Black Sonata review – is the Dark Lady a keeper?

I picked up Black Sonata by Side Room Games when they ran their Kickstarter last year. In this Black Sonata review, we’ll go through a brief summary of the game mechanics, components, and our separate points of view on the game.

Black Sonata review

Disclaimer: We offer Side Room Games’ games for local purchase in our online shop. While we promise to be honest in our assessment of the games we review, do take this into consideration as you go through our review.

In it, you are pursuing the mysterious Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets through London, trying to catch a glimpse of her to gain clues to her identity. Get enough clues, the right clues, and you may be able to piece together who she is and finally confront her. Black Sonata is a hidden movement, press your luck strategy game for one player, or a cooperative group.

It was my first “solitaire” game purchase, though the game can certainly be played as a cooperative one as well. It originally was available as a print and play game, was a 2017 Golden Geek nominee, and revolved around Shakespeare–I was hooked, and I couldn’t resist backing.

I’m very glad I did. It comes in a small box, easy to bring around, has amazing components and a relaxing color theme, and is an interesting puzzle all on its own. Dan and I always marvel at how clever the Dark Lady movement is.

Black Sonata Dark Lady token

Black Sonata play through summary

You start the game by 1) choosing a Dark Lady card, face down, which would be the lady you need to find, and 2) arranging the stealth deck to build the order of the Dark Lady’s movement across London. The front of the stealth deck cards contain eight letters along the top and bottom, seemingly at random, which you arrange in alphabetical order to build out this hidden path the lady takes.

On each round, the Dark Lady moves first, which is represented by moving the top card of the stealth deck to the bottom of the deck and moving the lady to an adjacent location on the map that contains that symbol1.

After that, you are free to do any one of four actions:

  1. Move – you can move to an adjacent location, and “unlock” the location if you have not done so yet (you get a free clue if you unlock all locations)
  2. Search – if the Dark Lady is in the same location as you are, you can search for her2
  3. Use a Fog Card – over time, the stealth deck will also fill with Fog Cards which make the Dark Lady more difficult to find–but using a Fog Card may also assist you in your search (…or drastically make it more difficult)
  4. Pass – you can opt to stay in your current location and do nothing, essentially just letting the Lady move again.
Black Sonata keyhole

Searching for the Dark Lady entails taking one of the limited Fog Cards and slipping it underneath the stealth card that is topmost (so that you hide the card below, and then combining the topmost stealth card with the location card (with the keyhole). You flip this card over, and check through the keyhole if the lady is visible through it. If she appears in the keyhole, you have glimpsed the Dark Lady and you can take a clue from the clue deck. Afterward, she flees–and you move the stealth deck forward by how many clues you have obtained, essentially skipping several hidden movements that she takes to flee.

The clues take the form of symbols–deduce all three symbols in the Dark Lady’s card, and you have successfully figured out the identity of the lady3. In addition, each Dark Lady card contains clues to the other ladies, in the form of her similarity to the lady you are trying to find.

Black Sonata Dark Lady cards

Once you have deduced all three symbols and are ready to unmask her, catch her one last time to confront her and win the game. But make sure that you don’t dally–using up all your available Fog Cards or taking too many revolutions of the deck will lose you the game as well, and she will be shrouded in mystery forever (or until the next game).

Black Sonata components

This is one example where Kickstarter really shines as a channel for publishing a game like this. With this game being available as a Print and Play game, “official” components like these are pretty much what you back the Kickstarter for. And they definitely delivered.

I love the aesthetic and the feel of the final components. It’s light–both visually and in weight, giving the game a relaxing, country-style feel. The wooden components, from the pawn to the tokens and the Dark Lady silhouette tokens feel good to the touch and is definitely a beautiful upgrade over the Print and Play tokens available. The cards feel great, linen-finished and with a good thickness to them.

I especially love the way you peek through a keyhole in the card to see if you’ve spotted the Dark Lady. That is such a cute, cool way of doing the check and gives a bit of suspense especially for us (we usually have one person do the stealth deck and another manage the location deck, and the latter always does the keyhole-checking).

Black Sonata keyhole

I’ve also checked the available free Print and Play file and it is definitely playable, so you should give it a whirl if you’re interested. In addition to this, while I have not made this PnP game, I love the way they’ve laid out the PnP–it’s one of the better laid-out ones and is a true PnP you can print and get done right at home with just a few common household stationery tools.

There also needs to be a special mention that Side Room Games also included a beautiful booklet on the historical background behind Shakespeare’s Dark Lady, which is worth a read and a definite plus.

Her POV

I was definitely impressed when I received my copy of the Kickstarter box. It was sturdy, components are amazing, and it just felt right. I proceeded to play a couple times right then. The rules did confuse me for a bit (we seem to keep forgetting how the fleeing Dark Lady mechanic exactly work whenever we haven’t played the game for a while, and have to reread again) but that was the only hiccup.

But the game is just. so. clever. The puzzle itself (and the rng of which clues you get, etc) is definitely worthwhile, but even how one goes about getting those puzzle pieces is ingenious. The peeping through a keyhole, the Dark Lady’s multiple paths through London, the way you can adjust your game’s difficulty–everything is very well thought out and cleverly put together.

The normal difficulty is pretty balanced–it’s pretty equal how many times we find her versus not, and we always have a good time discussing the game afterward: what worked, what screwed us over. The symbol puzzle is interesting on its own, but getting too many 0/2 clues and it becomes really hairy.

His POV

I am generally a fan of hidden movement games, such as Fury of Dracula, Scotland Yard, Specter Ops, etc.. These games usually require a group of players, trying to figure out where the “culprit”, played by a different player, is. Never in my wildest dreams, have I ever conceived that a game from this genre can be turned into a solitaire/solo game4.

Like a broken clock, I would like to reiterate what Angela kept saying once again…this game is really clever. From the way how the Dark Lady moves, to finding the right combination to figure out the Dark Lady, the game is just so darn clever5 in how everything works. That is why, when we finally figured out who the Dark Lady was after multiple games, it was a really satisfying experience.

We really enjoy playing this game, even though it needed a few play throughs at first to figure out how everything works6. Additionally, the gameplay is quick enough that squeezing in another round after losing or winning, almost always becomes the case for us.

Black Sonata review verdict

Disclaimer: We offer Side Room Games’ games for local purchase in our online shop. While we promise to be honest in our assessment of the games we review, do take this into consideration as you go through our review.

A hidden gem, this understated game is one that will definitely stay in my collection. It fills that literary and puzzle itch, and has afforded both of us many satisfying endings to a chill night out.

The best part is that it is available as a free Print and Play over at BoardGameGeek. Check out the game and try it yourself, or get the premium copy over at the Hey Meepling online shop! Let us know what you think in the comments below. Have fun!

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. some movement variants may have the lady stay in the same location, which makes the game slightly more difficult
2. technically, you can search even if she is not in the same location, but what would be the point?
3. the clues actually do relate to the actual woman in history
4. If there are other solitaire hidden movement games, let me know.
5. one more for the road
6. unlike the game, we are not that clever apparently

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