Walk like an Egyptian. Teleport your units to a temple, like an Egyptian. Buy some upgrades, like an Egyptian. Best your friend in combat because you brought a giant scorpion, like an Egyptian. And then run away before your other friend with Phoenix comes to beat you up, like an Egyptian. Alright, I promise the whole review won’t be done in this way, like an Egyptian. Okay, that was the last one I promise, like an Egyptian. Argh, it’s hard to stop once you’ve started, like an Egy-.
Anyway, Kemet is what is commonly known as a ‘dudes on a map game’, so-called because you move soldiers across a board to beat up your buddies and take their territory. In this case, think Risk but in Egypt and with a lot more crunch and no dice rolls. In Kemet, you are trying to score 10 victory points. You do so in a myriad of ways including: winning fights, holding territory, upgrading your pyramids and buying upgrades. On your turn, you can choose to take a single action from those available to your faction and present on your player board. This might mean moving your troops, buying an upgrade, gaining prayer points (the game’s currency) or upgrading your pyramid. Kemet is deceptively simple but as it runs as such a high pace, you can’t let your guard down for a second.
In most games of Kemet, there will be a fight within the first few turns. Combat works by counting the number of units each player has, any bonuses from upgrades or special units, and then each player secretly picks one of their combat cards. These cards dictate your unit strength and how many of your opponent’s units you kill in the process. On top of this, there are special one-off cards that you can reveal at the same time to give you an extra boost. And that is all there is to the combat. Or is it? Battles in Kemet are more mind games than anything else. Once you use your combat card, you can’t get it back until you have used all of your others. So when do you play your powerful card or your weak one? Can you guess what your opponent is going to do? Can they guess what you are going to do? All of this calculate has to take place in a split second as you decide how to deal with the current situation. And then it’s over. You’ve either won or lost and the game continues.
Thanks to Kemet’s fast pace if you lose a battle then chances are the enemy will lose one soon after then you’ll probably win one. As fights for temples and territory break out across the board, it is rare for one player to get bullied as there is no benefit in doing so. Instead, the conflict will usually centre around the temples as that is where the points are to be won. And thanks to being able to teleport, the action is fast and there isn’t any trudging across the desert to reach your foe. Kemet is one bloodbath after another until one faction sits above the rest.
Every time I’ve played Kemet it has been intense. Even a slow turn of gaining points or buying an upgrade is building towards the next conflict, the next time you bloody your friend’s nose. And the upgrades are amazing. You can make all kinds of insane combos that will radically improve your game and finding the right combination will help skyrocket you to victory. And then there are the monsters. Who doesn’t want a giant monster the stomp around the desert with them? They all look great and provide some insane benefits. As only one person can have each upgrade, you slowly carve your niche and story of your faction.
Kemet is great fun, but it is only great fun in the right circumstances. The first time most people play it, they will do badly. They won’t know which upgrades to get or immediately grasp the importance of holding temples and winning fights. This leads to the game being wildly unbalanced unless everyone has played the same number of times and is at the same ‘level’. Unfortunately, most of the time I’ve played Kemet it hasn’t been with the right group. You need to be aggressive in Kemet or you will lose and that isn’t to the taste of some people, and even among ‘dudes on a map’ games, Kemet is particularly aggressive. Other times I’ve been teaching the game to new players and had to actively slow myself down so that I didn’t steamroll them (not just tootin’ my own horn, if you know the combos and other people don’t, you are in for an easy win). This has led to Kemet having an awkward place on my shelf where it rarely gets played.
As much as I enjoy the design of Kemet, the game itself can be a bit much. I’ve struggled to fit it neatly into any of my game groups. This means that it doesn’t get played as much as it deserves. If you are part of a competitive group where you can beat each other up for an hour and everybody has a good time, then Kemet is for you. If not, then you might run into the same issues I had, like an Egyptian.
Thanks for reading, if you would like more board games then check out my review of Summoner’s Isle or for some video games why not read our review of Mutant Year Zero.
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