First Take | The Oracle of Delphi

December 1, 2016
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With an extended holiday weekend, I took the opportunity to sacrifice some sleep in favor of playing a lot of games from across the spectrum. Among the crop were a few standouts, but only one game made it to the table twice all weekend: The Oracle of Delphi, from Stefan Feld and our wonderful podcast sponsor, Tasty Minstrel Games (U.S. publication).

The Oracle of Delphi is a “race game” in the respect that the goal is to be the first to do something. No, you’re not in high-performance cars making well-timed passes and pits; rather, you’re sailing a variably set-up landscape of sea spaces fighting monsters, paying tribute to the Gods, and founding temples in their honor. All players at the table will work through these tasks, with the first to finish all 12 claiming victory. It’s a definite departure from the Feldian classics like Trajan and Castles of Burgundy, but continues to showcase the unique action selection and efficiency mechanisms that are common elements of his titles.

While the same actions are available each round, the use of mitigatable dice-rolling will determine the specific interactions that can be made. This is through a color-based system, where a die of a specific color (e.g., red) must be spent to manipulate a corresponding element on the board (e.g., fighting a red monster or delivering a red offering cube). You may spend currency, “Favor Points,” to change the die-faces each round to better suit your specific needs. Using you dice to complete your objectives will net you further benefits, advantages like special action cards or extra Favor.

Like all games considered quintessential Feld, Oracle of Delphi has many lateral pieces that move together.

While you constantly work toward a more efficient system, you must also avoid taking too many “wounds,” which come in six different colors and will force you to lose a turn if you mass three of the same color or six total. You potentially gain wounds at the end of each round, depending on a die roll and how many “shields” you have invested in. If the roll exceeds your shields you gain one wound, or two is a six is rolled.

Like all games considered quintessential Feld, Oracle of Delphi has many lateral pieces that move together. Not many of the mechanisms stack or build on one another, there are simply a large number of things laid out in front of you that require your attention. This makes for an overwhelming first play, though still not nearly as agonizing as previous titles. You understand exactly what you need to do and where you’re headed, it’s the pathway there that’s the challenge.

I found this enjoyable over the dizzying point-salad scoring conditions from other Felds. Oracle doesn’t hide your victory behind crunchy calculations; rather, unfortunately for some, it hides it in probabilities. The most notable downside of Oracle is the potential misfortune present in all games with dice. Here it can feel a bit out of place though, as careful planning and efficiency will only get you as far as your rolls. If the Oracle is not on your side that day, your dreams can be dashed by someone who can fold their resources into victory conditions instead of dice mitigation. I found it more tolerable than others, though I also didn’t roll the same three useless colors turn after turn…after turn.

I’m excited to play more Oracle of Delphi and will likely give it a more thorough review at some point. I highly recommend trying it out, but go in expecting another off-the-wall Feldian experiment, over his more tried-and-true classics.

Matt H. (Buns)

CONTENT MANAGER/PODCAST HOST : Perpetual consumer of all things board, card and game. Lover of dice, card sleeves, and fancy meeples. Jack-of-all-games, Master of none.