Solipsist Sessions: A personal take on Black Sonata

I am an exclusively solo gamer because I people all day at work so my time is MY TIME. I am AP-prone and unapologetic about it. I am always on the lookout for niche games of the lighter variety because not every solo gamer can live on Mage Knight alone. These are my thoughts.

Black Sonata

Designer: John Kean

Publisher: Side Room Games

Players: 1

Age: 12+

Time: 30 min

I pledged Black Sonata when it first came out on Kickstarter in 2019 simply because I’m in love with all things William Shakespeare (he’s my second boyfriend; don’t worry – my husband doesn’t mind), and the last Shakespeare-themed board game I acquired was less than satisfactory. This was during the early days of my gaming adventures so in retrospect, I realize I was being overly ambitious with this choice. Because it’s a solo deduction game and I’m terrible at deduction. 

But pledge for Black Sonata I did, and when it arrived at my doorstep, I happily punched out the cunning little holes from the location key cards and ooh-ed and aah-ed over the period-accurate clue cards, the adorable little game board, and the pleasantly tactile wooden hint chits. 

Then I attempted to play.

The objective of the game is to track the Black Lady around said wee game board. You do this by flipping over cards one by one from a cleverly pre-constructed stealth deck. The good news is that the Dark Lady only moves one space at a time, ostensibly making it easy to nip at her heels. The bad news is that the cards, with their simple icons that hint at the Dark Lady’s whereabouts, match several locations on the board, so you have multiple options as to where the Dark Lady is headed (see Exhibit A).

Exhibit A (from the guidebook)

It’s a game of guess and check and trying to be one step ahead of the deck – I mean, the Dark Lady – because in order to”catch” her, you have to be on the location in question then decide if you’re certain that the Dark Lady is there with you. You verify this by using the location’s matching key card – another clever conceit that has the player put the punched out location key card on top of the stealth card in question and if the silhouette of the Dark Lady appears in the punched-out hole, then you’ve succeeded in catching her! Take a gander at Exhibit B.

Exhibit B
(from the guidebook)

But wait! There’s more. Once you’ve caught the Dark Lady, you are allowed to grab one of the clue cards. Think this is a no-brainer, surefire way to solve the mystery? Think again. The clue cards give you even more deduction challenges. Note Exhibit C.

Exhibit C (from the guidebook)

Jacqueline Field is clearly not the Dark Lady for this game since you drew her as a clue card, but she SHARES traits with the Dark Lady. And depending on which icon your Dark Lady has (note the flowers to the right of the portrait), she could share 0, 1, or 2 traits with Madame Field. So is it the inkpot? The rattle? The wedding ring? In order for you to win the game, you have to determine all 3 traits.

So track down the Dark Lady enough times as she bops around the board so you acquire enough clue cards to narrow down the traits to make an educated deduction but then, you’re not quite there, are you? You still have to be at the exact location as the Dark Lady once you’re ready to announce your guess, and by that time, you may have cycled through the stealth deck one too many times – you only get 3 turns through the 26-card deck – and you run out of time.

But I attempted it anyway, that fateful day, and my self-confidence plummeted faster than an anvil thrown overboard a cruise liner. (Although what anyone would be doing with an anvil during holidays is beyond me.) Because there were multiple layers of deduction at play here and my then-neophyte gaming brain exploded. I despaired of ever solving it, so I cut bait and sadly sold my copy, gorgeous production values and all.

But because the expansion debuted on KS recently and because of my professed love for good ol’ Will, I went ahead and repurchased the game last year, and decided to give it another go, inspired by watching a playthrough of another deduction game, Awkward Guests, which reignited my desire to be a detective.

This time, I was deliberate. I was methodical. I took my time and utilized if/then statements like a pro. And, huzzah! I was able to figure out who the Dark Lady was based on 5 clues I’d uncovered. Which means that I actually caught the Dark Lady 5 times. Which means that three years really do make a difference in the maturation process of the gaming brain. Sadly, I’d over-cycled the stealth deck and didn’t have enough moves to track the Dark Lady one last time and confront her, so it was still a loss.

But in the wonderful world of solo gaming, where all rules are my rules and no one is around to say otherwise, I’m gonna chalk it up as a minor victory and call Black Sonata a tentative keeper. And maybe I’m ready for more heady deduction fare like Awkward Guests after all.

About mtsedwards

I'm not as interesting as you think I am.
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