Skulls of the Shogun has arrived on Nintendo Switch via the Bone-A-Fide edition. This is a tactics battler that has always reminded me of Advance Wars, despite the fact that it deals with circles rather than squares, radial movement boundaries rather than grids. Still, it’s all about getting a handful of different units spread across a compact battlefield, getting the resources flowing and then sticking it to your enemy. Focusing on a group of undead Samurai, the whole thing is astonishingly pretty too: resource tiles are rice fields, cavalry units ride skeleton horses and the world is stylised with thick black lines and lovely grainy, spotty sixties-cartoon textures.
What makes it particularly exciting on the Switch, though, is the multiplayer. (You can play online or offline, incidentally.) Skulls has a great single-player campaign, but Skulls on the Couch is where the game really lives. With up to four people clutching Joy-Cons this is the kind of snappy tactical delight that can eat a whole evening. The reason why it works so well, I think, is the same reason the campaign is such a treat. Skulls is made to be played at speed. You generally have only a handful of units to control, and even when you’re dealing with a large-ish handful, you’re limited to five units to move per turn. Rice fields, meanwhile, contain finite resources, so the meat-grinder stalemates of Advance Wars, where cities keep paying out forever, are not a problem. Every encounter is hastened towards its resolution.
In multiplayer, if anything, the game actually gets even faster. I’ve been playing this morning on a small map with one other player, and the most fun has come from the fact that you can set turn times to just 20 seconds. That means this taut, finely balanced tactical game can often play out in a series of thrilling panic moves. You realise it’s your turn, you dither over your units, you just about work out what you want to do and you squeak it through.