TDG: Black Orchestra

Black Orchestra, from Game Salute, is a new game based on the various resistance plots that existed to assassinate the Nazi Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler. The game depicts a map of Germany (with several locations in Berlin their own spaces- the Chancellery, Gestapo HQ, Sportspalast, etc..) as well as various other locations in Europe like Prague, Stockholm, Vienna, Paris, Auschwitz, and more. Most locations have random items on them, which are placed face down to hide them from the players. Each player draws a random conspirator, based on an actual historical resister like Clause von Stauffenberg, Wilhelm Canaris, Hans Oster, and more. Player cards have motivation tracks- how committed they are to the cause; and suspicion tracks- how much the Gestapo suspects their loyalty to Hitler. On a players' turn he or she may take three actions like conspire, roll dice in an attempt to add successes to the dissent track which will help to increase motivation or lower Hitler's military support; move from one location to another; search to reveal the item at a location, obtain that item, or draw a conspiracy card, or more. Conspiracy cards may give you advantages in the game to move directly across the board, or modify dice rolls, or contain plots to take the Fuhrer out. After the player takes his or her action, the player draws an event card which may move Hitler or his henchmen (Goebbels, Himmler, Goering, etc..) around the board, which can cause the player problems when they start their turn in the same space with one of them. Event cards also unfold the course of the game. Divided into seven decks, they unlock more territories as the war expands in Europe. Each deck also contains a number of Gestapo Raid cards, which will result in the arrest of on conspirators who have the highest suspicion ratings. Once arrested, they may be interrogated and forced to do bad things to their co-conspirators.

Players attempt to carry out a plot. The plot card will tell them what they must do to kill Hitler, and what cards and conditions will give them more dice and other advantages. Players then roll dice the plot card allows them to, and add in any more dice from conspirator cards. They must roll enough successes that it beats the rating of Hitler's military support, but also not roll the German eagle symbol greater than their own suspicion level- lest they go to the Gestapo prison. The players win the game when they successfully kill Hitler. They lose if all of the conspirators go to jail, or if a certain cards is revealed from the final event deck.

Black Orchestra is designed by Philip duBerry, who designed one of my favorite games, AEG's Courtier. The mechanics here are solid, and players really get a sense of the difficulties it took to get all of the pieces into place to take down of the most heavily guarded figures in history. Every turn you've got something to do, even if it is trying to get an item to another location in order to lower your suspicion level. Where the game really shines, however, is in the strong narrative that it provides. Conspirators are darting around Europe, collecting the pieces of the puzzle that they need, all the while careful not to make a misstep that will leave them to the tender mercies of the Gestapo. The way the war expands with the different event decks is really cool, allowing European locations to open up with the growing tide of war. Also, the various abilities that the conspirator cards provide offer some great decisions and touch choices, particularly when you want to keep them all but are limited to your hand size.

With a background in history myself (I wrote my master's thesis on Hitler and Stalin as military commanders, and studied for a time in Berlin), I really appreciated the strong historical narrative here. Also, I love games based on history- and do it well- that are not wargames (though I do love wargames, too). Black Orchestra will take its place alongside historical board game gems such as Twilight Struggle, Origins of World War II, The Grizzled, Churchill, and others. The only complaint I have with regard to this game is that it can feel a little random, and therefore a little frustrating at times. It's not nearly as random as Escape From Colditz, but there is that element there if that is something that might turn you off of the game. Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed Black Orchestra and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys solid cooperative games and rich, historical games that are filled with narrative.

The Discriminating Gamer