Black Orchestra – Board Game Review

Overview:

Storm clouds are forming over Europe as the Third Reich rises to power in Germany. What would you do? In Black Orchestra, you take up the role of a conspirator to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

Players have two stats, indicated on their conspirator card. Their motivation shows how committed they are to the cause. As players get more motivated, they can do more to contribute to the group. “Motivated” or “Reckless” conspirators can even pull the trigger on an assassination plot. The other stat is suspicion, which shows how closely the Gestapo are watching you. The higher your suspicion gets, the riskier your moves become. If it gets too high, you’ll be arrested and subject to Gestapo interrogation. I won’t spoil the surprise but you can probably guess how that will go, right?

The game revolves around collecting two kinds of resources: conspirator cards and items. Most cities have an item tile on it, which is face down at the beginning of the game. These items can be used toward assassination plots or for lowering a player’s suspicion. The other resource is a deck of conspirator cards. These cards contain assassination plots and other actions that can help players, such as increasing the odds of a plot’s success or helping players get around Europe.

Each player gets three actions per turn, which can be used to travel, collect items, draw conspirator cards, or a few other options. At the end of each player’s turn, they draw an event card that corresponds to something happening in history. The game ends if all players are in jail or if the event cards run out.

There’s only one way to win: take out the Fuhrer. Hitler’s vulnerability is represented by the military support tracker. This goes up or down based on historical events or player actions. Players must roll a number of dice, with the aim of rolling at least an equal number of targets to Hitler’s military support. Cards and items allow you to roll more dice. If the roll succeeds, the plot succeeds. If not, the plot fails. To further the risk, if players roll a number of eagles equal to their suspicion, the plot fails and they are immediately arrested.

The Good:

  1. The theme is fantastic. Operation Valkyrie is such a great concept for a game and the developers paid close attention to the history. The conspirator cards all represent real participants in the plot and include a bio about their role in it.
  2. The tension is real. The whole game is a race against the clock and the odds are always against you. All of that gets dialed up to eleven if a co-conspirator is arrested, as interrogations can yield awful results.

The Bad:

  1. This game is long. I’m suspicious of claims that this game can be played in an hour. Among three different playgroups of varying levels of board game experience, we’ve never played it in less than two. It’s not unreasonable for this game to go for three hours. The length puts constraints on when it can be played.
  2. The availability is limited. The game started as a Kickstarter project, but the second edition has a much wider distribution. Still, for such a wonderful game, it can be a pain to get your hands on a copy.

Final Thoughts:

The past couple of times I’ve played this, at least one person at the table has said this is one of their favorite games we play. I like historically inspired games anyway, but this one is a real treat. It’s a great cooperative game that does a good job of simulating the conspiracy that inspired it. Come on, who doesn’t want to spend a Friday night with their friends conspiring against Hitler?

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