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Quarrel XBLA Review

Apple’s iOS platform has become extremely popular in its years of availability. It’s a good service that allows for people who want to play bite size games on their travels. These games draw you in with simple addictive gameplay or the convenience of a quick five minute pick-up and play session. Not only that, the service allows for developers to create games with minor budgets; in the case of Denki, the developers of Quarrel, it was a clear option to build for iOS after the game’s release on Xbox Live Arcade (the company’s original target for the game) was postponed after not being initially able to find a publisher. Now, Quarrel is finally on Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) thanks to UTV Ignition Entertainment. And you should be thankful.

What exactly is Quarrel? The best way to describe it is to just quote the developers. It’s a blend of old board games like “scrabble and risk mixed in with a bit of the TV show Countdown.” Bizarrely, I found Quarrel extremely fun to play even though I’m not the biggest fan of digitally represented board games.

The reason behind this is how well Denki has merged the different aspects of those two board games into one. Understanding Quarrel is simple. You are given a map that has specific areas shaded in your team’s colour. Each player, be it the A.I or a human opponent, has his own land with a limited amount of troops that you can use to move from zone to zone. If you try to take over another player’s piece of land, you are thrown into a battle where your units are on the frontlines against the opposition. To win, you need to cover the conquer the entire board with your colour.

This is where your Scrabble skills will come into play. You are given an anagram of a word that uses eight letters. Next, a clock appears and you have to figure out the best possible scoring word in the allotted amount of time with the troops you have in your unit. A troop is allowed to carry one word, so if you have an army of six men, you can make a six letter word from the eight letters available to you. Letters have their own values, so popular letters such as vowels are only worth one point, while something like X is worth ten points. Whoever gets the highest point total will win the battle and kill some of the opposition player’s units. Funny enough, the enemy is bombarded with the letters you used to defeat them, and there’s something humorous when you kill the opposition with words.

Time is a feared element in Quarrel as it puts unwanted pressure on you to find the best scoring word that will fit in the amount of letters you can use. Undoubtedly, you’ll also find yourself short on men at some point and outnumbered in an attack, but people with eagle eyes and a thesaurus will be able to hunt out those high scoring words to fend off anyone trying to take your piece of land. It’s only in extreme cases that you won’t be able to win, like a two vs six fight for example. If both players manage to make words that are worth the same amount of points, the winner is determined by the player who submitted his word first.

Outside of battles, you need to keep a watchful eye on your surroundings. You have to make sure you don’t spread your army out too thin because that will be the start of your downfall.  Land needs to be protected so that it cannot be taken, and if you manage to successfully defend against an attack, you will be able to taken some of the attacking units as prisoners (though honestly, they seem a little happy to be prisoners), ultimately hurting someone’s attempt at domination.

Deeper features are brought into play as well, such as gaining reinforcements after your turn is done. A player can also spawn an extra unit in battle if they have gained enough points. To keep games that feature more than two people interesting while it’s not your turn, Denki has added a way that players can still partake and help their own teams. During other battles, you can try build the best word out of the same eight letters other teams are using to fight. There’s no limit on the amount of letters you can use; instead, your aim is to get the best word possible so that you will gain more bonus points towards an extra unit in battle.

Initially, Quarrel was a single player game on the iOS platform, but, to my surprise, playing against the computer isn’t as bad as it sounds. Every character (represented by an avatar) has a personality and an IQ skill that determines how he plays. For example, one AI opponent is slow, but good at finding big words while another is quick to throw smaller words at you while largely sacrificing high scoring words. It’s never going to besat playing against human opponents, but I think you’ll be somewhat impressed with Quarrel’s single player offering. It should be noted that Quarrel on XBLA features more over the iOS version, such as the challenge mode, the possibility of nine events of one-on-one battles, and improved graphics. On a negative note, the game’s controls don’t allow for faster player responses since the touch screen is no longer an option.

Multiplayer is an option, but for obvious reasons is only available for online play. Offline just wouldn’t work — it would severely damage the game experience since you’d be able to see the other player’s moves. Online can be between 2-4 players and is either a ranked or normal match. The game plays the same as in the offline mode, but you’ll have to work around censorship of obscene words as Microsoft won’t allow such conduct on Xbox Live, which is comical when you think about the other nastiness thrown around in voice chat on other games.

All of this amusement with words is priced at a smashing 400 Microsoft Points, a bargain when there has been a noticeable increase of prices recently on XBLA. It’s quite hard not to recommend the title, and I can only see people who really loathe games that require a good use of vocabulary hating it. For everyone else, this gaming dictionary is worth your time and you might even learn a few new words during your play – who says learning can’t be fun?

8 out of 10