After failing to find a publisher for its Xbox Live Arcade word puzzler Quarrel, developer Denki laid off much of its staff and got to work on abandoning its "old business model" so it could start selling games directly to customers. And while that Xbox Live Arcade version has been done for some time, and has finally found a publisher in Ignition Entertainment, it's the new iOS version that Denki is releasing first ... last Thursday, in fact.
Quarrel is a polished word puzzler that bills itself as equal parts Scrabble and Risk, and it works like this: You face-off against computer-controlled opponents, trying to capture every territory on the map; however, unlike Risk, battles in Quarrel are fought with words. At the beginning of each match, both players will be given the same eight letters, an anagram shuffled up beyond recognition (my last round was PANELLED). The number of letters you're able to deploy in battle depends on how many troops you have on each territory. My six-troop territory played PLEAD, worth 10 points, against the AI's six-troop PEEL, worth a measly seven.
Neither of us were able to use all of our letters and my word was longer, but should you and your opponent tie, the deal-breaker comes down to speed. Once you take over one of the enemy's territories, you split your troops. There's a chance you could take a prisoner, or stop your turn to gain reinforcements. Once your turn stops, the computer AI can attack you or each other. Just so they don't become bored watching robots play word games with each other, players can test themselves with the same letters the AI challengers are using. In larger four-player rounds, this obviously happens more often.
If you're wondering how the multiplayer works in the game, well ... that's the thing. Though Denki originally prototyped Quarrel as an actual, physical board game, and while the major hook of Quarrel on Xbox Live Arcade is Avatar-based Xbox Live multiplayer, Quarrel on iOS is a decidedly offline affair for now. Leaderboards and the like are no replacement for multiplayer on a platform dominated by the social magic of Words with Friends.
At $5, compared to the $10 asking price of the upcoming XBLA version, there's something of a value proposition to Quarrel's notable shortcoming –- except on iOS, $5 is a premium price. To be fair, that purchase nets you four separate modes including Quick Match, Make Match, Domination (a fast-paced timed match between you and three AIs), and a Daily Challenge. Quarrel is also a Universal app meaning one purchase nets you access from all of your iDevices, whether iPhone or iPad.
You also get a game with a notable amount of polish -- this isn't your average iOS word game. It began life as a console game and it shows. With regular updates, Quarrel could become a go-to iOS game; it's casual enough for anyone to pick up, and it's addictive enough to keep them coming back. With a freemium version available in the App Store, I'd strongly encourage everyone to give Quarrel a chance. And if you want multiplayer, asynchronous or otherwise, let the developer know. If you've got an interest in word games at all, you really owe it to yourself (and to word game lovers everywhere) to try Quarrel.
Quarrel is available in both free(mium) Universal App and paid Universal App flavors from the iOS App Store. We're always looking for new distractions. Want to submit your game for Portabliss consideration? You can reach us at portabliss aat joystiq dawt com.