Quarrel Review

By Jonathan Barnes, 4 years ago
As many frequent readers know, I like to use a rather voluminous vocabulary, and have a penchant for using a million dollar word when the dime store edition will do. I was also a childhood fan of the classic board game RISK. With those two markers on my ledger, the XBLA edition of http://www.trueachievements.com/Quarrel-xbox-360.htm sounded like it would be right up my alley, as the iOS drew a good amount of praise for its melding of spelling elements with territorial control strategy. Unfortunately, like most mobile game adaptations, it’s a bit of hit and miss.

Quarrel, while borrowing heavily from the aforementioned games, is a game unlike any other. After a brief tutorial, which does an admirable job of hand-holding new players, the game opens up a good number of options. The single player offerings include a Quick Match mode, a Campaign mode, a Showdown mode, a Challenge mode, and a Make Match mode.

Review Screen 1

Combat plays out like a combination of RISK meets Scrabble. At the beginning of each match, the computer divvies up the land mass, pre-places troops, then spins a randomizer to determine who goes first. The number of troops each territory holds limits the number of letters that can be used in a word, topping out at eight. The computer then gives the same eight letters to both competitors and a timer starts. Like Scrabble each letter has a numeric value and the game places priority on high-scoring words, which does not necessarily mean the longest word. The highest scoring word wins the battle. If the aggressor team wins the battle, they invade the defending area. If the defending team wins the battle, they hold the territory while diminishing the troops in the aggressor territory down to one.

One of the slight twists comes in when unequal teams do battle. If an army of (for instance) six is taken down by an army of four, the army of four captures troops from the other team, buffing their numbers. Conquering territories and playing high-scoring words will earn players treasure that they can cash in towards last-minute soldiers to buff their numbers before going into a match. The first team to conquer all of the territories wins.

With any turn-based game, downtime can be an issue. Fortunately, Quarrel has a great system in play that allows players not involved in the current combat scenario to still play with the letters given. Again, creating higher-scoring words builds treasure towards those supplemental troops.

Review Screen 3

The Quick Match mode pairs gamers up with a random AI opponent while the Campaign mode (Domination) forces gamers to run the gauntlet through all of the maps and the AI opponents of varying and increasing “Word IQs”. Showdown mode is akin to a challenge ladder, starting with the low-ranking AIs first. Challenge mode offers a variety of scenarios with objectives. Make Match mode gives all of the power to the gamer, letting them dictate whether quarrels are timed or not, as well as the number and difficulty of opponents.

Review Screen 2

During my time with the game, I had the opportunity to play several rounds of multiplayer with other reviewers and can say that the game performs admirably on Xbox LIVE. While there are slightly annoying delays between almost all moves, the multiplayer aspect is pretty much what you’d expect. The one twist to the multiplayer component is the addition of Sudden Death mode. If all of the final players pull both of their triggers, they enter a final round which challenges them to create the best word out of eight final letters… winner takes all. As someone who’s seen games of RISK go on for hours, this is a blessing.

The game does suffer from some balancing issues. When playing a full four-player game, the unlucky gamer who draws the straw to go last is usually handicapped throughout the entire match. Also, while the dictionary is very robust, it does have occasional hiccups with not accepting certain words.

While the gameplay and combat are a good blend of spelling and territorial domination, the presentation, on the other hand, is a bit of a mess. Your avatar is featured in the game, which is all fine and good, but the rest of the sound and graphic concept is straight out of a pre-school. After a few hours with the game, Quarrel’s sounds reminded me of Christmas morning, when the toddlers discover and start hitting that button on their new toy that makes that noise. You know the noise that I’m talking about; the one that burns into your brain and slowly drives you towards madness. Imagine about thirty of those sounds crammed into one game. For better or worse, the visual style and music ape the sound design, as all of the graphics and music look and sound like something out of Veggie Tales or other similar cartoons. The combination of the sound and visual design make extended play sessions about as enjoyable as someone raking their nails over a chalkboard in a preschool.

Review Screen 4

Further complicating matters for achievement hunters are the arduous, grinding achievements that will make completionists cringe, as a few of the more draconian pops will have them going for 100 anagrams and capture 100 prisoners, on top of a few others that will be equally time-consuming.

At the end of the day, however, the price is right. Listed at 400 MSP, the game’s warts can be slightly forgiven as the total package is an incredible value. Art style and sound design aside, the game’s innovative blend of spelling challenges with territorial control aspects make it a solid, if unspectacular, addition to the Xbox LIVE Arcade.

This review is based off of pre-release code provided by the developer. The reviewer spent over eight hours playing the game, split between the single player modes and the multiplayer mode.
Jonathan Barnes
Written by Jonathan Barnes
Jonathan has been a news/views contributor since 2010. When he's not writing reviews, features, and opinion pieces, he spends his days working as an informal science educator and his nights as an international man of mystery.