Xbox Live Arcade Title
Publisher: UTV Ignition
Multiplayer: Yes 2-4 players
(Thanks to UTV Ignition for providing a copy of this game for review)
You’ve doubtless heard people say that the pen is mightier than the sword, that words can cut deeper than any blade, heal wounds that medicine cannot and quite possibly part the Red Sea. In Quarrel they take that idea quite literally by making you fight battles using words, thereby not only entertaining you but also expanding your vocabulary with all manner of shiny words that will leave the majority of phone-text speaking simpletons with bemused looks on their faces and a mild headache. Yes, that’s right, Quarrel makes you feel smart! Well, it makes me feel smart, anyway.
Essentially what Quarrel has done is take Scrabble and ram it head first into Risk to create a new breed of game that challenges you to wage war using the power of words and just a little bit of strategy. But for the sake of making this review just a little bit longer, and a touch more useful, let us assume that you don’t have a sodding clue what Scrabble or Risk is, other than antiquated things that your parents demanded you play when you were a child but that you adamantly refused to on the grounds that it made your head hurt.
The best way to really give you an idea of how Quarrel plays is to actually take you through a standard game, which starts off on any of the games twelve different maps. The map itself gets divided into territories which are then distributed amongst the players, of which there can be up to four, so that they’ll each have a few chunks of property to proudly own. Don’t get too excited, mind, Monopoly isn’t mixed in here as well: you won’t be collecting rent from your property whenever some unlucky family member lands on it. After that the land is then populated by little troops whose sole reason for existence is to be bossed around by you, with the number of troops being assigned to a territory being seemingly random. After that it’s down to some good old-fashioned turn-based action: each turn you can move troops from one territory to the next, provided you control them, or you can attack enemy territories in a bid to claim the land as your own, therefore moving one step closer to games victory condition, which is obviously to control the whole place. The various lands which you do battle upon aren’t particularly large, but there’s still enough room to employ some basic tactical maneuvering, and you’ll have to because if you spread yourself too thin and don’t pay attention to where you’ve placed your troops then there’s a good chance another enemy will slip in behind you and start taking over your land, leaving you in a bad position. There’s not a huge amount of scope for masterful handling of troops, but it’s enough to be satisfying, enjoyable, and, mostly importantly in a game of this style, relaxing. And then, once your turn is over, reinforcements are dropped from the sky to bolster your territories.
Of course declaring all-out war on your opponents little bit of land is where the excitement is at, and where you’re mastery of words can do far more than mere weapons. To claim victory over an important you must simply construct the highest points scoring word that you can from the letters you’re presented with. In true Scrabble fashion letters are assigned a points value based upon how difficult they are to use when forming a word, so the likes of X and Z score large points while A and E score just a single point each. The actual amount of letters you can use your word is dictated by the amount of troops you’re attacking with, though attacking with any more than eight is pointless as you’re only given eight letters to work with. Clearly this means that attacking with a higher number of troops that your opponent gives you the advantage as you’ll be able to form a longer word using more letters, but thanks to the points value a clever player with just a few troops can still beat someone with a massive army but a lesser knowledge of the English language, though obviously trying to fight off an army of eight with just two troops is likely to go badly for you. Once victory is achieved you’re conquering army will occupy the enemies square and you’ll gain some treasure which, if you have amassed enough of it, will give you an extra troop to call upon at almost any time, should you so happen to require the help. And so battles become tense battles of intellect, demanding that you quickly try to piece together the highest scoring word you can inside your own mind. It’s an incredibly addictive and fun experience that actually does something which is a bit of a taboo in gaming these days: it makes you think.
One thing that is worth noting is that the analogue stick can be a bit unresponsive when picking out letters, so I recommend using the D-pad instead as it seems far more responsive. This wouldn’t be much of a problem, but in several game modes there’s a timer on creating words, so speed is of the essence. The timer itself is also something I have a slight problem with, preferring to take my time and trying to figure out the eight letter anagram, of which there is always one, and while the timer can be turned off when creating a match it’s always present for the two main singleplayer modes, although Quick Match is thankfully free of it. Of course the reasons for having a time are obvious, and it does make games more tense and mentally demanding. Ties, when you and your opponent score the same or create the same word, are also decided by who was the quickest, which is again a little annoying. Maybe it’s just me, but in a tie situation I’d rather have both players be given a new set of letters and a second chance.
One problem that many turn-based games that involve more than two players is that people e will often get a bit bored having to wait around for everyone else to complete their turn, unless of course they get attacked that turn, in which case boredom isn’t a problem. But in Quarrel they’ve managed to do away with this by letting the other players have a shot at making a word while two players are duking it out. When a battle between two other players commences, you’ll be greeted with a screen filled with the same letters they have, whereupon you’re free to make a word or even go for the full eight letter anagram, something which should be attempted at anytime as it provides bog bonuses, since you’re not restricted by how many troops you have. The points you score in this mode for your created words are considerably less than usual, but it still adds into your treasure, helping you inch toward getting an extra reinforcement to use. It’s a rather neat idea and I welcomed the opportunity to get to do something while my opponents were waging war.
Of course the AI in a game like Quarrel can make a big difference, because while there is a full range of multiplayer modes on offer you don’t always want to go up against real opponents. Thankfully in my experience Quarrels AI did a fantastic job of providing a tough but fair challenge, though I have to admit that some of the words they use are truly outlandish. At times it can be a little annoying to lose a territory to an AI whose created some damn word that you’re almost positive doesn’t even exist, but in a smart move there’s a small ticker included at the bottom of the screen which will offer a description for each word created, and so over time you’ll find yourself learning some shiny new words. Still, as you find yourself fighting against more intelligent AI, or to be more exact, AIs that have instance access to the Scrabble bloody dictionary, in modes like Showdown their ability to utilise a variety of seemingly made up words and other oddities can become a little frustrating, especially when you can’t actually find the word in a standard dictionary. The reason for all this is actually quite simple: Quarrel uses the Collins 2007 Scrabble Dictionary, not the standard dictionary that you’ve likely got lying around the house, and therefore accepts a variety of slang, archaic, regional and dialect words that may be unfamiliar to most players. For example, the game will accept the word “ky” without a problem but you won’t find that in a normal dictionary. Why? Because ky is Scottish slang for cow, which a hell of a lot people probably don’t know, though as a Scotsman I was suitably impressed by this being included. Obviously using the Scrabble dictionary is both a good and bad thing. On the one hand it does mean that the game has a wider range of words to work with, but on the other hand most people aren’t familair with the Scrabble dictionary and as such may struggle to figure which words are accepted and which are not. Happily the game includes a copy of it that you can peruse until your head explodes or you become a genius with words, the former being more likely.
One thing that I was impressed by with the AI was that they each had a distinct play-style, or personality if you will. Some AI take longer to form their words whilst others take mere seconds. Some are prone to using more uncommon words than the rest of their artificial companions, while yet another AI is better at manevouring his troops that complex word-play. It’s a small detail but it helps to make matches more enjoyable, and even adds a small degree of strategy as you come to know each AI’s traits.
If you’re just planning on playing Quarrel on your own then there’s a decent selection of things to keep you busy, though obviously the range of things than Denki, the games developers, could actually do were limited by the core gameplay. The two main singleplayer modes are Domination and Showdown. Domination is about the closest to a singleplayer campaign that you can get in the game, tasking you with taking over a series of islands inhabited by an increasing number of AI opponents with a rising difficulty level. The first few islands are easy, but from then on it should provide a nice challenge for most gamers out there, especially once you reach those last few islands! Suffice to say that it should take you a good few hours to make your way through it. The second mode, Showdown, is simply a series of matches against the various AI opponents, increasing in difficulty as you go. Again, you should get a few hours out of this, but much of your time will likely be spent just using the Quick Match option which throws you straight into a game against an AI opponent whose chosen based upon your “Word IQ”. Happily the Quick Match mode is devoid of the terrifying timer, though sadly both Domination and Showdown have no option to toggle the timer off or on, which disappointed me a little. And of course there’s the option to create your own game, allowing you to choose whether a timer is present, who you’ll face and which location you’ll do battle.
If you get fed up off contesting chunks of land with the games AI then you go take your dictionary and head online to engage real life opponents, also know, sometimes, as “people”. It’s here that Quarrel hits a bit of a bump in the road, yet it’s not actually a problem with the game, but a problem with Microsoft. You see, due to Microsoft policy some words in Quarrel simply are not allowed during online play, and in a game based around words I’m sure you can see how that would be a bit of problem. Worse is that Microsoft’s choice of words to censor is often absolutely baffling, at times plain stupid: words such as “God”, “dice”, “shaft” and “balls” are just a few examples of such censored words, and frankly they actually came close to breaking the multiplayer for me, especially as there’s no way of know which words are censored, resulting in a frustrating loss because Microsoft somehow decided that “train” was offensive in some manner. Perhaps even more baffling is that Microsoft don’t seem to have a problem with the word “cunt”. Still, assuming you don’t rage quite after encountering a few of these words (“start”, is another fantastic example) then playing online is a very satisfying experience, though sadly at the time of writing this review there wasn’t a huge amount of people playing online. Hopefully that will change.
If the sound of all this wasn’t quite enough to get you interested in picking up Qaurrel and giving it a bash yourself then this might grab your attention: it only costs 400MSP. That’s right, you can pick up Quarrel for just 400 measly Microsoft Points. That’s a bargain!
So, despite a couple of flaws, and some words being censored, Quarrel is a fantastic little title that blends together light-strategy and entertaining word-play into one incredibly cheap package. Sadly I get the feeling that Quarrel will likely only attract a small audience, yet to those reading this review I highly recommend that you at least go and download the trial version and give it a damn good go! it’s not just fun and relaxing, it’s educational too!
+ The satisfaction of finding the eight-letter anagram.
+ Defeating an opponent with a great word, despite their troop advantage.
+ Getting a Trailblazer bonus for going on a rampage and taking over multiple territories in one turn.
– In what bloody universe is “start” an offensive word?
– That’s a word? Are you sure?
– What the hell does that mean!?
Bright, cartoony and cheerful. It has ninjas in it. What more is there to say?
Does the job, but nothing more.
A few problems, but otherwise this is a fantastically fun game. Still, that damn online censor sucks.
There’s a solid chunk of singleplayer fun, but the real meat is online and in Quick Match. It’s nice and easy to just jump on, play a game and then turn it off again.
The Verdict: 9
For just 400MSP you really can’t go wrong with this fantastic little title. It’ll get you thinking, teach you new words and make you hate Microsoft’s online censor policy with a passion. What more do you want?