I love a good area control game. I'm crazy about Islebound, Scythe, Spirit Island, Blood Rage, Forbidden Stars, Vindication, Fate of the Elder Gods, and Twlight Imperium IV (my FAVORITE game outside of Brass Birmingham). So I had high hopes for Kemet. It’s an older game (released in 2012), designed by Jacques Bariot and Guillaume Montiage and it’s been on my wishlist since I started playing board games at a neighborhood gaming store about a year after its release. My best friend and I would be at the store playing whatever new game we’d bought that month, and I’d admire the Kemet cover art from where I sat. It just looks absolutely thrilling.
Because we were heavily into the cult of the new at that time, we never prioritized adding an older game like Kemet to our collection. This was finally rectified when Matagot sent me a review copy. I was so excited to open the box, especially when I discovered the artwork on the inside was just as well illustrated as the box cover I’d admired all those years before.
In Kemet, players are Egyptian Gods, fighting against each other in dynamic power plays using their troops and temples. The first player to earn eight victory points is declared the winning God. Players start the game with three pyramids dedicated to them and must decide to allocate three points (called “prayer points”; theming is really well implemented) - among the pyramids – either three level 1 pyramids, or one level 2, one level 1, and one level 0 pyramid. Note that the designer has cleverly chosen to use gigantic D4 dice for the pyramids. Level 1+ pyramids are placed onto the main board and grant the controlling God additional powers shown on corresponding tiles, which they may purchase using prayer points. Some of these tiles automatically provide victory points for the owner while others aid in battle or give other benefits. The cost to raise pyramid levels is also paid in prayer points, and victory points can be earned by raising a pyramid level up to level 4. Prayer points are handed out automatically during the beginning of each round (called the Night phase), so there is always an opportunity to prioritize increasing pyramid levels and buying new tiles. Players are given an action board to track prayer point balance and actions across the rounds. During the second half of each round (Day phase), players take 5 turns choosing and executing an action (gain more prayer points, raise a pyramid, buy a power tile, recruit units onto the main board for battle, and move/attack). Moving and attacking opponents allows a God to win battles and earn more victory points. Recruiting units is important to overpower the other Gods in battle because unit count in an attack is one of the base factors in determining the victor and earning those coveted victory points. Moving and successfully attacking also bring victory points from controlling the areas where various temples are situated on the main board.
So that’s the gameplay- a restorative Night phase followed by an active Day phase, rinse and repeat until one of the Gods has 8 victory points. It sounds kind of dull when laid bare yet it’s anything but that during gameplay thanks to a plethora of choices available to players during the game. The decision tree of choices and outcomes for just one game is quite complex. Will you rush to build up your red or blue pyramid and power tiles first to improve your battle outcomes? Or take a chance that you won’t be attacked immediately and build up your white pyramid and power tiles to maximize prayer point accumulation (which in turn let you build up the other pyramid and powers faster)? Another exciting part of the game are the battles and anticipation of them. You sit there, watching your opponents amass units and powers on their turns and wonder when they’re going to come for you, while you are silently calculating when and where it will be best for you to strike in battle yourself. And I haven’t even told you about the creatures yet.
The creatures might be the best part of the game for many players. There are several power tiles tied to creatures – when you procure the power tile, you control the associated creature. It’s added to one of your group of units (a troop) on the main board and has special powers. For example, the Phoenix and any troops with it can ignore walls, walking right through them. Bonus: if you own Cyclades (another board game from Matagot) and purchase the C3K Creatures Crossover (also from Matagot), you can use the creatures from Cyclades in Kemet.
It took me a few weeks to schedule our first game. There’s a specific subset of our gaming friends that enjoy aggressive conflict and area control games and being busy professionals it can be hard for them to carve out time to play. We gave everyone the homework assignment to read up on the game and its rules before we got together for the first game. That’s my strong recommendation for anyone playing Kemet for the first time, as it’s important to become familiar with all the different power tiles and creatures in order to do well at the game. Fortunately, the rulebook is well written, so everything within is fairly easy to understand.
The first time we played, we all agreed that the game was brilliantly fun with lots of tension, especially toward the game’s end. I struggled with prioritizing which pyramids to level up but it was enjoyable to experiment with the different creatures and their effect on battle. Our scores were all very close throughout the game, and it was anyone’s guess who the winner was going to be. We played with 4 players that first time and it took us 5 hours (all our games take forever because we have 2 players with severe analysis paralysis; plus there was not a lot of attacking in the first few rounds and attacking is the quickest route to earning victory points). Subsequent games went faster as we got more familiar with the game, but we never managed to get under 2 hours in any of them.
The game plays well at all player counts because the designers have taken the time to customize the board, offering a 2 sided board with one side to be used for 2/4 player games, and the other side for 3/5 player games. This is really important in an area control game, which can otherwise suffer from too large a playing field under lower player counts.
Kemet is a game I’m keeping in my collection and will be in the steady rotation of area control games that come to the table. The theming of the game and uniqueness of the creatures make Kemet distinct enough from other games that feature warring factions and special creatures (like Blood Rage or Cyclades) to not feel duplicative. The game is subject to a ton of analysis paralysis but I’m ok with that. I’m interested in exploring the different strategy paths available and whether a consistent pattern of decisions leads to victory in most games or whether every game’s decisions have to be carefully tailored to the choices opponents are making.
I hope you’ll pick up Kemet (and the C3K Creatures Crossover if you own Cyclades already) and give it a try with your game group and let me know what you think.
Publisher: Matagot Games
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): 2 hrs+
Game type: are control, card drafting, action points
Jenni’s rating scale:
OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.
OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.
OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.
NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.