Since the days of Scrabble, and much before that, people have loved the subtle thrill of word-game competition. In Scrabble, gamers get a handful of random tiles and must come up with a word on the spot. Common vowels are valued at one point, while less used consonants – such as X and Z – have higher point values. Thanks to the iPhone, and subsequently social games on Facebook, word games have been flipped the world to offer gamers nuance to a tried and true game. Quarrel, first developed for iOS, combines Scrabble with Risk (the latter would be one of my favorite games to play if time were infinite). In Quarrel, players fight for territory using words. Cute animations keep the game lively, while nine levels of difficulty and online multiplayer ensure fresh challenges. At 400 points on XBLA, this game is a total bargain.
In Quarrel, gamers have twelve locations to play through. Each island destination is then broken up evenly into territories depending on how many players are in the game. You can play against up to three challengers. Once the territories are dished out, you have to take your troops into word battles against your opponents. The game’s setup is exactly like Risk. You will have to think strategically at times and decide when to reinforce territories or continue your attack into neighboring regions. The only difference is that battles are done with words. Whoever controls all of the areas on the map is the winner.
There are three modes of gameplay in Quarrel: Quick Play, Domination and Showdown. Quick Play is a touch on the unfair side if you are going up against the computer. Players are given the same letter tiles at the start of each battle. If your troops are matched evenly and you and your opponent come up with the same word, then the victor will be the player who was fastest. You get bonus points if you are able to use all the letters and figure out the anagram from the letters in your hand. Since there is no time limit on Quick Play, you will undoubtedly take extra time deciphering the anagram. Unfortunately, the higher ranked AI players need no extra time and will always come up with the word before you. Thankfully, in Domination and Showdown, a timer is introduced that keeps gameplay against AI players more balanced.
The Showdown mode is the best mode to start with. It offers you one-on-one competition with computer or online players. Against the AI, there are nine opponents starting with the easily defeated Dwayne. In Domination, you must complete all twelve maps, rivaling anywhere from two to three players at a time. In this game it is best to make decisive strikes because one loss can easily turn the tide against you.
The strategic element in Quarrel is what really makes this an instant buy. Players will start off with a few regions that each may have up to six troops. Each troop can hold up one letter in battle. So although you have seven letters, you can only use as many letters as you have troops. With the clock ticking away, you will often have to sidestep the more complex word for a shorter word that uses high value letters. If your final word totals more than your opponents, you will win the battle and take over his or her territory. When this happens, all but one of your troops will move on to the new territory. Your playful troops are always smiling as they bounce on top of enemies and send them straight to heaven. With only one troop left in your starting territory, you will be left open to attack from adjoining enemy territories. Players can reinforce territories before the end of their play, but once they do that territory will no longer be in use until the next round.
If you successfully defend a territory with less starting troops than your opponent, you will be able to take your opponents troop prisoner. The prisoners are the happiest prisoners you’ll ever see because they jump and smile now that they are in your custody.
Throughout a match, gamers earn bonus troops by filling up their treasure gauge. The gauge fills up when players form high-ranking words. The game also allows you to earn points from the sidelines when players are battling – you just have to solve the anagram or form a smaller word for reduced points. You can use treasure points to quickly call in an emergency reserve troop at the start of a battle. You also get bonus troops at the end of a round depending on how many territories are in your possession.
The playful gameplay is highlighted by word facts that appear between matches as well as definitions that scroll across the bottom of your screen depending on the words formed in a battle. You also get fun messages when you choose to “nicely pluralize” a word. One problem I did have with the tutorial was that for some reason the lessons require you to choose the lower scoring word. One would think that a tutorial would encourage you to go for a high scoring word, but instead I found myself only using 4 tiles instead of 6, when I had six troops. The same thing happened during the sideline competition. Instead of being allowed to form the anagram, I had to form a smaller word like “Bank”. It was just irritating, but nothing more.
Overall, Quarrel on XBLA is a great way to start off your 2012 casual gaming season. It’s a steal at 400 points and will provide you with endless hours of word battling fun. I would have like to have had a few more massive boards for a really long game, but short and sweet is just as good.