Review: Quarrel

Quarrel

Now that a Super Bowl commercial has shown us that board games can be turned into explosion-laden summer blockbusters (Battleship? Seriously?), mashing them up into a videogame seems perfectly normal by comparison. That’s the modus operandi for Quarrel, a cartoony word cocktail from a Scottish studio that swipes letter tiles and gameplay elements from Scrabble, Anagrams and Risk. Put it all together and it spells casual—and occasionally frustrating–fun.

Don’t be deceived by the awwww-adorable art style—these quarrels are serious business. At the beginning of a match, you’re given territories on a board and a handful of cutesy soldiers—feeling that Risk vibe yet? Battle outcomes don’t depend on a random dice roll, but rather your ability to generate the highest-scoring word from a set of eight letter tiles that pop up randomly. The number of soldiers you have in a territory represents the maximum length of the word you can spell once the letters appear.

You’re given about a minute to use the buttons and analog stick to input your word, and that timer’s what adds the white-knuckle edge here. Quarrel’s AI is sneaky, in that it seems to enjoy tossing in copious amounts of high-point letters (think, X, K and Q) into the pool, luring you into trying to use them before you realize you’re better off leaving them be. There generally isn’t enough time to backtrack out of a word you thought you could spell into another one before the timer evaporates.

Sometimes, the eight-letter anagram or perfect six-letter, 20-point word just jumps right out at you; other times, even skilled word warriors will experience grade-A brain freeze. And likely lose the battle. Ties are decided by whomever tapped their word in most quickly, which turns the sometimes clumsy interface into an annoying extra enemy.

Given that your word prowess is limited by your unit numbers, using your turn to strategically shift your troops between territories and cashing in on the bonus support troops you can score or capture if your attacks and defenses are successful is absolutely essential. Just like in Risk, a single failed foray can leave you open to an opponent’s counterattack and turn what looked like a huge advantage into a quick and ugly collapse.

You can really rock your score and your troop strength if you can identify the anagram(s) that use all eight letters in the pool—and there’s at least one per quarrel, even if some of them are seriously questionable. (“Thingies?” What is this, The Lorax?) The game also gives you the opportunity to score an extra backup soldier if you can nail the anagram on your own while other AI players are quarreling with each other. That’s a nice touch, as it keeps online games, the only multiplayer option Quarrel offers, from devolving into dull spectator affairs.

Quarrel’s cute quotient works to keep things interesting. Once the words are complied, each set of soldiers shouts a noise that gets louder depending on the size of the word score. After each quarrel, the winning side lays the cartoon smackdown on the losers, sending their angelic spirits skyward and capturing prisoners if the number of troops is unequal.

Your AI opponents are all over the place, sometimes constructing grad-school level words that’ll leave you feeling like a Highlights-reading idiot, other times missing even the most obvious of word options.

Every victory you chalk (and every opponent you eliminate from the board) adds to a circular treasure meter that rings a picture of your avatar. Each time you max it out, you’re given an “extra backup”—a bonus soldier who can be called in to help even the odds when your five-soldier territory is menaced by a seven-solider neighbor. This strategic element plays out like the red-flag coaches challenge in the NFL: Sometimes that extra slot ends up making the difference in a quarrel, but if you freeze up or can’t find a way to take advantage of it, it’ll end up a wasted opportunity.

One-on-one quarrels are fun, but Domination mode is where the action’s the most entertaining, as you’re charged with beating back multiple opponents on 12 maps that increase in size, complexity and opponent brainpower. Luck plays a larger factor here. If you’re the last player to get your turn, you may find yourself trying to take on two territory-rich opponents who’ve gotten fat and powerful by ganging up and eliminating a third. Good luck with that.

At a mere $5, Quarrel is the very definition of a low-risk impulse buy. Even if you wouldn’t be able to recognize or spell the word “erudite” with the timer bleeding down to zero, you’re going to find something to stretch your l-e-x-i-c-o-n to its limits. Word up.

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Pros:
+ More strategic depth than you’d expect: The decision to attack or stand pat always looms large
+ Winning quarrels requires serious vocab and brainpower skills
+ Cutesy presentation is charming and fun

Cons:
– Some of the words/anagrams the AI bandies about are dubious to say the least. “Thingies?” Really?
– Input interface is kinda clunky, leading to lost tiebreakers

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox 360 via XBLA; also available on iOS devices
Publisher: UTV Ignition Games
Developer: Denki
Release Date: 1/25/2012
Genre: Word Puzzle/Strategy
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-4 (online multiplayer only)
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.