Up until my purchase of Black Orchestra I have never bought a game on a whim. I always read about games I want to buy and scour the internet for as many opinions and reviews as possible. I research gameplay, setup times, comparisons, and prices before finally pulling the trigger to buy. Something about Black Orchestra made me throw caution to the wind and buy it the day I saw it. I had only heard about it a day or two before buying it and the only details I knew about the game were; the setting takes place in World War II Europe, and try to assassinate Hitler. Oh, and after reading the back of the box I knew it was a co-op from 1 to 5 players. That’s it. I knew nothing about gameplay, replay-ability, or even if it had a good rating on BGG. My boys and I are history buffs, especially World War I and II, so I made the decision to give it a shot. Was it worth it? Is it any good? How does it play? Spoiler alert: I loved it!
In Black Orchestra you play as one (two if you’re playing solo) real historical conspirator that played a major role in the various attempts to eliminate Hitler from power. The trials and tribulations of each conspirator are printed on their gamer card which adds a nice personal touch. Instead of confining their stories to a section of the rule book the players understand their conspirator’s role and sacrifice each play through. The historical accuracy doesn’t stop at the conspirators’ cards though. There are seven stages of event cards with each representing a different timeframe of the war. These decks are filled with actual events for each stage of the war. So, while the randomness of shuffling each event deck won’t have the events in exact chronological order it does set a great tone and provides an excellent backdrop while keeping the game random enough for good replay-ability. The last bits of historical accuracy added to Black Orchestra are the difficulty in assassinating Hitler and the insane randomness of trying to pull off such a daring feat.
Players have three actions each turn to manage their conspirator’s motivation level, suspicion level, as well as Hitler’s Support level. As the level of motivation rises, the conspirators gain special abilities such as being able to perform assassination attempts, but as their suspicion level raises the chance of getting captured increases. Also, each increase in Hitler’s support level means each assassination attempt becomes more difficult. The actions the players have to choose from are:
Conspire: A player can roll up to three dice (one for each action). This can only be used once per turn. Conspire is a gamble to either increase a conspirator’s motivation or lower Hitler’s support level. A roll of a target symbol is placed on the dissent track and once there are three targets on the track the conspirator can decide how to use those dice, however, every eagle rolled raises the conspirator’s suspicion one level. Any numbers rolled are used as extra actions. Our norm was to roll all three dice to start our turn and hoped we got some extra actions to go along with any targets or unfortunate eagles we rolled.
Move: Move one space per action.
Draw a Card: Draw one per action. Drawing cards is how you obtain plot cards and other useful actions. These can range from raising motivation to being immune to the effects of a Gestapo Raid. You are going to need some good cards to have a sporting chance at a good assassination attempt. Once you get to the second motivation level you can hold more cards and holding your max amount of cards is pretty handy.
Search: Flip over an item tile at your current location.
Acquire an item: Pick up an item tile that is face up at your location. Items are necessary to ensure assassination attempts are more successful and can also come in handy when you need to lower your suspicion.
Deliver an Item: Each space has a task associated with it. Tasks usually require the conspirator to turn in a specific item and gain a benefit such as lowering their suspicion level.
Play a Card: Certain cards say play as an action. Play the card then discard it. Also, if the conspirator has a high enough motivation level and has a Plot card in his possession then he can attempt an assassination. Of course, he will want to make sure he has enough dice to cover Hitler’s current support level. One target symbol is needed for every support level. For example, a support level of four will require at least four dice and that is hoping each dice rolled results in a target symbol.
Release a Conspirator From Jail: If the active conspirator is in the Gestapo HQ space and his suspicion level is not at extreme then he can attempt to free a jailed conspirator. One die is rolled. The conspirator is released on anything but an eagle symbol. If the die result is an eagle symbol then the active conspirator goes to jail. I believe 90 percent of our jail breaks ended badly.
Share a Card or Item: Take or give a card or item to a conspirator at your current location. Sharing items and cards is a key action to a successful assassination attempt. Sometimes you just need to load up one conspirator with as much poison or explosives as he can hold and hope like heck he doesn’t get caught!
Teamwork is absolutely essential in pulling off a successful assassination attempt. Conspirators must work together to keep Hitler’s support low so when the rare chance for an assassination attempt arises it can be carried out. The conspirators also have to work together to help each other gain motivation while keeping everyone’s suspicion as low as possible. Often players need to plan coordinated rendezvous so essential items and cards can be transferred from one conspirator to another. Players must be ready and willing to sacrifice their own items and cards when their fellow conspirators are placed in a sudden bad situation from an ill timed unfortunate event card. Usually this entails moving one or more of Hitler’s deputies to the location of the conspirator that is in the best situation to perform a plot attempt.
The game ends when all conspirators are in jail at the same time, the stage seven deck runs out, the event card “Documents Located” is revealed or on a successful assassination attempt.
I can honestly say Black Orchestra is my favorite co-op game and is easily in my top three favorite games of all time. There is zero downtime as you are constantly talking and planning every turn. Some cards can be played anytime so you must always be aware of what is going on during other player’s turns. New situations arise and plans change fast, as an event card is drawn at the end of each player’s turn. The tension is always high and you never get a true feeling that you are safe or things are going as planned. Tough decisions are endless. Not only do you have tough decisions to make on your turn, but if a Gestapo Raid is drawn on another player’s turn then you must decide what cards to discard or keep to maintain a balance of being able to perform a plot while keeping suspicion low. As the event decks close in on stage seven, the chances you are willing to take become greater. The nonstop action, suspense, and tough decisions keep players engaged the entire game. I never before played a game where I literally felt like I let the world down when I lost, or felt such a rush of excitement when I won.
Tony’s Pros and Cons
Pros: Quick setup, easy to learn, varying degree of difficulty, high player interaction, constant player engagement, tons of decisions, great presentation and implementation of a sensitive subject, great component quality (minus the conspirator cards), playing solo offers the same experience as multiplayer.
Cons: I worry about replay-ability after about 20 games, sensitive subject for certain people, conspirator cards are paper thin and the motivation and suspicion cubes are easily bumped off of their track during the game.
Tony’s Epic Scale: 3 (Easy rule set with lots of cards)
*Epic Scale is on a scale of 1 to 5 and is a combination of number of components and ruleset)*
VALUE: 9 (Well worth the 60 dollar price tag!)
ART: 8 (It is a great looking game. The art fits the theme perfectly.)
SETUP/TEARDOWN: 9 (Pick your character and separate some cards!)
Re-Playability: 7 (There is a lot of randomness to keep it fresh for awhile. I worry past about 20 plays though.)
FUN FACTOR: 10 (The most fun I have ever had playing a board game!)
A software developer by day and avid game player by night.KickStarter has recently rekindled my love of board games. Now I am looking to help the little guys of KS get their games noticed and funded as well as demonstrate how easy or difficult a game is played its first time through.