“So… you want to review Quarrel? It’s a word game.” As if there could be any other answer than, “of course.” That’s how this grown in a lab, mutant masterpiece dropped into my lap. It’s as if the minds at Denki, the studio behind Quarrel, have my house bugged and made a game exactly for me.
Quarrel is easiest to explain as Risk with a twist. Games are played on a variety of small island maps where two to four players vie for complete control. Battles are fought between adjacent enemy territories, but instead of dice rolls determining the victor, combatant generals form words out of 8 tiles with each letter carrying a point value. The number of troops in combat determines how long a word you can create. Just like in Risk, if you win an attack, you march all but one of your territory’s troops into opposing ground and capture it. On the defense, one enemy escapes. Should you manage to win an underdog victory, you’ll take prisoners to bolster your own forces.
At the end of each turn, you can shift troops one territory over to reinforce your front lines. Each of your territories will receive one bonus soldier at the very end of your turn, though that’s not the only way to increase your numbers. As you form words, you’ll earn treasure. Fill up the meter and you’ll earn a bonus deployment that may be triggered at the beginning of a skirmish. In games of three or four players, you’ll even have the opportunity to earn a smaller amount of treasure by forming a word before the combatants. In these scenarios, you aren’t limited by troops, giving you a chance to go for an anagram bonus (each tile set in Quarrel forms at least one anagram).
The game is bursting with single player content, including quick matches with different difficulty AI opponents and timed and untimed options; Domination, 12 islands with progressively challenging AI opponents; Showdown, which is a series of 9 one-on-one matches; and challenges, which come in a number of different varieties and provide a nice change of pace from the standard format. Each time you complete a single-player game, regardless of the format, you’ll receive a rank of bronze, silver or gold based on your performance. You’ll also have a lot of different stats to look through, including your ever-evolving Word IQ that is a measurement of your speed and tile utility.
You can take your game online and square off against opponents (there isn’t an offline multiplayer option for reasons of practicality), making for some interesting trash talking, along with more unpredictable strategies. Each of the armies, which are randomly assigned skins, are adorable. Scotsmen, aliens, tribal warriors, soldiers, ninjas and valkyries populate the islands of Quarrel and each has amusing victory and defeat animations. The music is charming, and I’m almost ashamed to admit that I spent a chunk of time “playing” the menu “xylophone.” Online play is tense and enjoyable in a way that competition against the AI never can be. This is where the game shines after you’ve practiced in the single player mode to improve your Word IQ.
Quarrel is a masterful combination of classic tabletop war gaming and wordsmithing. For those that enjoy the domination gameplay of Risk but recoil at the overly random nature of dice rolls, Quarrel is worth a look. If you’re a word nerd that is looking for a competitive experience that is fresher than Words with Friends, this is the game you’ve been waiting for. None of the core mechanics in the game are terribly original, but the combination is brilliant and the title has enough challenge and content to bring players back again and again.
Review copy of the game provided by publisher.