Sandstorm – Kemet review

Kemet COVER

My good friend Chris O’Regen has been writing and talking about video games since pretty much the beginning of time, but he’s also got a passion of boardgaming that is unmatched by any regular human. Last weekend at our TableTop Day event, Chris showed up with a bag of games including a new favourite of his: Kemet. I asked if he fancied doing a review of it sometime. This landed in my inbox the next morning…

Kemet has a giant scorpion in it. This same scorpion can be used alongside armies to lay waste to all who stand before them. Buy Kemet. My work here is done. Good day.

I SAID GOOD DAY!. Why are you still reading this? I just told you Kemet has a giant scorpion in it. A GIANT SCORPION. Oh… you want to know about how the game plays and if it is worth your time and indeed money? Didn’t I just tell you about the scorpion? You want more? Fine. FINE!

kemet_creature_02

Kemet is an adversarial strategic combat game in which players send armies of ancient Egyptian warriors against one another in an attempt to make their mark in world of antiquity. If this sounds a teensy bit familiar to you then you may have played Cyclades, a game that is set in ancient Greece and is made by the same publisher. Unlike Cyclades, however, there is no bidding war in order to earn the right to launch attack. Instead Kemet relies heavily on timing, as the order makes their plays is crucial to their success. One miss-timed action can result in a cascade event against them that is very difficult to recover from. Even then such a recovery is reliant on another player making a similar mistake.

The aim of Kemet is to score either 8 or 10 victory points, depending on whether or not the short or long form of the game is being played. The ‘short’ game can take up to 2 hours to play and the set up can take a considerable amount of time, especially when having to lay out the shop front of power cards. Thankfully it is worth it as the game is terrific fun to play, especially when you’re offered the chance to take control of a giant scorpion.

kemet_divine_intervention_cards

Play is split into two phases, titled Day and Night. During the day all of the action takes place, with players carrying out a minimum of five actions per day. At night powers are bestowed to the players and they are granted favours by the Egyptian gods in the form of Divine Intervention cards. These are modifier cards that can be played based on the icon that is placed in the bottom right hand corner of them. Some can be cast during battle, others during the day on a player’s turn and finally some can only played on an opponent’s turn.

kemet_player_card

The actions a player can take are done one at a time. These actions are defined by icons in a character card each player has. On this card is a row of numbers from 0-11 that define the amount of prayer power that the player has gleaned from the Egyptian gods. This acts as currency in the game, as almost every action carries with it a cost in prayer power. Each action is placed into a three tier pyramid and at least one action in each level must be performed by the player by the end of the Day phase.

The actions vary from praying in order to gain prayer power points through to buying power cards. These cards modify the base rule-set of Kemet significantly, to the point that players are encouraged to grab as many of them as possible in order to make themselves a viable fighting force in the later stages of the game.

kemet_power_cards

Power cards are split into three types and are coloured white, red and blue. White cards are focussed with gaining and conserving prayer power. Red power cards are offense based and blue power cards are focussed on defence. They are in turn split into 4 levels of strength, with level 4 being the most potent. Players can only buy one type of power card and once they have them it is not possible for other players to remove them. The right to buy cards is dependent upon the level of power pyramid a player have in their control. These pyramids are represented by oversized D4 dice and are placed in the cities each player has control of.

kemet_pyramids_of_power

Combat occurs when troops from opposing sides are located in the same space. Troop movements have no cost attributed to them, unless you’re transporting them from one of your power pyramids to an obelisk, which will cost two prayer power points. This manoeuvre is what I like to call the ‘101st Airborne’ attack, as it results in a player’s army appearing, seemingly from out of nowhere on another location. It speeds up the pace of the game significantly as armies can only move one space at a time, unless the player has a power card that increases their movement.

The combat mechanism in Kemet is a little peculiar as it requires no dice, instead relying on players picking from a set of six cards that have different stats on them. They all have varying levels of strength of attack which is symbolised by a sword, and the other two stats are damage and shielding. When combat is initiated, which is when a player places their army into a space that is occupied by an opposing player’s army, both players select two cards from their hand of six. One of these cards is discarded when the other is used in combat. The strength is added to the number of army units in the space as well as any modifiers from Divine Intervention cards and power cards. Damage is then compared against the number of shields on both sides, which can result in the victor’s army being wiped out, even if they won the battle!

kemet_combat_cards

This combat system does have many layers to it, as the more player’s engage in combat, their effectiveness is diminished as they have fewer combat cards to execute their attacks with. The risk-reward for this is the fact that every battle won earns a player a permanent victory point. With a reward so great, Kemet actually encourages players to interact with one another as permanent victory points are hard to come by.

You may be wondering at this point what on Earth is a ‘permanent victory point’? Aren’t all victory points ‘permanent’? Well in most games that feature a point scoring system you’d be right. In Kemet, however, points can be stolen from players if they commit certain actions. Such points are called temporary and their tokens are circular in shape, while permanent points are square. Temporary points are earned once certain territories on the map are controlled. Temples, that litter the game board, all have temporary points attached to them. It is not uncommon therefore to see these points exchange hands between players throughout the game as the control of temples are succeeded to players following the resolutions of various conflicts.

kemet_point_tokens

There is one final feature that I wish to describe to you before I head off into the sunset with my summing up remarks on Kemet. As I explained earlier, timing is everything in this game and the designers have recognised this to the point where turn order changes at the beginning of every day. This turn order is determined by the player who is the least successful at that point in the game. This affords them the chance to reverse their fortunes by placing themselves higher up the turn order and thus determine the flow of actions in that day. It’s an ingenious system that is very similar to the result of the bidding system in Cyclades, where the player who failed to bid going first in the following round.

Kemet is as well built as it is designed; In other words, it’s excellent. Each of the player’s armies are not only a different colour, but they also differ in form. A nice little touch that again was found in Cyclades. The oversized D4’s act as a nice piece of tactile paraphernalia to the game and also maintains an appropriate level to the Egyptian theme of the game.

kemet_creature_01

Similarly the figurines of the creatures are well made although not of the same scale to the armies. If they had been made in such a way the armies would have to shrink or the creatures grown to stupidly large proportions. All of the figures have been daubed over with a splash of wash, which while a nice effect, does reduce the possibility of being able to paint them. This is not like Cyclades where the monster figurines can easily be painted. It’s a minor quibble, I grant you, but with many game fans being a creative lot, the removal of the opportunity of being able to paint figures easily is a little irksome.

As you may have gathered from this review I really like Kemet. It is a fantastic game that always has new players walking away from with a smile on their face. It takes the recent innovations in tabletop game design and brings them all together into an amazing game, with little to no down time for players and a pace that starts off fast and is maintained right up to the end. It’s not uncommon to realise a player has manoeuvred themselves into a position of certain victory, unless their opponents work together to head them off at the pass, just to prolong the game!

It also has a giant scorpion in it. I may have mentioned that in this review, I can’t remember though.

Kemet was first released by Matagot at Essen in 2012. The game was designed by Jacques Bariot and Guillaume Montiage and caters for between two and five players, with games taking between 90 and 120 minutes. Should you want a copy – and after reading Chris’ write up, why wouldn’t you? – Gameslore will sort you out one for £44.99. Thanks so much to Chris for the review! 

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