11 Nov 2013

First Time Playing: Kemet

In our gaming group we generally try to decide by majority on what games we want to play, but we also try to make sure there is at least one player in the mix that knows the game and is able to teach it to the rest of the group. Sometimes that can lead to a logistical problem, like when two games hold the majority of votes, and only one member knows both. That happened this week, but since I was in the mood to try out a new game, and the other players were more keen on Kemet than the one I initially voted for, I just went with the flow. And one of the first thoughts that came to mind as the box was opened and I got a good look at the pieces was that this game looked absolutely gorgeous.

In the game we take control over soldiers in a given colour, and we choose a city to start in. Each city has three spaces where we may choose to divide our soldiers into either two or three separate units (consisting of no more than five soldiers each). When you use the move action, you move the unit as a whole. We are also given three pyramid tokens (one white, one red, and one blue) that we then place in separate city chambers.

Gameplay is divided into two phases. In the day phase, players take turns putting down action markers on their individual boards, represented with a pyramid of symbols separated into three different tiers. Players have to take actions belonging to each of the three different tiers in each game round. Actions could be anything from moving a unit of soldiers on the game map, recruiting new soldiers to their troops, upgrading one of their pyramid tokens level (paying the required amount of prayer points), gaining prayer points or purchasing a pyramid action.

When a player purchases a pyramid action, they may examine the available tiles for the pyramid in question and choose one that has the same level or lower as the player's own pyramid token in said colour. All tiles hold some kind of advantage in the game, and most of the tiles are one of a kind - meaning it's first come, first served. The white tiles generally give players discounts, added earnings and so forth. The blue tiles mostly give defensive advantages. The red tiles mostly give offensive advantages.

Whenever a player moves their troop onto a space occupied by another player, they will engage in battle. Players will tally up the number of soldiers in their troop, then add advantages given by pyramid tiles they have purchased. Then players go through their battle cards - chooses one they want to play and place it face down in front of them (along with any divine intervention cards they may want to add - hidden underneath the battle card) - then chooses another battle card to discard. Players may not take back any battle cards until they have participated in three battles. Whichever  player has the greater total attack value wins the battle and gains a victory point (this can happen even if the player's soldiers are all killed in battle). The losing player may choose between moving their troop into an adjacent empty space, or sacrifice their remaining soldiers for prayer points.

In the night phase of the game, players gain prayer points from the temples they have occupied during the day phase as well as intervention cards, which mainly help players during battle, but some cards may also help with other board actions, like making them able to enter another player's city without pausing at the gate. If a player has any night phase tiles, they get to play those actions during this phase (in the game I played, I had purchased a tile that allowed me to increase the level of one of my pyramids for free every night). Before the phase is over, the player with the least amount of victory points gets to decide the order which players may take their turns.

The objective of the game is to get a certain number of victory points, which may be earned through battle, through occupying temples, through upgrading your pyramid tokens to the highest level, through purchasing certain pyramid tiles. If a player has reached this number of victory point by the end of the day phase of any round, they have won the game (meaning the other players have the chance to win a victory point from the player before they can declare themselves the winner).

So, how newcomer friendly is the game? It's not exactly the first game I'd recommend, and when you do play it, I really urge you to learn it through a practice round where players just discuss their play option out loud with one another. There are a lot of different cards and tiles to keep track off, and you often find yourself having to clarify the degree a card or tile can affect the outcome. And it can be a bit confusing how you may move your troops around the board (in the game I played, the simple misunderstanding I had regarding my own movement options lead to me missing the opportunity to steal a victory point from a player that would otherwise be winning the game).

Having a practice round should iron out most of the kinks new players may experience, but still I would recommend having some other strategy type games under your belt before playing this one.

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