Those monster mini's are sweet.
Easy to grasp, but enough depth to reward return visits.
An abundance of ways to play.
Potential for kingmaking.
Can be a tad daunting to begin with when faced with all those power tiles.
If you're looking for a replacement to Risk here's your boy. A great looking and vicious war game that refines this genre down to all the best bits and then lets you play with all of it straight away. It really is a great as you've heard, an essential addition to any collection.
Kemet is a very fighty game. Its the equivalent of that kid who was always in trouble at school you know the one, used to sit in the back of class and punch random classmates, that’s when he wasn’t doing things to girls near the bike sheds that we wouldn’t know about until the following years biology class.
Antagonistic is probably a more succinct way of describing Kemet. Everything about it is focused on you running up to an opponent and punching them in the throat whilst relieving them of any shiny baubles they might be holding, followed by a victory lap around the twitching body. What I’m trying to say is that you won’t find any of that John and Yoko peace ballad stuff going on in this box.
At its core genetic level Kemet is Risk but with all the randomness removed and given a makeover by some guy who spent the last year just watching 80’s action movies gearing up montages. Kemet is all about war, war and a arms race, its the military industrial complex refined down to its core with the sandy sheen of ancient Egypt applied, this being the ancient Egypt where generals rode about on their giant war scorpions and smote their foes with lightening bolts you know that one. It achieves this constant heightened state of homicidal impulse by a few simple mechanisms which all boil down to converting enemies into the victory points required to win.
The stage set for this barney is a scattering of kingdoms squeezed into a a thin strip of land. Outside of your city walls squat temples and thrumming in the center of each is a temporary victory point, it sort of bobs there teasing everyone. Note I say temporary because you only get to keep these whilst your troops are in residence. I really wouldn’t get comfortable.
The other type of VP is the permanent variety which are gained most of the time by going to war and winning a battle Ding! You can also gain one by holding two temples at the end of a phase Ding! But that’s not nearly as much fun.
So for a moment let all of that sink in, got it? Right now i’m going to add a couple of other kinks to proceedings.
1. every location is at most 2 spaces away from any army.
2. You can teleport your troops directly from your city to obelisk’s that litter the board and are in all of the temples. Remember Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic park? Well aside from all the vigorous hand movements and purring he was yammering on about chaos mathematics, what he was talking about was this game. Forget about a butterfly in Peking flapping its wings, what he really meant was an army of cat warriors going bamf! all Nightcrawler on us and materializing in the nearest temple. Ooh and those handy obelisk’s are a one way trip there ain’t no coming back.
An early game of Kemet starts pretty much the same everyone begins with a tenuous toe dip into proceedings maybe leveling up a power or moving some troops about and then Bamf! some joker zips across the board and gains a point, everyone does a double take and then the carnage commences with victory points changing hands faster than a groupie backstage at a Rolling Stones concert.
Now all of that would be fun enough, but that is not all that Kemet has to offer, aside from its war game styling’s it also has some Euro going on as well. The game has two distinct phases night and day, the night is a brief pause where you’ll recharge prayer points (the games currency) and potentially gain extra bonuses including Divine Intervention cards (we’re come onto them in a moment), one of the most significant is the player trailing with the least VP can decide the turn order for the next day phase, this can have a huge impact on the proceedings especially in the latter stages of the game.
The day is when the most fun happens. Each player has a board and five counters which they place on it to perform any of the nine actions available, just like a worker placement these are everything from moving to praying for more points or upgrading your pyramids.
Pyramids you say? yes each race has three of these nestled in their kingdom represented by large D4’s one red, one white and one blue, aside from looking cool they also track your level in each of the three powers. These powers are the beating heart of the game sort of like a k-mart for ancient deity’s, they have four levels that can only be purchased if you have the corresponding leveled pyramid in your city.
They start simple enough giving you bonuses to actions or modifiers in battle. Its when you get to the level 3 or 4 powers that things get rather exciting, you can buy the giant creatures which boost any armies that they travel with and aside from coming with really cool mini’s they offer some serious clout on the battlefield. The other thing about these powers are that they are in limited supply, once one has been purchased its gone and only that player has access to it.
The powers are a game on their own, because combining them allows you to build your races economy will it be all about the war or a strong defense, there are multiple combinations and its hugely rewarding for return plays as you can tweak a game winning strategy dependent on which powers you take.
Now the one thing I haven’t touched on is the battles themselves, a game revolved around fights better have a damn good way of resolving them or it’ll unravel faster than a ball of twine in a cattery. There are no dice here you control your destiny, each player has the same set of six battle cards some focused on a strong attack whilst others on defense.
Whenever you go to war each combatant plays one and discards one these cards have a few simple stats on each, all come with differing amounts of strength which when combined with the number of units in your army the resulting player with the highest overall strength wins the battle. However in this game you may win the battle but lose the war, you see there are also two other stats wounds and defense, the wounds kill that many units in your opponents army that go undefended by the defense stat regardless of winning or losing.
In addition to the battle cards you also have the Divine Intervention cards, many of these come with additional strength or wound modifiers that are played with your battle card to further boost your stats, again these are secret and can really turn the tide in battles.
Its an elegant solution to this old war business and adds a poker style bluff to any battle where there is never a sure thing, and even a victory can be hollow if your forces take the target only to be decimated by the retreating forces leaving you suddenly a terribly appetizing target for the next warlord.
There is a lot to love in this box, if your group is looking for lighter war game that rewards return visits to the scene of the crime then this is for you. It’s incredibly easy to grasp and play the swathe of power tiles are what add the complexity and can slow down the early games as everyone pauses to contemplate what new weapon of mass destruction to add to their growing stockpile. But oh boy its exciting when you can start to pull of those combo’s. And with how the board is designed there is never any opponent out of reach and in such a condensed area it turns the game into the equivalent of a knife fight in a elevator, except that somebody just brought a bazooka. I haven’t even touched on the fact you can steal an opponents pyramid and then use it to buy those powers for yourself, or how about the initiative power that kills two opponents troops whenever you attack, or teleport that allows you to use the obelisk’s to move about or maybe Holy War that pays out four prayer points for every battle you win. The list goes on and on, and aside from all these juicy mechanism’s you also get all the cool monster mini’s and little armies, this game looks a much fun as it is to play.
If I had to get critical and these are small things, I’m not sure how finely balanced this beast is, which depending on your point of view may be great or not, but certainly some of the powers can give huge advantages if combined. There is also the possibility of a kingmaker in the final rounds, most games do get incredibly tight towards the last few turns and victory can often be determined by the slimmest of margins. But this is all minor niggles, at its heart this is a great great game with strategies only surfacing from repeat plays and unlike Risk and similar games you are never completely out of the running even after a terrible defeat, there is always a way back. Me I love it, it fills that down and dirty war game with enough polish and shiny trinkets that I can’t wait for another go at it.