This Black Orchestra review was made after playing the game five times.
What is Black Orchestra?
In Black Orchestra, you play as members of a resistance group inside of the German Reich who are attempting to assassinate Hitler. To pull it off, you have to be motivated, get the items you need, and then patiently wait for the perfect time to strike.
Black Orchestra Gameplay
Black Orchestra is played over seven phases (seven decks of cards), each of which covers a specific period of World War II. As you move through the phases, more spots on the map will open up and the game will get tougher.
Each player will take on the role of one of the conspirators. Each conspirator has a Motivation track and a Suspicion track on his board. As you move up the Motivation track, you’ll be able to hold more cards, you’ll gain a unique special ability, and you’ll be more motivated to attempt one of your assassination plots. The Suspicion track affects how easy/difficult it will be to pull off an assassination; also, if your suspicion is too high (“Extreme” level), you run the risk of being caught by the Gestapo.
Each turn, a player will take three actions and then draw an event card. Actions include moving, conspiring, drawing conspirator cards, playing cards, searching locations, picking up items, using special abilities, sharing cards and items, delivering items, releasing fellow conspirators from jail, and assassination attempts. If a conspirator starts his or her turn in the same space as Hitler and/or his deputies, that conspirator will have to take the penalties written on those enemies’ tokens.
An action most players will attempt on their turns is the Conspire action. This is when you can roll up to three dice to try to gain more actions and to gain benefits from the Dissent Track. When you roll the dice, you’ll add up all of the numbers and gain that many actions. For each target symbol, you’ll add those dice to the Dissent Track; if that track ever fills up, you’ll either lower Hitler’s military support or raise one conspirator’s motivation. Every German eagle symbol rolled will force all conspirators in the current location to raise their suspicion by one.
Moving is very simple in this game. If you’re already in Berlin or you’re at the train station, you can move to any of the six locations in Berlin. Outside of Berlin you have to move along the dotted lines to adjacent locations. Each location has a number above it that represents when that location becomes available; for example, once a Phase 3 card has been played, you’ll be able to move to any of the locations with a 3 above them.
At the start of the game, each space on the board will have an unrevealed item tile. Once you have items, they can be used to add dice to plot cards or you can “deliver” those items to specific locations to gain one-time benefits.
The conspirator deck contains some simple ability cards, some of which can be used on other players’ turns. The deck also has restricted cards that have more powerful abilities, but they can also make the Gestapo suspicious of you. There are also plot cards, which tell you exactly what you will need to get to give you a good chance of pulling off those assassination attempts.
If you have a plot card and want to try to assassinate Hitler, you’ll gather all of the dice that you want to use and attempt to roll the number of successes (target symbols) shown on the “Hitler’s Military Support” track without rolling the number of German eagles shown on your Suspicion track. You’ll always lose all of the items and cards used during a failed assassination attempt, and you could even go to jail if you are detected.
If you do end up in jail, there are two ways you can get out. Someone else can get you out by rolling a die and hoping it doesn’t end up being a German eagle. You can get yourself out on your turn by rolling a target symbol. If your roll fails, you will have to draw an interrogation card and choose one of the options.
After you’ve taken all of your actions, you’ll draw an Event card from the lowest-numbered deck. These cards can move Hitler and his deputies around, raise or lower conspirators’ motivation and suspicion, and raise or lower Hitler’s military support, among other things. The worst of these cards is the Gestapo Raids cards, which send all conspirators currently at Extreme suspicion to jail, raise other conspirators’ suspicion levels by one for each restricted card they have, and remove all of the dice from the Dissent track.
The only way to win the game is by assassinating Hitler. Everyone loses if all conspirators are in jail at the same time, if the Documents Located card is drawn, or if there are no event cards left to draw.
- It’s obvious that the designer, Philip duBarry, did a lot of research for this game. All of the events really happened and Hitler and his deputies move around the map as they did when those events took place. Even though mechanically the game is extremely simple and familiar, the implementation of the theme makes you feel like you’re playing a unique game.
- I love that you can attempt to win/assassinate Hitler whenever you want to. It’s not going to be easy during the early phases, but with a lot of luck you could do it. And this makes sense thematically, too, because you might not find yourself in that perfect situation again for the rest of the game.
- Besides the theme, what really differentiates Black Orchestra from all of the other Pandemic-like games is the Conspire action. It’s a cool press your luck action that adds excitement to the beginning of just about every turn.
- The plot cards themselves are very cool. Sometimes you’ll be waiting for Hitler to move to a specific location, while in other cases you want to rush over to him before he gets more military support. Each one gives players their own specific goals.
- There is an excellent flow to this game, especially after everyone has a plot card. Everyone’s involved in just about every turn and there’s very little downtime between turns.
- It’s great that there are nine different conspirators to choose from and that the boards include their backstories and their unique special abilities.
- Black Orchestra also has above-average replayability. There are three difficulty levels and two additional ways that you can make the game more challenging.
- The game starts at a bit of a crawl. There isn’t much to think about during your early turns because you’re really just hoping to draw a plot card so you can start working towards something. It can actually be pretty frustrating if no one can find plot cards during those early turns.
- Even though it makes sense thematically, not everyone is going to like that you only win if you’re able to roll the dice well. When I first read the rules I was very disappointed by this, but after playing it just made sense considering how many failed attempts there were during that time. Still, it’s a bit odd that you can do everything right and still lose.
- Since every bit of information is out there for everyone to see, you can definitely run into quarterbacking/alpha player issues.
- This theme is not going to be for everyone. The reality is that the conspirators and the majority of the people you’re trying to “save” actually died during the war.
Black Orchestra has been a pretty big hit so far for my group, which is surprising considering how low my expectations were after I read the rulebook. It has this way of pulling you into the story, making you forget that the game’s mechanics have been used many times before and often in more interesting ways. It’s an intense, challenging game that requires a good amount of discussion and cooperation to win (don’t expect to win very often, though). We’ve played the game five times so far and after each one we spent five or more minutes talking about what happened during those games… that’s always a good sign.
Gamers who are interested in World War II or historical board games will probably get a kick out of Black Orchestra. Also, if you happen to be a big fan of press your luck games, I’d say there’s a very high chance that you will love this one.
Update: Black Orchestra is one of our favorite 5+ player board games!