Review: Quarriors!

By Dave Neumann 16 Dec 2013 0
Did I mention how funny it is that everything starts with the letter "Q"? I didn't? I wonder why... Did I mention how funny it is that everything starts with the letter "Q"? I didn't? I wonder why...

Any game that is based purely on rolling dice is bound to suffer a little when the dice rolling is done digitally. Part of the attraction is feeling the weight and hearing the clack of the dice on the tabletop. Other popular dice games have made the transition to digital, however, and managed to not let the virtual dice bring them down. Las Vegas managed to still give you the feel of rolling dice, and Elder Sign: Omens removed the dice altogether and changed the dice to runes from a grimoire.  Same result with a different, and more satisfying, feel.

Now we have Quarriors, a game in which the entire game revolves around using dice to add, or remove, dice from a pool of dice that you’ll draw from each turn. In fact, one of the attractions of the physical Quarriors game is the 130ish dice that come packaged in the box. That’s a lot of freaking dice. Well, the app doesn’t handle dice nearly as well as those other apps. Here, dice rolling is handled automatically -- you don't even get to push a button. Dice just roll in from the side of the screen.

That disappointed me, but there is still a decent light game here -- if you know what’s going on, that is. Knowing what’s going on in Quarriors isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Like most good games, Quarriors has a hook: it uses a deck-building mechanic, but does it with dice instead of cards. Your “deck” in Quarriors is actually a dice bag filled with your current pool of dice. Each die has a currency (called Quiddity) on some sides and creatures on others. For example, a Wizard die might have 3 sides with a Wizard icon on it, and 3 with Quiddity.

Each turn, you draw 6 dice from the bag and roll them. You can summon any creatures that you rolled by spending Quiddity. You then attack all other players with your summoned creatures, with the goal to knock their creatures back into their dice bags. Only creatures that remain summoned when your turn starts again score any points, so you’re trying to knock your opponent’s creatures out and they’re trying to do the same to your summoned creatures. After summoning, you can spend your remaining Quiddity to buy more dice. First one to a set score wins.

It’s a pretty simple game and there doesn’t appear to be a ton of strategy involved, but that’s not the end of the world for a light game. And it is a light game. It has to be with the amount of randomness in the game. Not only is what you roll random, but which 6 dice you pull out of your bag each turn is random as well. You can buy the most powerful dragon die, and then never roll one of the sides that allows you to summon that dragon. It’s a dice game, get over it. Besides, a game against the AI takes 5-10 minutes, so you’re not going to be pouting for long.

So, we’ve established that the game itself is a pretty decent, albeit light, little game. Let's talk about the app itself.

Believe it or not, the word "Quiddity" is not the most confusing thing in this picture Believe it or not, the word "Quiddity" is not the most confusing thing in this picture

The developers of Quarriors decided to go with an incredibly literal translation of the game. Dice are dice and cards are cards, there's no animated wizards or dragons lurking about. Fans of literal translations should be ecstatic about the app's presentation. Personally, I would have liked a bit more flash considering I’m summoning monsters and casting spells, but it doesn’t kill the app, it just makes it more dull than it needed to be.

Where the ball really drops is in the UI. Holy crap, if you haven’t played Quarriors, don’t expect to figure out what’s going on from the app alone. First of all, the tutorial doesn’t cover anything but the absolute basics. It’s a terrible tutorial, and, other than pointing out where things were on the screen (which you’re not going to remember anyway) it served no purpose. To make it worse, the game handles your opponents’ turns way too fast to see what is going on. If you’re playing a 3 or 4 player game, it doesn’t even show you your opponent’s dice rolls. Things just start appearing and disappearing, but too quickly to follow. As a new player, I had no idea what the hell was going on for several games. There is a rule sheet, but it’s not accessible during a game. Can’t remember what each little number on the dice represent? Well, you can look it up but you’re going to lose the progress in your current game.

Seriously, though, even once you get the mechanics down the game still makes little sense because you really have no idea what your opponents are doing. It will give you a message that they are buying dice, but it doesn’t show you which ones unless you are very intently looking at their “Used” pool of dice, which often isn’t visible on the screen anyway without hitting a button. By the time you hit that button, the next AI player is already nearly done with their turn. There is a game log, but it’s a tedious slog and not something I should be forced to read, especially in a game where the mechanics are fairly simple.

Watch me buy a die for 8 Quiddity when I only have 5 to spend... Watch me buy a die for 8 Quiddity when I only have 5 to spend...

Let me give you an example of how opaque the game is. Each turn is broken into phases. First you roll your dice, then you summon creatures. At this point you attack each other player with the creatures you just summoned. The hope is that you kill some of their summoned creatures so they don’t score any points at the beginning of their turn. After playing 6-8 games, I finally asked someone who has played the physical game why it was that my opponents always attacked me, but I never got to attack my opponents. Well, it turns out I had been attacking them each turn. I just didn’t realize it because no message indicated it, and any dice I “killed” just disappeared from their pool. No messages, no dialog, nothing. I didn’t realize it was happening until another human told me so. Even now, after knowing that it’s coming, I still can’t follow if I did or didn’t take out their creatures, it just happens too quickly.

Most of these issues occur against the AI. The asynchronous games are much slower, and easier to get around. That said, I’m not totally sure I want to stretch a 10 minute game over a couple of days, and there are no timers or other mechanisms to force real-time play. Also, the nature of the game can really cause asynchronous turns to drag. When every other player has to respond after you summon a creature on your turn, it can get long.

There appear to be some bugs in the game as well, and they are big enough to cause some issues. In some games you seem to be able to spend more Quiddity than you generated on your dice. For example, after summong a couple creatures I had 2 Quiddity left, but was able to buy 2 dice that cost 8 Quiddity each. It doesn’t happen all the time, but I have had at least 2 games where this has happened to me. The problem was compounded by the fact that I wasn’t sure what was going on in the game, so I wasn’t sure if I was just overlooking some rule that gave me extra Quiddity to buy the bigger cards. After looking into it, I can’t see that as being the case. I’ve also had games lock up, where dice weren’t just automatically rolled at the start of my turn. The app still responds to touch, but it seems to be stuck at my dice rolling phase. If there’s something I’m supposed to be doing to get the app to move forward, it’s not obvious.

While I may sound awfully negative about my experience, I don’t think these complaints are anything that couldn’t be fixed in an update. The UI would need a major overhaul and the bugs could be ironed out, but I think Quarriors has the potential to be a fantastic, quick iOS game, especially as they add expansions and more creatures. With the current UI and bugs, however, it’s just not there yet. Here’s hoping.

Review: Quarriors!

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