Before I begin I was provided a prototype copy of the game in exchange for an honest review. This is not a paid preview.
If you would prefer to watch a video of this preview, check it out below.
I have played plenty of space-themed games over the years. I have played exploration games, where you slowly reveal the universe in search of something, I have played straight-up space combat games, and my share of hidden traitor games set in space. So when I get the chance to review a new light space game I do it not expecting to find anything particularly new, but hoping to find the familiar mechanics doing something new.
In Oracle, each player represents one of over a dozen unique races, in the end days of the universe. The only way to survive is to be in control of the Oracle at the last moments of the Universe, then the Oracle will allow that race to continue to exist in another universe I assume.
Without going into great details, each turn a player can move and/or explore a planet. Searching the outer planets will allow a player to find new gear: weapons, armor, sensors, etc. They can either take these into their hands or leave them, any cards over their hand limit must be left on the planet. These items have two purposes, one is to overcome the hazards on the inner planets. The inner planets cannot be explored until their hazard is beaten. It is on the inner planets that you can find slightly better items and the titular oracle. The other use of items is to fight your opponents.
Combat is a simple, somewhat cinematic system that pits each of you charging each other from a distance. One player can play a long-range attack, the other player must defend if they can. If they can’t they die. If they do then they get to make a long-range attack, the same is repeated for medium and close range. It is a very simple play a card, and hope the other player does not have a card that defends.
Eventually, the Oracle is discovered, then the game enters phase two. Each turn thereafter a single planet winks out of existence. Slowly shrinking the size of the playing area, and eventually causing the end game. Whoever controls the Oracle at the end of the game wins, it is also possible to obtain the “Time Machine”, “Codex” and Oracle to immediately win as well.
So what do I think?
I love the idea behind the game. This idea that everyone knows the universe is ending, and the Oracle is the only hope you have…but obtaining the oracle is what causes the universe to collapse. It’s kind of cool!
Each of the races is slightly different having a passive ability and a once per game ability that they can use. They all seem, more or less, balanced. Each of the races has a clearly defined history and reason for seeking the oracle (other than survival). I will also say that there has been a lot of work put into the backstory of this game, there is a novella that discusses a lot of the lore that will be part of the KS. Full disclosure, I am not sure if it will be part of the base pledge or an add-on. I have also not completed reading the whole thing, just some of it.
I am a fan of the simplicity of the game, there is not a lot to it. It is simple to learn, simple to teach and easy to play and set up. That is always a bonus for me.
First, let’s talk about the components. Now, again, this is a prototype and much of this may change for the final version. I will make note of what I know is changing. I like the shape of the cards, everything is round. It is completely unnecessary, but kind of fun. Makes me think of Battlestar Galactica and how the corners were cut off the pages in that world. The artwork is serviceable. The cards in your hand are icon-based art, which is clear and easy to read but lacks excitement. The planets are a disappointment, they all look the same with different colors, however, I have been told that these will be updated for the final version.
The combat system is interesting. It is incredibly simple and highly luck-based, it almost feels like a super-advanced game of war. While I like the ease, speed and cinematic nature of it, I do find that I crave a little more complexity in my combat, especially with the amount you have to do at the end of the game.
I have two things to discuss, one I have already been told is being fixed, but I am only able to review what I have seen. The rules are very hard to follow. The layout is not conducive to finding things easily, and it is just a challenge to figure out, which is a shame because the game is so easy to play once you understand. The editor that will be working on it should do wonders.
The second thing is a two-parter. First, the game is significantly better at higher player counts. With two players it becomes repetitive, especially in the end game. You know exactly what you are going to do every turn, while with more players it becomes more strategic. That is a bummer. The second part of this is the end game itself, I feel that especially with smaller player counts, that it takes too long for the universe to collapse, and the game becomes repetitive. I would house rule the end game to have two planets collapse each turn significantly speeding up the end of the game, which would make it more exciting.
Bringing it all together
Oracle is a solid space exploration and combat game. It has the interesting twist of once everything is explored it all starts to go away. There is a ton of lore behind the game, though you do have to read a novella to get it all. The art is serviceable, though will be getting some updates in the production version, while the rules are a bit of a mess right now, but also getting a much-needed update. The game is super streamlined and is fun to play. It shines at higher player counts, with the end-game for only two players seems to drag out a bit.
We will be colonizing the stars before I can read all that
*Interesting world, with a cool end game mechanic
*Super simple fast and cinematic combat, that might be too simple for some
*Placeholder art is serviceable, if updated it has promise
*Rules are desperately in need of an editor (which I am told is happening)
*End game drags a bit with only 2 players
*Solid game, that has lots of potential
*Clean, streamlined ruleset