I don’t consider myself a stupid person. I’m no Einstein, but I think I can hold my own when it comes to feats of intelligence derring-do. That is until Quarrel. Quarrel makes me feel dumber than I’ve ever felt while playing a game, outside of various ill fated RTS attempts, and I can’t stop playing it.
Quarrel was originally set to be a PSN and XBLA game however when Denki couldn’t find a publisher for those versions they changed course and decided to release the game directly to consumers as a universal iOS app. The console versions are still planned, published by Ignition, and in fact, my first exposure to Quarrel was as an XBLA game at E3. Quarrel was one of the last games I saw at the store and while typically at E3, the last game is quickly forgotten in a haze of fatigue, hunger and general “just get me the hell out of here” attitude, Quarrel stuck with me. It was bright, cute, slick as all hell and the mix of Scrabble and Risk looked both intriguing and potentially addictive. I was pleasantly surprised to find out about the iOS version, downloaded the free version the morning it came out, purchased it that night and haven’t looked back…
As I mentioned before, Quarrel is the love child of Scrabble and Risk. Each match is played on a map with up to three AI opponents of varying word IQ. Daryl, for example, is an idiot, typically incapable of creating words that earn double digit scores. Malik on the other hand, has a word IQ of about 160 (on par with me) and will frequently leave you in the dust with his mathtastic vocabulary. I haven’t gone up against the true superstars of the game, opponents with word IQ’s in the 200 range, but when I do, I expect to be slaughtered.
When the match starts the map is carved up into squares with every player getting the same number of squares and each square getting a certain number of troops. You can pick your troops from a cute selection of robots, aliens, Scottish highlanders and other adorable word warriors. The number of troops on a square determines the size of the word you can create. Once the battle begins, eight letters are shown and it’s up to you to create the best word you can from those letters. In some cases you’ll have a time limit, but even when the match doesn’t have a time limit, speed is important in that ties are broken by whoever finishes their word first.
The Risk elements comes in when choosing which square to attack next. Attacking a square and winning allows you to take over the square however your army is diminished with every victory as you have to leave behind a troop to keep the previous square occupied. You can transfer troops from one square to an adjacent square but doing so makes both the source and target square ineligible for further attacks. If you attack an enemy’s square and lose, your army is wiped out save for one soldier. Worse, if you try to go for an easy win by attacking a square with fewer soldiers than you and lose, not only is your army reduced to one troop but your enemy will take prisoners equal to the difference of the two armies minus one. In other words, if you try and take your seven troop army and attack a four troop square and lose, you’ll be out six troops and will have bolstered your enemy’s ranks by two soldiers. When your turn is over, each square you occupy will get reinforcements based on how many squares you have occupied. Also, as you take over squares and make big words you’ll earn treasure, treasure you can use to purchase an additional troop at the beginning of a battle.
All of this combines to make matches that place as much important on strategy as vocabulary. Make too much of an inroad into enemy territory and you’ll leave yourself open to attack. Attacking with what looks like a superior force can end up in tragedy if you come up against a particularly difficult set of letters. Racing against the clock certainly doesn’t help, at least not in my case. I find I get even more flustered as time ticks down making me a poor choice for not only word creation but bomb disposal and other high pressure endeavors.
The free version comes with a three person match on one map with the full version coming with 12 maps, nine opponents, quick match play, custom map play, a domination mode where you have to complete pre-designed combinations of maps and opponents and daily challenges. There’s a whole bunch of achievements as well to keep you quarreling long after you’ve completed every map, provided you can best the game’s more advanced AI opponents.
Speaking of which, your opponents do a good job of playing their roles with the lesser equipped folks usually good for a lower word score and the smarter folks presenting quite a challenge. Unfortunately the game seems to be tailored to not leave the player sitting there watching the AI players battle it out, even though that’s an opportunity to earn more backup troops by making your own words out of the letters presented for the match. There have been many times where the AI will take me on even though there’s a more obvious, better match. I can understand the lesser AI opponents making poor strategic moves but I’d rather see the smart AI play a smart game even if it means I’m twiddling my thumbs for a little longer.
The biggest drawback I can see to the game is the fact that there’s no multiplayer. I’m not sure how you would implement a local, pass the game version that doesn’t involve some sort of peeking police, but the game’s design is perfect for wireless multiplayer as Words With Friends can attest to. Still, even without multplayer, the amount of game here is pretty impressive, as is the level of polish. It’s a great looking, great sounding game with plenty of personality that never gets too cutesy or overbearing. I’m sure the XBLA and PSN versions will have multiplayer, but honestly, I don’t want to think about how cumbersome it would be to try and make a word with nothing but a thumbstick for picking letters. Thanks, but I’ll stick with the single player touchscreen method thank you very much.
The past few months have seen some really great iOS games hit the App Store and Quarrel definitely sits as one of the best. The matches are challenging, entertaining and can take as quick or as long as you’d like. Best of all, there’s a lot of game here for your five bucks, and as a universal app, it can go on all of your iDevices. Take a look at the free version and see if you don’t find yourself immediately hooked. Spending money to feel stupid has never felt so good.