Friday, March 20, 2020

ANKH: Gods Of Egypt

Ever since it was announced last GenCon, fans have been eagerly awaiting the next installment in the legendary saga that began with Blood Rage and continued with Rising Sun. The same creative team, including game design by Eric Lang, art by Adrian Smith, and sculpts by Mike McVey, are proud to bring you ANKH: Gods of Egypt, coming soon to Kickstarter! The gods that rule over Egypt can no longer share the devotion of the people. One by one, the gods must fall into oblivion, until only one will remain. Spread your forces across the land, build monuments to establish your dominion, reshape the land to your advantage, gain followers to increase your powers and get the support of powerful guardians. As the sands soak the blood in conflicts decided by both strength and cunning, each god will use their unique power to climb to the top of the devotion ladder. Will you be the one to achieve life eternal?

The storyline of the game, the reason for such conflict – beyond sibling rivalry – is the transition undertaken in ancient Egypt from polytheism to monotheism.

“The people are losing faith in the gods,” says Lang, “One by one the gods are actually dropping off as they lose the devotion of their followers. And you want to be the last god standing. I should say one or more because in this game, unlike any other mythology, two gods can actually merge together during the course of the game become one god – like Amun-Ra or Bastet.”

This mechanic is one where an event in the game forces the player lagging behind the other gods in devotion to join with another god. This melding of the gods fits with the way that the Egyptians, over time, joined together gods like Amun and Ra to form Amun-Ra as a kind of father-of-all life god amongst the gods. Interestingly this nods towards the mutability of the beings we control in Ankh: Gods of Egypt – while they are all powerful, they are at the whims of man, collectively.

“Gods are rated in devotion, which is the stat that allows you to stay in the game. It’s sort of analogous to victory points except it’s not really a VP track. Your status goes up and down as you gain or lose devotion,” says Lang, “It’s the only ‘track’ in the game. You start in the bottom third, and you are trying to gain the devotion of followers by conquering regions or worshiping at monuments or erecting cool things for them.”

“And you lose monuments by losing battles or by causing plagues and all that bad stuff. So, it has upward and downward mobility. As the game goes on, near the end of the game, players that are stuck in too low devotion will actually be eliminated, although, not for very long.”

Gameplay wise this newly joined god still plays as two separate entities. They take separate turns, take their own actions and command their own warriors on the board. The conjoined god is judged on the devotion of the least worshiped of the two players.

“So even though they get double the actions and double the power, they actually have to take care of the worst performing one of the two,” explains Lang. This acts as a kind of swing moment, rebalancing in the game. The additional actions, and the focus of having two players working together suggests these events aren’t defeats, just marks for getting revenge. “It’s a dynamic that I really liked. I haven’t seen it before in a game like this. I wanted to make a game that earned its own place on the shelf.”

Out of the box players will be able to become the powerful gods of ancient Egypt in the forms of Anubis, Osiris, Isis, Ra and Amun. The game promises to be highly asymmetrical, with each god feeling distinctly different from the others on the board. We asked Lang for a couple of ways which these gods interact with the board and one another.

“Amun is the keeper of the underworld,” explains Lang, “Normally, just like in Blood Rage and Rising Sun, if any of your figures die for any reason, they just go back to your pool and you can re-summon them again. In the case of Amun, when he’s in play, if any figures die, he can actually take that figure and take them into the underworld. And he gains strength for every figure that’s in the underworld. If anybody wants to take their figure back from him, they have to give Amun a follower, which is the main ‘currency’ of the game.”

As much of the game is about courting followers and devotion, it’s also about tripping up your fellow gods. It is easy to see how these interactions work against other players. Some powers are a vicious tax like those granted by Amun, whereas others are more insidious – less obviously evil until an action is taken.

“Isis is a protector. Her pieces are able to share spaces with other warriors unlike anybody else. If any of her figures are killed, instead, those sharing the space with their figures are killed. She’s really good at protecting her own people and making other people their shields.”

This kind of cut-throat play style will go down well with those looking for high intensity action on the board. Everything you do in Ankh: Gods of Egypt has a very real feeling heft to it. But the powers of the gods don’t just end with their effects on the warriors and followers around them. The very earth can be changed in huge and sweeping ways. The board itself, originally set out with three regions separated by the Nile (Upper Egypt, Lower Egypt and the Delta) can be altered dramatically. The board state can be quickly reformed by any individual player with a single action – including dividing regions up, so while on your turn a monument was in your region, that can quickly be flipped on its head by another player.

“As you progress down the timeline of events players get to place these camels on the game to form caravans, which split regions into two. This creates a new region on the board and players are incentivized to do that to their advantage,” says Lang. With this we can see something of the central ‘desperate but powerful’ theme coming through. While you as a god are claiming the devotion of others, the areas you can make those claims from are splitting. As the gods meld together, the world fractures. This leads to even more emergent narrative, as well as variety between games.

“So the map is going to look different every time you play the game because it gets divided in different ways based on the needs of a player at any given time,” says Lang “every time you play it’s just going to look like you’ve, you’ve redrawn the map in different ways.”

These huge power plays are part of the core flow of the game. A series of actions are taken by the players until one of the thresholds has been hit. This triggers the timeline to move on another notch, moving event to event. This tells you what happens in the game, whether that’s building pyramids, dividing regions, triggering conflict for monuments, and so on.

“And when an event hits, whichever player triggered the event is going to control how to split that region. So ultimately there’s a lot of timing in the game,” says Lang. Players are always building towards the next event, the next threshold being reached. While there is a conflict for a monument coming up, there may be also a regional shift coming up after, meaning players will want to work the board to their long-term strategic advantage.

“In reality, of course, you cannot possibly win everything,” says Lang, “so you literally have to pick your battles.”

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Kemet Board Game Review

Part of acclimatising to the board game culture is experiencing some of 'those' moments. You probably know what I am talking about, buying enough plastic baggies to bring you to the attention of the local police, trying to sneak cardboard boxes of various sizes into your house without your significant other noticing (I'll take the recycling out again this week love!), and so on.

Kemet represents two of those moments for me. The acquiring of a long sought after game and the discovery that said game has been used as a football by your lovely local delivery person. After suitable compensation, Kemet now proudly sits at the top of my favourite games list - bearing scars worthy of the battles it seeks to emulate.

Kemet take my eyes off of you...

Kemet is part of the loose 'Matagot trilogy' including the well respected Cyclades and 2016's darling Inis. Set in mythical Egypt, Kemet tasks you with earning victory points through aggressive expansion and control of various points on the large double-sided playing board.

Two to five players will duke it out with small plastic miniatures that are individually sculpted for each army. To bolster your troops there are a number of mythical creatures, from the giant scorpion that almost guarantees victory in an otherwise even fight, to the wily serpent that neutralises the powers of opposing creatures.

To gain possession of a creature or anyone of a number of other useful abilities players must buy power tiles. These come in three colours which can be broadly categorised in terms of their effects; Red power tiles are generally attack minded, blue defensive, and white currency generating.

Along with their army players will take one large three sided dice of each of those colours representing pyramids in their home city, over the course of the game they will upgrade these pyramids to allow them to purchase better power tiles. Rounding out the components are player boards and tokens to choose your actions each turn and record your prayer points (the currency in the game), battle cards for each player, and divine intervention cards, which are one time powers that each player gets each round.

Playing the Game

Despite these components, particularly the almost overwhelming number of power tiles, Kemet is a relatively simple affair. Player boards show a pyramid with an increasing amount of actions shown on each of the three levels. Players will choose one action each turn for five turns, and by the end of the round they must use at least one action from each of the levels, and are not allowed to use the same box twice. This is tracked by action tokens, and a further token tracks your prayer points across the top of the player board. Of course the power tiles and divine intervention cards mess with these basic actions, allowing you to permanently improve them or giving you a one off boost.

There are too many rules and mechanics to go into fully, so I'll just highlight some of the best. The first is the victory point (VP) conditions. To win the game you have to have eight VP at the end of a round. Seems low right? However VP are separated into types - permanent and temporary. Permanent victory points initially seem more desirable and are achieved through power tiles, controlling two temples at the end of the round, sacrificing troops at the Sanctuary of the Gods and, deliciously, winning a battle as the aggressor. This last point means that attacking is actively encouraged, as is avoiding making your troops look like easy pickings.

Temporary victory points however are earned by taking over one of a number of temples on the board. As soon as ownership is changed the VP changes hands, or goes back on the board. This is hugely powerful should you be able to time your aggressive play correctly. In one game I careful set myself up to take control of three temples towards the end of the round.

I moved in and secured all three obtaining the three temporary VP plus the permanent VP for the ensuing battles and owning at least two temples at the end of the round catapulting me to a surprise (to my foes at least) victory.

Although satisfying this is usually a rare occurrence!!!

The second thing is the battle system itself. Each player has six identical cards. Each battle they will choose two, one to discard and one to play face down. The card will have up to three stats - strength, damage and defence. The battle is won by the person with the most strength - number on battle card plus number of troops plus any relevant power tiles, if that person was the attacker they gain a permanent VP.

Damage and defence are resolved next, your damage is played off against the opponent's defence and they lose that many troops off the board - and vice versa. This means you can, and probably will, win the battle but lose your board presence. Is it worth it for that solitary victory point?

Battles are further nuanced by the use of divine intervention cards, which can be hidden under the battle card and add to any of your battle stats. A cheeky surprise for that smug giant scorpion welding clown who picked a fight with you! When all six battle cards have been played (after three battles for the mathematicians among you) you simply turn over your discard pile and start again. Therefore there is a level of information available to you. To start with you all have the same cards, so if you know that player A has already played her high attack cards, then you know they might be a good person to attack.

Lastly the board itself is a work of genius, set up so you are always an equal distance from everyone else. Choosing who to mess with is a true choice that takes into account a number of factors, not just the person who annoyed you most or who it is funny to wind up.

Final Thoughts

Kemet is a master piece, but as with all master pieces beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The Mona Lisa is a fantastic work of art but it is not to my personal taste! And while Kemet is a simple engine, there is a veneer that gives a complex impression.

In early games you will spend a lot of time handing the leaflet that explains all the power tiles and divine intervention cards around and waiting while someone chooses which one of these largely useful powers they want.

In these situations an experienced player can win quite quickly which may leave a bad taste with new players, as they barely had time to buy any powers let alone the top level ones.

Yet this variable game length is also somehow part of the draw of Kemet. The fact that you always feel near to victory, that you just need a couple of clever moves away from the VP you need, but then so is everyone else...

Kemet encourages you to take risks, to spread out towards those temples, but not in a way that offers easy VP, almost every game I have played has been really close, where a number of people could have won and this keeps the game in your mind as you wonder about what you could have done different, and look forward to the inevitable rematch.

While newcomers to the hobby may be overwhelmed by the options available, the essence of the game is approachable and rewarding. The rule book is well laid out and easy to read, and the included smaller power guide a welcome addition.

All in all Kemet is a great package, easy enough to get into, and deep enough to last. With one expansion already out and another on the way, there is plenty here to keep your interest and if you like aggressive but clever area control you might just have found another board game 'moment'.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Exodus: Gods and Kings - Vincent Jenkins Artwork

Vincent Jenkins

Egyptian Princes Moses (Christian Bale) and Ramses (Joel Edgerton) are raised together as brothers. When Ramses becomes pharaoh, Moses is his most-trusted adviser. However Moses soon discovers his Hebrew parentage, and Ramses banishes him to the desert -- often a death sentence. But God has a mission for Moses: Free the Israelites from slavery. Moses returns from exile and demands that Ramses let his people go, but the arrogant ruler is unmoved, leading to a battle of divine wills.


In 1300 BC, Moses, a general and accepted member of the Egyptian royal family, prepares to attack an encamped Hittite army with Prince Ramesses at Kadesh. A High Priestess divines a prophecy from animal intestines, which she relates to Ramesses's father, Seti I. She tells the two men of the prophecy, in which "a leader" (either Moses or Ramesses) will be "saved" and the savior "will someday lead". During the battle, Moses saves Ramesses's life, leaving both men troubled. Later, Moses is sent to the city of Pithom to meet with the Viceroy Hegep, who oversees the Hebrew slaves. Upon his arrival, he encounters the slave Joshua and saves him from a vicious lashing. Moses is appalled by the horrific conditions the slaves must toil in. Afterward, Moses meets Nun, who informs him of his true lineage; he is the child of Hebrew parents who was sent by his sister Miriam to be raised by Pharaoh's daughter. Moses is stunned at the revelation and leaves angrily. However, two Hebrews overhear Nun's story and report their discovery to Hegep.

Seti dies soon after, and Ramesses becomes the new Pharaoh (Ramesses II). Hegep reveals Moses's true lineage to Ramesses, but Ramesses is unconvinced. At the urging of Queen Tuya, he interrogates the servant Miriam, who denies being Moses's sister. When Ramesses threatens to cut off her arm, Moses says "yes", he is a Hebrew. Although Tuya wants Moses killed, Ramesses, still unwilling to believe the story, exiles him instead. Before leaving Egypt, Moses meets with his adopted mother and Miriam, who refer to him by his birth name of Moshe. Following a journey into the desert, Moses comes to Midian where he meets Zipporah and her father, Jethro. Moses becomes a shepherd, marries Zipporah, and has a son, Gershom.

Game: Warhammer II - Tomb Kings

Tomb Kings are a major race introduced in Total War: Warhammer II via a paid DLC. They are playable in campaign, multiplayer and custom battles. In campaign, players can choose between four playable subfactions, each led by a different legendary lord.

The Tomb Kings were previously a great human empire called Nehekhara (now known as the Land of the Dead), themed on ancient Egypt. However, the empire of Nehekhara was destroyed by the necromancer Nagash and his vampires, causing the mummified dead of Nehekhara to rise. The Tomb Kings now seek to reclaim their lost glory, and take vengeance on Nagash and the vampires. The armies of the Tomb Kings consist of ranks of skeleton soldiers and chariots, supported by towering animated statues of bone and stone.

A summary of Tomb Kings gameplay:

    Units: Tomb Kings focus on ranks of skeleton infantry and chariots, combined with powerful animated statues and constructs.

    Elite units: They also have Regiments of Renown and campaign-exclusive Legions of Legend.

    Realm of Souls: As Tomb Kings armies take damage in battle, a bar fills up mass-healing the army and allowing a Ushabti to be summoned.

    Day of Awakening: In campaign, Tomb Kings do not require money for unit recruitment or upkeep, instead having unit/army caps which are increased by buildings/technologies.

    Canopic Jars: A unique resource used for research and by the Mortuary Cult.

    Mortuary Cult: A cult of priests who use resources to craft magical items and elite Legions of Legend.

    Nine Books of Nagash: In the Eye of the Vortex campaign, Tomb Kings don't compete with rituals, but rather search for these books. Books can also be searched for in other campaigns.