Quarrel Review

Publisher: UTV Ignition Entertainment / Developer: Denki / Price: 400 Microsoft Points / Played on: Xbox 360 / ESRB: Everyone 10+ [Fantasy Violence]

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Before playing it, I thought that Quarrel had been made just for me. a word-junkie, and my girlfriend and I make a regular habit of playing Scrabble, Text-Twist, Boggle, and the myriad digital variations of those games that populate the devices in our lives. Needless to say, the Scrabble-meets-Risk description that Quarrel boasts was all I needed to get interested. Unfortunately, as sound as this game’s basic premise and gameplay mechanic is, its final execution leaves a lot to be desired.

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Gameplay

In Quarrel, players compete to conquer and possess every territory on the game board, and Scrabble-like word constructions are the weapons at their disposal. Each game starts with the territories being divided evenly among all players (which range from two to four competitors). The player’s armies are also distributed among the territories, again with each player receiving the same number of soldiers in total, but with each territory getting a different infantry size. When a player wants to invade an opposing player’s territory, the territories’ squads face each other and must make the highest-scoring words they can with the same selection of letters. The twist is that your words’ maximum sizes are limited to how many soldiers you’re using to attack or defend.

Players also receive reinforcements at the end of each turn—one man for every territory occupied—and can take prisoners if they vanquish a squad with a higher number of soldiers. Backup soldiers can be called during attacks or defenses, which are earned through playing high-scoring words. Ties go to the player who formed their word faster. And that’s the game in a nutshell: when one player dominates all the territories, the game is over. On the whole, this recipe is actually pretty fun and can lead to some moments of word-fueled triumph (or rage-inducing defeats).

But despite the relative simplicity of the concept, the game falters in unexpected ways. One of the most glaring problems—at least to my American eyes—is the fact that the game’s dictionary includes spellings and phrases from English dialects all over the world, as well as throughout time. That means that words I have never, ever heard of and would never expect are fair game for use. That includes alternate, regional, and archaic spellings of familiar words: like “warks” for “works,” and “sez” for “says.” Apparently Quarrel’s words are actually culled from the Collins Official SCRABBLE Dictionary.

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In truth, this particular issue could be ignored—until you come up against the fact that the computer opponents you face in single-player campaigns know what is and isn’t a legal word in Quarrel’s eyes. Meanwhile, you’re left in the dark about what weird regional spelling of a word could’ve been played to keep you from getting spanked. This gives the computer a frustratingly big advantage. That goes double for the fact that the computer is almost always going to win tie-breakers with its ability to construct words faster than your puny human brain. A region-specific version of the game would’ve at least solved one of those problems.

I also found that eight-letter anagrams, from which the game provides each turn’s selection of letters, was really esoteric and odd. Most of the word-construction games I’ve played make seven-letter anagrams the norm, but I’m willing to believe that maybe I’m just not smart enough for an eight-letter game. Regardless of my own intellectual limits, I was repeatedly aggravated when the anagrams were revealed as words like “plectrum,” “bioherm,” “paludism,” and “subedars.” If you know any of those words without having to look them up, then Quarrel is for you. But if you’re a dummy like me, you’ll shake your fist at the screen, cursing at feeling stupid over not knowing words like “bimethyl” and “acroters.” Out of all of those, Microsoft Word only recognizes “plectrum,” which, if you didn’t know, is a fancy way of saying “guitar pick.” But I digress.

Ultimately, these are issues that marred my own experience—it’s possible that you may relish the challenge Quarrel provides. But the game suffers from yet more problems that make it tough to fully enjoy.

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Multiplayer

Simply put, this is game should be played with other living, breathing humans. But, inexplicably, the game has no local multiplayer component, a fact that is completely mind-boggling. Since most of the issues listed above are endemic to the single-player campaign, they should be easy to ignore when you’re playing with your friends. You just have to make sure your friends aren’t in your house. And own an Xbox. And buy this game.

Maybe this detail seems like I’m whining, but this game could’ve easily been adapted to allow for local multiplayer: why not just include prompts for opposing players to cover their eyes while each player takes turns constructing words? If it can work in Pictionary for the Xbox, why not here? This is a massive missed opportunity. If I was ever going to get my ladyfriend to play a video game with me, this would’ve been it.

When you do manage to find someone to play online (so far it’s been pretty slim pickings on Xbox LIVE) the game goes well enough—though I should mention that the first time I tried an online match-up with the one other person in the world playing Quarrel, my console completely crashed, forcing me to restart. Though I have managed one successful online match, I haven’t found enough other people to play with online to see whether or not the crashing is a recurring problem. But the fact that it happened right out of the gate was pretty discouraging. I’m hopeful that when (or if) I manage to convince some of my friends to get this game, I’ll have a good time.

Compounding Quarrel’s multiplayer problems, Microsoft has dictated that certain words aren’t allowed in multiplayer matches that are acceptable in single-player. Some words make a limited degree of sense for being banned—like “balls,” “shaft,” and maybe even “god.” But others, like “dice” and “help,” are completely baffling. And while that’s Microsoft’s decision, the game and its players are the ones who suffer for it.

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Visuals and Sound

The aesthetic of the game is simple, with each player’s randomly assigned armies consisting of adorable and charismatic cartoon soldiers, which range from robots, to Vikings, to aliens, to aboriginal warriors, and more. The different armies don’t offer any differences in gameplay—though I suspect that could’ve added an interesting wrinkle to the game. But while the graphics are very simple, it works for the likewise simple style of play.

The sound, too, is pretty basic, with a limited range of sound effects and music tracks. The music catchy enough—though it is a bit repetitive—and the characters’ cries of joy or whimpers of defeat are delivered with tight comic timing, adding an enjoyable layer to the game as a whole.

Unfortunately, the sound often suffers from weird instances of clipping, seemingly with no apparent or consistent trigger. It’s extremely abrasive to suddenly have the music cut in and out like a scratched record. Ultimately, that’s something that should’ve been easy enough to iron out before making the game available for purchase.

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Bottom Line

At its core, this is a really good game with a winning gameplay mechanic, but its flaws often grind the fun to a screeching halt. Quarrel is a title that’s best played with friends or family over Xbox LIVE, but other than that, it’s kind of tough to recommend. Otherwise, download at your own risk. Only the brainiest of word-nerds need apply.

6.5 / 10

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