Kemet is one of those rare mixes of “everyone’s still at the table by the end” civ-building eurogaming and brutally cutthroat wargaming that offers something for people who want to build temples, employ priests, pray and get victory points but also something for someone like me who enjoys sending a horde led by an ancient mummy to ransack people’s cities. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Each player in Kemet represents some sort of Egyptian alien monster god (this is way more StarGate than actual ancient Egypt) who is vying for control of the Nile valley. You fight to control temples, build your pyramids, and crush your foes on the battlefield. Temples give you temporary victory points and ‘prayer points’ (aka God-money). You use your God-money to recruit minions, upgrade your pyramid (represented by large red, white and blue d4s) and buy improvements (corresponding with your pyramid color, red for combat/attack, blue for combat/defense, and white for religion/economy).
The game plays out in 5 turn intervals representing a day. During each turn of the day, you take one of a number of actions so long as you haven’t exhausted that action for the day (moves x2, recruit, prayer x2, pyramid upgrade, red upgrade, blue upgrade, and white upgrade), so you’re forced to decide whether you’re investing in your infrastructure in some way or setting about conquoring. At the end of the “day”, everyone gets to reset their action choices.
It’s kind of a rush to get the choice upgrades; there are only 4 of each color per level of pyramid, so if you don’t get what you want quickly, chances are someone else will nab that sweet upgrade you wanted. This can be especially dire when it comes to unique monsters that you can recruit.
Combat is simple and quick to adjudicate, but there are several strategies. Stronger force wins, loser either retreats or can convert units to prayer points. The strategy comes in with the tactics cards you can play, which variably increase your unit strength, cause fatalities or prevent fatalities; in some cases, you can inflict enough fatalities to where you don’t need to “win” the battle to eliminate an enemy force (particularly helpful if you need to get an opponent out of your city).
Victory can only be claimed at the end of a day, so as soon as it becomes clear that one person might win, things quickly become a bloodbath, especially since victory points for controlling temples and max level pyramids are temporary.
One of the factors which balances the game and is unlike something such as Risk is the fairly low troop limit. you’re only able to field about a dozen minions, maxium of 5 in a group (unless you have the upgrade that allows you up to 7), so any large expeditions on multiple fronts can leave your home city exposed. Thus it can be important to snag up monsters to bolster the strength of your troops (and their speed, in some cases).
The game I played over the weekend had a pretty brutal finale when it was discovered that one player, Blue, was one point away from victory. Red, with whom I had been in a temporary truce for most of the game, focused his efforts on claiming the center with his War Elephant and denying Blue access to resources and making attacks of opportunity against Black. I took the opportunity to send an overstrength host led by the Mummy to charge Blue’s city. I’d banked up enough tactical advantages in my favor that the mummy was able to take one of Blue’s pyramids. Blue ultimately didn’t have the resources to muster enough defenders to overcome my invading army, so I was able to claim both of his level 4 pyramids (and the victory points that went with them). Black realized what I was doing (Red may have too, but was banking on Black to knock me down a peg so he could back into the win), and sent troops with some sort of Roc or something to take my city (unfortunately, the large expedition led by the Mummy had left my home guard weakened). Luckily, I still had my recruitment phase left, so I was able to pop a few guys into my city along with my pet Sphinx to liberate my Pyramid and the accompanying victory point. This is where strategy came in: while I couldn’t be sure to eke out a victory, I COULD ensure that Black would take enough casualties that they’d be driven from the city.
As Night fell, I claimed my narrow win over Red, having come from nearly last prior to enlisting a Mummy to lead my army.
Kemet is a quick play, has beautiful artwork, a variety of gorgeous minis, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.