A review copy of Black Sonata was provided by Side Room Games. I would like to thank Dustin Culbertson and Side Room Games for supporting my blog. All thoughts, comments, and pictures herein are my own.
Stop the presses! Alert the media! Call a press conference! I have big news to share, and being loyal readers of my blog, I will share this news with you first! I have singlehandedly identified William Shakespeare’s Dark Lady!! Why are you looking at me like that? What do you mean “what dark lady?” Sigh… let me back up a bit.
Many of us are well versed in the works of William Shakespeare. At the very least, at one time or another, we were exposed (subjected) to them at some during our education. He wrote plays, the likes of which had never been seen before, or some would argue, since. Aside from the plays, he also wrote poems, and sonnets, 154 of them to be exact. Of these 154 sonnets there were 28 that were written about a mysterious woman, known as the Dark Lady. Although the true identity of this woman has long been debated by scholars, her true name has not been known. Until now!
I recently received a package in the mail from Side Room Games, a small and mysterious package. Intrigued I carefully opened this package. Inside was a box adorned with a picture of William Shakespeare and a title, Black Sonata. As I opened the box I realized that I was gazing upon something that I had never seen before, a game about unveiling the Dark Lady herself! A solo deduction and hidden movement game designed by John Kean, and is now live on Kickstarter. This is a serious game in a little package, that began its life as a free print and play. As a matter of fact, in 2017 Black Sonata was a nominee for the Golden Geek Best Print & Play Board Game.
Opening the box I was instantly hit with a breath of fresh air. Black Sonata is not your average game. To begin with, it is a strictly solo game, that alone made me sit up and smile. The theme is something that I had not encountered before, a trip through Shakespeare’s London in search of a mysterious figure. The hidden movement mechanism was also new to me, simple yet graceful. The game works on so many different levels, producing a one of a kind experience that beckons you to play over and over again. The puzzle Black Sonata offers can be mind bending, but yet so satisfying!
Okay, but how do you play this game? I’m getting to that, right about now as a matter of fact! Setting up the game, is extremely quick and easy to do, assuming you know your ABC’s. A random Dark lady is chosen from the 11 available cards, the remaining cards are shuffled, one dealt to you, the rest making the clue deck. Next, the game board is laid out, placing your player pawn on the location of your choice, and the fog card deck is shuffled. The stealth deck is then assembled by choosing one of the eight movement sequences, represented by letters of the alphabet. Once the sequence has been chosen the cards are then ordered alphabetically, cut once (to make things interesting), the countdown card is added to the bottom, with the number 2 showing upright, and you are ready to play!
Every turn will be comprised of two steps, moving the Dark Lady, and your action. The Dark Lady moves in conjunction with the stealth deck. Each turn the topmost stealth card will be moved to the bottom of the deck revealing a new card. If the countdown card has popped up, your running out of time! Flip it from 2 to 1, or from 1 to 0, and reveal a new card. The Dark Lady has now moved to a location that shares the revealed icon. It is now the player turn, during which you may do one of four things. You may move to an adjoining location, you may search for the Dark Lady at your current location (if you are at a location that shares the newly revealed icon), you may use a fog card (of one was revealed), or you may pass.
Most of the actions are pretty straightforward, moving is, well, moving. The game board has clearly lined pathways that connect the locations, making it easy to see where you can go next, if you so choose. Searching for the Dark Lady is what this game is all about, and this part of the game does not disappoint. If you choose this action take a fog card from the fog desk placing it under the current stealth card. Then take the location card that matches your current location and also place it under the current stealth card. Now flip the location and stealth cards over. If the Dark Lady appears in the little magnifying glass she is here (!) you may reveal the top card in the clue deck. If she does not appear, she is not at your location. Either way the stealth card is discarded face down, and the stealth deck is then advanced by one card for each clue that you have, including the one that you may have just obtained. Each clue card will contain vital information about the Dark Lady’s true identity. This information is given through characteristic icons. Was she literary? Musial? Promiscuous? Married? Linked to Shakespeare? Did she have children, or court connections? All of these questions are insight into who she was. The clue cards will depict icons referring to these characteristics on one side of the card. The other side of the card will show how many of her characteristics also apply to the Dark Lady herself! Using the clue cards players must deduce who they believe she was before time runs out. A player may lose the game if the stealth deck reaches zero, the fog deck runs out of cards, or if you incorrectly identify her. That’s how you play!
I may have mentioned the box was small, there are not many components to Black Sonata, making it perfect for travel. Game play itself has a very small footprint making set up possible almost anywhere! The game comes with a game board, 11 dark Lady cards, 32 stealth cards, 11 location cards, 10 fog cards, 1 countdown card, and 7 deduction tokens. Along with a player pawn, that is it! It amazes me how John Kean was able to do so much with so little. The game truly feels like a much bigger experience than that components would lead you to believe! The copy of Black Sonata that I played was a review copy and therefore not the same quality that backers of the Kickstarter will receive. I was still pretty impressed by the components. The game board was a really cool rendition of 1560 London map. The portraits of the possible Dark Lady’s was also great to see. Each of the location cards had quotes from the sonnets Shakespeare wrote to his mistress on the back sides. I loved the keyholes on these cards as a way to see if the Dark Lady was close to your location. There was so much to love about this game, and nothing to not. I cannot find a single thing about Black Sonata that did not work for me.
Black Sonata is simply put, for the solo gamer, a must have! This game is not easy, I have let the Dark lady slip away far more than I have ever tracked her down. For me, I find it to be much more thematic that way. After all, if identifying her was easy then it would not still be a mystery 400 years later! However, I did find out who she was, and I am sure that you can too, but first you’ll have to back the Kickstarter! I changed my mind, I’m not going to tell you who she is, I am going to let you find it out for yourself!
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