‘Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, saying nothing…’
For that fully immersive reading experience, press play for some period background ambience
’Ere is he on about me? Any way that has nowt to do with my little visit to Elizibethan london. I cunningly crafted a pointy beard, donned a luke-warm ashfelt codpiece, fastened an extensive neck ruff…
As a disclaimer, this isn’t really me…it is Percy from BBC’s Black Adder
…and firmly placed my brass deducing dear stalker hat at a jaunty angle. (Yes I know Sir A.C.D was a million years later but the tale I have to relate to you is one of hidden movement, elusive dark Ladies and deduction..hence the need for my thinking cap)
The pursuit of Shakespear’s illusive Dark Lady (a sonnet featuring lady of the 1600’s) has perplexed Scholars and Historians alike for weeks, nay, hundreds of years but only now, through the magic of solitaire gaming, can we at last bark on a quest of discovery as we nip back to Elizabethan London. Maybe perchance we catch a glimpse of her or hear tell a muted whisper of her identity…before she is lost from the pages of history altogether.
What’s All The Fuss About?
I noticed this game some time back and downloaded the files but, as is so often the case with these things, it found its way into a digital dusty box at the back of the room and was promptly forgotten about until I saw Low Player Count mention they had received a demo copy of a game and I though…that looks mighty familiar. So looking back in the dusty digital archives I found it, printed it and…well, played it.
A replayable solo game of hidden movement, deduction and Shakespearean London. Intriguing to be sure…but would it be any good?I small gamble I must take to find out.
As you will tell by my photographs, this is a home crafted print and play of the original web published game over on BGG. Since that publication, the game has undergone development to the current edition (of this I have only had mere glimpses but Side Room Games have a development blog linked at the end of the article where the changes can be seen) but the fundamental game is not dissimilar.
Immersion or Subversion?
The cynical amongst us may proclaim this to be an abstract game with a pithy theme pasted on top…but, although I am a cynical realist myself, often mistaken for a miserable grumpy old git, I don’t agree. Yes there is a significant abstraction about the game (and it could as easily be modified to suit a Sherlock Holmes theme) but there is something about the game as a whole. The colour pallet, the fonts used,
the intrigue and gameplay all have a Elizabethan feel. I don’t feel like Shakespeare or any of his characters but I don’t think that is the point. I am more a historian sifting through the sonnets, visiting locations in London and trying to amass evidence to identify this Lady that has elude scholars for centuries. I do find myself becoming immersed in the clever mechanics and gameplay and so I say this is Immersive.
I do not wish to bore you all with the “hows and wherefore” so I shall merely say the game is simplicity its self. A Hidden movement card is revealed to identify potential locations she may be found at.
We, the soloist move our historian or we investigate a location and that is it…no, I fear I am underselling the game by saying that. It really is that simple a concept but there are a number of clever elements to keep us on our toes as we scurry the streets of London.
Searching a location is clever. If the Icon on the top Movement deck card matches our location we place that card up against our location card….why do that?, I hear you ask in unison.
Well, there is a cunning hole punched out of each location (each hole located in a different part of each card) which may or may not correspond to an Icon of the Dark Lady. No Icon in the looking-glass (where the hole is) and no Lady present at your location. See a Dark lady Icon and wooohoooo…we get a clue to her identity.
…enter stage left the next cool aspect of the game. One character card is selected at random to represent the dark Lady. Each of these has a colour/symbol on the card back which corresponds to potential characteristics identified on the clue cards. When we turn over a clue card it has a series of coloured symbols representing traits of the Lady. (Each character has three traits, be it creative literary, marries, courtly connections, musical, has children, promiscuous or documented links to the big man himself… old Bill Shakespeare) which correspond to the card back …they tell us if the Lady has 0-2 of the traits found on that card. From this information we have to deduce the Lady’s identity.
The fog cards are like an event card. Whenever we Search one is slid under the top Movement card before we lift it and go through the search action. A the start of the next turn the top card is always discarded to reveal a new Movement location and in doing so, the Fog cards find their way int the deck, effectively taking the place of the card used for searching. When these little chaps surface at the top of the deck we use their text side…which can be useful but could equally be detrimental to our cause.
These fog cards also act somewhat like a timer in that once the deck is exhausted, GAME OVER!
Wood Chits and cardboard Bits:
Certainly the files I had printed out a small gameboard, a number of small poker sized character cards and a deck of Euro sized Hidden movement cards/location cards…and a small selection of Clue tokens. The whole game has a micro-game like feel to it, in size, with a footprint of less than 30cm x 30cm but certainly has a big board feel to playing. I imagine the updated production copy would carry similar levels of excellent artwork/graphic representation, (although I do not know at this stage if there will be nely acommissioned art) but I suspect it would have upgraded tokens and a player pawn.
Meeples and Standees:
Designed by John Kean (using public domain Artwork)
Signed to be published by Side Door Games
As this is a solely solo game it goes without saying that this is suitable for soloplay…but there are a number of solo deduction games out there that have limited replayability. Once we have discovered ‘who dunnit’, second visits lose their appeal. Thia title, fortunately, has significant replayability achieved by a number of cunning methods. Firstly there are a significant number of characters to select as the potential Dark lady, each with her own unique set of personal characteristics which we are expected to deduce from the clues we find. There is, with the expansion (which I am lead to believe is now included as part of the base game) a vast number of potential pre-arranged orders for the Hidden movement deck, making each game play in a unique way, and finally using the really great Search mechanic of the holes in the location cards (mentioned above) an unpredictable element is introduced…not only with our choices of where and when to Search, but with the potential of the Lady not being present at our location (down to the order of cards in the movement deck)
The Real Nitty Gritty:
- Winners and Losers: This is devilishly tricky to win, hurting the cerebral matter somewhat, but not so impossibly complicated to achieve victory that a player loses the will to continue, preferring rather to make a cup of tea and have a chocolate digestive…the most simple but luxurious of biscuit experiences. It is engaging and challenging but, equally, very accessable.
- Rules is Rules is Rules: The PnP rules I have are compiled in an eleven page booklet…that said, it is only an A6 sized booklet so the rules are obviously not overly extensive. The game is explained clearly and is easily digestible. There are also numerous illustrations that clearly exemplify various game situations so understanding how everything is supposed to work is a relatively straight forward exercise. Understanding the real flow of the game, however may take a couple of games before one realises how cunning it all is.
- Lucky Buggers: The hidden and slightly random feel to the Movement deck makes the life of number-crunching players difficult, but for me I like that aspect. No dice means no complete randomness so all is fairly well with the world. There is a lot of trial and error but a game of deduction would not be half as entertaining if this were not so.
- Highs and Lows: It is definitely an upbeat game. The topic is free from depressing story lines and during play we are so absorbed with potentiality that our surroundings are temporarily forgotten. I have lost a good many times but with each play I have started to understand how the game works and It has made me want to return, determined to name that illusive Lady
Me, Myself and I:
I won on easy mode ….yipeeeeee…..but upping the stakes to try medium mode simply my brain hurt. The clues were not so simplistic and I promptly had an arse kicking from the game, as the Dark Lady made light on her toes and ran off into the distance, never to be seen again. I shudder to think how good one needs to be on difficult mode.
I struggled at first, thinking that all I do was move or search…why not just sit in one place and wait for the right cards to come allong..piece of boring cake! Not so easy, my budding soloist friends. Every search comes with a penalty…the addition of a Fog card. As there are so many different cards in the deck and only a small number of permutations (small number of cards per location that will actually reveal the Lady) taking this approach leads to disaster, once the fog deck is used up, it is game over. So guesses have to be calculated. Hedging our bets, moving tactically and getting used to the card order all come together as integral parts of the strategy. Me and I urged myself to continue and as I…we became more familiar with the game, how it flowed , how the mechanics worked together etc, I was able to begin working on strategies rather than aimless wandering and all of a sudden the game burst into light. The rules are good so I put a lot of that down to my slow learning curve.
Oh it is a real brain hurting, logic deciphering game at times but the more I played, the more I enjoyed the puzzle it set before me.
Yay or Nay?
Old Shakespeare may have known who this illusive character was…especially as she was rumoured to have tweaked his heart-strings whilst carrying on in an equally unscrupulous manner with one of his pals…but either way this game has managed to deduce a BSoMT d8 die roll of (6) I suspect this score will rise as I play the game more and I think a production copy holds great potential. For those soloists out there that want a testing brain puzzler, this is a high recommend.
…and so, without much of a do I find this codpiece chafing something rotten
turns back on vulgar gaze of the audience as said garment is unceremoniously removed
Now off to London Bridge I must go, oft mistaken for Tower bridge, and a clue doth await my powers of deduction for a Dark lady of mystery I must chase down…
*legs it off stage right but then runs sheepishly back across stage as London bridge is off stage left…poor misguided fool…
Something For The Weekend, Sir?
Black Sonata on BGG: https://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/231218/black-sonata
Side Room Games website: https://t.co/GPqnxXb8gF
Designer Diaries: https://t.co/tz0snDqaGy
Side Room Games on Twitter: