Those of you with iOS devices might already be familiar with the game Quarrel. For me, it was an entirely new game. Knowing little about the game before actually playing it, I assumed it would be your typical Xbox LIVE boring board game. So you can imagine the surprise, and joy, when I booted it up to find out it was a mix of two of my favorite games -- Scrabble and Risk.
Quarrel, at it's core, is an anagram game. You are given eight letters, each assigned a point value, and are tasked with spelling a word worth the most points. Similar to Scrabble, less common letters like "J" and "V" are worth more. Spell a word worth more points than your opponent and you win that round.
Here's the catch, and the part where Risk lovers like myself will find great joy and strategy in the game. Each Quarrel match takes place on an island map divided into an even amount of territories, with each player receiving an equal amount of troops. Each individual soldier you have represents a letter you can use when battling the opponent. Obviously, the more soldiers you have, the better chance you have of scoring more points. For instance, if you have 8 soldiers and your opponent as 4, not only do you have a chance of scoring more points by using more letters, but you also have the chance of actually solving the anagram -- something the person with only 4 letters won't be able to do.
If you are the attacker and beat your opponent, you will conquer their territory and shift all but one of your soldiers into it. On the other hand, if you successfully defend your territory from an attacker, you will take their soldiers as prisoners and be able to use them towards your 8 letter count. As gameplay evolves, it really becomes a strategic cat-and-mouse game. Is it better to attack and conquer, or defend and try to build up forces? From a personal standpoint, my best wins have come from "turtling" or playing defensively.
Don't automatically assume because you have more letters you are guaranteed a victory. There were numerous matches where I've seen 4 letters upset 7 or 8 letters. It's all about the point value. If you use the more rare letters, there's a good chance you can outscore your opponent who may spell a longer, but simpler word. Be warned, if you attack with more soldiers than the defender and lose, he will take your attackers as prisoner. This is just one of the many ways the momentum in a game can swing abruptly.
Quarrel is about more than spelling. It's about spelling the less common words and strategically planning when to attack and when to defend. Those with a competitive mentality will find this game easily fills that niche.
A basic round consists of this -- all players take turns attacking the enemy's territories. As an attacker you can choose to attack an adjacent territory, reinforce one of your own adjacent territories, or just skip your turn completely and collect your reinforcements. It should be noted, after your round as attacker your territories are bolstered with one extra soldier.
As a defender, your best hope is to just outwit the attacker and capture his soldiers. After you successfully attack or defend, you are rewarded points which go towards filling up a meter that offers a reward of one extra soldier to assist in future battles. If you are playing a game with more than two players, those not involved in the conflict still participate in the challenge to solve the anagram. Your results will have no bearing on the combat, but the points will still count towards your meter. Unfortunately, even with the challenge of solving the anagram, sitting on the sidelines and watching the action can get quite boring.
There are several different modes that vary in gameplay style, but all focus around this same gameplay concept of attack and defense. Domination mode is a series of matches that range from one-one-one battles to four-player face-offs -- all with the goal of dominating the islands of Quarrel. Challenge mode is split into four different sections focusing on different aspects of the game like capturing four territories in a row or stealing a set number of prisoners. Showdown mode is for those of you who want one-on-one action. In this mode you will fight through the entire tier of AI competitors from the not-too-bright Dwayne to the dreaded Kali.
You'd think a game like this would go easy on you, but some of these NPCs are merciless. If you were thinking this is a kids game, you are wrong. Kali shows no mercy; she is both fast and intelligent. You will need a wide vocabulary to conquer her (or you'll need to cheat). Each NPC has a set personality that reflects in their gameplay style. Some are just plain dumb, while others are slower, but will take their time to spell great words. At times though, the game just feels impossible. It's a little frustrating, but it just makes winning that much more rewarding.
Of course, with a game like this, it all comes down to online multiplayer. In the limited experience I've had with multiplayer, I can tell you it has been some of the most stressful, fun, competitive games I've played in quite a while. The majority of matches last around 20-30 minutes, but I did have some that went into the hour-long range (I'd like to point out that I won a match with the anagram "Fishcake"). Like I mentioned, the constant momentum swing can lead to long games, but in the end, it makes the competitive juices flow more freely. Who wants to lose a match after 60 minutes? Like most online competitive games, you have the ability to player ranked matches or some more "casual" matches.
While single-player does offer a challenge, the human fallibility in multiplayer is what makes it great. In most cases, you know what you're getting with the NPCs. You know Kali won't crack under pressure. You know Dwayne won't be too bright (but you know that from his trucker hat). Humans on the other hand, well let's just say the pressure of the ticking clock can sometimes cause you to fold. It's happened to me.
Despite it's competitive nature, Quarrel has a charming look and feel to it. Between the vibrant colors, loopy sounds, and quirky soldiers, Quarrel has a sort of Spongebob innocence to it. You can't help but feel bad for the little minions when they get beat down 8 letters to 2.
At times, the animations do get tedious and you'll want to just skip them, which unfortunately you aren't able to do. Sometimes you just want a quick match, and having to sit through the soldiers pouncing on the others can get a little repetitive and slow down the game. An added skip action would be welcomed.
I never played the iPhone version so I can't comment on how well the game translates over to Xbox, but I can say the controls were smooth and fluid. It's easy to delete letters or the entire word, as well as select the letters you need. Though the timed clock gives some added pressure when having to scroll through each letter to form your word. It took some getting used to when reinforcing soldiers. Sometimes it can get a little tricky with the directional pad sending them to the right territory. Of course, that's just a minor nitpick. After a few games you'll get used to it.
Overall, Quarrel is a charming, fun game that will definitely challenge your wits -- and is a very affordable 400 Microsoft Points. With great replay value and matches that will always keep you on the edge of your seat, Quarrel is easily one of the better investments on Xbox LIVE.