Kemet is a multiplayer wargame set in a mythical ancient Egypt. Players are small nations vying for power. They build pyramids and discover new technologies to boost their abilities. They attack each other and capture temples for glory. The first player to reach 10 victory points wins.
VP's are gained by making successful attacks (successful defenses give no VP), by controlling two or more temples at the end of a round, by sacrificing units at the Sanctuary of All Gods, and by buying certain techs. The above are permanent VP's that you can't lose. You also gain temp VP's for each temple or control Level 4 pyramid (the max level) you control, but if you lose control of these, you also lose the corresponding VP. There are a handful of ways to score VP's, but being peaceful is not an option. You need to raise armies and send them out.
You get five actions per round, and your options are listed in three rows on your player board. Players take turns taking one action each, and whenever you take an action, you cover the appropriate icon on your player board with a marker, making it unavailable for the rest of the round. During a round you must use actions from all three rows. This is how the game imposes restrictions on your actions. Actions you can do include raising armies, marching (which will lead to battle if your army meets an enemy army), collecting money (I think the game calls it life points or something, but I just think of it as money), upgrading a pyramid, and very importantly, buying a tech tile. Tech tiles is the most important part of the game. There are 48 of them, 16 in each of the three colours. Red tiles are mostly offensive techs, blue defensive, and white economic. It is these tiles that give character to your nation and give you the needed edge over your opponents. You adjust your strategy through them, and try to make the most of them to help you win. E.g. one of the blue tiles gives you two extra soldiers when you build an army, one of the red tiles increases your army size limit from 5 to 7, one of the white tiles give you extra income at the start of every round.
The most eye-catching aspect of this game is surely the mythical creatures. You get them when you buy certain techs, and they accompany your armies and assist them in battle. Creatures never die. If the attached army is wiped out, the creature just goes home and waits to attach itself to the next new army.
The map, together with the tiles, are probably more important elements that define the game than the creatures. The creatures are afterall just a subset of tiles. The map in Kemet has few spaces. Everything is near everything else. Every space on the board is only a few steps away. This is because of the obelisks. You can teleport an army from a pyramid (your base consists of three spaces which allow building pyramids) to an obelisk by paying $2. This is a game that encourages offense, not just because only successful attacks give 1VP, but also because the map design makes every space easily accessible.
Battles are resolved via a simple card play. Strength is determined by army size, the single battle card played, and other special abilities from tiles and creatures. The loser, if he has any soldiers remaining, may choose to retreat to an adjacent space, or sacrifice all survivors and turn them into money. The latter is not uncommon, because leaving a weakened army on the board only invites further attacks. Successful attack = 1VP!
That fortress with three pyramids is a player's base. Troops are raised there. The pyramid colour and level determine what techs you can buy. The building on the right is one of the temples. This particular temple gives $5 at the end of a round, but you need to sacrifice a soldier to gain this benefit. One interesting thing about this temple is it is at a dead end. It has an obelisk (dark blue pillar with a golden tip), which means you can teleport troops in, but there are no bridges or crossings you can use to get off the delta it is on.
Han and I had scheduled a game session when he was in town recently. We played Sekigahara. We knew 2P is not an ideal number for Kemet, but we were curious so we went ahead anyway, just to see what it was like. We played the short game (8VP instead of 10VP).
The first thing I found was the techs are cheap. There really is no reason to not take advantage of them. The cheapest ones are only $1. The game is all about offense. Each successful attack is 1VP, which is a lot. Even it the standard game, that's 10% of the VP you need to win. The game is also a race to capture temples. The action selection mechanism restricts you somewhat - you can at most raise armies once and march twice in a round, but generally as long as you prioritise and plan ahead a little, you won't feel restricted much.
Han went the warmonger path, mainly going for the offensive techs, while I leaned towards economy. At one point I made more money than my treasury could hold (there is a limit of $11). What a waste! I should have made sure I did not have too much left over from the previous round. Our game was many cycles of back-and-forth attacks - he attacked me to score 1VP, then I attacked him with a new army to score 1VP, then he attacked me with yet another new army, and so on. I think things are less interesting when there is only one other player to whack. There is no balance of power or ganging up or temporary alliances to think about like in 3P (or more) games. Most of the time when I lose a battle, I let all the survivors die instead of getting them to retreat to an adjacent space. If I kept them around, they would just be low-hanging fruit for Han.
Han had more VP from attacks, and I had more VP's from controlling temples. The game was a race to score points. It might be because we were playing the shorter version, but I suspect even in the standard 10VP game, players would have to always keep in mind the goal. There is no time to waste. You need to keep up the pace and not fall behind. I like this sense of urgency and being on your toes.
In the end I was first to reach 8VP, but Han could almost have done it in the same round. Just before I claimed victory, we backtracked a little, because I thought he could have picked another action and beat me to 8VP. It turned out that he couldn't, because he had already used that particular action (buy a tile of a particular colour) earlier in the round. He actually also had an army in position to attack one of my armies, but he had used up his movement actions that round. I had thought the action mechanism in this game was not very restrictive, but surprisingly it turned out to be crucial in determining victory, at least in this game.
The elephant is one of the mythical creatures. Players only have one type of soldier. However every player has a different sculpture for his soldiers, which is a nice touch.
One 2P game is not the best way to experience Kemet. I think the game will be much more interesting with more players. This is a Euro-wargame. The core mechanisms, the pace, and the leanness are all Euro, but this game has direct, in-your-face aggression. It's Brazil football (soccer) team - it's all about offense. The game encourages you to attack, and treats your soldiers as nothing but cheap tools for gaining VP's. The tech tiles and the combos they make are the crux of the game. You must make good use of them. In a 2P game there is a lot to choose from, but I imagine in 5P games there will be a rush to buy them, and if you don't get what you want, you will need to adjust your strategy accordingly.