Oracle of Delphi
For once, Zeus, Greek god of thunder and sky, is in high spirits. Hence, he decides to offer a generous gift to a worthy mortal and invite him, or her, to his realm, to Olympus. To determine a sufficient candidate, Zeus hosts a competition for his entertainment. Twelve legendary tasks are imposed upon the fearless participants: to erect graceful statues, to raise awe-inspiring sanctuaries, to offer capacious offerings, and to slay the most fearsome monsters. The first participant to master all the posed assignments wins the favor of the father of the gods himself.
Indubitably, you will not pass up this golden opportunity, so you clear your ship and rally your crew to follow on the trails of legendary Odysseus through the dangerous waters of the Aegean. But how could you find the righteous path onward? There is but one who can help you. Visit the mysterious oracle of Delphi and let her answers guide your ways. (BGG)
Action Point Allowance System
Pick-up and Deliver
Press Your Luck
Variable Player Powers
Designer: Stefan Feld
Artist: Dennis Lohausen
Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games
Category: Ancient, Mythology
Price: $38.82 Amazon
Oracle of Delphi is a 2-4 player game published by Tasty Minstrel games and designed by Stefan Feld.
Tasty Minstrel Games was established by owner Michael Mendes in 2009, where Michael worked with his close friend, Seth Jaffee, to immediately begin publishing games, starting with Terra Prime. TMG has reprinted a few old favorites like Colosseum, Amun-Re, At the Gates of Loyang, Belfort, and others. Other popular titles from TMG include Orleans, Scoville, Village, Aquasphere, Cthulhu Realms, Eminent Domain, and more.
Stefan Feld is a long time board game designer who has penned many fabulous and famous titles, such as Trajan, Bora Bora, In the Year of the Dragon, Merlin, and more.
Oracle of Delphi is set in Greek mythology thus including many Greek gods and accepting and paying tribute to them. This is in the form of erecting statues in cities at their bidding, as well as bringing offerings to temples for them. Of course, this is all done with cubes and little bits of wood, and we aren’t actually offering sacrifice to pagan creations, but it does happen thematically. Players will also fight monsters, which leads to injury.
Oracle of Delphi is a big game with lots of moving parts. Sunk deep in ancient and familiar Greek mythology, Oracle of Delphi presents players with a list of tasks from Zeus. Players must sail their ships to various isles to battle monsters, erect statues, and complete all 8-12 of the tasks presented by their master. The first to return to Zeus after completing all trials will be crowned the winner.
On the surface, Oracle of Delphi appears an adventure game with ameritrash mechanics. Look at the varying landscape of tokens and bits littered across many islands. Players must bear arms and plot a careful journey to defeat famed monsters of Greek history while managing injuries from their conquests. Players will even gain abilities from the gods as they increase their favor.
Mechanically however, Oracle of Delphi has far more roots as a euro, even though you’ll roll dice to move on the board. Players are constantly changing their dice results, painstakingly modifying their strategy by counting actions two turns ahead, and working toward completing their objectives just before an opponent can.
Oracle of Delphi is a race, after all. Like all good race games, you’ll need to accomplish goals just a smidge faster than your opponents. Sometimes this means you were dealt a better set of dice to work with, and other times it means forced induction of analysis paralysis. This game might win the crown for “Most Likely to Have 15 Minute Turns.” Oracle of Delphi gives you lots and lots of options, but you’ll need to think for a long time to define the most efficient path.
It’s a good thing to be faced with meaningful decisions. Many people in the hobby will die on the hill of “meaningful gameplay” as the defining feature of what makes a game worth the time and investment. I agree. I hate playing a game where I’m told to take a single action and live with the results (see: Candy Land). I also hate playing a game where a dice roll determines where I’ll go and I’ve no chance to mitigate the outcome of my roll (see: Monopoly). Stefan Feld’s designs realize the frustration of randomness, but redeem this randomness by giving players choices.
The dice of Delphi both redeem and damn the design.
Delphi displays typical Feld dice mechanics. For example you roll a red symbol, which allows you to take or more a red wooden bit, or battle a red monster, or move onto a red ocean tile. You can spend favor tokens to recolor your red roll to a new color by checking your player board to see how many you’ll need to spend to get the color you’d rather have. Of course you have two other dice to use, so you have many options to change what was rolled. Variable setup of the game’s tiles and pieces means there will likely never be an optimal color to use, so ultimately changing your die feels tactical. This is good and bad, but colors could be changed to die pips and no one would know the difference. Colors do help to guide you around the messy graphic design of Delphi, but because there’s so much to take in, it’s still a challenge.
We’ve established gamers like choices, and gamers would probably also say they hate mechanics which exist solely to be mitigated. Fans of the Dark Souls video game series decry Dark Souls II for a statistic called adaptability. Each play-through essentially requires 24 points in the adaptability stat in order to make your character viable. It’s obnoxious because every Dark Souls II player must put points into this stat because if you don’t, you’re making the game annoyingly difficult by default. Board games like Agricola force players to feed their families at the end of rounds, which can make for a
lot of heartache, but must be done to win the game.
In Oracle of Delphi, players must manage injuries. Each player starts with one, and they come in six different colors. If a player gains six or three of the same color, he discards three injury cards and loses his turn for that round. Playing Oracle of Delphi made me think about other games which include turn loss and I immediately thought of Uno. Uno is terrible. It’s terrible because your hand of cards is completely random and the game requires almost zero skill to play. Winners are almost always randomly selected by the distribution of cards among players.
Turn loss is just a bad game mechanic. I’m sure it might work in a game I haven’t played before, but up to this point, I’ve never seen it done well. At the end of the first round, one player will roll the Titan Die, which forces players to draw 1 or 2 injury cards, depending on their strength. It’s entirely possible for a player to lose his second turn in the game simply because of an unlucky card draw. To lose these injuries, players must spend their dice, which are critical for winning the game by completing actions. Players can pursue companions which increase their strength, which to some, might be the only way to start the game. This can force players to beeline for strength increase instead of optimal strategies for their goals. To me, this makes Oracle of Delphi a strategically predictable and mechanically uninteresting slog.
Of course, getting your engine to fire is exciting. Players have different abilities for their boats, which can grant very strong extra movement or extra cargo spaces and more. Using player powers along with the occasional god action makes for sweet combos and big plays. If you’ve not mitigated your injuries well enough though, you’ll be in a bad place. It becomes obvious who will win the game and the fact that Delphi is a race game makes that point clear.
Overall, learning Oracle of Delphi is challenging. There is a lot to explain and several little details to remember that make it even harder. It’s a weird blend of dice rolling and grid movement, coupled with luck mitigation and a whole lot of randomness. I can’t recommend this game because the blend of heavy complexity and absurd turn loss makes it unwelcoming and difficult to swallow.
A review copy of Oracle of Delphi was provided by Tasty Minstrel Games.
+ Theme is interesting and gameplay is somewhat thematic
+ Opportunities for neat and powerful combos
- Lots of bits which feel more a nuisance, along with needing to sticker some pieces
- Mitigating turn loss is a huge turn off
- Messy graphic design and player mats