This is one of the most historically interesting games I’ve played, as while it’s always great to beat up Nazis. It’s almost always done from the position of the allied forces. Rarely do we get to read, see, or play as the men and women of Germany who had the strength and courage to stand against the atrocities of the Nazi regime. It’s one thing to say the Nazi’s were evil 74 years after the fact. It’s another to be in 1940’s Germany. And it’s this perspective that the designers confront you.
Name: Black Orchestra
Publishers: Game Salute
Year Published: 2016
Designer: Philip duBarry
Artists: Cody Jones, Dann May, Lucas Soriano
Of the nine playable characters. Based on living people, each comes with a blurb of their own history. Out of these nine, six were executed, two chose suicide rather than execution, and only one survived beyond the end of the war.
Talk about perspective.
It also sets the tone of the game.
You win by killing Hitler.
But it’s not going to be easy, nor guaranteed.
Black Orchestra has you begin as a regular Joe: angry at the government, but too timid and unmotivated to do anything about it. As the years progress, your motivation grows, and you’re more likely to do something about it. And the more suspicious you become.
From a pure gameplay viewpoint these are the two meters you need to juggle; suspicion and motivation. They’ll constantly rise and fall throughout the game based on several different variables. You need motivation to perform an assassination. Whereby the more suspicious you are, the more likely you’ll be caught and jailed before you can carry out the act.
While you’re doing that, you’re also travelling across Europe avoiding the German high command. You’ll also be uncovering, picking up, and delivering items. And grabbing handfuls of cards, and assassination plots.
These plots take front and centre of the game – as it’s how you win; killing Hitler. This is done by a dice roll. Of course. It’s a board game after all. This dice roll is earned by completing the requirements of the plot card. Doing so earns you one die. More dice are then awarded for completing optional elements of the assassination plot.
Once you’ve piled your dice, then you roll them.
Rolling a German Eagle may put you in trouble. As your suspicion level determines how many of these you can roll before you’re arrested – we’ll get into that later. If you cleared this first hurdle though, you then need to roll crosshairs equal to Hitler’s military strength. If you’ve done that, congratulations, you’ve done the first thing everyone thinks about when they ponder time travel.
Here’s an example. To carry out the Lone Gunman plot, your required elements are to be in the same space as Hitler, with the highest motivation possible. Then your optional elements, include having a weapon, having badges, and being a Wehrmacht (each character has a different affiliation).
It’s important you understand how to carry out a plot. As while there are some other great mechanics I’ve yet to mention. The way plots are carried out will determine whether this game is for you.
The game revolves around them. Everything you do will be building up to pulling off the perfect plot. You’ll be visiting different places, playing cards, avoiding the Gestapo, managing your suspicion and motivation, and manipulating Hitler to be in the right place at the right time.
All so you can roll enough dice to have a chance at murdering an art school drop-out.
As an idea, this is great. Assassinating someone, especially in a pre-digital age, everything has to be just right for you to be successful. You spend the majority of the game slowly putting together the pieces on a perfect assassination. As with each piece of the plot the pressure of needing to be successful increases. This feels great the first couple of times you play, the excitement of pulling it off. Of having all your ducks in a row.
But often you’re going to whiff the roll and all that time you spent will be for naught – and you have to begin again. It’s demoralising. As while you can do a lot to prepare for the roll, even if you do everything perfectly, you have little control over the outcome.
But that’s the game.
You need to be ok with losing due to bad luck.
However, that’s not the end of the interesting ideas in Black Orchestra.
There’s the conspire action. You can take it once per turn. It allows you to roll as many dice as you have actions. Which means the cost is great, but the rewards are great too. As you could get more actions this turn, move closer to getting more motivation, or if you’re unlucky – raise your suspicion level. It’s a push your luck mechanic that allows you to have fun, despite the heavy theme.
The other really interesting mechanic is when you’re jailed. Instead of taking a regular turn, you need to draw a card from the interrogation deck. This card will give you a couple of options – all bad. You’re not allowed to discuss your card but need to carry out the action regardless. This creates a feeling of isolation in making this decision. A drastically different from the feeling the rest of the game, where you’re constantly conversing over what plots people have and how best to act on them.
Taking a step back from the gameplay to look at the board, the artwork, and the instructions. Black Orchestra is tonally beautiful. It doesn’t have a large colour palette, but everything stands out, and it owns the depressive/oppressive feeling of the time period. Making everything you’re doing feel riskier and even more fraught with danger.
Another impressive feat of this board game is how they managed to lay out all the pertinent information on the board, and in the cards. You rarely need to go back to rulebook, even if you’ve been away from the game for months. Other publishers should take a lesson.
Black Orchestra is a good game that pushes new ideas into the co-op genre and has one of the most beautiful tones of a game I’ve seen. The injection of historical events and characters is a fantastic touch, and even when dealing with tough subject matter the game is still fun – to a point. And it’s the point where you ask yourself if it’s ok to lose/win on a dice roll.
Have been dealing with a sick child all week. Which isn’t really true. My wife has been dealing with a sick child. I just have to put up with not sleeping. Been getting back into Dale of Merchants 2, and 5-Minute Dungeon recently. Both great games, made even greater by their expansions.
What have you been playing recently?