Thanks to the ambiguous nature of the English language, a quarrel could be an angry dispute or a bolt fired out of a crossbow. It also happens to be the name of a rather interesting word-based strategy game that was initially released only for iOS devices in 2011. While there can be no Quarrel amongst Android and PlayStation 3 owners, (for they haven’t received the game on their platform) Scottish developers Denki sought fit to bring the fight to the Xbox Live Arcade.

Having played a variety of wordy games on Android—Wordsmith, Wordfeud, Word Search, Word2yourmother*—I eagerly jumped at the chance of playing Risk-meets-Scrabble in Quarrel. The war of words continues after the jump.

Presented in a colourful and cutesy style, Quarrel is played out on a set of tropical islands where you as the player start out with a set amount of territory. The main aim of Quarrel is to extend your territory by invading your neighbour’s turf, and eventually gaining control of the whole island. Instead of the usual guns, swords, and spells, it is your words that do damage to your enemy. At the start of each campaign, the territory is divided up evenly amongst the players. Each space contains a number of troops, and you use these troops to invade a neighbouring space. As players go up against each other in the fight for territory, they are presented with a random selection of eight titles, each displaying a letter and the score value of that letter. When you engage and enemy or another has a quarrel with you, the number of troops you have available on each space correlates to the maximum number of letters that you can use to make your word. Find the best possible (highest scoring) word from the jumble of letters in the fastest time possible, and you’ll beat your opponent. As you laud your lexical prowess over your enemies, your victories result in the growth of your territory while theirs shrinks into obscurity. It’s a supremely satisfying experience, and one that proves very addictive from the start.

Strategy comes into play very quickly in Quarrel. As you beat a player and take over their territory, your squad moves over to the conquered territory, save the sole trooper left over to watch over your original space. Because the number of troops you have on a space determines how many letters you can use, it becomes imperative to move troops between the territories that you have captured to ensure you have enough troops to make a successful attack/defence. Luckily there are ways to bolster your squad. Every word you make adds to your “treasure store” and filling it up gains you backup troops that you can call into action on an ad hoc basis. If you are outnumbered yet beat your opponent, you take their troops as prisoners and they’ll then fight on your side. And when you’re not directly in conflict, there is a “bonus time” round where you are presented with the same letters that the other opponents are playing with. Make the 8-letter anagram and you’ll win the big bonus treasure.

At the end of each round that you play, Quarrel displays the words that have been played, accompanied with their definitions. This is certainly informative and I’ve added a few new words to my lexicon, most notably priapism (children, please do not google this term). And after each island has been conquered—an exercise that can often take more than 20 to 30 minutes—you are presented with various statistics about the game, including your Word IQ. An average of 150 indicates that you’re good, and a maximum value of 200 means you’re the perfect word geek.

Depending on the size of your vocabulary and the efficacy of your war game strategy, Quarrel can become quite difficult from the early stages. The nine AI opponents that you butt words with have different playing styles, from the one who plays fast and loose with their letters to the “elite” players who not only decode the anagrams regularly, but seem to have an extremely thorough understanding of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”. The strategy might not come easily to some players and the ruthless AI players in the later stages of the game might prove a little too much for some.

In the campaign mode there are 12 different islands maps that you need to conquer. Additionally, there is a Challenge mode that tasks players to complete extra mini-objectives within each word battle, and a Showdown mode that has the player in head-to-head challenges with opponents of increasing Word IQs. And your quest for further word domination can be taken to Xbox Live. When you can find competition that is.

While Quarrel’s online promises up to four player tournaments, I found it difficult to find people to play with, be it in either the ranked matches or even just a quick match. Yesterday I spent precisely 7 minutes, 55 seconds, and 834 milliseconds waiting for opponents in a three-player match. I don’t think I need to tell you that waiting for a seemingly interminable amount of time to find a match can become tedious, but when you eventually find other Quarrel-ers, the word battles become fun, intense, and absorbing.

Another little gripe I have is about the leaderboard. It only seems to register the statistics from the single-player campaign and it only does so if you happened to be signed into Xbox Live at the time. Any wins and words you make offline are not reflected in the leaderboard.

Despite the niggles, Quarrel is a compelling niche game. And I’ve neglected to mention one of its most attractive features—the price. It’s available on Xbox Live for a paltry 400 Microsoft Points. With its cutesy art style and quirky mix of strategic warfare and word play, Quarrel is sure to interest the budding (and domineering) logophile in you.

Score: 8 knowledgeable prawns out of 10

Detailed information:
Developer: Denki
Distributor: UTV Ignition Entertainment
Platform: Xbox Live Arcade
Release date: 25 January 2012
RRP: 400 MP
Age Rating: 3 (PEGI)

*Not a real app.