It’s been ages since my last post, I’ve been busier than usual these last few weeks. But I still found time to play some games! And then write about them on here. The other day I bought the Xbox Live Arcade game Quarrel, for only 400 Microsoft points. Apparently it’s been out on iOS for a while, but now it’s on Xbox, in an improved version which has an added online multiplayer mode. The game is a bit like Risk combined with Scrabble.
Each player, and the game can have from two to four, starts the game with several territories on a map under their control, populated with several soldiers each. On your turn you can then attack a neighbouring enemy territory with your troops. But rather than rolling dice, battles are fought by seeing which player can come up with the highest scoring word from a selection of eight letters, with the number of letters they can use being limited by the number of troops they have. Each selection of eight letters is a jumbled up eight letter word, so if you have eight troops, the maximum number any one territory can hold, you know there is an eight letter word available.
You only have a short time to make your word (I think it’s 30 seconds, but I haven’t timed it); sometimes it seems like an age if you come up with decent word quickly and are waiting for your opponent, but if you’re struggling to think of anything it’s over in a flash. If you and your opponent both make a word with the same score then whomever entered theirs faster is the winner. The words you can use are anything in the dictionary the game uses, which is apparently the official Scrabble one, so, while you’re playing offline against the computer at least, you can use swear words.
Against human opponents online though, things are different, and the rude words are not allowed. This would be fine if it just removed words which only have an undesired meaning, like the f-word, but it also seems to remove words where this meaning is secondary, like “balls” for example. And if that weren’t bad enough, sometimes completely innocent words are also blocked; once I was playing online and it would not accept “lands”! From looking online it seems this might be linked to the list of “bad” words being the same list of words Microsoft doesn’t allow in gamertags.
For example, Microsoft doesn’t allow “dice” in gamertags, in case people try to pass themselves off as being affiliated with the developers of Battlefield (who are called Dice, if you didn’t know), and the word is also blocked in online games of Quarrel. If you happen to bump into one of these words while playing online, which is quite easy to do, it can really mess up your game. Imagine you enter “dice” with only a few seconds of time left, so after it’s disallowed you’re left with no time to enter something else, then you’re left with no word and your opponent wins unopposed. It’s a problem which will hopefully be fixed at some point with an update.
Another problem with online play is that there is the possibility, which, from reading online, many people are taking advantage of, to cheat by using an anagram solver. Of course, you can do this offline too, and to beat some of the harder AI characters you might need to, but that’s different, you’re just ruining your game and not everybody else’s. There’s not really any way I can think of to deal with the online cheats though, it’s a problem with people rather than a problem with the game, I suppose it’s just something you need to be aware of.
Offline, I find the AI in the game to be quite annoying. There are several characters, who each have a different “Word IQ”, which is a measure of how often they make the best scoring word possible. I find it pretty easy to beat the weaker characters, but impossible to beat the better ones. It’s a bit weird in that I haven’t found a middle ground, I don’t sometimes beat any of the characters, I always beat some of them, and never beat the others.
Another thing that annoys me is one of the rules of the game: If you attack a territory and lose, then you lose all but one of your attacking soldiers, and, if the territory you attacked had fewer soldiers than you attacked with, they get to keep some of your troops as prisoners to bolster their own ranks. This seems a bit unfair to me as the margin of victory can be so narrow at times. By all means, if I scored 10 points with six letters, and my opponent scored 20 with four, then I deserve to lose all my troops, but if we both score nine with the same five letter word, the only difference being my opponent did it a second quicker, then it seems like an over-the-top punishment.
It also puzzles me a bit that the number of letters available isn’t taken into account in the outcome of battles; so if I only have four letters available but score 10 points with them, and my opponent has five letters and scores the same, then my opponent will still win if they’re just slightly faster than me, even though they had an innate advantage in being able to use more letters.
Despite these issues the game is still quite fun, especially online with a few friends. But I did find that the longer I spent with the game the more aware of it faults I became, and it did impact my enjoyment. In my first few hours of play I thought it was brilliant, but now I think it’s just above average really. The core idea of the game is great, but I think it needs to be refined a bit as it is still a bit rough around the edges. A future update with hopefully fix the issues with the online dictionary, though I doubt the other issues I have will be addressed. I’d definitely be interested in a sequel though.