RogerBW's Blog

Black Orchestra unboxing and review 16 April 2018

My copy of the new (second) printing of Black Orchestra has arrived.

I bought it though the Kickstarter in February last year (and Game Salute slipped six months from an original eight-month delivery estimate, but I gather that this is better than usual for them).

The box contains rulebook, reference card, and punchboard for tokens, above the board.

Inside are three sealed card packs, dice, some oddly small pawns, and the character cards.

The dice are slightly yellowed, trying to replicate the feel of the dice one might have seen in a board game of the period before plastics had really got sorted out.

Character cards. There are unique player powers, and Abwehr, Wehrmacht and Civilian affiliations each have benefits for certain plots.

Event cards. Draw one at the end of each player's turn, from the lowest-numbered deck remaining. These are historical events like the Anschluss or the invasion of Poland; they modify various game parameters.

Interrogation cards. Once you get arrested, and you will, you get interrogated; each turn until you're released, you draw a card and choose one option, without telling the other players what the other choices were. But you're a true patriot who wouldn't rat out your allies in the cause, right? Right?

Conspirator cards: plots and special benefits (legal and illegal). Your objective is to bring off a plot: this will generally have some required elements (being in the same space as Hitler, having a particular piece of equipment, etc.) and will get benefits from some other elements. Then you need to roll dice, and get at least as many target symbols as Hitler's current military support, while avoiding getting as many suspicion symbols as your current suspicion level.

I'm not generally fond of the "build up your resources and then blow them all on a dice roll" mechanic, but this is a game in which it works well: it's deliberately hard to pull off, and sometimes your best plans will be stymied. Philip duBarry (whose Revolution! I'm also rather fond of) has done a good job of turning an often-questionable mechanic into a useful bit of game flavour.

All right, the game is somewhat problematic in that it paints the conspirators as heroes, where historically quite a few of them were entirely happy to go along with the whole Nazi thing for as long as it seemed to be working for them. But I think that having a moderate grasp of history is an effective counter to that.

This is a notoriously hard game, and I haven't won it yet. And the random setup of equipment and plot cards means that some games are probably un-winnable from the start. But I still enjoy it every time I play.

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