Black Orchestra takes place as the Nazi Party’s grasp of Germany is weakening and the horrible events and actions taken by the Nazis have caused dissent within their own ranks. Each player takes on the role of one of the members of “Schwarze Kapelle” or the Black Orchestra, which is the name that the Gestapo gave to the group of conspirators within the German military that plotted to overthrow Hitler.
As an avid board gamer, it is easy to understand why World War II would be chosen as a common setting for many board games. Unsurprisingly, most games in this setting are traditionally war games with the method of play usually done through moving tanks, ships, and soldiers on a large map in order to depict battles. However, Black Orchestra takes a different approach to this expectation. The game uses an action point allowance system, so during a player’s turn, they are allowed three actions which consist of moving to different locations, drawing or playing cards, or conspiring. The conspire action in the game is the most useful but also the most dangerous. Whenever this action is taken, the player rolls three dice. Dependent upon the result of these dice, the player may gain more actions, increase the dissent towards Hitler’s regime, or increase their suspicion with the Gestapo. All of these actions are done in the hope of eventually being able to complete a plot card, which is the cards in the game that allow for an attempt to overthrow Hitler. When a player attempts to complete a plot card, they roll a number of dice dependent upon how prepared they are for that plot and if they roll a number of successes that equals Hitler’s military support, they win the game. If they fail to do so, then this will lead to trouble with the Gestapo.
The two elements of the game that are working against you the most are Hitler’s military support and the Gestapo. After every player’s turn, an event card is drawn from one of seven phase decks. These phase decks contain actual events that happened within Germany and abroad during World War II. Whenever they are drawn from the deck, it triggers different effects. This can include Hitler or one of his deputies moving to another location, Hitler’s military support decreasing or increasing, as well as many other effects. The events are split up into seven different phases to keep them in somewhat chronological order. As Hitler’s military support fluctuates throughout the game, it changes how difficult the plots to overthrow Hitler will be. As his support increases, plots will be more difficult to complete. The other force working against the players is the Gestapo. There are a number of Gestapo raid cards that are contained within all of the phase decks after phase one. Whenever these cards are drawn, players at extreme suspicion will be arrested, other players will lose cards that are illegal, and the descent towards Hitler is reset. Whenever a player is arrested, they are interrogated by the Gestapo and they have to work hard to convince them to release them, or another player has to stick their neck out and try to have them released, also coming with a risk of them also getting arrested. The randomness of not knowing when the Gestapo raid cards will be drawn is one of the most exciting parts of the game. As you play the game and become more suspicious due to your actions, the fear of the Gestapo arresting you becomes incredibly prevalent.
I really enjoyed Black Orchestra. I am someone that enjoys historical games, so this game really was in my ballpark. When I played the game, we managed to win. We played on standard difficulty and it was not without a few scares along the way, since there was even a time when all, but one player had gotten arrested by the Gestapo and things were getting unpredictable. In the end, we did complete a plot against Hitler, but it was quite an ordeal. We had to use forged travel plans to send Hitler to the Berlin Train Station, then we delivered intel to the Gestapo to decrease suspicion, then one player transferred intel to the other player who was attempting the plot, and finally, we planted a sniper who took the shot at Hitler. Luckily for us, the plot was successful, and we overthrew Hitler. Black Orchestra was very fun to play, and I would recommend it to anyone who has enjoyment for the historical or board games alike.
— Zachary Klozik, Poetry Editor