Charterstone is a legacy worker placement game from Stonemaier Games. Coming from the Stonemaier stable you know that the production values are the best in the board game industry. I am yet to play a Stonemaier game that isn’t of the highest quality.
I have recently been playing Betrayal at House on the hill and Terraforming Mars, games whose components had me checking if they were fakes to discover that some fakes have higher production quality than the originals so playing Charterstone felt all the more special with a beautiful presentation and components that feel wonderful.
Being a legacy game your decisions and actions will have a permanent and lasting effect on the game and this is a strength and weakness of legacy games in general. A plus point for Charterstone is that once you have completed the 12 game “campaign” you can come back and play your version of Charterstone, which will be different to every other version of Charterstone in existence, again and again.
Once you begin playing you start to fill the rule book by buying cards the Scriptorum, some of which will have stickers on them that you place directly in the rule book. It means the rules are fairly simple, to begin with, but as you progress the complexity of the game ramps yet the familiarity grows at the same rate.
It’s a great way to teach the game and as we had no one who had played before it meant everyone came at the game with the same knowledge.
Because the COVID bastard has not left we played the campaign with four people and all thought this was a good number of players. There are rules for an Automa that can act as an extra player but there are also rules to add an extra player or two should you wish.
If you enjoy the campaign and continue to play afterwards there is one key element that I found enjoyable that will surely be missing from future plays and may make you want to play through the campaign a second time. Stonemaier have you covered here with the Charterstone recharge pack. This pack allows you to flip your board over, place stickers on your boxes and begin again.
Back to the key element. We have yet to play Charterstone after completing the campaign but when we played through I would often think about the next game whilst playing. I would be considering what my actions now would mean for the next game and often this would impact my decision for the game I was currently playing.
Do I try and win this game by going all out or should I play thinking about the next game too and what the implications of my actions now would have on that future game? It is really interesting and I found myself thinking about Charterstone between games far more often than I would with most other titles.
As new rules, items objectives etc are uncovered I found myself changing my game plan on the fly and this is something that will be missing from future sessions so whilst we have yet to play another game I would think that the campaign game has far more complex decision making than future plays.
Charterstone is relatively simple in its base form however, the complexity comes from the decision making that you will be forced to take. There are 6 charters (areas) that you will visit that have basic resources and each area has space for an additional five buildings. This means that there will eventually have 42 positions you can send your workers to.
If an occupied space is visited you get your worker “bumped” back but if no one (or you) visits the same location you will be forced to use a turn to claim back your workers. This is where I can see a higher player count working for the better but as mentioned the game works fine with four.
There are rules to add the Automa but we used the rules to add some random buildings to the unoccupied sections meaning there were a few odd villages but it was a perfectly workable solution.
Charterstone is a difficult game to review, the people that will be reading this will be considering a purchase and giving away too much information will spoil your enjoyment, not giving enough will make it hard for you to choose to purchase the game so I understand the gravitas of this review and there are a lot of other reviews that go into far more specific detail about gameplay. I am trying to be vague whilst giving you a sense of what Charterstone is and how it feels to play.
Thematically Charterstone fails to deliver. Thinking specifically about the gameplay and Charterstone, this was not an important consideration for me but my wife commented “if you suddenly changed this to space I wouldn’t notice” but she tends to say strange things and in truth, I wasn’t fully listening to what she was saying before this so I cannot guarantee that she was even talking about Charterstone. (sorry Nicole but if I listened to everything you said I would have no time for anything else in my life)
There are other frustrations, we had a few games where a new mechanic was introduced in the rules but we hadn’t unlocked the building that made use of them at that time. This is the nature of the game as our choices will be different to yours but I could see other instances of this happening if certain rules were added at the “wrong” time for your game.
By about the 8th or 9th game you will have, pretty much, everything that Charterstone has to offer but the game can still feel fresh for the end of the campaign as there are goals and specific rules for each game that change things up enough to keep you on your toes.
Charterstone in summary
Charterstone is a fantastic game and we are playing again this coming Thursday. It will be our first game post-campaign and we are all looking forward to seeing how it goes but the campaign was a special experience and I am not sure we will be able to recreate the experience without the weight of the next game sitting on our shoulders.
I was a little behind the curve on knowing how to plan for the future initially and the others were quite far ahead of me coming towards the end of the campaign. There were a few catch up mechanics employed to assist me although, probably because I am not very good at games, I did not win the campaign I still had great fun.
The ramp-up in complexity, the way you learn to play the game together without needing someone to teach you how to play, the decision making and considering the next game whilst making moves in the current game, the quality of the components, the overall experience mean that whilst Charterstone is not the best game I have ever played. It is certainly one that I had great fun with, that I would love to play again and it will be a permanent guest at the gaming table.
Charterstone is a game I would highly recommend particularly if Euro-style or worker placement games are your thing. If you are yet to play a legacy game then Charterstone is a really good example of this mechanic implemented thoughtfully.
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