That Time We Tried to End the War
There are three things that any nerd who has fantasized about going back in time has on their to-do list:
Meet The Doctor.
Attend the Enchantment Under the Sea dance at Hill Valley High School on November 12, 1955.
So let’s practice before the moment comes, shall we?
Black Orchestra is a fully co-op game set in WWII during the height of Nazi-controlled Europe where players take the roles of the members of the Nazi Party that plotted to assassinate Hitler on July 20th, 1944. As history showed us, no time-traveler was there to make it succeed, and Hitler lived to see another day.
Now, there is a reason they didn’t succeed: trying to kill Hitler is freakishly hard. We spent 45 minutes reviewing the rules and making a practice round and two and a half hours playing the actual game. Two and a half hours of stressed gameplay trying to react to the game and anticipate its plots against us. It was awesome. And yet, we lost.
Black Orchestra has easy enough gameplay. In order to win, you need to succeed on a Plot to kill Hitler before the “Documents located” card is revealed in stage 7, among other end-game events. Almost every Plot has a different set of requirements and bonuses. Requirements are needed in order to attempt the Plot and Bonuses are used to better your chances at getting it right. In retrospective, it might have been useful to ACTUALLY attempt a plot.
At first, we didn’t really understand how everything worked. We didn’t know if we should spread out throughout the board and cover as many bases as possible or rather stay together and be able to exchange the items and plot cards that we were getting. It was weird and messy. And much like any real-life conspiracy, we were nervous.
To be fair, we had to deal with our own problems. In order to attempt plots, you need to be highly motivated, literally. There is a motivation track that gives each character an extra bonus, so if you lose motivation, you lose those bonuses. To make things even more difficult, there is also a suspicion track that keeps score of how you are perceived by the Gestapo. If your Suspicion is Extreme, you automatically go to jail during a Gestapo raid. Which makes sense, since you are the first one they are going to suspect, but still makes everything more complicated.
Every single one of us spent time in jail, sometimes resisting interrogation, sometimes failing to do so, thus betraying our comrades that were free. When you fail an interrogation, you have three secret options, which you cannot discuss with your teammates, and each of those options carries a backlash to the players’ strategy. One of our conspirators spent so much time in jail that they named a room after him and even brought him doughnuts every morning.
On top of everything else, we have the Events, divided into 7 stages. At the end of every player’s turn, they have to reveal an event card, often depicting an actual episode from WWII, and used to keep players in check from gaining an advantage. For one, the events allow the game to move Hitler and his most trusted officials around the different locations of the map. On the other hand, they can, sometimes, provided a certain level of relief to the players. And then there are the Gestapo raids, which simply suck.
The events that move Hitler make it difficult for players to use some plots that require him to be in a specific location. Plus, each official has some kind of detriment to players that start their turn in the same location as them, like lowering your motivation, raising your suspicion, or forcing you to surrender an item. Usually, the events move two or three of the officials, which is not bad, although sometimes it can make them all move to the same location. Guess who was there when that happened. Yep, this poor guy.
For a game that is fully co-op, it’s so strange the level of suspicion that arises among teammates. Does she have the worst luck in the world or is she trying to bring us down? Was having a fellow teammate arrested the only option or did she actually want him out of the way? Do we suck at this or is the game too hard? Questions like that can drive a gamer crazy, you know?
And so, stage 7 delivered the “Documents located” card, which incriminated every single one of us and made the game the winner. Hitler lived and the war raged on. The good thing is that now we know how the game is supposed to be played, therefore we are pretty confident about our chances for the next time these nerds plot to kill Hitler… Because no matter how difficult it is or how bad we played, Black Orchestra is a great game and a lot of fun. Not for nothing, we have already been plotting for two weeks over what we are gonna do next time we play. Because we are going to play again. We need to save the world from Hitler. He needs to fall. We will never surrender. At the end, we are fighters, we are rebels, we are nerds.
Viva la Nerdolution!
P.S. Photos, courtesy of Game Salute, by Greg May. The art of the game is by Lucas Soriano. We want to thank Game Salute for sending us a review copy of Black Orchestra and we want to clarify that we liked the game because it’s a good game, not because it was free. But heck, the best things in life are free, right?