Black Orchestra is a co-op game where you have to kill Hitler. Working as a team, following the course of events of history, you, as defected supporters of the Nazi party, leave Berlin, visiting other locations, discovering files, poison and signatures to take down Hitler and his allies.
Components and Variables
To start with, we have the Black Orchestra map. This contains the locations of the enemy and the antagonists that you and your comrades can visit throughout the game... Sober times as you see death camps listed. Firstly, take the files and place them face down over each of the locations (according to the instructions). There are placed randomly so every game is different.
Shuffle (again making every game different) the event cards by event number (stacks 1-7) and remove two from each stack - thus ensuring that you're not being able to predict what would definitely happen each time you play.
The enemy – Hitler and his deputies (I’m listing this before characters as the first thing you do on your turn is see if the enemy is at your location, is they are, you carry out the penalty, such as lowering motivation).
You can then carry out three actions (the same one on multiple turns is generally allowed). The actions within Black Orchestra include; moving, revealing items, taking items, swapping items, taking cards (cards are mostly free to use), conspiring and attempting a plot.
Next, you draw an event. For example, Neville Chamberlin visits Hitler is an event, and as such certain members of the enemy move to the location where they meet Hitler, so whilst you could move to an enemy location, don’t be there at the start of your turn!
We picked our characters at random as there is only one ability which makes each one unique, which might seem weak, but like Pandemic, is effective ,and in some respect, it aligns other players. The special ability is only unlocked when your motivation is high enough, and as the abilities are decent enough to utilise. For example, looking at the next set of plot cards and selecting one. This streamlines actions and reduces any analysis paralysis (and lets others be aware of what they can do, before their turn, if they are motivated enough!).
During your turn you can (and should) collect cards. These can be plots (which may require files, or cards similar to non-Action cards in Pandemic) which might let you move anywhere on the map. The cards you collect are limited to two on standard motivation, but improve as your motivation increases (hand limit lowers if your motivation lowers).
The best cards are “illegal.” If there is a Gestapo raid (there isn’t in the first event deck), you must up your Suspicion if you wish to keep a card, or you'll lose the card. If your suspicion reaches Extreme and you (still) have an illegal card, you go to prison. If all of you are in prison, you lose. Hence why it's risky to stockpile such cards, and is one of the reasons why Black Orchestra is wonderfully, thematically tense.
Lastly, characters are allowed to carry three files (four in a two-player game). Files could be poison, a signature, explosives and keys amongst other items (discover them!). To make a plot attempt, you need to be at the same location as Hitler, he needs to be at a fortified location, and you need to work out if the success (of rolling dice) is greater than his military support.
Plots have optional elements to them (which I would say are essential to being successful). They increase requiring a certain file type and for each number of that file type, they give you an extra D6, i.e. one D6 for the plot card, another two for two poison, if poison was the required item, and being a certain type of character, for example, ex-deputy. Thus, trading, collaboration and discussion is needed to make sure the plot is going to be carried out by the right person. (You might also have cards which provide re-rolls).
The dice in Black Orchestra are D6s, with each a one, two, three, eagle or two target faces. You roll and need to have more targets than eagles. On easy, Hitler has a military support of two, throughout the game, it can increase and decrease (but not drop below two, on medium and hard, the lower cap is three and four)
(It turned out when we made our first attempt, I rolled five targets and we won!)
Theme and Gameplay
The game, like the characters you play (and you), are wary and sceptical of the enemy as they know if, through rallies (amongst other events), they can move locations. If you start, when they are at the beginning of your turn, you will suffer a penalty, such as lower motivation. Lower motivation reduces your abilities, such as attempting a plot.
We played as a three, which I heard was recommended. What is great in this game, is an event on one person's turn frequently adjusts motivation and suspicion for everyone, so everyone is involved which negates down time (an issue in games with many players).
This is like a co-op version of Fury of Dracula. The real world nature and path of the years is immersive, thrilling, and racks the nerves.
We really enjoyed it. Seeing the events occur (some will be familiar from history, both in text books and other factual sources). Similarly, the enemy and the resistance can only move in certain areas and both expand their reach/location as history progresses (which constantly means they are ever present and could be at your location).
The artwork and detail is great, the variables in the game are streamlined, the fun and engagement factor is strong, the many different characters, possibilities of events and locations of files open variety. This game, which I think many co-ops have to their advantage, is one where you play the game more frequently due to the varied combined mechanisms.
Black Orchestra Conclusion
Black Orchestra is a great co-op game with a deep, meaningful theme, high levels of co-operation (more than say Forbidden Island or Desert I felt), continuous progress, which feels grounded due to the years/events that occur.
Once you have won (apparently it is rare to win on your first attempt, you may not be interested in attempting to "kill" again. However, it has varying difficulties, differing roles to play, orders of events (within reason) and the general fun of knowing you had unsuspecting deputies of the enemy at any moment appear at your location, bringing down your strength.
A worthy pick up and great opportunity to, for a few hours be a part of history.