What is this game about?
Black Sonata is a solo hidden movement and deduction game designed by John Kean and published by Side Room Games. In the game, your goal is to unmask Shakespeare's "Dark Lady," a mysterious woman who appears in several of his sonnets. In order to discover the Lady, you'll need to chase her around a map of Elizabethan London, trying to track her movements and maneuver yourself so that you and she share a location. If you think you've got her cornered, you can take a search action to see if you're right. If you are, congratulations! You get to draw a card that provides a clue to her identity. If you're not, you've wasted one of your precious search attempts—you only get ten in the entire game. The Dark Lady also becomes more difficult to track down as you discover more clues, because she can move more spaces away from you after each time you catch her. The Dark Lady's movements are managed by an ingenious deck ordering system that allows you to "move" her without actually seeing where on the map she has gone—only symbols that denote potential locations for her. This deck can be reordered in several different ways and even cut several times to vary the game up a bit.
To win Black Sonata, you have to do a bit more than just corner the Dark Lady enough times. You also have to piece together the clues to her identity that you collect during gameplay. The clue cards in Black Sonata are the cards of ladies who aren't the Dark Lady for this particular game. Each "Dark Lady" card has a set of symbols on it, some of which she shares with other potential Ladies. It's up to you to reason out the clues you've drawn and to determine which symbols must be on the real Dark Lady's card. The final time you catch her, you must declare the symbols that you believe you will match her identity. If you're right, you win! If you're wrong... time to reset the game and try again!
How does it play solo?
Black Sonata is a solo-only game, and is perfect for solo play.
Black Sonata is the only solitaire hidden movement game I have ever encountered, and it's brilliant. The way the Dark Lady moves around the board is ingenious, and the way you find her is more ingenious still. When you search for her, you place the card from her movement deck on top of the card from her suspected location. You then flip the cards over and peek through a hole in the location card. If you have successfully found her, you will see her silhouette through the hole! It's such a fun touch, and it really never gets old. The way the clues work is also clever, as you use process of elimination to determine which symbols must be on the Dark Lady card—and thus determine the Dark Lady's identity. Black Sonata is truly one of the most exciting and innovative solo games I have seen to date, and it has a permanent spot in my collection. I also just love playing it. I loved the prototype copy I played before it went on Kickstarter, and I love the published copy I have now.
That said, Black Sonata is the kind of game I will take out, play obsessively, and then put away for a while. While you still have to find the Dark Lady and collect clues about her to legitimately win the game, if I play too many times in a row I start to know who the Dark Lady is well before I can prove it. At that point, the game is less about discovery and more about confirming information you already know, and that is less exciting. The game remains a good logic puzzle even if you do get to this point, especially because you can set the Dark Lady along different paths, including some that make it harder to catch her. But you'll need to let it cool off if you want to recapture that initial excitement.
Do I recommend it?
For sure. Black Sonata is one of the coolest solitaire experiences on the market, especially if you are a history and literature nerd. Even if you're not, if you enjoy deduction games, you'll love this one.
Overall Rating: 4 stars
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.