true anagram (the full 8 letter word(s)that could have been made) as well as the definition of the words used in the battle. One thing I do wish was added was the ability to customize your troop selection. There are several different types of troops ranging from soldiers, ninjas, robots (oh my!) and several more. They are randomly assigned to you when you turn on the game. While they don’t have any special abilities or behave any differently than the others, being able to select your own troops and even customize them would have been an awesome touch. But not having a customizing option doesn’t limit the game by any means and does not detract from its value.
Overall, Quarrel is a fantastic game. Whether you’re looking for a short 5-10 time killer match or a 30 minute or more round, this game delivers. If you’re a fan of word-based games or strategy style conquests, this game is right up your alley. Quarrel is currently available on Xbox Live market place for 400 points ($5.00 USD) and is well worth the value!
[Side note: iOS users, there is also a mobile version of this game that came out in 2011. I have not played it so cannot tell you how it differs from this review]
[starreview tpl=14 size=’30’]