While the E3 show floor was dominated by major releases like Battlefield 3, Gears Of War 3 and Mass Effect 3, there was also a strong indie presence on display. Much of this came from the IndieCade booth which showcased some extremely interesting titles to look forward to in the future. One of these titles was Skulls Of The Shogun.

Developed by Haunted Temple Studios, Skulls Of The Shogun is a re-imagining of the popular turn-based tactical RPG genre. Drawing gameplay inspiration from games such as Advance Wars, Skulls Of The Shogun expands on the fundamentals of the genre, adding new twists and allowing the player more freedom in their unit movement.

The first thing that players will notice is that it is a beautiful game. Comprised of clean, cartoon-y artwork, Skulls Of The Shogun presents a dark world filled with skeletal Shogun warriors with a level of charm that makes it difficult not to love. Everything is kept from becoming too serious with the art style and exaggerated animations. The crisp graphics work great to highlight the different aspects of the battlefield, ensuring that players never lose track of their units and the resources they must capture.

Jumping straight into battle, each player is given a team comprised of three different types of units: Infantry, archers, and cavalry. Each unit has its own use on the battlefield, with archers having a longer attack range, infantry having stronger defense and cavalry being able to move further during their turn. As such, unit placement is the key to success as in other tactical games, making use of each unit’s strengths and weaknesses

Skulls Of The Shogun Hands-On E3 2011

To cap off each team, there is a sleeping general who possesses incredible strength and defense. The catch though, is that he must be woken up in order to be used. For every turn he is left sleeping, he gains an extra point of health. This means that the longer a player waits to make use of him, the stronger and more fearsome he will be. As such, the general can quickly turn the tide of battle if used strategically.

The battlefield itself is populated not only by each players’ units, but also by shrines and rice paddies which can be haunted by units in order to capture them and make use of the benefits which they provide. Rice paddies provide the player with currency which they are able to spend on purchasing new units. To do this though, they must haunt a special shrine that shows up in the middle of the map. Whoever is in possession of this shrine gains the ability to buy units.

On top of this build shrine though, there are additional shrines which, when haunted, become turrets, attacking enemy units that stray too close. Finally, there are also shrines which allow the haunting player to summon one of three special monk units which possess special abilities like a fireball with massive range, or a gust of wind that can push units away. These special units add another layer of strategy to the game.

Turning to the actual gameplay, players will immediately notice that the battlefield is not comprised of squares or hexes for movement. Instead, the range of movement and attack for your units are measured by a circle surrounding them. During their movement phase, units are able to move anywhere within the circle at which point a new circle opens up to represent their attack range.

For gamers who are used to a more traditional method of movement, this new method of play may seem strange, but it provides the player with much more freedom. Rather than being confined to moving to set blocks, players are in control of units’ minute movements, allowing them to move only a single step if they so wish. The player is able to more strategically plan out their movements this way.

Skulls Of The Shogun Hands-On E3 2011

This strategic placement is also important when the battlefields themselves contain hazards. On the map that was shown to us, there are no barriers to keep units from falling off of the high plateaus they are fighting on. As such, players need to be especially careful not to end their turn too close to the edge, as a quick swing of the enemy’s blade or a gust of wind can send them falling to their doom.

Finally, adding to the strategic elements present in the game, whenever a player dies, their skull will fall to the ground. Units of the opposite team can then use a turn to consume these skulls in order to power themselves up. If a unit manages to consume three skulls, they will then become a demon, making the unit incredibly strong and able to turn the tide of battle.

While it may bear resemblances to past tactics-based games, Skulls Of The Shogun is a truly refreshing take on the genre. Its clean, cartoonish graphical style alone allows it to stand out, but with the addition of new gameplay mechanics, players are given a completely new level of control over their units, allowing them new avenues of strategy.

With the new free-form style of movement and attack, players no longer have to worry about being confined to a grid and can finally approach their enemies from any angle they please. While it may only seem like a small change, other developers would be wise to take note of this freedom of movement. Rather than playing out similar to a board game, it allows Skulls Of The Shogun to feel far more action-oriented.

It is for this reason that it is no surprise that Skulls Of The Shogun was met with so much praise at this year’s E3 and earned a well-deserved nomination for Game Rant’s Indie Game of the Year. While it draws inspiration from a well-established genre, it manages to propel the aging genre into the present, giving it a brand new appeal.

Do you like the idea of this free-form method of movement? What other gameplay mechanics are you excited to get your hands on?

Skulls Of The Shogun does not have a solid release date as of yet, but Haunted Temple Studios hope to release it this year on PC and hopefully, the Xbox Live Arcade.

Check out all of our other E3 2011 coverage.