Kemet Blood & Sand board game: A four-sided review

The Kemet Blood & Sand board game is an area majority battle game for 2-5 players, taking around 2-3 hours to play. The box says ages 14+, but young gamers closer to 10-years-old should be OK. There are a lot of choices to make, but within a relatively tight rules system.

The original Kemet was released in 2012. This 2021 edition is largely an upgrade (new art, map, rulebook etc), rather than introducing large gameplay changes.

The theme evokes a mythical squabble between Egyptian gods, as soldiers go to war alongside mythical monsters in a (pre)biblical battle for dominance. In reality, there’s no depth to the theme in terms of gameplay. But the components and frankly, the fun of the fair, do enough to carry it off.

Looking at comparison site Board Game Prices, you can find it for around £50-60 delivered from a number of retailers. While some may see this as expensive, this is a large box packed full of high-quality components. You’ll find nine boards (one main board plus eight others), 76 plastic miniatures (plus 65 other plastic pieces), 64 cardboard tiles (plus 125 cardboard tokens), 90 cards, plus five player aids – which are actually fully blown eight-page A5 stapled booklets. Not to mention five plastic trays to keep all the components in. In short, you’re not getting burgled here…

Teaching the Kemet Blood & Sand board game 

The general rules are simple for anyone with a basic understanding of modern board games. Each player has five action tokens which they take it in turns to use (one token each following a turn order set each turn). The basic actions are gaining prayer points (currency); summoning units (soldiers); moving units, and building pyramids.

The pyramids come in four colours, three of which you’ll use in each game. Each player starts with a few levels in the pyramids of their choice, with each being able to be raised to level four. Each level four pyramid gives you a victory point. But more importantly, allows you to gain power tiles to their current level in that colour (the other action type).

Each set of coloured power tiles gives an array of benefits to those taking them. This varies from powerful creatures you can add to your units, through to bonus or enhanced actions. This version of Kemet comes with a handy booklet for every player, covering what every power tile does. This is incredibly useful, allowing you to take a good look at your options between turns.

Let battle commence…

This might sound like a euro game so far. But once the action starts, it is very much a ‘dudes on a map’ combat game. Sure, you can get victory points from building pyramids and controlling temples. But you also get a point for every battle you win – and you only need nine points to win the game. And points gained for controlling temples and your level four pyramids are temporary, while you hold them. Points from winning battles are permanent.

Battles are simple. Each player has an identical deck of eight battle cards, showing numbers for attack strength, troops killed and defence (reducing the ‘troops killed’ number). Simply move to a region with an opponent’s troops to initiate battle. You each secretly choose a battle card, add troop numbers and other bonuses, then resolve the outcomes. You may win and get your precious victory point. But at what cost to your troops? It’s a fine balance.

After each full round of five turns, the player with the fewest victory points (and so on) decides which turn order position they want in the next round. This continues until, at the start of any of their turns, one player has an outright lead on nine (or more) victory points. At that point, the game ends immediately.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: I’m not generally a fan of battle/area control games. But, much like Blood Rage, the Kemet Blood & Sand board game combines euro mechanics with relentless combat which constantly drives the game forward. Combat is essential and control always fleeting, so it doesn’t feel like you’re being picked on. And it is always easy to get back into the action. Everyone has a limited number of troops, so battles tend to be tight. While there’s just the right amount of variety in powers to make the game different each time.
  • The thinker: It’s nice to play what amounts to a war game where chance is largely removed. And where there is some – the battle cards – it’s actually a positive. Each time you play one, you also discard one face down. So players get a feel for what you have as they know what you’ve played. But when you’re down to two cards, they’ve only seen you play three – so the mystery remains. Building a strong tableau of power tiles is also an interesting balancing act. And I constantly find myself surprised by new combinations. A fine game indeed.
  • The trasher: Excellent game. Plain and simple. The plastic minis are great! And let’s not forget the ‘Divine Intervention cards’, which add a bit of bluff and villainy. You get some each round and while some are used elsewhere, many help in battle. They’re small cards you can slip beneath your battle card before a fight – or placed deliberately as bluffs to draw out your opponent’s cards. And they can genuinely swing a battle, adding attack strength or damage.
  • The dabbler: I expect Kemet is a good game, if you like this sort of thing. And I do appreciate the detailed, stapled, eight-page A5 booklet is a nice touch of detail. But all I see is a ‘cards with words’ game in board-and-tile-and-mini-plastic-dolls form. Not for me, ta. Also, the theme is fine but only really pasted on. And while the minis are nice, the board artwork is really underwhelming.

Key observations

The fact Matagot felt the need to give every player a booklet of tile descriptions highlights why Kemet will be a ‘no-no’ for many. Deck-builders such as Dominion do a great job of taking the collectable card game idea and reducing it to bite-sized chunks. Kemet goes half that distance, severely limiting its audience by keeping 30+ choices. Of which each player may use five or six per game. However, I’d argue the richness of the reward is worth talking semi-sceptics into it. After you’ve played once, the amount left to learn drops considerably.

While I’ve talked up the euro-ness of the game’s core mechanisms, there’s a definite smash mouth feel to the way it plays out. There’s no room for negotiation or politics, which also means there’s little banter beyond calling each other out. The game play is skilfully crafted and rewards good engine building, but via a pretty barbaric experience. And those with a love of all things ameritrash may baulk at the relatively cold ‘play a card’ combat system.

Which brings us to kingmaking and leader-bashing – regular curses of the battle game genre. Can poor play lead to another player winning? Sure. But that’s the same in most games of any genre. It’s just perhaps more obvious here. As for kingmaking, I don’t see it as particular problem – in fact it is often a feature of play, not a bug. The key is to score a flurry of points to get over the line, if possible, so you can’t be stopped. Or cash in from just behind if someone scrapes over the line. Again, not for everyone – but I think it works well here.

Conclusion: Kemet Blood & Sand board game

Kemet is an excellent game. It hijacks some pretty standard euro mechanics, throws them in a room, then makes them fight to the death. As with many great combat games, the basic rules quickly get out of the way and leave players to create their armies and strategies. Much like a deck-builder, you develop and react as the game moves forward. Which creates a delicious game arc of shifting loyalties. An absolute keeper and an instant Top 50 of all-time contender. And a recommendation for any euro gamer who likes games with varied player abilities and asymmetry.

  • Thanks to Matagot (via Asmodee UK) for providing a copy for review.
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