We continue our coverage of Eurogamer's Indie scene with Skulls of the Shogun from Plush Apocalypse. It's a turn-based strategy affair that eschews some of the tired old trappings of the genre, swapping hexes for free movement and po-faced pomposity for a gleefully colourful style. The basic premise is to control a small army of phantom Samurai who fight their enemies eternally in the afterlife, and in many ways, it resembles a complex game of chess with infinitely more personality.
Each player can control five units per turn, which run the usual gamut of infantry, cavalry and archers. As you might expect, cavalry have a high movement range but are restricted by certain terrain types, whereas archers command a high attack radius but are worse than useless in close combat. Moving and ordering each soldier to attack is simple and effective, with a red circle delineating the their maximum range for the turn.
The general stands at the head of each army and fulfils an interesting dual role. He's the chess king and the queen rolled into one, with a powerful dual attack and massive defensive prowess being offset by the fact that if he dies,it's game over. Knowing when to roll out the general to secure key locations and when to turtle him up is a key part of the strategy.
New units can be created by occupying bell towers, which is where the simple resource management comes into play. Haunting rice fields provides food with which to train more troops, including three special animal monks that can radically change the face of the battle with niche abilities. Fox monks can heal friendly forces whereas the Crow delights in stealing enemy resources to add to your own pool. Oh, and the Salamander monk commands fire and lightning to burn and shock hapless foes with merry abandon. Vying for control of resources and structures is therefore an accessible yet monumentally important task that's likely to dominate the core gameplay.
Collecting skulls from slain enemies is also another interesting way of bolstering your forces. A unit regains health after eating a single skull... but will transform into a terrifying demon after scoffing three. Boasting three attacks and huge destructive potential, creating these advanced combatants will definitely factor into any canny general's strategy.
As you've seen from the screenshots, Skulls of the Shogun has a distinctive and gorgeous visual style that mixes unique cartoon graphics with utterly macabre imagery. Apparently it's based on 1960s anime and urban vinyl toy design, featuring bold colours and crisp outlines that make it easy to distinguish different uni. The attractive graphics certainly turned a fair few heads on the Eurogamer Expo floor, and they help to cement the fact that it's instantly enjoyable (and occasionally a bit silly) as well as tactically deep. Making strategy fun is often difficult, but we reckon that Plush Apocalypse may well have cracked it.
Skulls of the Shogun is slated for a springtime 2011 release on XBLA and PC. A Windows 7 mobile version is also in the works, and an iPhone/iPad port may also make an appearance down the line. Watch this space!