Sometime back in 2005 I came across a game called Deflexion. I can’t remember where I saw it, I can’t remember exactly when, but I do remember thinking “Wow, I really have to own this game!” Deflexion was all about lasers and mirrors – bouncing a beam of light around a chequers-style board using mirrored pieces, trying to plan the best pathway so as to hit your opponents king. I emailed its makers – Del Segura and Luke Hooper, together with their tutor Dr Michael Larson – to see whether it was available here in the UK, only to find that they were still looking for a distributor.
Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, and imagine my coquettish excitement at seeing the game – now called Khet – on UK site Firebox.com. A few emails later and I had a copy of the original Deflexion game in my freshly-washed hands. Deflexion, as my sample is branded, is now Khet on both sides of the Atlantic; I’ll point out any minor differences as necessary.
Egyptian themed, Khet uses a 10 x 8 square board measuring roughly 17.5-inches by 14.5-inches and made of moulded plastic. Each square has raised edges to hold pieces in place, and the retail version is decorated around the border with raised hieroglyphics. At diagonally opposing corners, each player has a class I red laser (class II in the US), pointing directly across the board and operated by a button on the border.
Play begins with each side having twelve pieces, one set in silver and the other in red (gold in my photos), made up of Pyramids, Djeds, Obelisks and a Pharaoh. The former are equipped with mirrors – one on each Pyramid and two on each Djed – while the latter have none. From one of two initial set-ups according to the instructions, play consists of each gamer either moving a piece one square in any direction or rotating a piece ninety-degrees, before pressing their laser button.
Obviously, the aim of the game is to construct a series of mirrors with which you can bounce either your laser or that of your opponent to their Pharaoh, at which point you win and are allowed to perform The Dance Of The King Surveying The Vanquished. Along the way, should you hit the non-mirrored side of a piece, it is removed from play.
That’s a pretty dry description, so let’s cut to the chase – Khet is fantastic. The laser is both an attention-grabbing gimmick and an essential part of play, while the pieces are tactile and pleasing. Unlike many games which boast broad age ranges (Khet is advertised as suitable for ages 9 upward) but in actual fact present too great a learning curve for most children and too little a challenge for adults, it relies more on your ability to strategise and think ahead than grasping obscure rules or testing general knowledge. The instructions themselves consist of three pages, one of which is taken up with the two initial layouts, and are clearly written and easily understood. Anyone who can grasp the concept of a laser bouncing at right-angles can play.
What I particularly appreciate about Khet is its longevity. At £34.95 from Firebox.com (or $44.95 direct in the US) you don’t want it to grow old before you’ve got your money’s worth! So far, expansion has been tackled in two ways: firstly, different initial set-ups are available online, both from the makers and from other players, while secondly a “booster pack” containing a new, laser-splitting piece has been created. This “Eye of Horus” reflects half the light at right-angles and lets the other half pass straight through; each booster pack comes with two, meaning up to three different lasers could be bouncing around the board. So far, the Eye of Horus is only available in the US.
My wish-list of future tweaks is, unsurprisingly, a small one. I’d like to see some sort of glowing indicator showing where on the boundary wall the laser hits; this isn’t always obvious, especially when it occurs on the side closest to a player. Making the boundary edge out of the same, translucent plastic as the pieces would achieve this easily. Secondly, it would be fantastic if a “luxury” version was made, perhaps out of wood and with crystal pieces. Some people I showed the game to were so impressed by how it looks that they’d like to have it out on display, as you might a particularly ornate chess-set.
Finally, while the vacuum-formed plastic cover serves its purpose, holding the pieces in place in transit and keeping dust off, a proper, latching lid would be nice. That way you wouldn’t have to always transport the game in its box.
If it wasn’t already obvious, let’s make it clear for the record: I love Khet. More approachable than chess (and without that feeling that you’re potentially getting yourself into a game that might last weeks!) and less education-dependent than Trivial Pursuit or Scrabble, everyone I’ve mentioned it to has wanted to try it. With the option of new layouts and extra pieces, Khet has a longevity measured in years rather than weeks or merely days (as with some of the so-called “interactive DVD” games). Sadly I have to send this review sample back, but my credit card and I both know that ordering my own copy of the game is not only likely but imminent. And at the end of the day, is there any greater verdict than that?