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Kemet - Review

T Updated July 28, 2020
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Kemet - Review

Game Information

Game Name
2 - 5
There Will Be Games

At the start of the year the team made their predictions as to what we would see in the board game world over the course of 2020. Whilst much of what has occurred could not have been predicted by even the most pessimistic amongst us, one prediction that has come true is the continuation of reprints. Spartacus is coming back to us, Dune at the end of last year is getting more content, and now Kemet has had a very successful Kickstarter for a new edition. Kemet is a firm favourite of mine, and Iain Chantler's, that I have never cast my critical gaze upon. I thought it was time to rectify that.

In Medias Res

Kemet is part of a trilogy of games from publisher Matagot Editions and is designed by Jacques Bariot, Guillaume Montiage. The original version had art by Dimitri Bielak, Emile Denis, and Nicholas Fructus. This trilogy of games is Cyclades, Kemet, and Inis, all set in fantastical versions of real places. I’ve not played either of the other games but Kemet gets to my table on a regular basis because it starts right in the action.

A lot of game of the ‘armies on map’ type will start you far apart from your opponents. You’ll spend the first few turns building a strategy, not really interacting with the other players. As you edge towards the midgame then the guns come out and continue until a winner is declared. Kemet doesn’t care about these ideas. It doesn’t want you building up slowly and bursting forth. It wants you to start right up in each other's faces.

Kemet 01A 4 player game. We look far apart but the obelisk's on the board allow for fast travel

Although this map looks like you are far apart, you are not actually more than a skip and a hop from brutal conflict. You can teleport from your home base to any of the obelisks on the map, and that allows you to deploy fast. Very fast. You can stomp around and into the precious temples that will give you points to win the game, joining battle as soon as you enter a space with another player’s troops. Fights come quickly, often in the first turn. Kemet wants you to get bloody.

The game ends quickly as well, with a normal length game ending when one player has 8VP at the end of the day phase. Victory points come from all sorts of places; upgrades, holding temples, and fighting. Temple points are only given as long as you hold them, meaning they can, and frequently will be, wrestled from your grasp. Points from fighting however are permanent, and only the aggressor can get them if they win. Kemet needs you to be aggressive.

Kemet 02

Kemet 03Don't you want to ride a sweet scorpion into battle or take charge of an ancient, powerful Mummy?

This is not a game for people who want to slowly build up their tech tree and then start pushing their armies out into the map. This is a game for quick, brutal decisions that will garner you the most points. That is not to say that Kemet comes without any tech tree, it does. 3 pyramids are your routes to an array of powers; red for aggression, blue for defence, and white for prayer points (the resource that lets you do everything in the game). Unlike other games in its oeuvre, you don’t have to start at level 1 powers and slowly creep your way up. You can start higher, easily climb higher still in the first turn and catapult yourself into buying devastating powers right from the off. That most of the powers are not duplicated adds a frisson of a race element to the game as you curse your opponents for leaping ahead and grabbing that one power you want. Kemet wants you to feel powerful.

Blood, Sand, Action!

The action economy is tight and really drives the aggressive focus of the game. 5 actions every turn and a pyramid of choices are all you get to control your forces. It looks simple enough but you must end with at least one action taken on each level.

Kemet 04No I don't know why this particular god is showing of midriff either.

Legs are movement, the person with lance is recruitment, the pyramid levels up your ability to buy higher upgrades, the coloured pyramids allow you to buy those upgrades, and the ankhs get you more prayer points. Simple right? It hides its subtle encouragement well. That top row for instance is either move or recruit and you must do at least one of those every turn. Both those actions by their very nature are aggressive, they push the game forward to its conclusion. Move into a space occupied by someone else and it’s time to fight.

Combat is at once incredibly straightforward and absolutely nail biting. Each player starts with 6 cards to use in combat, and every time you fight one of these cards will be assigned to the battle, and the other will be discarded. The battle itself involves a simple comparison of strength: the aggressor's number of troops vs the defender’s. This strength can be increased by the chosen battle card and the occasional addition of other sources, giving us a total. The highest wins, but only the aggressor can get a victory point, being pushed back if they lose.

Where are the blood and guts though? Well it doesn’t quite end with a simple win or loss. Each battle card will do two of three things; bolster strength, cause casualties, or defend against casualties. Did I mention every player starts with the exact same 6 cards. Battles become a mind game, as each side weighs up whether they can win or lose and how much that victory is going to cost them. If they are left with a tiny force, then maybe someone else comes in and stops on them. Maybe they want to get some casualties, quickly respawning the troops at their homebase once more ready to zoom out onto the field of battle. Maybe you should stand your ground and plan for the inevitable losses. Two battle cards are lost each time you fight and you only get to bring lost cards back into your hand once you’ve lost them all. Fight says Kemet. Fight, fight, and fight some more. One more fight and you’ll have the upper hand as you get all your cards back. Fight for me.

Kemet is not entirely without flaws, and over the years new editions of the rules have come out to smooth edge cases, make the game flow better, and deal with balance problems. The forthcoming reprint will take care of these problems, coming with a completely revised rules set. I hope it will also take care of some of the questionable production choices like a tile called ‘slaves’ being under the ‘white power’ tiles. Yeah. Not a great look.

Long Live Kemet

Kemet is the sort of game I think designers should play. It takes the core of ‘armies on maps’ games, ramps up the pace and gives you hard but understandable choices every turn. It wants you to be aggressive and fast, and every design decision is tuned towards making that happen, to encouraging you to engage and fight. This is not a game for those who don’t want those things, but I personally love it for that. I can get this game played in under 2 hours with 5 people and that is fantastic. I hope you will give it a shot sometime, and realise why it has survived in my collection for so long.

Editor reviews

1 reviews

Top 50 Reviewer 36 reviews
Iain McAllister  (He/Him)
Associate Writer and Podcaster

Iain McAllister lives in Dalkeith, Scotland with his wife Cath and their two dogs, Maddie and Gypsy. He has been a keen member of the local gaming scene for many years setting up and participating in many of the clubs that are part of Edinburgh's vibrant gaming scene.

You can find more of his work on The Giant Brain which publishes a wide range of articles about the hobby including reviews, previews, convention reports and critique. The Giant Brain is also the home of the Brainwaves podcast, a fortnightly podcast covering industry news that Iain hosts with his friend Jamie Adams.

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Articles & Podcasts by Iain McAllister


Iain McAllister
Associate Writer and Podcaster

Articles & Podcasts by Iain



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hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #312538 28 Jul 2020 13:13
I have always wanted to play this one. Yet I never wound up with it in my collection. I passed on the KS because now I have Lords of Hellas and I don't have room for both.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #312550 28 Jul 2020 15:16
I haven't played Kemet in ages. I really liked it though. I have been wanting to try it with the new rules.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #312556 28 Jul 2020 16:52
As a relatively old hand at this game (and hoping that Wade will show up to this thread), the new rules smoothed out a lot of the rough patches and largely made it so that people like me didn't run over newer players. You can still pull off some cool combos. They just don't seem as onerous.

I did not get into the KS, though, largely because I already own everything for the edition I have now and, in all honesty, it's not that old and still works perfectly fine, as it were. If there were obvious strategies that made every game seem the same or obvious flaws that could really use some correction, that's one thing. But when I have a complete collection and you're telling me that you want to produce a whole new version just for artistic upgrades and cooler minis? Ehhhh...

I mean, I don't have money for Kickstarters right now, anyway, but I especially don't have it for changes to an already great game that are mostly cosmetic. The announcement of this one really put me off KS (I was not a huge fan to begin with) and some of the current trends in the industry.

Didn't mean to tangent the discussion right at the outset, GB. Apologies. Wade and I discussed the rules tweaks here a while back and, like you, I will now never be able to look at some of the tiles and not think about "white power." Ye gods...
thegiantbrain's Avatar
thegiantbrain replied the topic: #312566 29 Jul 2020 03:01

hotseatgames wrote: I have always wanted to play this one. Yet I never wound up with it in my collection. I passed on the KS because now I have Lords of Hellas and I don't have room for both.

I have played Lords of Hellas, only once mind, and I have to say they couldn't be more different. Lords of Hellas definitely trends towards the more traditional armies on maps setup where you spend the first part of the game building up whereas Kemet is in your face right from the start. I found Lords of Hellas very fiddly, but it certainly has a lot of fans.

No worries about a little derailment Jackwraith, I totally understand your point. I almost went in on the Kickstarter but I think I'll just wait for the new edition to come out and get it then. I think the new edition will be a great entry point into the game for new players and hopefully see people pick up this excellent game. I am still to try Inis or Cyclades.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #312569 29 Jul 2020 09:06
On that note, here's the piece that Wade and I did on all three of the Matagot trinity:

And here's the one we did on the rules update:
WadeMonnig's Avatar
WadeMonnig replied the topic: #312578 29 Jul 2020 16:47
I think I've played twice with the updated rule set. And probably a half dozen times since they were announced with the old rules due to not wanting to turn a chance of playing Kemet into a "teaching" game. BOTH ways are still perfectly fine I have not looked at the Seth updated rules but i need to do that.
WadeMonnig's Avatar
WadeMonnig replied the topic: #312579 29 Jul 2020 17:08