Charterstone Review (Spoiler Free)

Legacy games are quite a trend in today’s board gaming landscape and, because of that, there are more people who are trying their hand at putting these together. Charterstone was the first competitive worker-placement style legacy game – and we decided to travel to Greengully and try our hands at it. Today, you’re getting a spoiler-free review of Charterstone – come back later this week to get one filled with spoilers!

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Game: Charterstone
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Designer: Jamey Stegmaier
Main Game Mechanisms: Worker placement, legacy
Number of Players: 1-6
Game Time: 45-70 minutes per game

Overview

Charterstone is a legacy, worker placement game where you create and modify the board as you play through the campaign. Starting with basic resource-providing buildings, you’ll work through the campaign to unlock and add all sorts of things to do across all 6 charters. Once the campaign is over it’s not the end; you can continue playing using the board you’ve made but without any further story elements.

Each player begins the game controlling a different charter and its’ associated player pieces. If you have less than 6 players, you can choose to use the Automa rules to run the other charters for you, or you can use the basic rules of simply adding random buildings to them at the beginning of subsequent games. Our reviews are based on a 3-player campaign where we did not use Automa.

Charterstone is a place-then-pull-back type of worker placement game that doesn’t have specific number of rounds (akin to the Manhattan Project games as opposed to Lords of Waterdeep). The game length is measured by the progress track which advances when certain actions are taken during the game (such as placing new buildings or opening crates to unlock new content). Once end-game is triggered you play until everyone has had the same number of turns.

Each player starts with 2 large workers that can be placed on any building on the board and eventually you unlock additional small workers that can only be placed in your charter, but have special abilities, as you play through the campaign. Each player cycles through placing and retrieving their workers, gathering victory points from various sources.  After the game ends, the player with the most victory points, after end-game additions, wins the game! But will you win the campaign? Everyone’s choices throughout not only affect how the story plays out (to a certain degree) but can also affect how campaign scoring plays out.

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Review

Scott’s thoughts: Charterstone is the first legacy game I’ve ever played. I was excited for the prospect of a game that would react to how we played it, that we could shape based on our playstyles and preferences. At its core, it is a worker-placement game, but by the end of the campaign (check out our Spoilers review later this week for more details), it was so much more nuanced and intricate than just simply placing workers. I really enjoyed that each of our charters ended up unique, and not just because we had access to different buildings, but because we chose different themes or engines to build into our areas.

The pacing of adding new elements to the game seemed pretty good, and there were some hard breakpoints where if you hadn’t unlocked something by a certain game the story unlocked it for you, which we only ran into once or twice. I never felt overwhelmed by the new factors or weird special rules getting added, and the gameplay seemed solid through most of the campaign.

I think my favorite non-spoiler thing is that you can keep playing the game after you finish the campaign with the board you’ve made (and can keep changing). I don’t know if that’s the case with other legacy games, but I really liked that about Charterstone. Overall, I really enjoyed the experience.

Sarah’s thoughts: I enjoyed the worker placement, village building, and discovery parts of Charterstone. The worker placement aspect of bumping workers leads to lots of interesting decisions throughout the game and campaign. The village building was one of my favorite aspects of Charterstone as a whole. Being able to place new buildings that can give you more options and ways to obtain a variety of resources is an intriguing and exciting element of the game. Opening crates and discovering new parts of Charterstone was another excellent part of the game to me. All the new parts give the campaign and game a vitality and evolving nature.

There were a couple of things about Charterstone that could be improved. The Charterstone campaign may have been more compelling as a cooperative game, where you are building the village together. The fact is, there are twelve games on the campaign and you may not win very many of them, which can get disappointing and, at times, frustrating as the campaign progresses. But games aren’t all about winning, so I kept that in mind during our plays.

The unused charters will not be as robust as the charters that are in play, so it’s probably better to have a full player count or use the automas. That can somewhat limit your options as the campaign goes on. Since Charterstone is, partially, about “building the board” so you can play it later on, you miss out on something if only your charters are being upgraded throughout the game.

Overall I greatly enjoyed Charterstone and feel like playing your own custom worker placement game after the campaign is very excellent and unique. That is a huge part of Charterstone’s appeal. The game mechanisms were very interesting overall, through the campaign and in a normal game. I’m glad that we got to enjoy it together. When we do our spoiler review soon I will talk more about my favorite elements of Charterstone.

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Marti’s thoughts: This is one of those times where I hate writing reviews, because I feel like I’m being the curmudgeon of the group – because I am.

Let’s start with the positive. Charterstone is a gorgeous game. The art is fun, the components are top notch, and everything is well organized and sorted out. In short, you couldn’t ask for better when it comes to the positive. The basics of the game are fairly easy to understand, and I enjoyed the fact that the game kept building upon itself as time went on. It really made it interesting – at least, until we hit about 2/3’s of the way through the campaign.

Now, to the negative. Out of the three of us, I was the one that was most frustrated and irritated by the game in general. The fact of the matter is, the game is imbalanced, and I can’t tell if that’s just the game or if it’s something about it only being balanced at the max player count (6). Some charters have more powerful combinations that they can build based on the parts that they are given and that they gain throughout the campaign. Sarah only won 2 games, and I won 3 (one on a tie) – I’ll get into more detail about why I think that happened in the spoiler-filled review.

Sadly, the game can get really dull at times when you’re just doing the same thing over, and over, and over again for multiple games (which seemed to happen in games 10, 11, and 12 for me). By the end of the campaign, I never wanted to see my charter again because if I had to… nope, that’s for the spoiler review. 😉 I just got bored.  The campaign’s story disappointed me. I expected something more substantial, especially after I’d spent 10, 11, and 12 doing almost the same thing – and it wasn’t.

All of that being said, we got to play the completed game once after we finished the campaign – and I liked it just fine. It was a fine worker placement game, for what it was. I’d rather go play Midgard, or Waterdeep, or Viticulture, but it’s a decent, light worker placement game.

I’ll admit – I was a victim to the hype. I thought the game was going to be more gamerly and that it was being advertised toward gamers (like every other legacy game out there), and it absolutely was not. I imagine it’s great for families, but as someone who loves midweight worker placement games – it’s just not for me.

Conclusion: We’re split! Sarah and Scott recommend the game as an experience – Marti is more on the fence. Here’s the breakdown:

  • If you like lighter worker placement games, it’s worth going through the campaign.
  • If you’re looking at playing the game for the story, you may find yourself underwhelmed.
  • The mechanisms and gameplay are solid, but light.
  • The components are top notch and the system that is used for moving forward is unique and interesting.
  • It may play better with more players.

Have you played Charterstone yet, or are you considering it? Does the review change your mind at all? If you have played Charterstone, keep your eyes peeled for our more in-depth review, coming later this week!

Game on!
The Meeples of OSG

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