Kemet: Ta-Seti Expansion Review
on Jan 28, 2016
One of the things I love so much about Kemet is its beautiful simplicity. The mechanics are clean and straightforward enough to provide a strong foundation, but the real meat of the game comes in playing the people around the table. Accordingly, I was initially apprehensive about a large expansion that adds five modules including a 4 panel long sideboard. My fears were fortunately unfounded; Ta-Seti is an excellent expansion that adds more of what makes Kemet so great without bogging it down. It feels richer without feeling bloated.
Most of these modules slip right into the game as if they’d always been there. The dark powers of the Black Pyramid offer powerful new creatures, including a Hippopotamus made of armor and nightmares, or flexibility in the form of mercenary units or more actions. In addition to the normal costs of upgrading your pyramid and buying powers, access to the Black Pyramid comes at the expense of one of the other colors. You are still only limited to three pyramids which means you have to choose: Give up access to the defensive abilities of the Blue Pyramid? Forsake the Scorpion or Phoenix of the Red Powers? It isn’t a choice to make lightly. Of course, it’s still Kemet so you can always charge into your opponent’s city and use their pyramids if you want.
The new Divine Intervention and Battle Cards also sneak their way into the game without an obvious impact. Indeed, there is no reason to play without them once you’ve shuffled them in. Their innocuous nature does not mean that they are weak, however. One of the new battle cards gives you the highest army strength of any card but comes at the cost of sacrificing two of your own units. As this leaves you weak to retaliation, it isn’t always the best choice. In fact, the threat of that card can be enough to force your opponents to overcommit to a distraction while you plot for future battles. And while the Divine Intervention cards add new surprises, the most fun are the ones that give you a strong benefit only if you win the battle. Again, the decisions are not made lightly but they feel natural and are the kinds of tough decisions Kemet has always forced you to make.
This pattern is continued on the path to Ta-Seti. The board features numerous paths that all end in a city space bearing a permanent victory point. Every time you take a move action, you can choose to march your priest towards Ta-Seti. Along the way your priests will collect temporary bonuses and can stop in various locations and take objects, one time use tokens that provide a number of different bonuses, or powerful skills. When you take a skill, the priest that collected it can immediately replace a unit in an existing troop and provide that troop with the benefits of all the skills you’ve collected. With three priests at your disposal, it’s possible to create supercharged troops with powers that rival the monsters you have to pay to buy. If you take an object or a skill it also means starting over on the path and potentially ceding that victory point to your opponent.
The greatest thing this board does, however, is to encourage early movement. The board is not refreshed until the night phase so if you delay your movement, a common tactic in base Kemet, you may miss out. Since Kemet is at its best when players are teleporting across the map and stealing victory points away from each other, encouraging early movement heightens the tension and deepens the strategy. No more waiting until the end to fight. By the time you are done stalling, your target may have powered up their troops. Better to grab that ability yourself on your way to battle.
While the path may be the Great Pyramid of this expansion, the real stars are the new Victory Conditions and the Dawn Phase. These two modules are inexorably linked and are what propel this expansion into a must-own for fans of Kemet. One of my few complaints about Kemet is how the game can often end on a sour note when the player acting last snags a few points and wins immediately, without any chance for retaliation. While this can be addressed in your strategy, it is frustrating and sits at odds with Kemet’s aggressive nature. In Ta-Seti, players now check their victory points at the beginning of their activation, and only win if no one else has more points at that time. This means you have to hold on to your advantage for at least 1 round with a giant target on your back. If you can’t, you only have until the end of the round or until someone else succeeds where you failed to claw your way back to the top.
Trying to plot out a round to achieve victory would be a lot easier if you knew when in the round you were going to act. The traditional way of giving this boon to the player in last place is excellent, but the Dawn Phase works so well with the new victory timing that I’m willing to replace it. By forcing players to burn high powered battle cards to choose when they act, Ta-Seti adds another wrinkle or layer to the rich decisions Kemet serves up to you. It also helps to cycle through your battle cards which is important when the expansion throws 2 more into your hand.
No matter how good the milk chocolate might be, I’d much rather eat a delicious piece of rich, bitter, dark chocolate. That’s what Ta-Seti is. Matagot has managed to enrich and deepen something that was already a fantastic experience without overcomplicating it or sticking it full of extraneous stuff. While I wouldn’t recommend Ta-Seti as an immediate purchase, if you’re a fan of Kemet then this expansion is a must play.