Quarrel review

Quarrel review

At first, it just looks big. Xbox Live Arcade was always Quarrel's target platform, but developer Denki's struggle to find a publisher meant the iOS release came first, and so your first moments are spent marvelling at things you'd previously had to squint at. Given its board game roots – pitched simplistically, and correctly, as Risk meets Scrabble – Quarrel is much better suited to a large panel and a good sit down than the snatched spare moments for which mobile games are largely designed.

The core gameplay remains the same. Players' troops are strewn around the map in squads of four, five or six, tasked with taking over the entire land by capturing adjacent sections from opponents by coming up with high-scoring words from a maximum of eight letters. Forming words – which you can even do when it's not your turn – and capturing sections of the map reward you with treasure. This charges a meter which, when filled, allows you to call in an extra troop to help tip a Quarrel in your favour.

The iOS release's singleplayer component has been improved with Showdown, a series of one-on-one battles with progressively tougher opponents, and a suite of challenges. The most significant addition, however, addresses our sole complaint with the iOS version: online multiplayer. For those accustomed to the leisurely pace of most of the offline modes, the inclusion of a timer makes for a far more stressful experience, resulting in a few highly embarrassing defeats after spending too long hunting for the eight-letter anagram when up against a two-man squad. When you do spot something at the last second you'll pine for touch controls rather than the urgent stick-flickery you're forced into. This gives an immediate advantage to those using the Xbox 360 chatpad or a USB keyboard: in the event of a tie, the quickest wordsmith triumphs, meaning those on the standard pad lose out more often than not.

XBLA Quarrel's biggest enemy, though, is Microsoft itself. As well as a mandatory filter for offensive words, there's a further layer of content control which forbids seemingly innocuous words like 'help' and 'train'; ‘drapes’, ‘grapes’ and ‘scrape’ (with an obvious connecting factor); as well as some others that are only offensive in a context Quarrel can never provide, like 'balls' and 'shaft'. While there's a fun meta-game to be had finding the full list of words deemed off limits, it can be game-breaking: Denki hasn't removed the banned words from the code, and online we've seen the game refuse two of its own anagrams, 'sexually' and 'genocide'.

It doesn't ruin a game which is every bit as charming and thoughtfully designed as ever, but it can occasionally take the shine off, as can the lack of punishment for rage-quitters and a few hard freezes in the middle of fourplayer online games. With three friends, it's wonderful, the thrill of an against-all-odds victory that much sweeter when soundtracked by the anguished headset cry of a familiar voice. But word games are only as good as their dictionary is reliable, and while Quarrel has one of the best around, it's occasionally hamstrung by Microsoft's Victorian sensibilities.