Boardhammer: Kemet & Ta-Seti Expansion


by Chucat

Kemet is, to put it simply, an ancient Egyptian wargame. Players play as a god and take command of a small army and seek to build power and influence by building up their pyramids and leveraging Prayers to purchase powers and creatures used to conquer the holy sites around the Nile Delta. 

The game features an absolutely massive board, a wide array of power tiles, a set of very attractive player cards, and some nice looking creatures. Naturally, this makes setting it up an absolute nightmare. It’s the type of game that begs for an insert, but the way the game looks and plays just screams “Cool mythological Egypt stuff”.

Despite the massive amount of flavor present in the game, there are absolutely no differences between the gods or the starting positions besides cosmetic ones. The game is balanced so that each city is equidistant from an equal number of cities, and the player board and cards—used for combat—are identical.

Players spend the Day Phase (basically the phase where you do stuff) taking it in turns to put a single action counter on their card, which allows them to do things, the actions are loosely split up by row, the top row is focused on moving and summoning infantry, the second row has a focus on moving infantry and upgrading your pyramids, and the bottom row is focused on purchasing powers, there’s also some prayer acquisition scattered around as well, which is important, because as a god, you need prayer to do almost anything else. 

The sole rule on doing actions is that by the time a player is done, they need to have done at least one action on each row. While this sounds a bit inconvenient at first, it’s actually really, really good for the design of the game and indirectly teaching people how to play. You force players outside of a turtling and building up ‘comfort zone’; every turn you HAVE to either summon troops or move them. Due to the limited stock of soldiers you have, you’re going to run out of summons pretty quickly, so you’re going to start moving your armies. This naturally pushes you towards the objectives, namely occupying temples and attacking weak armies, both of which generate victory points (that you need to win).

Pyramid Powers

Powers are the key to doing well in Kemet. There are three colours to choose from: Red, Blue and White (they’re changing this to Ruby, Sapphire and Diamond in the new version so you don’t constantly have to say White Power, thank god). Each colour reinforces a different playstyle and provides access to different creatures.

Red – Focuses heavily on offensive power. This involves doing more damage in offensive battles and massive mobility bonuses. Their creatures are tailored around damage, ignoring walls, and moving faster. They ‘counter’ White and are ‘countered’ by Blue.

Blue – Focuses heavily on defensive power. This involves you being able to recruit more soldiers, being stronger in defense and getting a major advantage in battles using Prescience. Their creatures are centered around Strength, nullifying enemy creatures and VP. They ‘counter’ Red and are ‘countered’ by White.

White – Focuses heavily on Economy. This involves high amounts of Prayer generation, cheaper (or free!) upgrade and power costs, as well as increased Divine Intervention cards. Even their single creature is based around generating an extra Divine Intervention Card. These cards give bonuses in combat, extra prayer and just useful effects. They ‘counter’ Blue and are ‘countered’ by Red.

Each of these colours has 16 powers to choose from, 4 at each level going from 1 to 4. You’re able to buy powers up to the level of your current pyramid (so if you have a level 3 white pyramid you can buy white powers from level 1 to 3). Purchasing a power is one of the actions on your player board. They cost their level in Prayer Points. Then they’re yours and constantly ‘on’; you also deny them from other players. Some of the powers give you control of Monsters, who ride into battle alongside your troops. The minis are fine (they’re no GW quality). 

Kemet Phoenix
One of my very early painting adventures. Credit: Raf Cordero

There are also a couple of universal powers that exist for each colour. These are a single Victory Point (which is important!) and the ability to get an extra action (which is also important!). It’s important to note that while you’re likely to specialise or favour a particular colour, you’re not going to laser focus on a specific colour to the exclusion of all else. There’s also enough difference between the powers to allows players to enjoy their own playstyle. An aggressive player who wants to do really well in combat will go for Red/Blue. An economic turtle will go Blue/White, and someone who wants to snowball off victories will go for Red/White.

Speaking of combat, let’s get into that.

Battle of Gods

Combat in Kemet is actually real fun and, as a massive plus for me, involves literally no luck at all. When two armies come into contact, combat starts. Any power tiles apply straight away, so red and blue players get to calculate their advantages, and then the actual fight starts.

Each player has a hand of 6 battle cards, these cards are the same for all players and have some cool artwork (which symbolizes the stats on the card), and then some actual stats on there. These work as follows.

Khopesh – This adds Strength to your current army.

Blood Drop – This adds Damage to your current army.

Shield – This adds Defense to your current army.

The top two cards in this image are part of your default starting hand. The bottom two are purchased via Player Powers and replace one of your default cards.

Battle Cards

Players pick one of their cards and any Divine Intervention Cards in secret and put them face down (and discard another combat card), then flip their stuff over simultaneously. The player with the most strength after all the modifications wins the combat. If the winner was an attacker, they receive a permanent victory point, so you’re naturally going to want to attack (or get the Blue Power tile that lets you win VP on a defensive victory!)

Interestingly, you only lose troops by calculating your opponent’s damage and deducting it from your Defense (and vice versa for your opponent), so it’s entirely possible to win a battle and lose all your soldiers, or lose the battle but suffer no losses. There’s reasons to do this, since if you wipe your opponent’s army but lose you don’t have to retreat. In this way you don’t have to cede map control, which is the name of the game in Kemet.

The double blind selection for combat (excusing crazy effects like Prescience that forces the opponent to play their battle card first AND face up) and the fixed decks means that while you can be slightly sure what your opponent is going to want to do, you can never ever be certain. Even if you do have a surefire victory, your opponent might have just hidden a ton of Divine Intervention cards underneath their battle card to ruin your day with crazy god effects. Finally, there are blue and red god powers that give you a seventh, extremely strong, yet specialized battle card, which gives players who go for those colours a further advantage in battle.

Despite being one of the most important parts of the game, combat is surprisingly simple to explain and play, you don’t get bogged down with a ton of numbers, or dice rolls, or anything else. It’s fast, full of interesting choices, and typically brutal.

Ruling Egypt

After all the actions are done during the Day Phase, the general bulk of the scoring occurs. There are two sets of VP, and if a player has 10 or more VP at this point, they win.

There are temporary VPs, which a player gets for each level 4 pyramid they control (including opponent’s pyramids!) and by controlling the temples dotted around the map. These points shift around based on possession and power and map control and so on.

There are also permanent VPs, which players receive by winning offensive battles, buying the victory power tiles, buying the sphinx, controlling multiple temples, or sacrificing their units in the Sanctuary. These can’t be taken away by any means, and they reward being aggressive, controlling the map smartly, and powering up your pyramids in service of purchases.

The name of the game in Kemet is to be smartly aggressive, not leave vulnerable troops in vulnerable areas and to not leave your cities undefended, since everything can go very wrong extremely quickly and an opponent can quickly get out of control regarding VP if you’re not careful. Thankfully though, the unit and prayer caps do prevent anything too crazy from happening, at least in the early game.

The start of Kemet centers around players teching up, occupying nearby temples and slowly accruing VP, the game quickly goes off the rails though, in a good way, with each colour developing unique traits and perks that let you break the rules in fun and fitting ways. Red players can just conjure up an entire army, cross the whole map and snap up one of your level 4 pyramids and an entire garrison in a turn (then use the pyramid to buy things). Blue players can plant themselves somewhere with a massive army, force you to dislodge them and generate VP each time you try and fail (then sacrifice in the temple during the night for VP). Players invested in White can generate obscene amounts of prayer, upgrade their pyramids and purchase powers for free and just swing battles and situations with their massive bank of Divine Intervention cards (which they generate 3 times as many as other players). Everyone feels powerful, but in a different way.

This means the game never actually feels like it’s dragging, since every player can just explode in a single turn and force absolutely massive VP swings, and if it somehow doesn’t, then the player who’s being aggressive and taking the map will just win extremely quickly anyway. So it’s pretty much a win-win from a design perspective.

Finally, the game manages to evoke a strong flavour that marries the setting with the rules, lke having the artwork and names of the cards perfectly match the effects of said cards. The design and look of the creatures and the way the gods just build in power as the game goes on until it just comes to a violent, yet amicable end. The sole drawback with the game is the sheer size of it, it’s a hassle to set up and despite being a rather casual game, the size, setup time and initial explanation make it a bit counter-intuitive.

Kemet: Ta-Seti

by Raf Cordero

Kemet truly deserves a place in the broader pantheon of aggressive area control games. The base game is fast yet rich, aggressive and strategic, and is fairly easy to teach. With such an excellent core experience, the decision to release an expansion was a bold one. Expansions can be the ultimate mirage, gleaming and enticing while leaving you disappointed and run down. Ta-Seti is no mirage; it makes a great game deeper without adding bulk.

Ta-Seti is delivered in the form of 5 modules. Modular expansions can allow you to season your games to taste, though often throw off the overall balance of the game. By making 4 of the 5 modules replacement or supplementary options you can integrate all of them seamlessly. While simple, these all deepen the strategic decisions elucidated by Chucat.

For example, one of the modules adds a few new combat cards to your player decks and Divine Intervention cards to the game. Mechanically they work identically to the others, they just offer some tough bargains. One of the cards features the highest Khopesh (Strength) value in the game though the blood drop affects your own models. Yeah; you might win but you’re going to kill off 2 of your own fighters in the bloodshed. Because you actually need to control the territory this heightens the bluffing element. Similarly, the new Divine Intervention cards add fun new affects but you don’t really have to learn anything new. Just absorb the strategic implications and move on. These supplement existing elements with no mechanical changes.

Another module is the Black pyramid and associated player powers. These add new monsters and abilities but come with a cost. You can still only have 3 Pyramids on the board; to make the Black pyramid available you must first opt to sacrifice access to another color entirely. Your only recourse then is invading another player and buying those powers while you control another player’s pyramid. I love it; another reason to be aggressive and it adds an armored hippo to the monsters.

The next 2 modules replace existing rules and work in tandem; they’re always worth including together. They modify the turn order of the game and the victory condition. In the base game, the player who has the least VPs gets to choose the entire round’s turn order. Late in the game this a powerful ability because you only need to control 8 (or 10) VPs at the end of the round. Go last and you can shoot up to the threshold with your final action and no one can stop you. In Ta-Ceti, turn order is determined via a bid that will force you to use your high-strength battle cards if you want that benefit. Additionally, you only win if you have 8 (or 10) VPs at the start of your turn and no one else has more than you. If it isn’t the case, you play out a full round where everyone can engage in one final round of battles and aggression. I personally don’t have a preference; either way is good.

The final module is the titular Path to Ta-Seti. This module adds 3 Priests to each player’s pool of units and a 4-panel sideboard. Every time you take a move action you can choose to move a Priest along the path to Ta-Seti. At the end of this path is a rare and useful Permanent Victory point. Along the way, however, are a series of devil’s bargains. If you’re the first to  space you can take the benefit in that space in exchange for abandoning your march to Ta-Seti, likely ceding that VP to someone else.

These benefits, however, are great. Objects provide one time boons that can be cashed in to power-up actions. The best element however, are Priest skills. When you take a Skill your Priest replaces one of your units on the board and grants the benefits of all the skills you’ve collect to any troop with at least 1 Priest. These Skills provide effects similar to monsters so it’s a bit like turbo-charging your units. Because the Path represents another avenue to invest energy in, you can mitigate not investing in Monsters by managing your Priests.

Ta-Seti is the best kind of Expansion. Nothing is burdensome or requires learning too many new rules, but each one enriches the experience in a different way. Like a broth whose flavors concentrate when boiled down, the modules take a great game and make it deeper without making it more complicated. In fact, these elements are so good that most of have been picked up into the upcoming Kemet 2nd Edition. Yes…there is a 2nd Edition on the way; while normally I’d recommend waiting for it Kemet is so good its worth picking up now. The upcoming edition will have some graphical improvements and tweaks, but the 1.0 experience is good enough to seek out anyway.