I am not usually of the conspiring type, happy to leave folks to their own devices but this time I have invested heavily in a junior disguise kit; including toffee glasses, Candi floss wig and liquorice moustache. It would be a dreadful waste not to put them all to good use, especially as there is a hint of a thrilling plot about to reveal itself in Germany…
The year is 1936 and Hitler tightens his grip on Germany, his depraved scheme unmasked and times they are unsettled. High ranking members of the Reich begin to perspire as they begin to conspire in a plot of devilish deception. The goal Assassination of The Führer as World War two rages on in the background, creating such a racket that one can hardly hear one’s self think…the inconsiderat lot!
What’s All The Fuss About?
Black Orchestra has nothing, as far as I can tell, to do with instruments or musical performances. Needless to say, the plot thickens as the top brass in the Reich want to rid the world of one of its more prolific tyrants.
Apparently Phantasio Games have achieved numerous awards for this game including Golden Geek and Dice Tower Best Themed Game…which is all well and good but is it actually any good? A cooperative game sees us working together against the game its self but is that a recipe for a great solo experience or not?
So come with me on a solitary stroll through the streets of Berlin and a whistle-stop tour of the principal European cities of the late 1930’s and early 1940’s…
Immersion or Subversion?
Immersive or not, the look of this game is splendid thing to behold. Simple imagery with clear graphics and a cohesive colour scheme for what ever reason make me feel instantly transported to the 30’s & 40’s. There is a goodly amount of back story to all the protagonists of this escapade and the narrative created by the flavour text, illustrations and effects on the Events/Conspirator cards really cement the foundations for this game. As play progresses it is a simple and alarming fact that we…or in this case me, find ourselves fully engrossed in the planning, preparation and general, maddening logistical nightmare of holding a conspiratorial plot together.
Even without the look of the game, there is a very strong theme that shows out in the nature of gameplay and, as I would imagine would be true with a real conspiracy, trials and tribulations are abundant throughout an ever increasingly tricky situation. Add the look of the game and the historical photographs employed on the many Event and Conspirator cars, and we have ourselves an incredibly thematic gaming experience.
The game itself plays out in a rather simple manner which is great for diving straight in with both size 10 jackboots.
Play is simple.
…we check to see if we occupy a space with Hitler or his six henchmen (if so a penalty may be applied)…next…We have a choice of three actions to choose from collecting items, conspiring, dropping things off, moving, adding to our dossier (cards that can be used to help us advance our cause…each with special effects/outcomes, revealing items at locations, transferring things between characters at the same location or conning our way out of prison.
…then we draw an event card which can move Hitler and his minions about, add effects that can influence a turn or even change the game quite a bit.
And that’s it! Where the fun lies is in moving from location to location seeking useful items, trying to second guess where the Henchmen and Hitler are hanging out…and how we are going to thwart them.
After the first round, the Gestapo start performing raids and, if we are holding illegal cards or are acting very suspiciously, we run the risk of arrest and incarceration…this sets off a sub game turn where we undergo interrogation rather than perform regular actions. An interesting way to keep captive players engaged in the game.
Ultimately we only win if we can successfully complete a plot card by meeting all of its requirements and consequently defeat Hitler…we can loose, however, by running out of events, everyone getting arrested or drawing the “Documents Locat” card.
Wood Chits and Cardboard Bits:
All the art is pretty great, the cards, tokens and gameboard are printed well and made from quality materials including a linen finish to box, board and cards. The custom dice are weighty and feel good to “chuck” about the table…but donkt bank on them helping you…they too conspire!
Meeples and Standees:
- Game Design: Philip Dubarry, Dann May & Cody Jones
- Artist: Lucas Soriano
- Graphic Design: Cody Jones & Dann May
- Game Publisher: Phantasio games & Game Salute
- Boardgamegeek Page: https://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/156858/black-orchestra
- Playtime : 0 mins
- Gangs of one: 1-5
- Age of Consent: 14+
- DOB: 2017
As a cooperative game, one would expect that this should be playable by one player but is that a pleasant experience?
Actually it is. The game supports from one to five players all conspiring together the naughty little conspirators but as each character has (usually)three actions and a simple player board, managing several characters is not a daunting prospect
A place for itms collected, a tracker for Motivation (including the increased action/abilities with increased level progression and a small tracker for Suspicion…the less suspicious the better for obvious reasons. . The game scales in starting statistics depending on the number of characters played with so we should expect to find a pretty balanced game which ever number we play…I didn’t have time to try ou four or five play so it is pure conjecture that these play well but I see n real reason for the game not to work well with such high numbers only the event deck will be “burnt” through quickly before turn rotation with higher character counts.
Spreading greater numbers of characters out about the board can be beneficial in searching for and collecting resources but as many Plots require multiple players pawns to occupy the same space (or gain benefits for doing so) the logistics of moving numerous pawns can be a more complex affair.
The real Nitty Gritty:
- Winners and Losers: Without a shadow of a doubt this is a ridiculously difficult game to win. There are three difficulty levels from Easy through to Hard, offering set up changes with regards to Hitler’s starting Military support and variations to player dashboards dependant on player count making scalability good too…all which helps but even so, it is very tricky, as I would imaging the collaborators of plots during the real war might have found it. It is not beyond the realms of possibility to win and even the pummelling into the ground leaves us with a feeling of “well, we nearly made it…next time we will be better prepared”
- Rules is Rules is Rules: The rule book is a mere twelve pages long and is littered with images to illustrate game concepts. The language is accessible and explains how to play well. I had only one issue that the rules were a little vague about applying certain location ability traits to a player’s actions but this is not a deal breaker Play is simple and straight forward with rules accordingly, so it is not a lengthy process to get into a game.
- Lucky Buggers: Dice rolling plays a heavy part in the Plot actions as well as certain other layer actions…which means those of us that dice hate will not necessarily feel too happy about. It can be frustrating at times but the key is to amass resources and skills that enable us to roll high numbers of die, reduce Hitler’s military support and a few other little tricks to help mitigate the dice fest but in the end, the luck of the role does play a thematic part in plotting the downfall of such a tyrannical leader. Spies were everywhere, resources scarce, Gestapo everywhere and a World War knocking about in the background. So many factors to influence a well orchestrated plan…oh I have just got the title! The random dice results reflect this concept and make it part of the game’s tension. Many may still not like the luck factor but if viewing the game from the perspective I just suggested, it fits nicely into the game’s wholistic theme.
- Highs and Lows: I would imagine the theme for some may be a touchy subject, although I think it is unlikely many players, having been subject to the merciless hand of Hitlar’s domination of Germany, are still a alive. That said, it is a game about events that were said to have actually taken place and as it does not glorify Tyrannical regimes, I don’t think that the fact certain images such as swastikas in some artwork should put people off.
- Foot Prints All over Both Sides of My Table: The actual gameboard is 56cm x 56cm but once the cards and Player boards are added to the playing area you are looking at a playing footprint of about 65cm x 80cm.
Me, Myself and I:
The theme will not be to everyone’s taste and I suspect this will be a bit of a Marmite game. You either love it or hate it. Ordinarily I dislike dice heavy games as the little buggers always conspire against me but in this case, especially if I look at how difficult the task might have been during real life war time, I think they do have their part to play in this. As for me and myself, the experience has proven to be a positive one even though I have failed at my plots…
…I had one job to do! Resources and abilities to roll eight dice…Hitler’s military support down to four. I needed four success….foooooooouuuuuuuur success!!!!!!
But dice aside, it looks and plays really well as a solo game. I found it engrocing and was not put off by the dice fest…dice are important but are, after all, only part of this game of intrigue. There is only minimal bookkeeping needed to control several conspirators so focus can be directed to planning and strategy, rather than laborious stat control.
Yay or Nay?
Black Orchestra sneaks about in the background conspiring to earn itself a BSoMT 1d8 die roll of (7). This ‘sort of worker placement/puzzle’ game really held my attentions. If you like theme and narrative created through gameplay, then definately check this out
…now where did I put my secret hiding cabinet?.. can hear boots clacking on the cobbles on the footpath outside…I fear a Gestapo raid at any moment and me only in my Sunday bath robe…it’s so threadbare my medals are showing…will this sneaking about ever end. I still need to acquire a bottle of poison and a special slingshot to administer it…What are the chances of Hitler riding on this merry-go-round?
…maybe Disney Land, Paris was not the best place to wait and ambush him…especially as this is the twenty first century!!!!
Something For The Weekend, Sir?
- Black Orchestra BGG entry:
- Rahdo Runsthrough:
- Review with Zee Garcia:
- How To Play Boardgame Network: