The Oracle of Delphi Review
Stefan Feld’s latest new game after The Castles of Burgundy Card Game and Jorvik (while technically Jorvik is just an implementation of Speicherstadt). But beware, this game is not like your occasionally point salad Feld games. Why? Because here you don’t get points (at all) but racing to be the first to appease Zeus. Yep, racing in Greek Mythologies. So, what’s my take on this new and “fresh” Stefan Feld’s game? You’re about to find out.
If you are an avid reader of my blog, it’s clear that I do not like racing games (mentioned these a lot lately: Istanbul, Euphoria, Viticulture, etc) if they don’t have rewarding game plays. So that’s why I like Lewis and Clark though it’s a racing game. So crossed my fingers when I got this one. I do like Stefan Feld’s designs, have been collecting His game though not yet complete the line up (Still missing quite many titles). So kinda bit obliged to get this into my collection. Okay, now let’s get down to it shall we?
In this game, players will compete with each other to be the first to appease Zeus. To do that they have to complete 12 tasks given by Zeus before everyone else. The 12 tasks are broken down into 4 categories, building shrines, erecting statues, making offerings and defeating monsters. The theme seems quite abstract, but the implementations are quite finely done. As you know Feld doesn’t really think through the theme as long His designs have smooth game flow. So not really give much thought about it. But for what is worth, let me give brief description over the theme. What exactly is The Oracle of Delphi? Or maybe the exact question is “who”. In the times of Gods in Greek, there was a sanctuary dedicated for Apollo and in there lies a priestess, which known as the oracle of Delphi. This priestess was chosen by Apollo to translate His message or prophecy. So based on these definition, players will consult to this oracle on what actions they can take and how they will proceed to claim victory.
It’s OK. If you are familiar with Feld’s games, you can see that this game art shares the same resemblance with his other game, Aquasphere. Both of these games’ illustrations were made by Dennis Lohausen, who has been widely known for his illustrations for mostly Euro-games out there such as Terra Mystica, Helios, A Feast for Odin, Coal Baron, Camel Up, Dominion series, Village, The Voyages of Marco Polo and many more. Dennis Lohausen made one of the greatest game box covers in the history of Euro games (IMO) with the illustrations of a woman (priestess) sitting in the center of somewhat looks like a temple and surround her are many colorful flaming spirits meanwhile the Gods are watching closely above her. I found it to be evoking and rightly describe the game in a way of using dice. The components are colorful, love the way He did with the player boards, very colorful. And one distinctive element to keep note is the iconography throughout the game is very simple and unified, a very good achievement if I may say.
The Game Components
Okay I will discuss the Tasty Minstrel Games as a reminder here since my copy is TMG version and not yet see or even compare it with Pegasus Spiele version. For me, TMG has better box art, the illustration has border-less frame unlike Pegasus Spiele version, but somehow I noticed it’s a bit thinner than most boxes. The components are good, nice thick map tiles and wooden pieces. I do think the God discs are too small that I would really want to, but then again if it’s bigger, the player board wouldn’t fit them all into the God advancement track, but I suppose you can always stack them.They provide stickers for monster and God tokens, which is very neat and good addition from the bland colored wooden pieces. I just wished the player board could be as good as Trajan in quality, which using thick board instead of thin one. The cards are not in linen finish, which is a bit of disappointment but most of games are using non-linen finish, which I don’t know if there’s a good reason to choose this over linen one. The dice are good, chunky regular dice but wooden, sadly. It would be way much better if using the same quality as Bora-Bora. The thing with wooden dice, they’re too light when rolled, and easy to get dirty.
The rules were poorly written (English), there are many various details got left behind and not many examples covering possible scenarios. And setting up the default map is very challenging.
The Game Play
As already mentioned above, the goal of the game is to finish 12 tasks given and return to Zeus as fast as you can. The first player to do that, wins the game. So it’s definitely a racing game, bear with me, I do not like racing games (not games a bout racing, but more like a game that players race to win the game, my argument is that these two are different in principle). Players get the same tasks (types and number) but may be different in colors. They need to complete building shrines, statues, making offerings, defeating monsters to appease Zeus. The board laid out as one huge ocean with many islands scattered around.
Players will start their voyage from the center of the board (where Zeus figure is located) and will move their ship through out the board doing actions. Each turn of a player is broken down into several phases, Check Injury, Actions and Consult the Oracle phases.
A. Check Injury Phase
At the start of a player turn, He must check his injury cards, if he has 3 cards with the same kind (color) or 6 cards in total, He must pass his action phase and didn’t consult the oracle. He discard 3 of His injury cards. So it’s kinda important to keep your injury cards in check from time to time, and be wary not to lose the next turn because of this.
But if He has no cards, he gets 2 Favor tiles or 1 step advance in one of His Gods.
B. Action Phase
In this phase, the player carries out His actions, which come from oracle dice and an available oracle card. There are many possible actions that a player can choose from by using a die and there are actions independent no matter the die is or dependent based on which side the die shows. The actions unrelated to the side of a die are taking 2 favor tiles, take an oracle card, or look at 2 unexplored tiles. And the actions related to specific side of the die are below:
– Remove up to 3 Injury cards (of the same color / icon shown on the die)
– Move up to 3 spaces in the sea hex (the destination hex must be the same color / icon shown on the die).
– Explore an unexplored tile (and immediately get it’s reward, whether building a shrine or get it’s bonus) or place a shrine in an explored tile with player’s color.
– Load an offering cube to the ship (the color shown on the die must match the cube color) or unload the cube from the ship to a temple with the same color (also use die of the same color with the cube / temple).
– Load a statue to the ship (the color shown on the die must match the color of the statue) or erect the statue from the ship into the tile with matching icon / color as the die.
– Battle a monster (the color of the monster must match with the color shown on the die).
– Advance one of the Gods with matching color shown on the die, one step in the God’s track.
C. Consult The Oracle Phase
In this phase, the active player rolls His dice. The other players check to see if there are dice matching with their Gods in the advancement track above the clouds, if yes, choose one God to move its disc one step forward. The Gods in the cloud (most bottom step) do not advance.
D. Titan Attack Phase
This phase only happened if its the last player’s turn. He roll the titan die and check the result. If the result is 5 or less and the players shield value is less than the result, they gain an injury card. If the result was 6, all players get 2 injury cards instead.
This turn is repeated until one player managed to complete the 12 tasks and return back to Zeus. Once that happened, complete the round until last player and check who wins the game. If there are more than one player managed to finish the game, player with the most oracle cards wins the game.
When players take an action to battle monster, they must defeat the monster with starting strength of 9, minus the player shield value. They roll a d9 and check if the result is equal or greater, they defeat the monster. If not, they fail and have to choose to battle another round or give up. If they want to battle another round, they need to spend a favor tile and the monster strength is reduce by one.
If players decide to give up or cannot go through another round, the battle stop and players do not get or lose anything (except the action itself). If they won, the monster was defeated and placed in the player’s board.
Players can also spend their favor tiles to help them in their turns. Each favor tile can be spend to add distance when moving ship, but the ship must end movement in the same color of the die. Or players can also use the favor tiles to modify the die result in clockwise order based on the chart in player board. Players can also use favor tiles to help them fight another round when battling with monsters.
Completing tasks not only take players closer to the goal, but each completed task provides players with reward that can help them in later turns. These rewards are fixed based on what kind of task is being completed. Each time players build a shrine, they can move one of their Gods one step forward. Each time they defeat a monster, they can get one equipment from the available. Each time they erect a statue, they can get a companion card of the same color as the statue. Each time they make offering in the temple they get 3 favor tiles.
During the game, players will advance Gods in their advancement tracks. Once a God is in the top most space, players can use it for it’s special effect to help them complete their tasks. Once used, the God token will reset back to the bottom of the track, which players need to advance again to the top so it effect can be used for the second time.
There are 6 Gods for each player, each with different ability. There are Poseidon (teleportation), Apollon (one turn wild dice and draw 1 oracle card), Aphrodite (discard all injury cards), Hermes (loading another statue into the ship), Artemis (uncover an unexplored tile) and Ares (automatically defeat a monster)
There are also ship tiles, which a ship will be randomly / drafted / whatever you prefer, to each player. This ship tile not only provides a cargo slot for each player but also provides a different starting benefit or ability for each player.
My Though of The Game
First of all, before I spill out my opinion about the game I must point out that I do not like racing games and this game got all my doubts. But since it is a Feld’s, then I must try and hope He can deliver something different out of the stereotype racing game I dislike. So by any means, I bought a copy against my fear and tried the game anxiously. And wow, it’s not that bad as I feared. Okay, you may think there’s a catch in my statement, not that bad also means not that good. Well you are right, this is not the best of Feld and also not my favorite immediately. My first impression was kinda mixed with confusion for the rule book lacks of details and examples. My expectation was they could made it way much better. The map setup is a pain, short on example and hard to recreate. First obstacle in the game, getting the default map structure ready. But of course there’s no problem when you start creating map freely.
The game play is actually pretty simple and straightforward, aside from the fiddly rules and tidbit of restrictions but hey once you master all that and get onto the game halfway, you realize how easy it is. The essential thing in this game is observation. Feld has proven again to be one of the best and notable modern game designer over the past few years. His game design is very solid, stream-lined and excellently easy to digest. Just look at the use of the dice integrates perfectly not just with the actions but also to the game elements such as the map, gods, cubes, statues and everything. Multi-use of symbols became the important element in the game. Love this and I must praise Him for it.
The game play is simple, dice allocation, a group of 3 dice can be used for multitude of options. Of course there’s a luck of the dice, but many elements help to mitigate this.
It still a racing game, and I do feel the hopelessness in the last round, but one must say that playing this game is quite rewarding. Players can tinker their dice usages and timing to perform combos. The game also offers moderate player interactions from watching opponent plans and what they have in store for next turn and also outmaneuver your opponents with the same goal.
Like most racing games, its hard to catch the runaway leader, there’s no catch-up mechanic in the game, especially some tasks give players benefits during the game like erecting statues. But it is possible to win by tie breaker, which is not bad (though I would cross my fingers that would happen more than one or two times in all your plays, depends on you plays though)..
The Replay Value
Each game will mostly feel samey, with different outcome of course. Though setting up the map differently might affecting how you play it. You can change and customize the map to your liking but the golden rule is that the ocean tiles must be connected as a single large space. The different ships also make a difference but not that big I guess. After several plays I still want to play it again, a good one though the racing aspect of the game keeps me out for loving it. It’s like your days (turns) are numbered especially when someone already obvious to finish all the tasks and he only have to go back to Zeus. It’s a hard tie situation.