The Oracle of Delphi puts a board game Odyssey on your kitchen table

Owen Duffy
Owen Duffy
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There’s a timeless appeal to Greek mythology. As a child, I fell in love with its blend of capricious gods, heroic mortals, and terrifying monsters, and over the years I watched and rewatched my VHS copy of Jason and the Argonauts until the tape completely wore out.
The Oracle of Delphi, from well-known board game designer Stefan Feld (Trajan, The Castles of Burgundy), was one of our "picks of Essen" last year. The game seeks to capture the enthralling essence of those ancient epics. It casts players as daring sea captains commanded by Zeus to embark upon an arduous voyage of exploration to bring glory to the gods of Olympus.
The game’s aspirations to grandeur become apparent even as you set up to play. Before you get started, you’ll have to piece together the game's modular hex-grid of islands and oceans, distribute wooden temples and statues around the board, and populate the map with an assortment of monstrous adversaries. Everyone around the table also gets an individual player board stacked with chips, tokens, dice, and trackers. Just getting the game ready feels like a Herculean task in its own right.
With the pre-game admin out of the way, your quest can begin. You and your opponents will race to complete twelve divinely decreed tasks, raise colossal statues, construct shrines on unexplored islands, make offerings to the gods, and slay ferocious beasts.
You’ll do all of this using a set of three oracle dice which determine the actions available to you on your turn. Each face of a die shows a different color, and each color allows you to interact with different elements on the board. Want to sail to a red space on the map? You’ll have to spend a red die. Looking to attack a green monster? You’ll need to roll a green. Want to build a yellow statue? You get the idea.
Each turn thus becomes a puzzle, challenging you to work out the most efficient way to complete your goals using the dice at your disposal. While that might seem excessively random, the game gives you ways to mitigate against bad rolls. As you play, you’ll earn tokens representing the favor of the gods, which you’ll soon realize are worth their weight in gold. The tokens can be used to extend the movement range of your ship or to improve your chances in combat against monsters, but perhaps most crucially, they can also be used to change the facings of your oracle dice, granting you added flexibility.
Flexibility is important, because completing different tasks requires different approaches. To build shrines, you’ll have to explore islands represented by face-down tiles around the board. Flipping these over reveals a Greek letter, and each player can only build on islands showing particular letters, meaning every tile you flip brings the chance of inadvertently helping your opponents. Making offerings to the gods requires you to collect colored cubes from one part of the map before dropping them on temple hexes elsewhere, and raising statues uses a similar pick-up-and-deliver mechanism.
Your most difficult and dangerous task, though, is battling monsters. Attack one of their lairs and you’ll enter into a round of dice-chucking combat, rolling a d10 and aiming to match or exceed your target’s strength. With monsters’ strength starting at nine, that’s no easy feat. If you fail at the first attempt, you can spend a favor token, reduce the enemy’s strength by one, and try again. You can keep going like this, weakening your foe each time, until you either win, give up, or run out of favor tokens. Battles can easily become wars of attrition, consuming valuable resources with no guarantee that you’ll actually emerge victorious.
There’s also the very real chance that you’ll suffer damage in the attempt. Roll a zero in combat and you’ll draw an injury card. Collect three of the same color, or six in total, and you’ll be forced to skip a turn and repair your ship. Each round also sees Titans attack, dealing damage to some or all of the ships on the board and making it impossible to stay out of harm’s way. And while it’s possible to spend dice to repair damage, it’s at the expense of actions that could move you closer to winning the game.
At its core,Oracle of Delphi is about making a succession of judicious decisions. What’s the most efficient route between multiple objectives? How can you most effectively spend your available resources? Is it better to play it safe and fix damage as it occurs, or can you risk ignoring it for one more turn? This is challenging, but on its own, it’s a little dry. Thankfully, though, there’s more to the game than ticking off a checklist of goals.
Each time you complete one of your allotted tasks, you’ll gain a reward that enhances the power of your ship. You’ll recruit heroic companions like Achilles or Odysseus, boosting your strength and resilience in combat. You’ll encounter demigods like Perseus and Hercules who grant you massively greater flexibility in how you use your dice. You’ll acquire powerful equipment that lets you move further, collect extra favor tokens, or take additional actions on your turn.
Then there are the gods themselves. Your player board includes a worship track, representing your standing in the eyes of the Olympians. You can spend dice on your turn to advance one of their tokens, and once you’ve given them sufficient praise, they’ll grant you a powerful one-off ability. Poseidon lets you move your ship anywhere on the board; Ares lets you kill an adjacent monster without entering into combat; Aphrodite removes all damage from your ship. They’re incredibly useful, and used at the right time, they can prove critical to victory.
There’s a constant sense of progression running through this game, which adds a layer of interesting decision-making as you peruse the available power-ups, trying to decide which are most valuable. Each individual goal is about more than just advancing toward victory, it’s about making yourself stronger, faster, and more capable, and this aspect elevates the game from a drab shopping list of abstract objectives to a sort of Hellenic sandbox brimming with adventure and possibility.
The Oracle of Delphi puts a board game Odyssey on your kitchen table Reviewed by Bizpodia on 19:15 Rating: 5

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