The only distinction between the iOS and Xbox 360 versions are the cartoon avatars. (The anagram is PLANTING by the way.)
You can never put a price on education. That’s what I told my parents when applying to various colleges during my senior year in high school. Then they took one look at the tuition bills and laughed. But shelling out thousands of dollars is not the only means of acquiring knowledge. Quarrel, a port of the educational yet strategic, word-based iOS game, has finally landed on the Xbox Live Marketplace. For the low admission of 400 Microsoft Points, Quarrel is a rare gem that that will fascinate (and frustrate) anyone with an affinity for the English language.
Admittedly, however, Arcade releases don’t sink their hooks into me like the quarter-hungry machines of my childhood. I still hold an obsession with all games virtual, but I also enjoy the occasional classic like Monopoly, Chess, or Uno. Now the developers at Denki have taken the initiative to combine the popular territory defense aspects of Risk with the turn-based wordplay of Scrabble. Quarrel is their result and, other than the included multiplayer support, is fundamentally identical to the iOS version.
Each match begins with the board sectioned off into equal parts between the competitors. Per turn, every territory is allowed one move. You can choose to reinforce your weaker neighboring zones with added units, or go on a relentless vocabulary blitzkrieg. Of course, letting your infantries build while you wait out the impending storm proves to be a valuable tactic, too.
See, knowledge can be deadly, kids.
When a battle commences, players must form a word from their set of predetermined letters – for the sake of fairness, opponents are given the same letters – but the number of pawns currently occupying that territory determines the maximum length of said word. If you have eight troops stationed in that zone, though, you can shape the anagram(s) from the jumbled mess of characters. This is where the element of Scrabble comes in. Each letter corresponds to a certain amount of points, and you must generate a phrase, idiom, expression, or so on with a greater numerical total than your rvial. No limitations beyond the extent of your terminology and the needless countdown clock keep the matches moving.
While the gameplay remains an invariable constant, Quarrel’s three unique modes will strengthen your jargon in varying ways. Domination requires the conquering of all twelve islands against a mixture of AIs, while Showdown pits gamers in rough head-to-head fights that only Scrabble champions will overcome. Challenges, however, tasks you with completing a unique objective by game’s end – for instance, capturing a certain amount of prisoners (defending/seizing a territory with more units than yours).
Rounding out Quarrel’s simple mechanics is a very minimalist presentation. That includes no dialogue, besides the high-pitched screams of your pawns as they ascend to the afterlife during the explosive bombardment of letter tiles, and environments best described as sparse. Although each board offers a distinct visual theme, like ocean coves or jungle temples, Quarrel is not about the graphics, but about the gameplay. The same goes for the "narrative." The sole objective of the single-player entails defeating a stream of gifted AI bookworms.
Even when not playing, the game aims to educate you with a steady stream of definitions.
It’s almost hard to argue over Quarrel’s price point, but there are several drawbacks to the overall package. Should you and an opponent tie in points for your designated words, the draw is decided by who input their term the fasted. While I had no issues losing to someone who was quicker on the trigger online, the computer tends to win every deadlock via its millisecond response time. That, and I disagree with the round timer. I exercise the opportunity to rearrange my tiles and deliberate while planning my next move during Scrabble. I haven’t the reflexes necessary to recognize a suitable word within 15 seconds, let alone submit said word without spelling errors. As such, the choice to exclude the countdown timer gave me infinitely more pleasure playing custom matches.
However, all my feelings of inadequacy diminished once I dove into Quarrel’s online component, where the real fun lies. There is little differentiation between the single-player and multiplayer outside the inclusion of three more gamers that bought this underwhelming game, and yet I loved every tense second when trying to outsmart the other contestants. Unfortunately, like all competitive games, the ever-present rage quitting weakens any semblance of replay value. After losing their first territory, people dropped from the session under the assumption that they would not win. With the additional lack of unlockables, players that only feel accomplished when buying gold weapon camos should temper their expectations. Granted, I’m assuming you can find another human amid the bone-dry community. The sole thing Quarrel's missing online is a proverbial tumbleweed roll.
Nevertheless, the biggest compliment I can give is to the educational aspect. While I love watching an opponent’s head explode into a mist of blood and skull fragments as much as the next gamer, I also love a good brainteaser. After each battle, both the anagram and definitions are revealed for future use. The computer produced at least a dozen terms I had never heard before, many in different dialects. Be warned, though, Quarrel cares not for age gates. Any world deemed unacceptable in a social setting, like male and female genitalia, represents a viable option in the war on wordplay.
Quarrel makes for a perfectly cheap, intellectually stimulating experience best enjoyed on an iOS platform. The Xbox version shows promise in multiplayer, but with no other players to share in the risk-reward gameplay, I cannot suggest Quarrel for a home console when the portable smartphone version contains the same features. Sorry Xbox 360 owners, but your dollars deserve better.
Publisher: UTV Ignition Entertainment
Release Date: August 25, 2011 (iOS); January 25, 2012 (Xbox Live Arcade)
Number of Players: 1-4 (Multiplayer)
Platforms: Xbox Live Arcade (Reviewed), iOS