Hands-on with Quarrel

One of the hidden gems of 2011’s E3 was Quarrel, the XBLA game tucked off in a corner of Ignition’s booth, and after much waiting (and eventually forgetting that it exists) it finally made its was to the marketplace today.  So put on your explorer hat and dive into the unforgiving wilds of the current iteration of the 360’s dashboard, because there’s some great gaming a mere few dozen menus down.

Quarrel is, in simplest terms, a battle-strategy word game.  Each game board is divided up into a number of territories, and up to four players (online only, unfortunately) battle it out by sending their troops into enemy territory.  Each territory’s army can be up to eight units in size, and each soldier can be assigned a letter.  An eight-letter word is jumbled at the beginning of battle, with each letter having a point score, and the winner of the battle is the player who uses those letters to form the word with the largest point value.  The average army tends to be between four to six units in size, though, so it’s not that easy to get the maximum eight-letter score.  Still, with careful letter selection and a good vocabulary, even the four-unit army has a good chance of defeating the six-unit juggernaut.

When a battle is won, either the attackers pour into their new space, leaving a unit behind for defense in the old territory, or the defenders wipe out all but one unit and maybe even capture a few of the enemy’s soldiers if they did particularly well.  Each player can make as many moves as they like in their turn, if they’re confident enough, and once satisfied with their victories or reeling from defeat they can move troops between territories to present a strong front against the marauding hordes.

It’s a pretty simple but nicely engaging setup, allowing for both quick matches or long, drawn-out confrontations depending on map configuration and player skill.  The combination of Scrabble-style word creation and Risk’s troop movements doesn’t seem like it’d work together anywhere near as well as it does, but what the heck, I’ll take all the pleasant surprises I can get.  While this isn’t a full review, being based on maybe a little too much E3 floor time last June and an evening’s play, Quarrel comes across as a clever and fun genre combo that’s well worth its comparitively insignificant $5.00 (or 400 MS points) asking price.