Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Quick Review of Quarrel

QuarrelAbout time I started reviewing proper console games, eh? Quarrel, released yesterday for XBLA (earlier on iOS), is a word/strategy hybrid game that plays like a mix of the Letters rounds on Countdown and the board game Risk. The goal of the game is to capture the entire map through a series of battles. Rather than using dice, you use letters. Eight letters are given (for which there is at least one perfect anagram); your goal is to make the highest-scoring single word from those letters, hopefully higher than your opponent's selection. The twist is that the length of your word is limited to however many men are in your attacking/defending territory, so actually playing the vicious 8-letter anagram rarely happens. If you get the higher-scoring word, you successfully capture your opponent's territory (or block their advance if you're defending).

Quarrel comes packed in a tremendously entertaining world, almost parodying itself with how seriously silly the game is (such as the over-the-top DUN-DUN-DAAAAAH music sting when a player's last territory is targeted). The subtle humor of the atmosphere of the game is played up perfectly between the tense "hope my word is good enough" moments. While the gameplay is certainly fun (at least for a word game freak like myself), I can't help but feel the strategic side of the game is a bit screwy. I don't know if comebacks are readily possible when each game is small enough to begin with (I think the standard formula is 4 territories per player); the somewhat linear shapes of the boards might not help this issue at all. That's not to say it's impossible to have upset moments, like a territory of 3 defending itself against an attacker of 8 (not that I'm bragging), but the winner sometimes becomes a little too obvious too early on.

Still, it's nice to have a strategy game like this that uses skill more than it does luck. I feel like when I lose a territory, it's actually my fault, rather than trying to pin the blame on bad dice. Close games can still be quite tense, especially when a tied round goes to whoever submitted their word first. The game knows when to tease you that little bit longer, just to make the reveal of the win/loss all the more amazing. Plus, the word list in this game is comfortably large, and the AI players have a pretty good range of difficulties between them. At a pleasantly low 400MSP ($5), I'd wholeheartedly recommend Quarrel.

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