Quarrel Review (XBLA)

Quarrel is a curious mix of Risk and Scrabble. It confounds expectations because although that turn based strategic domination gameplay shouldn’t necessarily sit comfortably alongside the wordplay and anagrammatical aspects, it does. It’s a glorious coming together of two cerebral game styles and, surprisingly, they fit together perfectly naturally.

[drop]The game can be played by two to four players, with non-human player slots filled by well balanced artificial opponents. Each player gets an equal number of tiles, with an equal number of soldiers shared out over their land. You must attack, strategise or reinforce before ending your turn and receiving an extra soldier on each occupied tile. You can have up to eight on a tile, the more you have, the more letters you can use when you enter into battle.

When you attack an enemy’s tile (or when they attack yours) you will enter into a word battle. An eight-letter anagram is jumbled up and presented, each letter having a score in much the same way as Scrabble or Words with Friends (without tile multipliers, obviously). If you have four soldiers, you can make words of up to four letters in length, six soldiers allows you to make words up to six letters and so on.

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The winner is based on word score rather than word length, so it’s perfectly plausible that you could defeat an enemy with a shorter word simply by using the higher scoring letters. If you manage to defeat an opponent who had more soldiers than you, you’ll take their extra troops as prisoners when you colonise their tile. Prisoners fight for you from now on but taking a tile causes all but one of your troops to move to it, leaving the tile they moved from sparsely populated and open to a flanking attack.

The Risk-like mechanics lend themselves perfectly to a kind of tense ebb and flow of strategy as you try to keep your tiles reinforced enough that they don’t present too much temptation to your enemies and you maintain a strong position for attacks during your next turn.

The mainstay of the game is the Domination mode, in which you try to colonise a series of whole game boards against a variety of increasingly difficult opponents. Every game gathers statistics about you and how well you played, resulting in a word IQ which is used to match you in Quick Matches, both online and offline. There is also a Challenges mode and a Showdown mode. The former puts you in a variety of situations which require particular strategies and skills to get out of while the latter provides nine head to head matches against progressively difficult opponents.

[drop2]Perhaps the most important thing about Quarrel is the dictionary. It’s imperative in a game based on wordplay that there is a sizeable, accurate pool of words to pull from. In this case, it’s very good news. Anything in the dictionary is fair game, at least during local play. You get a total of three chances to hit on an acceptable word too, so it can occasionally be worth taking a punt on something you’re not entirely positive about. Unfortunately, the Xbox Live play is censored, some of the more risqué words are simply not allowed if you’re online; presumably to protect the innocent eyes of all those squeaky-voiced racists that shout profanity at us during 18-rated online shooters.

The game has oodles of character and charm too, the sounds design and cartoon-like stylings are delightful. Caricatured pirates, robots, ninjas, etc. throw interesting or amusing asides at you during menu and logo screens before taking on the role of soldiers in the game. Quarrel really is a beautifully presented game that oozes confident affability and wit throughout.

Pros:

  • Compelling single player game with plenty of replay value.
  • Beautifully presented.
  • Plenty of game modes with a challenging difficulty ramp.

Cons:

  • Online censorship is a shame.

Quarrel is a wonderful game for anyone who likes wordplay and strategy. It is tuned well, despite the juxtaposition of play styles, and should provide a ramping challenge for players of any ability. It’s presented with character and charm in a package which is ludicrously cheap (400MSP) for what we get. It’s compelling, joyful strategy at its very best and we wouldn’t hesitate in recommending it to anyone and everyone.

Score: 9/10

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7 Comments

  1. Not sure it’s quite for me but what a wonderful mix. The saturated art-style is lovely to look at.

    Ah, online censorship :-)

    I remember my ex’s brother (who was seven years old at the time) playing this lovely old lady in a Scrabble tournament. He was one of the best in the country.

    He thought nothing of playing the word C…*…N…T right there in front of her. The dismissive look from his father was quite special. Anyway, I digress.

    Lovely review. :-)

  2. Picked up the iPhone version of this, it’s good fun in short blasts.

    • Good fun indeed. The only thing missing is ingame ads for anger management classes. Seriously, some of the tougher levels are so frustrating, especially if you manage to defeat two opponents just to lose to the last one because a stupid word came up that completely turned the tables…

      • Oh, that’s so true. It’s why I only went for short blasts – any longer and the frustration would’ve lead to the iPhone being launched across the room to the sound of swearing!

      • Kind of dissonant with your avatar, don’t you think?

      • Really? I thought it seemed pretty accurate, boy genius with a short temper, prone to exploding in fits of rage caused by his sister. Substitute “boy” for “man”, “genius” for… well, “not genius” and “sister” for “Quarrel Deluxe (for iPhone)” and you’re pretty much there.

  3. So you can use all kinds of swear words offline?

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