The gods endlessly toy with us mortals. They bless or curse at their whims. They control our destinies and lives. They divulge only those secrets of nature that are just on the horizon – maybe for our own good, but more likely for their own amusement. Upon the chessboard of the Upper Nile, these fickle deities play us like pawns for rule of ancient Egypt. We might denounce them for such flippant abuse. But as we are ever childishly wont to be, they peak our devotion anew by revealing new knowledge previously unknown. And so we play their game again with the fleeting enticement of wisdom and purpose set before us on a new path. But is such revelation for us? Or is it another string for our immortal puppet masters?
How to Play
Ta-Seti is an expansion to the uniquely grand Kemet. It focuses on discovering an even older city-state found beyond the border of mythological Egypt. It does not alter the core elements of Kemet. For a refresher – or understanding – of that title, you can check out our review here.
Kemet: Ta-Seti includes five modules which you can toss into the base game in any combination. Though the term module sounds a bit grander than what a few of them actually are. And all but one are very straight-forward.
The two simplest additions are more cards and a new victory option. The expansion adds two new battle cards for each player so that you may select from eight cards in a fight. Given that you must play and discard one each battle, normally you’d cycle through your little combat deck in four battles. However, a third module includes the new Dawn phase. Here, players now bid for turn order by playing (and simultaneously discarding) a battle card – meaning you’ll cycle through those more frequently. Only the strength values apply in the Dawn phase and players can boost their cards with Dawn tokens earned – or more appropriately ignominiously collected – after losing a battle. In decreasing bid strength, players choose where they fall in turn order.
The new victory condition is included to address one of the larger concerns players had with the base game: the greater ease with which the last player had in engineering a win. Now a player can claim immortal laurels during what would be the last round. If, before placing one of her action tokens, she has at least eight points and no one else has more than her, she wins immediately. No longer does one have to sweat out the whole round (or whatever gods do when they’re nervous) to see if another player passes them with such last-turn advantage.
The first module with some significant meat is the black pyramid and its associated power tiles. Players are still only allowed three pyramids in their home city. They now must choose between blue, white, red and black. These tiles include three new fantastic creatures and six mercenaries between two different tiles. With a few exceptions the new powers and abilities are largely associated with the recruitment and movement actions – either enhancing your own or impeding an opponent’s.
Finally there is the Path to Ta-Seti, the expansion’s namesake and the module that introduces the greatest additions. Ta-Seti consists of four double-sided boards with a few paths leading to the mysterious and ancient city. Each player receives three priests that can travel these paths, interchangeably and in no particular order. Whenever selecting a move/attack action, you may advance a priest one destination along these paths. Each destination has either a special object or skill. You can take the token for its benefits and remove the priest from the Ta-Seti paths. Or you may decide to keep your priest moving in order to acquire something better or obtaining a permanent victory point by reaching Ta-Seti itself.
Objects provide a one-time benefit to boost a future action or give a nifty rules-breaking ability. When you take one, the priest is removed and starts again at the beginning of the Ta-Seti paths. There are two levels of objects, the more powerful ones just a journey beyond the first set. They are discarded once used. When acquiring a skill, which are still further beyond the objects, your priest replaces a unit on the board. That warrior-priest acts just like them in every way – except applying their skill’s benefits to all troops accompanying it. They essentially act like creatures. If you acquire more than one skill, each one cumulatively applies to all priests on the board.
Adding a Nose to Spite the Face?
Expansions by definition add-on to existing works without changing any foundations. In board games they typically toss in more components, introduce a minor new mechanism or offer greater variety. All new stuff to tack on the original. Matagot’s expansion to Kemet certainly does all that. Yet it’s also ironic that it harkens backwards, in a sense, to the Nubian kingdom before the rise of even imperial Egypt on which the first title is based. In Ta-Seti, you can now explore new powers and unlock the mysteries of an even more ancient civilization to help you control the majestic Nile Valley. Although since you’re playing immortals, shouldn’t you have known about this place all along?
You might also know that expansions always seem to teeter on the top of the pyramid in a delicate balance between necessity and superfluous. Okay, so necessity probably isn’t apropos. This is just a hobby after all. Perhaps “worth the cost and effort” is more apt? Die-hard fans will nab a favorite title’s expansion, often sight unseen. Those who believe the base game broken will likely pass without any further research. If your opinion falls somewhere in between with Kemet, perhaps you’re wondering if Ta-Seti is indeed worth the economic and mental investment? At the risk of speaking over its fans and detractors, the modules here honestly offer a mixed box for those in the center.
The black pyramid module is a prime example of providing more variety, but effectively doing little else that’s different. This is an element not uncommon to board game expansions. It does force upon players one interesting decision point. Which three pyramids you decide to develop will inform your strategy. Yet, they’re not fundamentally different. Some allow for extra actions, prayer points and combat modifiers. They’re all nice, but acquired in various manner through the base game’s power tiles. There are a couple new options that mess with your opponent when moving in on your territory. One lets you recruit troops into any space you occupy. And one gives you the extraordinary ability to transport from other obelisks. Yet they’re mostly more of the same. Nice to have, nonetheless. Should it have been included in the base game? Likely.
The new divine intervention cards one can wholly do without. The three best (of six types) come with conditions – as in if you win a battle you may take three free reinforcements, or four prayer points, or suffer no damage. Very nice, yes. Alas, there are only two of each. The new battle cards are necessary, not for variety’s sake, but indeed because of the new dawn phase. One of these simply has new values, while the second is more interesting. It adds 5 to your troop strength, but you must eliminate two of your units for the privilege.
The dawn phase is the most interesting addition – and necessitated the additional battle cards so as not to cycle through your combat deck so quickly, and having to flit away good cards in those rounds you don’t care about position. By completely upending rounds and giving all players the opportunity to influence turn order, it packs a large wallop for such a little inclusion. Previously, determining order fell to “he with the fewest points.” It smacked of a catch-up element, but one that was not always effective and mostly frustrated other players at the whim of another. There are certainly times when you’d like to go earlier (say to grab a juicy power tile before it’s gone) or later (say to take advantage of an opponent’s move) and so the auction injects excitement and tension as each player jockeys for position. At the same time, it’s not long and convoluted. Players bid, reveal, resolve and continue on with their conquests.
While it’s true that turn order can prove important, some believed it was too influential, especially in the late game during the penultimate or final rounds. Savvy players might gain advantage or outright victory through manipulating their last turn status – generally for the simple fact they get the last reaction to moves and engineer a particular ending. I’m not of the same opinion. First off, you must have the fewest points in order to place yourself in position to take advantage of going last. Second, the game is too open and fluid. With its alternating actions, players can respond to various moves betrayed by the “I-go, then Everyone-Else-Goes” format. You’re simply not able to implement grand sweeping strategies in one stroke, but must execute plans one bit at a time as everything partly unfolds before all.
Still, there is the new victory module. And while I don’t think it’s necessary, it does toss in a new wrinkle. When someone does hit the point threshold it accelerates the angst and immediately throws the endgame into do or die mode. That first individual has the advantage since the victory condition is that no one else has more points. That means all other players have exactly one action each to try and unseat the first one – a difficult task. Ironically then, this module gives advantage to the first player now, instead of the last.
The Path to Ta-Seti is by far the most expansive of the five modules, in both size and depth. Not the least of its importance revolves around the permanent victory points beckoning at road’s end. Kemet is all about victory points, but this one requires more progress than the others – a steady progress, but patience and perseverance nonetheless. It takes four moves to reach Ta-Seti and grab a token. The beauty is that there are other shiny baubles to tempt you along the way. That’s because they’re not just shiny, but effective bonuses you can employ in other plans. The trick is deciding when/if to forfeit a victory point in favor of another game modifier. There are also some advantages gained simply by traversing over certain icons on the path. In such a streamlined design these new decisions may not be a lot, but seem to really open up new avenues.
The Tier 1 objects won’t easily impress, but will serve in a pinch. They’re basic bonuses like drawing a divine intervention card or applying a combat modifier. The Tier 2 objects prove more worthwhile, especially the one that can temporarily deny an opponent the use of a power tile and the one which negates combat modifiers from divine intervention and power tiles. Skills, on the other hand, can prove extremely powerful and rank your priests right up there with the game’s fantastic creatures.
Then again, the most brilliant part of implementing the Ta-Seti module is in resolving it through one of the design’s existing actions. It feels like part of the design and intuitively integrated within the old mechanism, and taking all of an additional 20 seconds to complete.
I’ve always been up front with my conflictions regarding board game expansions. They can add new life to an old favorite and boost its replay value with more variety. Yet I struggle with justifying the added expense if it’s simply more of the same. Especially if the added content should have been in the base game or, worse, if it’s meant to fix some problem. Ironically the five interchangeable modules in Kemet: Ta-Seti – a common practice now with board game expansions – fits all of those characteristics. The dawn phase is a small tweak with a big impact. The Ta-Seti board brings a new dynamic element to the game without chipping away its core foundation. Yet the black tiles really should have been in the base game and the new win condition seems specifically addressed just to detractors of the perceived turn order issue.
I imagine production costs limited the number of components that could realistically be included in the base game. Unlike the Pharaohs you can’t bury everything with you in the box. And given the investment many gamers sink into collectible games and miniatures, the price point for Ta-Seti is certainly not unreasonable or prohibitive. If Kemet floods your table often, or used to, then the new elements and variety presented here should prove fertile ground.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Asmodee North America for providing a review copy of Kemet: Ta-Seti.