During World War II, as the tides began to turn against Germany, there was a small group of individuals who attempted to remove Hitler from power by any means necessary. This group of people were given the title “Schwarze Kapelle” which translates from German to Black Orchestra.
The game of Black Orchestra is a cooperative push-your-luck game where you take on the roles of these real life individuals and also attempt to plan and execute a plot that will remove Hitler from power. The game plays out over the actual historical time span of World War II and you play through the events and locations in and around Germany trying to complete your objective.
On your turn you are given 3 actions that you can spend to travel, collect items, play cards from your hand, draw new cards hoping to uncover possible new plots on how to stop Hitler, etc. The most interesting of these actions is “Conspire” in which you spend your remaining actions and roll a dice for each action you have left. The face of each die you roll will determine how your turn plays out. Any of the numbers your roll will grant you that many additional actions to take on your turn, while rolling one of the symbols will allow you to further up your motivation as a character allowing for you to succeed on your plots to stop Hitler. While this can be a very powerful action, it could also result in setting you back quite heavily depending on the outcome of this roll as one side of each of the dice can result in your suspicion meter moving up.
Having now mentioned a Suspicion and a Motivation meter, this is the main element of tracking progress and how well you are doing in the game. Each character needs to continually work to manage these two meters to ensure they will be able to enact the plots they are working toward. Additionally, these meters will determine just how much you can push toward your goal each turn, and what actions and cards you will have access to each turn. The more motivated your character, the more options they have, the less suspicious you are, the better your odds are at succeeding when you feel you are in a position to take out Hitler. If you can stay motivated enough over the course of the game and are all able to avoid being put in prison, then you can accomplish your goal and be victorious.
The theme here will actually be very divisive in that it can be an off-putting time period and setting that some people may feel uncomfortable with and may not want to approach in the manner of a board game. When I first heard about the game, I too felt slightly uncomfortable about the theme; but after having played it, I found that the subject material was covered and used in a way that does not cause disrespect or make light of what was taking place in the world during World War II.
In terms of replayability I think this is game does lack a bit in this category. The biggest reason is that there are the same seven decks of timeline cards that you go through each game, with each deck being around ten cards. Each of these individual decks is shuffled each game so you are not as easily able to predict how each of the seven time periods will play out, but as you play the game multiple times you do begin to see a strong pattern as to how the game plays out each time, and for some players this will make the game begin to feel slightly stale after a few times playing through.
LEARNABILITY & DIFFICULTY
This game is not a terribly difficult game to learn and teach as there are only a handful of actions you can take each turn. Additionally, since this is a cooperative game where you really need to work together, you can easily talk about and discuss the actions you should all take quite frequently, which helps newer players learn all the actions and can remind them of ones they may forget about. However, when it comes to the difficulty of this game to win then it is a fairly moderately difficult game
For me, Black Orchestra was a game that I purchased but stared at on my shelf for quite some time before bringing to the table. I think I was mostly waiting for the right collection of players who I felt would enjoy the experience. Once I found the right group and we sat down to play, we had a fantastic time playing through the actual historic events of World War II trying our best to out-smart and out-play Hitler and his regime. It took us numerous times before we finally cracked the puzzle behind the game, and when we did and we experienced victory, it really was a stand-up moment. However, after we had accomplished our task I packed up the game and felt like I had now checked that game off my list of games to play and it has since sat on my shelf. It's odd actually, I loved every play session of the game equally whether we won or lost, but once we finally came out the victor I felt satisfied with the time I had put into the game. Will I be getting rid of my copy because of this? No, the fun I had in the five or six play sessions was enough for it to hold its spot on my shelf. It may sit there for some time before being brought out again, but Black Orchestra fits a tiny niche in the board game world that I am happy exists.
SUGGESTED SAND BOX GAMING PRODUCTS
Black Orchestra Bundle:
1 Sand Bar
2 Single Card Inserts
1 Single Split Drawer