Board Game Recap: Kemet

First, a disclaimer: I’m very much a newbie in the board game world. I’ve played a few here and there, but they’ve usually been of the Cranium variety. Apples to Apples. Yahtzee. All fun, but not very complex.

But I’ve shifted and sought out other games. A large part of this change stems from simple exposure. See, one of my best friends met, started dating, and eventually married a guy (who we’ll refer to as B) who has a large group of friends, most of whom play board games on the regular. Card games, dice games, intricate games, you name it. I ended up observing and playing a few here and there, and voila — exposure.

Still, I haven’t done a lot of gaming beyond a few games here or there. I have Scrabble and a copy of Cranium with the sculpting putty completely dried out and until recently, that was it. I’ve since acquired Munchkin Zombies and a card game called Grass. I’m still pretty green with most games, but I’ve played some Robo Rally, some Betrayal at House on the Hill, Timeline, Citadels, Ticket to Ride, and others (and Settlers of Catan via their online tutorial). I’ve also seen a number of other games played by those in the group mentioned above, and seen even more via TableTop on the Geek and Sundry Youtube channel (starring internet superstar Wil Wheaton). 

So that’s the background. I’m not claiming to be an expert, and at this stage, my ability to compare games is going to be flimsy, so I wouldn’t call this a review by any means, as I don’t have the depth of knowledge or experience to really compare and contrast many different games.

What I can do, however, is tell you if I enjoy a game, if I’d play it again, and if there’s enough accessibility to play quickly and simply.

Well B is trying to set up a game night with a few folks in town to try new games, play old favorites, and just share the experience. Tonight was the first such meeting. B received Kemet for Christmas, and this seemed a great time to try it out.

Background

Kemet is set in Egypt, and is a turn-based game that incorporates resource management, troop movement, creatures, special powers, and a simple card-battle structure in a race for Victory Points. The board is set up for either 2 or 4 players or, by flipping the board, for 3 or 5 players.

Setup: All players start with 12 troops to be placed in any of three districts of a walled-in fortress. There are also three pyramids that can be leveled up from 1 to 4 and correspond to available Power Tiles that can be “bought” with Prayer Points. There are three kinds of Power Tiles – red for attacking, blue for defense, and white for prayer. There are 16 Power Tiles for each category, and four levels of tiles.

All players start with three pyramid points and can put all three at 1 or start with one off the board and have a 2 point pyramid, or even have a 3 point pyramid but only one pyramid in place. In order to buy a Power Tile, you have to have a pyramid that’s at that color’s level first. For instance, you can only buy a level 2 blue Power Tile if you have a blue pyramid that’s been leveled up to 2.

The game goes through a Day and Night phase. During the day, all players will go in an order (that will change throughout the course of the game) and choose from recruiting new troops to praying and adding two Prayer Points to buying Power Tiles, to moving across the map. After five turns, it shifts to night time, where any powers that apply to the night phase are activated (these can be “gain two extra Prayer Points” or “four new troops are recruited” or things like that) and everyone gets a Divine Intervention card (which can be played in various situations such as to take out a battle unit before a battle begins, or to recruit troops to any group on the map).

Players then try to accumulate Victory Points. In a usual game, you’ll play until someone has eight victory points at the end of a day. You acquire Victory Points by winning battles, buying them from the Power Tiles, gaining one with the Sphinx (a level four Power Tile creature), or having a pyramid built up to the fourth level. You also gain a temporary victory point by holding any of the temples on the board, but that can be taken away if you’re forced out of the temple, usually by being defeated in battle, but also if you simply leave. If you hold two temples at the end of a day, you gain one permanent victory point, even if you later lose a temple.

If you battle someone, you choose two cards from a six card battle hand, then discard one and play with any Divine Intervention cards. It’s a simple system of building up combat strength, similar to how in Munchkin, your various weapons and items add to your level, and then it’s simply whoever has the most attack points wins. Both sides in the battle pick their card and any DI cards and play them on the table. Battle cards will have attack points from 2 to 4, while there are also some with damage points (which eliminate troops entirely) and/or defense points (which cancel out damage points). For example, if you take four troops into a temple to face off against three troops, you’d add the attack points from your battle card, plus the number of troops, plus any points from your Divine Intervention cards and any Power Tiles, so you might have your four troops, three attack points on your card, an extra two attack from your DI card, and a bonus of one attack point from a Power Tiles. The defending side would have to get to ten points to match you and win the battle (defenders always win in ties). But if you attack and win, you get a victory point, so long as you have at least one surviving troop after damage/defense points are figured. (Another wrinkle is that in your next battle, you only have four cards to choose to play, and only two in the next after that, so you have to strategically pick what you might play so you can have something later and can’t just keep playing the same card each battle. This also allows you the opportunity to try to guess what might be played in a battle based on what has already been played.)

There are a lot of pieces, a lot of tiles, tokens, and figures, and there are many different wrinkles in the rules, so it does take some time to get used to the moving parts and the conditions in which you can use some cards, and how things shake out, but it’s not all that complicated once you’ve played a few turns.

You can also transport from your pyramid to various obelisks, employ special creatures like the Scorpion, the Phoenix, a Mummy, and what not, all of which provide different movement and battle bonuses.

It’s set up nicely in that you can try to focus on your economic game, build up your pyramids, buy a victory point, and, if you get the Sphinx, use that point as well, but you still have to take temples, and you’re almost guaranteed to have some battles. And since defending troops can’t win a victory point without a Power Tile that allows a point for a successful defense, the incentive is to get out and fight.

Also, everything I just said up there…you can also see laid out on the board in this video:

The Game

A yellow warrior looks out across the expanse of the Nile River Valley.

A yellow warrior looks out across the expanse of the Nile River Valley.

So here’s how our game went. First, since we weren’t sure about everything, we agreed to play just a four Victory Point game to get a feel for it. The regular game usually takes an hour to play, but with us learning the rules (and consulting them repeatedly to be sure), and the tiles and various powers, we knew it would take longer, plus just having a feel for the rhythm of the game was going to take some time.

We played with four players – myself, B, R, and K (I didn’t ask if I could use their names, and I’m sure they wouldn’t mind, but just in case, we’ll go with initials). B and R played three pyramids at level 1, I played a prayer pyramid (white) at level 2 and an attack (red) at level 1. K played red at 2 and blue at 1 with no white. I figured I’d just see how it turned out.

I spent my early turns trying to build up prayer points and buying some tiles when I could. I got one Power Tile that enabled me to increase my pyramid levels more cheaply than would otherwise be the case and bumped up my red pyramid to 4. B was building up his defense and taking a lot of level 1 tiles for small bonuses. K was trying to build up his attack, but seemed to be around only two prayer points most of the game. He quickly bought up a scarab, though, which let him move an extra space on the board.

R and I didn’t move around much on the board. I spent most of my time getting prayer points and getting cards that would limit my costs to get bonuses and extra tiles. That allowed me to also buy the Scorpion, which is a beastly thing, since he adds two attack to a battle and two damage, so you’re bulking up your attack nicely with him.

B grabbed the first temple and K got one of his own. R was moving troops around. After a couple rounds, B was aiming for a second temple two spots from my fortress, which is when I decided to finally move. I didn’t want him to get the permanent point for holding two temples, so I jumped in and brought the Scorpion with me. He used all of his Divine Intervention cards to add attack, and he’d gotten a blue (defense) tile that added to his defensive attack, so having the Scorpion and a numbers advantage was the only way I could beat him. He focused his game on prayer points and defense pretty much from that point. I won the battle and took the temple.

And I just kind of camped out. B was aggressive with his troops and went into multiple battles, but he was the only player without a creature in the fold and underestimated the help they provide. He ended up spending a lot of time just rebuilding his army and going into attacks. Meanwhile, R was taking a temple here or there, then giving it up to K, then taking it back. He never had much in the way of prayer points, so he wasn’t able to bump up a lot of areas in quick moves (for instance, my earlier focus on prayer points allowed me to take the red pyramid from 1 to 4 at a substantial discount, and I only had to use one turn to do so since I had points to spend at once, whereas R had to go level by level and spent more points and more time).

K was controlling half the map with troops all over and moving them around to bulk up his holdings. B would attack, there would be casualties, and they’d rebuild.

Through it all, I was simply sitting on my temple, minding my own business. I had a battle victory point and a point for getting a level 4 pyramid. K had a battle victory, R had a battle victory. They each had a temple. Then they got a pyramid up to 4, so going into the last two rounds, everyone was getting a bit desperate to find their points. B had attacked me at the temple earlier, but I beat him and took out four of his troops in the process.

At the same time, K and R were maneuvering to get the fourth point, and our turns were running out. It was clear that one of us was going to reach four Victory Points on that Day. I had the Power Tile point, the pyramid point, and a battle point. K and R each had their battle, pyramid, and temple points. K tried to take a temple, but R held him off. 

I’d bought a Victory Point via Power Tile earlier in the turn and was sitting on four points but I still had to survive a couple of turns to end the Day with four points, and really, all I had done was put a target on my back and B attacked me and actually won the battle.

But it was a costly victory, as he lost all his troops and couldn’t hold the temple. After losing, I had to look at the board and decide if I wanted to retreat from battle (which would push my remaining two troops and Scorpion to an adjacent space on the board, but outside the temple) or recall them to my reserves. We had all had two turns left at that point.

This being a new game and one I’d never seen before, I had to think out the scenarios. I could have moved them to the next space and just moved back into the temple, but then K, R, and I would have all tied at four points by holding temples, and by the tie breaker rules, R would have won because he’d gone earlier on that Day (the winner is determined first by most Victory Points then by most battle victory points, then, if still tied, by whichever player had gone earlier in the final Day phase of the game). R had gone second, I had gone third, and K had gone last, so R had the leg up if we all stayed tied.

But recalling them was the right call and led to my victory.

When I called my troops back, I had to put two in reserve, but still had three troops in a district in my city, and my Scorpion stayed on the board and joined them. I ended up using my last turn to move via obelisk transport into the temple that R was occupying with just two troops.

And to make things even better for me, because B had attacked me at my temple twice after my attack on him, I had run through my battle hand three times and could reset it with all six cards at my disposal. R only had two to choose from, so I had numbers and the right attack card to play and wiped him out easily. As a result, I got a second victory point, took the temple, and, even though K would take a vacant temple from the board, we both tied at five points, but it was my second battle victory that won the day.

In hindsight, it was an obvious play, but in the moment of learning a new game and its tricks, it was a pretty fun revelation to see how I could use the rules to my advantage and find a way to take the points. The best thing that could have happened to me was to have Ben beat me at the temple because it allowed me an easy way to skip the Scorpion and troops across the board when I really needed it, and without having to move back to my city to put them in position. I’d have needed an extra turn to make it work otherwise.

So the verdict I have is to say that Kemet was a really fun game, and once we got the hang of it, you could really feel out how your approach was affecting the game. My early decision to play a level 2 white trophy helped me economically throughout the game, because everything was cheaper, because I could get a nice upgrade for cheap early. I didn’t spend much on defense because I figured I’d just go on attack mode as much as I could. In contrast, B was building up his defensive points to sit on temples, but he wasn’t able to have the manpower to actually take them in the first place. Having R and K battle each other (with the defender winning a few and keeping precious victory points out of the picture) helped me too.

I’d definitely play it again, and I think with a longer game, there could have been other wrinkles in play. I was going to try to build up my pyramids, for instance, but B launched attacks on me in two rounds and it pulled some resources away. I had to buy up the victory point as insurance if I couldn’t get the temple back.

But I could see how other approaches would work, and maybe even better in a longer game, and that’s where these kinds of games get interesting. You really won’t play two games that have the same circumstances and strategies in play. You might have the Scorpion one game but not the next, or you might not be able to buy the helpful prayer tiles and have to put more resources into everything. Your opponents will have different strategies, too.

And the next time around, it’ll set up a lot faster, too.

You can also watch some gameplay of Kemet here:

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~ by Michael Engel on January 1, 2014.

One Response to “Board Game Recap: Kemet”

  1. […] I played with B (who I had played Kemet with a couple weeks ago, and is sort of the board game Yoda to my board game Luke) and his wife A after a fine dinner of […]

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