Feld: so you come before the Oracle of Delphi to discover your fate? Well come close and peer through the swirling ethers. I see a grand voyage across the Aegean, a quest to complete the 12 tasks of almighty Zeus.
Matt: oh! I take it that’s how you get points.
Feld: But you must not tarry.
Matt: so more points for completing those objectives earlier, hey? I like it Mr Feld, I like it.
Feld: the player who first completes the 12 tasks and reaches Zeus will triumph!
Matt: reaches Zeus… With the most points right?
Feld: No! Why must people assume all my games will be damnable “point salads”!?
Matt: but… But… How can it be a Feld game without points?
Time: 70-100 min
Designer: Stefan Feld
Artist: Dennis Lohausen
Publishers: 999 Games, Cranio Creations, Fullcap Games, Hall Games, LudoSentinel, Pegasus Spiele, Tasty Minstrel Games
Standing upon the prow of your ship you gaze across the placid seas. The world is open, your opportunities for glory boundless, and sat above your player board are the list of tasks that Zeus has set you, inscribed on convenient cardboard tiles you can throw overboard as you complete them. The route to completing all of these tasks is spread across the islands around you but, alas, you are not the only hero pursuing eternal glory. You must find the most efficient path through the islands if songs of your legendary exploits are to be sung down through the ages…
So strap on your gladiator sandals and find a comfortable toga to wear because Zeus’ shopping list will take some completing. Your main aims include the construction of shrines, but only on holy ground of your player colour and, damnation, an early morning fog has blown in to obscure all the relevant sites. Someone will have to go explore these tiles before anything can be built. There are statues, available from the cities at the far ends of the Earth, that need picking up and delivering to the statue parks the ancient Greeks were so fond of. The trick though is that each spot will only suit a statue of a particular colour.
The grand, impressive temples are similarly looking for cube shaped offerings that match their colour; you wouldn’t want to give Poseidon an offering that’s addressed to Athena now, would you? Hope you’re not colour blind then, as those clusters of cubes are going to be a pain to figure out. Each game you’ll in fact be pursuing 2 specific temples and one of your choice, ensuring you all squabble over the best routes to those two temples. The final tasks, which will also have you pursuing a specific pair, are the monsters. These terrifying wooden squares must be defeated in battle, and even worse, need to be stickered before you start playing! Uuurgh!
How you go about completing these tasks is, however, subject to the whims of fate. The blowing winds, your bartering with locals for statues and offerings, stumbling across the perfect sites for your shrines, all require good fortune and here that is represented by rolling your custom dice. Each face shows one the game’s colours, red, green, yellow, blue, black and pred. You’ll need to spend a die of a colour matching whatever action it is you want to do. So to pick up a blue cube you spend a blue die, to move to a pink edged hex you use a pink die, or you realise that was actually a red hex, goddamnit, now I need to rethink my entire turn. It’s very reminiscent of Feld’s classic, Castles of Burgundy, and not just because of the occasional colour mix ups.
Oracle of Delphi is a game of managing and adapting to your fate. Your dice limit your options each round and its up to you to figure out the best thing to do on your turn. This can mean accepting slower movement, when you spend a die to move you can reach any matching hex within 3 spaces, or sacrificing a die to a generic action. You can spend collectible favour tokens to adjust the colour of your dice, in a sequence specified on your player board, or to extend the range of your movement by a hex, but maintaining a steady supply of these tokens takes effort too. The generic actions include getting a random dice card to spend later (effectively saving that dice for a bigger turn), grabbing more favour tokens or, more excitingly, advancing your little God discs.
Oh yes, pushing little God discs is possibly one of my favourite elements of Oracle of Delphi. Each player has their own little cloud bank on the right hand side of their player board with a collection of Greece’s favourite deities. Players can spend dice to advance the matching God/Goddess one space up the track of clouds. If a disc reaches the throne atop the track, you can drop it back to the shadowy cloud at the bottom to use a fantastic one-off power. What makes it so satisfying, though, is that your opponents can do the hard work for you! At the end of your turn you roll your dice afresh and everyone else gets to advance one of the matching Gods. It’s like a little gift from your opponents each round!
There are some subtleties here though. Firstly, your discs need to be off the first cloud to benefit, so to guarantee a boost you need to take the first step yourself, and if you’re doing that, you’re not doing something else. The second thing to watch for is that not every power is equally useful. Poseidon let’s you move to any location on the board, Apollo, taking a break from shooting Cylons, gives you incredible flexibility by letting you ignore the colours rolled in a given turn, and do anything, while Aphrodite kisses all those injury cards better (more on those later). The other three powers are intimately tied to particular quests and this means once you’ve completed those quests they become useless.
What shall I do today?
As always with Oracle of Delphi, it’s about figuring out your priorities. The God discs can be amazingly useful but I’ve seen players do fantastically well without ever using them at all. On the other hand, careful planning and good timing can see you achieve amazingly effective turns, chucking objectives over the side like so much confetti. You can invest time in building up resources and having big turns or try to stay lean and keep progressing, at greater risk.
Unfortunately you are only so capable of rolling with the dice in this game. If you pull up to an island hoping to deliver a statue next turn but then don’t roll the right colour, then you’re stuffed! You’ll need to use resources or sit there spending time gathering resources since there is nothing else you can use your dice on in a situation like that. Leaving and coming back to something is rarely something I would consider doing, but perhaps I should. You can always power up your movement with favour tokens after all…
The result is that some turns can feel like you’re not doing much at all. And out there on the wild seas is a mechanism which means you’ll literally be doing nothing at all. Injuries.
Each round, the last player in turn order gets to roll a more traditional dice and, if that number is higher than your shield value, you get an injury card that the rolling player will be all too happy to pass to you. Given that you start with no shields at all, be prepared to take quite a few of these to begin with. Should you ever end up with 6, or 3 of the same colour, you have to stop and recover… Meaning you miss a turn.
This was always going be a controversial mechanism. On the one hand, you know your odds and you always have the chance to spend a die to remove matching injury cards, or get Aphrodite to her throne so you can clear everything, so if you do get caught out it is absolutely your fault. But missing your turn!? In a medium weight euro game!?
Oracle of Delphi does an excellent job of keeping turns moving. You roll your dice at the end of your turn and can spend the rest of the round planning your route, plus collecting those lovely bonus God moves. So often the game will rattle around pretty quickly. But not always and if your players don’t have everything planned out the wait does start to drag. Combining this with missed turns or turns where you simply aren’t doing anything except collecting a few tokens and it all gets much worse.
That said, Oracle of Delphi is a fantastically engaging game. Each round is a new puzzle of figuring out where to go next, making sure that no one else is going to beat you to that optimal route you just spotted. Admittedly that is the limit to the player interaction but this is a Feld game, what did you expect? In figuring out your route you have a lot of flexibility. At the start of the game you have an almost overwhelming amount of freedom, which is something undeniably special about this game.
I said this was quite similar to Castles of Burgundy. In some ways it might even be better. The round structure feels like an evolution of Burgundy’s and keeps the game moving relentlessly, when it works. It’s the easier game to learn and, my God, it even has some theme to appreciate as you gaze out across the Aegean to plan your route. But the comparison also highlights what’s missing too.
Oracle of Delphi is a much more tactical game. You maybe think a couple of turns ahead, but you don’t have much of a long term strategy. Added to that, you must complete the 12 tasks every game. And they are the same every time. While the map is randomised and everything gets shuffled that randomness doesn’t change the overall experience, whereas the different estates in Castles of Burgundy feel different and each tile type represents a strategy to try and pursue over the course of the game.
I’ve really enjoyed Oracle of Delphi! It’s different, yet recognisably Feld. Despite the large amount of elements it’s not that hard to learn. It’s a satisfying puzzle and for the most part rattles round smoothly. But it does suffer from a few short comings that get in the way of it achieving a truly legendary status.