Image playing Risk but swap out the artillery dice rolling combat with Scrabble. It is an interesting mechanic that makes for an unexpected but highly entertaining $5 download.
Two to four players compete for dominance of an island and the only way to conquer your opponent is by using anagram skills. Like Risk, having more soldiers on each territory means having a greater chance of success. The same rule applies here; each soldier represents a potential letter that can be used when making a word and the more letters you have available, the bigger the word you can make resulting in a bigger score. It is a simple concept when you think about it and a wonder why this was not thought of before.
Strategy comes into play by not just having word crafting skills but knowing how and when to spread out your troops. But the biggest rush is trying to make a higher scoring word faster than your opponent. If the attacker wins by creating a higher scoring word, then that piece of the island becomes under the attackers control. However, if the attacker loses, the remaining attacking soldiers become prisoners to the defending team. For example, if the attacking team attacks with 6 soldiers, with the potential to make a 6 letter word, and loses to a defending team of 3 soldiers, with the potential to make a 3 letter word, then the 3 remaining attacking soldiers become a part of the defending army. It is a risk-reward system that can have players cursing up a storm or singing high praise.
This clever gameplay is linked together with a colorful but simple graphical presentation. Adding a personal touch, each player is represented by their 360 avatars. Even the bean shaped caricature soldiers’ Animal Crossing animalese-speak is cute and amplifies the lightheartedness of the gameplay. Clearly, this is a social game gear toward anyone that knows how to spell.
One aspect of Quarrel that I think needs to be called out is the ability to use the 360’s chatpad accessory – a physical keyboard peripheral that attaches directly to the 360 controller. I realized that this feature was available because the little controller icon under my 360 avatar actually symbolized the chatpad. To my surprise, it works during gameplay. If you are a familiar user of this accessory, it is possible to have a slight edge over non-chatpad users as typing can be faster than scrolling through 8 letters with the d-pad or analog stick. However, using the chatpad can be more difficult as it is a thumb keyboard; looking at the screen and then down at the chatpad could wind up taking more time depending on your thumb typing skill level. Whether you use it or not, this could be the first game that actually makes use of this accessory in game, and for that it deserved props.
It is kind of funny as I thought that a game like Quarrel would come easy to me since I write quite often. But when put under the pressure of a timer and friendly competition, I was surprised at how easy it is to suck at putting together words and how dyslexic I can be. In fact, the computer blew me away in the first four player match that I tried; I even made some decent scoring words too. Unless I cheated with the help of an online Scrabble word generator, the computer AI smoked me. But even though my win ratio was not as high as I wanted it to be, I still had a blast taking over sections of land by putting together words.
It is, however, a good idea to get used to losing because it will happen quite often, perhaps as the game’s biggest flaw. Further, matches have the potential to take anywhere from minutes to an hour; even during winning streaks the match could last longer than desired. And even when you are not being attacked, each non-playing player still has the ability to earn extra credits by making words while the attacking parties are fighting. It a great way to keep all players entertained but Quarrel has a high probability for rage quitters.
With multiple game modes, online multiplayer, a friendly atmosphere, online Leaderboards and addictive gameplay, Quarrel is a surprisingly high quality 400 MS Point download.
Better Than: regular old Scrabble
Also Try: Word Arena on the WP7 or iPhone
Wait For It: more social games on XBLA
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