The ORACLE of DELPHI Stefan Feld Pegasus Spiele 2-4 Players aged 12+
A large number of Tiles, Cards and Wooden pieces. Pegasus Spiele have included both German and English rules books in the box and the game components are not language dependent.
Stefan Feld is one of the most respected board game designers in Europe and I have to say that he is one of the designers I trust most by name. If I see "Stefan Feld" on the box then my instincts tell me to ensure I take a good look at the game inside. Stefan Feld is a name known for semi-complex games and The Oracle of Delphi certainly fits that billing. It is very rare for me to not like a Stefan Feld game, or indeed a Pegasus Spiele game, and although it has happened I am happy to say that this is not the exception to the rule, Delphi is an extremely likeable and playable game.
The Oracle of Delph is a strategy game where the board is made up from 12 irregularly shaped hex-based tiles and 6 City tiles that are made of identical 3-hex tiles; by identical I mean one of the hexes being the actual City and the other two hexes being sea (each with a different one of the Action icons on them - ie one icon in each sea hex with no City tiles having the same two icons).
The game theme sets the players on their journey around the Aegean Sea following (in a random pattern) the voyages of Odysseus as they accept the tasks given to them by the mighty Zeus. The first player to build 3 Shrines, raise 3 Statues, collect 3 Temple Offerings (and take them to their respective Temples) and defeat 3 Monsters; then return to Zeus is the winner. Some of these tasks may be relatively easy if the random layout of the island tiles has been generous, but others require a modicum of planning and a reasonable amount of luck.
The game can begin once the board and the general supply of card decks have been shuffled and set up. Each player has a fair amount of personal components to tend to: a player mat, a ship, a shield, 12 Zeus tiles, 6 Gods (1 of each), 3 Shrines, 3 Oracle dice and a game action overview card. The dice are the main luck aspect of The Oracle of Delphi. Beginning with the randomly selected Start Player Favour Tokens are dealt out, 3 to Player 1 4 to Player 2 and then +1 to each other player in turn. We have yet to decide whether there is any advantage going first as to why that player gets less Favour Tokens than the other players. The last player gets the Titan (Black d6) Die which they roll at the end of their Turn to see whether and how much damage each player receives. There is one setup rule that is
Players roll their own Oracle Dice and place them on their personal mats on the respectively marked spaces - more than one of the same type is permitted. The dice determine the actions available to you on your turn but you may pay Favour Tokens to move a die round the Oracle section of your mat to a colour you desire - arrows show the Oracle spaces are only connected clockwise.
Played in Rounds each player takes a Turn which consists of 3 Phases: Checking Injuries - if you have 6 Damage cards or 3 identical Damage cards you have to forego the remainder of your Turn and discard three of your Damage cards, your choice but obviously you shouldn't keep three identical cards (if the sixth card you collected was the one that formed the triple) as that would mean missing the next turn as well. Usually I spend a lot of time when playing games trying not to miss a Turn (or a somewhat similar game mechanic) and thus I miss out on other things. In "Delphi" I have learned to just roll with it because all players will at some time during play miss at least one Turn. The only defence you have against Damage are Shields - these being strengthened by collecting certain Companion cards.
Each player has a God token for each of the six Gods, and these begin the game sitting on the lowest cloud on the player's mats. During play these God tokens move up the rank of clouds until they reach Olympus. Once there they have a special ability that players can use to their advantage - each God having a different but still effective ability. Once the ability is used though, the God falls from Olympus and lands on the lowest cloud again. It is important to get your God Tokens off the lowest cloud as soon as you can because while they are there they cannot take advantage of the rule that allows them to move up depending on the other player's Oracle dice roll; if you have a God above the lowest cloud that is the same colour as one of the opponent's dice roll then you can move it one rank up. If you have two or three Gods that match the criteria you have to choose the one to move.
There is one rule that confused us to begin with. "Place your Ship next to Zeus, on the starting space." As the Zeus stand-up marker is positioned roughly in the centre of the board on an empty space (as in it isn't actually on the board it stands on the table) and nothing in the rules points to an actual "starting space" on our first game, having overlooked the Ship positions in the illustration on page 2, we put our Ships on an empty tile space adjacent to Zeus. Careful study of the aforesaid illustration shows the Ships being placed "off-board" in the same space as Zeus not what I would call "next to" Zeus. The only difference this makes is that it gives the first player the advantage we hadn't otherwise realised by letting them select their personal starting space first.
The Oracle of Delphi box says the game plays in 60-100 minutes but that is a rather conservative estimate as our games have never lasted less than 90 minutes and more often reach 120 minutes. It also says it's for ages 12+ but again we would disagree unless the 12 year olds have been brought up playing euro-games; our suggestion is that players need to be at least 14 years old to begin to understand the finer points of what on the surface seems to be a reasonably non-complicated game.
This is a most impressive game visually as well as being very entertaining and enjoyable. It requires thought and planning but not to the event that you get bogged down in micro-management. Each Turn offers many options and several Actions to the players; the choice and use of Equipment cards and Companion cards being just two of these. Sailing your ship around the islands is obviously most necessary but it can also be quite hazardous, especially when meeting Monsters, and so you must consider your destinations with care for you need to use the correct Oracle dice to match the action undertaken.
Although it is considered to be a race game, it has some clever game mechanics, it plays well, it is stimulating, and it makes for a pleasurable social experience. I would put it in the medium difficulty range of euro-game, not too difficult to learn but slightly more challenging and demanding than the game mechanics for family games like "Settlers of Catan" and "Carcassonne".
The Oracle of Delphi is like many of the games out of Europe in the last few years. It is a set or series of game mechanics with a theme hung liberally onto them. There is nothing wrong in that at all, because not many board games, outside of war/historical games, actually cover their subject theme matter. I can think of several current games where the box cover art and game title entice the player because they excite and appeal to the player's imagination, and yet once the game begins the theme falls away and the mechanics run the play. They are all good, fun games and I am more than happy to play them because that is so often the way games are designed, a good mechanic or set of rules on which a theme is later hung; quite often players would be truly surprised if they knew what some of their favourite board games began life as theme-wise. The "Oracle" in The Oracle of Delphi is the circular section of each players personal mat on which the rolled dice are placed to determine the Actions available. It is what the rules allow and what the players do with the options presented to them that make a game, a theme is naturally necessary but in most cases it is the icing on the cake rather than the cake itself, and of course it is the cake that is more important and substantial.
We really enjoy playing The Oracle of Delphi, possibly more as a three-player game than a four-player game; as a two-player game it doesn't really have the same je ne c'est quoi, in our opinion.