Black Sonata Review – A one of a kind solo game with hidden movement mechanic – 100% recommended!
Posted On January 21, 2022
TL,DR: Black Sonata is a Print and Play (free) solo game with a very unique mechanic of hidden movement. It’s extremely elegant and a must have for any solo gamer. Difficult not to recommend, in particular since it’s free. Note that a retail version exists, with high quality components and an expansion, if you want to support the designer.
About Black Sonata and Print And Play Games
In my recent quest to reduce my Board gaming expenses, and play solo games, I’ve looked into some of the most recommended PnP (Print and Play) games for solo gamers. These games are typically available as PDF files that you can print at home (and then range from minimal cut-and-glue to “I require an assembly line to put this thing together” levels of work to create the game from your printed sheets), and most of them are free, or sell on specialized sites for a few dollars. The most popular ones often get an actual commercial release (check my recent review of Under Falling skies, another excellent solo PnP game), and this is the case for Black Sonata.
Black Sonata was part of the “Top 200 Solo games of all times” list on BoardGameGeek in 2021, sitting at number 73, right next to massive successes such as Root, Kanban EV, or Terraforming Mars, which is always impressive for a free game like this.
Black sonata – Story and rules of the game
In Black Sonata, you are set in 1600’s London, trying to reveal the identity of the elusive “Dark Lady” from Shakespeare’s sonnets. The Dark Lady is going from place to place in London, and you have to be able to track her in order to acquire clues about her identity. Once you think you have enough clues to figure out who she is, you need to track her one last time in order to reveal her identity.
Black Sonata plays solo, with a very clever mechanic of “hidden movement” that lets you move the Dark Lady on the map, without always being completely sure of where she just went.
In a typical turn, the Dark Lady will first secretly move to a position on the London Map, and you’ll then either have to move your own pawn to try and catch up with her, or if you think you’re already in the same location as her, try to reveal her to get a clue.
“Revealing” the Dark Lady is incredibly fun, as it consists in superimposing her current mysterious location card with your own location, which has a keyhole in it. If you can see her face through the keyhole, you’ve correctly guessed the Dark Lady’s location, and can acquire a clue. (pardon my poor cutting-knife skills here…)
The clues themselves are a simple, but entertaining deduction game. you have three symbols to guess, and each clue gives you hints as to which symbols are, or aren’t the right ones. Some clues are more helpful than others however, and one clue only is never going to be enough to guess everything right.
Black Sonata opinion – An elegant solo game of deduction
Black sonata is a delightful little game. The game mechanic is really not difficult, but extremely original and fun. As I mentioned above, the idea of the hidden movement, combined with the “reveal” action which literally consists in looking through a keyhole, is just incredibly fun.
There are times you know for sure where the dark lady is, but you ended up too far from her to reveal her. Other times, you think she might be at the same location as you, take a chance, and… miss! She runs away and you’ve lost precious time, in addition to not getting the clue you so desperately needed.
Under the simple mechanic lies a tension, as after a while (turns represented by a handful of cycles through the movement deck), the Dark Lady simply vanishes and you lost. Trying to reveal her (whether successfully or not) will cost you time too, so even though a few mistakes won’t necessarily mean defeat, it’s best to make the reveal actions count.
It’s hard to emphasize enough how elegant the gameplay concept is. Don’t get me wrong, this is just a little game and it won’t give you 3 hour long sessions of gameplay, but I’ve been having a lot of fun playing this. A game session of the dark lady will take roughly 20 to 25 minutes, whether you win or lose, and the game doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s not a game you will want to play many times in one session, but a mild brain puzzle with a small footprint that you’ll definitely like to get to the table once in a while.
Black sonata fully deserves a spot as one of the best solo board games, mostly for its original and well implemented concept.
The theme is also pretty original, and works well with the art included. The design is sober without being minimalistic. It feels like you’re playing a well polished game, not some prototype (which can sometimes be the case with Print and Play). Each location card has a small verse from Shakespeare’s work, which contributes to the atmosphere of the game. Such a nice little touch!
Conclusion – Print-and-Play or Commercial?
I totally recommend Black Sonata as a solo gamer. The question is whether you should go with the PnP version or the retail release.
I’ve played with the PnP version of Black Sonata, and I’m having a blast. I won’t lie though, with more than 60 tiny cards to print, some of which imperatively need to have no revealing information on the back (that means high quality cardboard paper, or a lot of “gluing to mil cartons” work), and tiny holes to cut in some of them, the game’s tested the (not really high to be honest) limit of how much effort I’m willing to put into a Print and Play game. The commercial version retails for about $25 and in hindsight I should probably have gone with that, in particular since it’s compatible with an expansion which adds more mysteries to reveal.