Since I am stuck inside (most of the time) these days - and I like many have seen the SU&SD review of Solo PnP games - I decided to indulge. I am partial to beautiful games, so I sought out those that have compelling artwork. At some point I stumbled accross "Black Sonata" and I thought I would give it a try.
I want to take the time to address PnP and our wonderful game community. First of all - some of these PnP games are actual for sale games with all the artwork provided for free. Wow. Since I am a graphic designer by trade I really respect the work that goes into the design. I cannot just print the pages on a B&W laser printer - all I have at home - and run through the game. Instead I have them printed at Staples on a color laser printer, Laminate with 5 mil heat laminate, and trim and corner round the cards and boards. I do this all before I even play the game. I know, stupid, but at this point I have the time (too much) and it keeps my hands busy - and my finger tips sore from all that cutting.
Here is what occured to me: After fabricating a few pretty PnP versions of retail games I realize that $20 for a game (like many of these card games that are PnP) is really a value. After making a few I realized I should have just purchased them. That is - if I actually like the games.
Black Sonata is a pretty game with a well integrated theme and story line (you can even download and read a detailed history of the characters and locations.) You are an investigator trying to deduce who was William Shakespeare's "Dark Lady" lover that was the subject of his later sonnets. With a period map of London and a deck of "stealth cards" you attempt to track down the Dark Lady. If you believe you have her location - you use a one of a number of "location keys" that will reveal if she is in fact in town. If you succeed you gain a clue. Each clue has three symbols and a which of the three describe the Dark Lady. If you think you have her - you reveal the Dark Lady card and see if you are correct. Each time you try to reveal her (successful or not) she gets away and makes findinging her a bit harder each time. With enough clues you can deduce who she is. Score is calculated by how many stealth cards you have run through. If you run through the stealth card deck too many times, the fog deck is used up, or guess the wrong three symbols - you lose.
In detail - the Stealth Deck tells you where the dark lady is going next. It is set up based on difficulty. A Dark Lady is chosen from a deck of possible women. The other woman of that suit - becomes a clue you receive once you have visited all of the locations. The remaining ladies become the clue deck. You place yourself on the a location of the map of London. Then you cut the stealth deck a few times - keeping the order intact - and place the countdown card at the bottom. The top card shows an icon of the possible locations the Dark Lady starts. Place Dark Lady markers for these possible locations. The game begins.
The stealth deck describes the path the Dark Lady is traveling by showing you a city type (rural, church, commercial, residence, tavern, riverside, playhouse...) she is traveling to. Keep in mind that cities can have multiple types and there can be multiple locations that the Dark Lady could be. When you reveal the next card - it shows towns one step away that she could have traveled to (simple game - she always moves - difficult mode - she can remain if the town has the sysmbol. Each turn after she moves - you can 1. Move 2. Search 3. Reveal a Fog Card (if it is on the top of the deck), 4. Pass (done more than you'd think.) Moves are simple, but you have to be a bit lucky that she either remains on the city you move to, or she moves to the city you are on.
If you are on one of the cities that she could be - you can search for her. The search takes a Location Card - there is one for each location - and you slide it under the top stealth card - the top Fog Card replaces this stealth card and hides the next movement. When you turn over the pair of cards the location card has a spyglass with a hole punched in it. If the Dark Lady appears inside the punched hole - you found her! You then take a clue card which has three icons and a key. Matching the key of the Dark Lady's suit - you know how many of the icons are on the real Dark Lady.
Play resumes after you discard the searched stealth card (that is replaced with the Fog Card) and advance the deck the number of clues you have collected so far - the fog card doesn't count. The idea here is that as you get more clues the Dark Lady escapes a greater number of steps away from you. It is a bit like starting over.
Revealing and ending the game is just like a search action except you declare the three icons and reveal the Dark Lady.
In reviewing: This game took me a while to make (see above) and took me a few searches to get the mechanic straight - both logistical and physical. Once I got it I found it very clever and a light to medium challenge on beginner mode. On the higher difficulty it is harder, but increasingly feels a bit more random (that could be because I am pretty much a dunce.) I found I had to run through the stealth deck more agressively and thus ran into the "zero" mark on the turn card - losing. The decoding can be quite difficult based on which clues come up. I think the random setup can keep one coming back for more.
Once I got it and completed my first game I was satisfied (note to designers - "satisfied" means I will play again - so adjusting difficulty levels is a good thing.) I must say - I packed the game up, walked away with a grin, and then said to myself, "I want to try that again!" I think that is the best reveiw of a solo game. I've played 3 times - 2 wins and 1 loss.