Review: Quarrel

Word games – what springs to mind? Scrabble? Boggle? The Sun Crossword? Presumably not a bunch of cute combatants duking it out in a castle that is divided into Risk-esque territories? Well, that’s Quarrel, a crossbow bolt to the heart of the word game genre!

Quarrel has been around on the mobile format for a while now and so I do consider myself a bit of a Quarreller, the thing that first strikes you on the iOS format is the presentation and polish – both of which have transferred to the 360 version largely unscathed. I say largely as its taken for granted a little that console releases are developed to a high standard in terms of presentation and polish and as a result it loses some of its WOW factor, but having said that the developers have managed to utilise the console’s power a little more by adding more graphical flourishes and the like.

The basic premise of the game is for 2 or more players to attempt to take over an arena by winning word battles – who can make the best word from the available letters. There are always 8 letters to choose from and the great thing is that these 8 letters are always an anagram, so if you are good at anagrams you will be good at Quarrel, right?

Well, yes, sort of, however the way the game mechanics work you wont always have chance to go for the main full 8 letter anagram.  Each territory has a number of “units” within it and this number of units determines how many letters you can use to make your word in the ensuing battle, this adds a great layer of complexity and strategy to the proceedings. Do you risk an attack on a territory where the defender has a full compliment of 8 characters versus your 5 or do you play it safe and attack a territory which has less defenders. Sounds like an obvious decision however if you win the territory then all bar one of your units will occupy the new territory leaving you quite vulnerable. You can of course transfer units between territories but this can serve to spread your army even thinner and leave two territories vulnerable! Decisions, decisions!  Once you have obtained a certain number of points from making words you are also granted “backup” units which can be called into play on any Quarrel battle you are taking part in, essentially raising your word cap by one letter, which in the tight battles can prove very valuable.  Get the full 8 letter anagram in a battle and you get an instant additional back up unit to use!

One of the great things about Quarrel is the subtle application of pressure you experience whilst playing.  You have a limited timescale to complete your chosen word, as does your opponent.  This pressure in an already tense battle situation really serves to induce mild states of panic as what looked like an easy set of letters quickly degenerates in a mad panic to spell “Ah” (5 points) as quickly as possible!  Its a little like turning up to a fancy dress party dressed as Austin Powers only to discover you’ve walked into a wake half way through after consuming copious amounts of happy juice.

In terms of modes on offer here – there is an extensive single player collection of games to work through from quick match through to a domination challenge where you progress through the various map types against progressively stronger and stronger opponents.  You can also create custom matches and change pretty much any setting you choose.  The one feature which seems to be missing from the XBLA version is that of the daily challenge.  With the iOS version you could play a daily challenge game which was (I guess) a randomised game set for the day, some were harder than others but it was a quick way to generate a totally random match against opponents.  Stats were never tracked on iOS (outside of the largely overlooked Game Center), but with the infrastructure available on XBLA you could quite easily have daily challenge leaderboards and really get the community buzzing around this feature.

There also a multi-player option (in contrast, missing from the iOS versions) which consists both ranked and unranked matches with a matchmaking facility.  You can choose to cut your anagrammatical cloth against 2 or 3 other players on various maps.  This seems to work well and without any hitches (bar the occasional long wait for players to join your game).  Each players turn is timed so you don’t ever fall foul of the eejit who connected to the game to go and make dinner or something (which yes, is a common problem I seem to have with turn based games).  Xbox Live Vision is also supported so you can see the ugly mug of the opponent you are playing against, but oddly, no Kinect support – so you’d effectively need two cameras plugged in to your Xbox to utilise this feature which seems like a weird oversight to me;  just a small niggle, but a niggle nevertheless!

I’m not sure if I got lucky or am just an amazing wordsmith but I seemed to fare much better online than single player, winning all my matches – I suspect I got lucky, but more testing is needed to make a valid conclusion!  You definitely feel more in control during multi-player battles and less like you are up against an opponent who will always gets the best word available (which on some of the tougher levels is definitely the case, I’m sure of it!)

What more is there to say? This is a solid, well produced word game with some nice multi-player options.  If you are a bit of a wordy then this is definitely something you should check out – if not then probably steer clear, having said that, its only 400 MSP (£3.50 ish) so go on, fill your boots, you never know you might “errtseau” it.. GO!

Reviewed on Xbox 360

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