Don’t worry everyone, this review of Charterstone is going to be spoiler free! I’ve played through the whole campaign as a solo player using 2 of the Automata’s and reached the end after 12 games. I’m going to give my thoughts on how I thought it played out, but I won’t spoil any specific plot or unlock items.
Right, now that’s out of the way, Charterstone was another one of those games that jumped on the hype train, meaning it’s almost mandatory that I have to give it a shot and give my opinion on it. However this had a lot going for it. A Euro game with a legacy feel, sounds good. Stonemaier Games – again a solid backing. Two of their games are in my Top 10 of all time (Scythe and Viticulture) and even though I’m not a fan of their other releases, I can still play them from time to time if requested.
But with Legacy almost being an auto-hype stamp that gets labelled onto games in order to make them sell (come on, you know it’s true, every game that’s “Legacy” based gets talked about loads, Pandemic, Seafall, Gloomhaven, look at what they generated), it remains to be seen whether Charterstone can live up to that hype or not.
Designer: Jamey Stegmaier
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Time: 45-90 Min
In Charterstone, a competitive legacy worker placement game, you construct buildings and populate a shared village. Building stickers are permanently added to the game board and become action spaces for any player to use. Thus you start off with simple choices and few workers, but as time goes on the village will grow in size and dozens of possible actions will reveal themselves.
Each player is in control of one section of the village and has their own Charter box, which they will use to record progress and store any cards or components as required by the campaign. In addition the box contains several small tuckboxes and a giant index of cards which will be added to the main game when instructed. Each game begins as standard worker placement fare with gathering resources to perform certain actions and gain victory points, but naturally players will be inclined to take the time to unlock additional content and add new buildings to the map.
A campaign through Charterstone will last 12 games, but it doesn’t have to end there like with other legacy games. The completed village will remain a one-of-a-kind worker placement game with plenty of variability and even further potential for adding new content to the game board, albeit probably at a slower pace. If the players wish to go through the campaign again, then they can purchase a recharge pack which gives you all the components previously discarded/archived. With this they simply flip the board over to where there is another empty map and go through again!
A GIANT CARTOON
The box contains a lot. There are more than 350 cards, 230 wooden tokens; and 36 metal coins. But you won’t have access to them all to begin with and I won’t spoil but there is one component in the box that’s going to make you go “what the” and double take! Everything is made to very high standards. Since the intent is that you can continue to play Charterstone as a stand-alone game long after you’ve finished the campaign, the quality is exceptionally good for “almost” all components — board, tokens, cards, and more. I say “almost”, because you will quickly come across a set of components that in comparison to the rest of the affair is pretty poor in quality, but it’s not a glaring issue.
The artwork is definitely a highlight though, the clean, almost cartoon-like palette supported by the large quantity of white around the board and box gives off such a calming, pleasant atmosphere. It reminds me of a modern day kids show, just very clean and crisp and colourful. Certainly you’ll have a nice looking map by the end of the whole affair.
LEARNING ON THE FLY
While opening lots of crates early on does provide a steady dose of excitement, it also can throw a barrage of rules at the players. Depending on what you unlock, you might go from what was a barebones Euro into a much more involved affair rapidly. So you will have to spend a little bit of time aclimatising with the new rules, but it shouldn’t be too much of a burden.
But be certain you know exactly where the stickers are going before you go anywhere near that rulebook. Seriously two of my rule cards are in weird lopsided fashion because I took the sticker off, accidentally touched the page with a corner and then it’s stuck. Good luck getting that sticker off without tearing it in half or taking half the page with you. It’s meant to stay, so make sure you affix the stickers nice and slow and don’t rush it.
COULD WE FAST FORWARD?
Charterstone itself is at its core, a very basic worker placement game. You put a couple of workers out, pick them back up and rinse repeat until the game ends. Now this would be super boring if the game didn’t end within an hour, but thankfully, the game ends pretty quickly and doesn’t outstay its welcome. As more rules come into play it picks up, but it’s still a very basic game. The biggest issue is that the first two games are actually almost pointless. They are so barebones that you’d think it would have been better to actually start the campaign from Game 3 and only play 10 games in the campaign. This will put off a lot of people, but you’ll have to force yourself through the first couple of games to get some unlocks out.
The unlocks themselves are probably the highlight for most players and at first, it’s great to get all these new components. However soon the unlocks become a little too similar throughout. It got to a point where I didn’t actually look forward to an unlock because I knew just from seeing what the index was asking me to get number wise what the unlock crate was going to have. It’s like opening a treasure chest in Legend of Zelda, only to get a stick after the animation finishes.
As a result, unlike other legacy games that have come out, you don’t get that sense of “wow” factor when you get the unlocks. Every new window you open in Pandemic Legacy for example, you’re like “oooo what could this be”. By the time you get between half way and 3/4 of the way, the whole narrative story becomes very predictable and new buildings you unlock are essentially “slightly” upgraded versions of what you just built on the map.
Now it’s certainly nice to see the map develop over time and everyone’s map will be completely different by the time the campaign ends, but you need to approach Charterstone as a “build it yourself” Euro game, not a full cinematic legacy experience. You can argue that if you purchase the Recharge Pack to use the blank map on the other side of the board, you could forgo the legacy aspect and simply have fun building a second map in your own way all the way through.
BEST BRING YOUR FRIENDS
It is definitely clear that Charterstone is best enjoyed as a multiplayer experience, preferably with at least 3 of you on the table without using the Automata characters. It’s not a bad experience, but flipping over a card and placing a single worker out isn’t the most exciting revelation that a computer player can pull off. Also the relentless speed at which they accumulate victory points forces you to play in a certain manner in order to actually stand a chance of winning. The time it takes to build and unlock in Charterstone is counter-productive when trying to match up to the Automata victory point gains.
As their strength increases it gets even worse, as they can get 3-5 victory points for simply going to a random charter space that would otherwise gain a human player one single resource. If you spend too much time trying to do the fun parts of Charterstone, you will lose outright. Which is a shame as with multiple human players, you can bet everyone is trying to unlock everything in the box over actually trying to win and so I don’t think Charterstone works well as a solo experience. If I play the game again, it will most definitely be with a group, assuming I can get a group available for 12 games easily.
VERDICT ON CHARTERSTONE
Clearly Charterstone is one that should be enjoyed with multiple players and preferably none of the Automata’s. The system works fine, but it never felt as enjoyable having to be forced into a particular style of play just to keep up with their relentless victory point gains. However even then this will not give you the same feeling as a typical legacy game. You are essentially building a standard Euro game, but with a unique map. You will have the exact same rules as another set by the end, just with a different array of locations.
Generally the whole package is well produced and clearly a lot of effort went into the design of the tuckboxes, index system and unlocking of new content. But I quickly started finding that unlocks lost their appeal as you found yourself obtaining the same kind of stuff each time with only a few unlocks actually producing any significant new content. And the first 2-3 games may actually put players off as they are so barebones in nature that they barely can be called a game – you need some unlocks quickly to bring it up.
It certainly achieved its value by giving me 12 plays, which let’s be fair is more than a lot of games in my collection will ever manage, but it’s left me without much desire to repeat the campaign again or even continue playing it with the now completed map and you can only really give it away or canabalise the game for its components once it’s had a run-through. It was a decent enough ride, but it left me feeling a bit numb from a solo only perspective.
PERSONAL RATING – 6 (Probably a 7 if played with multiple players)
YOU WILL LIKE CHARTERSTONE IF:
You want to build your own Euro game from scratch.
You want a fairly simple (even with full content added) Euro that can be wrapped up in 90 minutes tops.
You like the idea of having a legacy game that doesn’t need to be scrapped when completed.
YOU WILL NOT LIKE CHARTERSTONE IF:
You intend to only play this solo – it clearly is more enjoyable with other players.
You want a full narrative experience – the story is linear and predictable throughout.
You are expecting the same experience as Pandemic Legacy with significant fundamental changes.
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I'm known as The Broken Meeple, a blog, podcast and YouTube channel devoted to board and card games. I live in Portsmouth, UK, working as a Chartered Tax Advisor and I enjoy playing games of many genres and varieties with as many people as possible.