This hybrid of strategy and word games uses a familiar mechanic to very interesting effect.
There are plenty of games out there with an interesting approach to global politics, but we have to admit that we might like Quarrel’s the best. It is, basically, a game that envisions what international border disputes would look like if the winning side was the one that could spell the best. OK, so maybe we’re going a bit overboard by describing these conflicts as international disputes. Quarrel is far too bright and cheery for such real-world drama, with its cutesy music and smiling Xbox Avatars. But still: We like Quarrel’s approach to conflict resolution.
Quarrel is essentially a cross between terrain-expanding board games like Risk and games where you put together words from a pile of shuffled letters a la Scrabble or Boggle. Teams starts with a grinning, bobble-headed army and choose which neighboring faction they want to take on when it’s their turn. When the fight starts, you and your opponent are both given the same collection of eight jumbled letters, and the team that gets the highest-scoring word wins.
But here’s the rub: You can only use as many letters as you have soldiers in your adorably cheery army. As you lose encounters, you’ll lose soldiers. So if you’ve been taking a beating on one of your squares, you might only be able to bring four characters into an encounter, whereas your opponent might still have all eight of his or hers. Likewise, winning encounters will help you build back up your team, so a certain level of strategy goes into knowing when to go on the offensive with a particular square you’re occupying and when to remain locked in defensive mode.
Quarrel supports both offline single-player and online multiplayer, with up to four people going at it on the same game board. Multiplayer encounters make use of a timer to prevent the insufferable pain of waiting 10 minutes while your opponent tries every single combination of jumbled letters, but going at it against the AI in single-player lets you take all the time you want. Because let’s face it, your Xbox has nowhere to go. (Though if you and the AI play the same word, the one who played it first wins.)
While we saw the Xbox Live Arcade version of the game, there’s also an iOS version of Quarrel if the idea of using language to take over the world is something you’d rather do on the train ride to work.