Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Jaques Bariot &
Guillaume Montiage


No. of Players:
2 - 5



30 years ago conflict simulation games (cosims) were in high esteem with strategy gamers, and companies like SPI or AVALON HILL (before the HASBRO-takeover) created very complex games dealing with historical wars like WWII or the American Civil War, and sometimes they even approached sci-fi or fantasy topics like SPI's classic War of the Ring. Usually these games came with lots of small cardboard counters and huge rulebooks which featured many sub-paragraphs for dealing with different kinds of circumstances, and both learning and playing these games took much time than many modern gamer would be willing to invest. Games like MB's Axis and Allies were among the first to change the situation, featuring still long playing times but at least much shorter rules, and as it seems today the situation has turned around. There still exist a few complex and long running games like ARES' War of the Ring, but many more games have been published which follow the path of manageable rules and playing times. Among these games are Ryan Laukat's Empires of the Void or Cyclades by Bruno Catahala and Ludovic Maublanc, and as indicated these games share the common fact that they are much more accessible especially for new players.

As demonstrated by Cyclades, especially the editorial crew of MATAGOT seems to have a good instinct for the refinement and publication of such modern cosims, and so they have decided to return to the SPIEL '12 with a new game which goes back even further into ancient history. With Kemet the two to five players are taken back to the times of Ancient Egypt, and in the Nile valley they battle for predominance which is expressed by the possession of victory points. Two different types of victory points exist in the game - temporary and permanent points. Temporary points can be gained by the occupation of regions containing temples or by building and defending pyramids of the highest level, whereas permanent points will be gained by attacking and winning battles, by the possession of certain Power tiles (representing the research of new "technologies"), by controlling two temples at the end of a round and by sacrificing units at a special location. The first player to win 10 victory points will win the favour of the gods and is declared the winner of the game.

On first sight the set-up gameboard of Kemet might look like any other game of military conflict, with each player possessing his own city where his military units are placed, but closer scrutiny quickly will turn a player's eye to the fact that the regions on this gameboard are extraordinary large, thus resulting in very close distances between all regions and in a much higher degree of mobility which will be felt during the whole game. In fact, this alone forces players in Kemet to assume a quite aggressive stance, since the victory points needed to win the game cannot be gained by fortifying and hiding behind a player's city walls.

A round of play in Kemet is symbolized by the passing of a day and a night, with the night-time being the preparation phase in which the players gain new Prayer points (the game's currency) and Divine Intervention cards (used for one-time actions and effects), whereas the day is used by all players to perform their five possible actions. However, as a last step before the break of day the player order for the upcoming day is determined, and here Kemet follows the somewhat uncommon method that the player order is determined by the player with the fewest victory points. This is clearly due to the fact that the game needs to be balanced, because being the first or last player always can mean a certain advantage in games of military conflict, but the effect of this somewhat prejudiced decision by the weakest player is softened by the fact that the players only may perform one action before the next player takes a turn. So, during the day actions will alternate in player order until all players have had the chance to perform their fifth and final action.

The player actions may not simply be chosen by the players, but instead each player is given a player board which represents his faction and displays a pyramid where symbols for the different available actions are found. Each player has five action tokens, and whenever he choses an action he must cover the symbol of this type of action on his player board pyramid with one of these tokens. The different types of actions are available in different quantities, and as an additional rule the players must end the action phase with at least one action token being placed on each of the three levels of their player board pyramid. Thus, the players will face a stepwise narrowing of their range of available actions, and they must keep an eye on the development on the gameboard in order not to be taken by surprise without the availability of a fitting counter-action.

The available actions range from praying (more Prayer points) to the recruitment and moving of troops, but likewise important are the raising of pyramids and the acquiring of white, red and blue Power tiles. Each player possesses three differently coloured pyramid figures (which are in fact four-sided dice), and these pyramids may be built in the three quarters of a player's city. Whenever a player adds one or more levels to one of his pyramids by the payment of Prayer points, he adjusts the corresponding pyramid within his city so that the number standing for the pyramid's current level is shown on top. Apart from the fact that a level 4 pyramid grants its owner a temporary victory point, the pyramids have three different colours and for each of these colours a common display of Power tiles has been placed at the beginning of the game. The players may purchase such Power tiles, but only if their corresponding pyramid has reached a level which corresponds to the level of the Power tile. In a figurative sense the Power tiles represent new "technologies", and in accordance to the rule "the higher - the better" the high-level Power tiles will provide better benefits than low-level tiles.

The choice of available Power tiles is quite broad, but the players face the restriction that most Power tiles are unique so that they only can be purchased once. In addition, the few tiles that are available in higher numbers only may be acquired once, so that no player may possess a certain tile more than once. The special abilities of the Power tiles depend on their colour, and so the white tiles mainly deal with Prayer points and resources, the Blue tiles represent abilities for defense and control, and the red tiles give useful abilities for movement and attacking. Quite interesting also are the seven creatures which can be obtained via Power tiles, since they offer various improvements to the troops which they accompany on the gameboard. However, the broad choice of available Power tiles easily may distract a player from the main goal of obtaining victory points, and so it's quite tempting to concentrate on obtaining new powers and miss the fact that other players go for a quick victory. Thus, it's always important to keep an eye open for possibilities which might open up on the gameboard.

Talking about the situation on the gameboard, Kemet deals with the movement of units and the resolving of battles in a very straightforward way. At the beginning of the game a player may use one movement action to move one army of up to five units for one region, but the range of movement will increase if the player obtains Power tiles which give additional movement abilities. Quite interesting is the fact that the players also may pay Prayer points to use their pyramids as a gate to teleport an army to a region containing an obelisk symbol, and this is especially useful for reaching the temples in the Nile delta which are inaccessible by normal land movement.

Whenever the troops of two players meet, a battle will occur in which the strength values of both armies will be compared. The battle strength of an army is determined by the number of units, a bonus provided by a present creature and the player's Power tiles, eventual Divine Intervention cards played by each player and a Battle card which each player had to choose from a set of six Battle cards available to him. The player with the higher strength total wins the battle, and if it is the attacker he will gain a permanent victory point. Then the casualties will be determined by comparing the damage and protection values of the Battle cards chosen by each player, and each player must remove a corresponding number of units from his army. Two additional rules must be mentioned here, and the first is the fact that each player chooses not one but actually two Battle cards. The first card is used in the upcoming battle, whereas the second card is simply discarded. After the battle the used card is discarded as well, and during the next battle the player cannot use the discarded cards anymore. Only if all six Battle cards were used (after a total of three battles), the player receives his full hand of Battle cards back and may once again chose from his full range of cards. In addition, both the winner and the looser of a battle have the possibility to recall troops to their stockpile after the battle is over. By this the players will gain back Prayer points corresponding to the purchase value of these units, and so recalling troops effectively gives a player the possibility to remove an army which otherwise would be an easy pick for opposing players. Thus, the opportunity to recall a weakened army is a quite important strategic option, since a successful attacker otherwise would easily gain a permanent victory point.

As indicated earlier, Kemet is surprisingly fast-paced for a game of strategic conquest. To keep competition high and distances low, the double-sided gameboard can be modified to offer a different setup situation for all numbers of players (access to certain regions is restricted with less players). Another element which fits rather well with the pace of Kemet is the combination of temporary and permanent victory points, since the game will keep evolving until the climax is reached. Even though possession of certain key regions and temples may be changing several times, each of these changes in ownership is accompanied by a player winning one permanent victory point, and so the game slowly but irresistibly will continue towards its end. Due to these features Kemet is not a game of endless warring between the players, but instead coldly calculated moves are the key to winning.

Once again MATAGOT was able to release a strategy game which meets high expectations both on the level of playability and graphic design. In terms of design Kemet continues the undisputedly high tradition of former MATAGOT games, and in terms of playability the game once again comes up with a set of rules which allows ample of room for decisions while at the same time not overburdening the players with details. Just like Cyclades the game faces a certain danger that the leading player sees the other participants ganging up against him, but due to the short-term orientation of the game such situations seem to be deliberately accepted. In fact, such alliances usually will not last for more than a round, because everybody wants to be the winner and so it's necessary to get rid of allies after they have fulfilled their use.

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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany