Thank you for checking review #46 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
An Overview of Charterstone
Charterstone is a game designed by Jamey Stegmaier and was published by Stonemaier Games. The box states that it can play 1-6 players and has a 45-75 minute play time with a 2.79 weight rating on BGG.
The prosperous Kingdom of Greengully, ruled for centuries by the Forever King, has issued a decree to its citizens to colonize the vast lands beyond its borders. In an effort to start a new village, the Forever King has selected six citizens for the task, each of whom has a unique set of skills they use to build their charter.
In Charterstone, a competitive legacy 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 soon you have a bustling village with dozens of possible actions.
Your journey through Charterstone’s many secrets will last twelve games, but it doesn’t end there. Your completed village will be a one-of-a-kind worker-placement game with plenty of variability.
Setup and gameplay for 2 Players
Each player takes their individual charter’s box and removes the components. Place the resource tokens and coins in close reach of the board to form supplies. Shuffle the objective deck and the advancements deck and put those on the respective boards and flip over cards in the remaining spaces on those boards. Roll the charterstone die until it comes up with the color of a player in the game, who is the start player.
Setup, at least in the beginning, is a breeze. Don’t worry it grows from there. As does gameplay, but at the beginning of them game it follows this:
During your turn you place one of your two workers on the board to trigger the action of the space, or you take all of your workers back to your supply. If you place a worker on a space where another worker is located, it “bumps” that worker back to that player’s supply. This essentially gives them an extra move before having to spend a turn to recall their workers, so while you aren’t blocked out of the space you give them a benefit to use the space.
There are three things that trigger the movement of the progress token (which is the clock to trigger the end of a game): building a building in a charter, unlocking a crate, or fulfilling an objective. The only other way that this advances is if a player is out of influence tokens at the start of their turn. In each of these cases, the marker will advance by one space.
Influence tokens are spent completing objectives, building buildings, unlocking crates, scoring on the reputation track, meeting quotas, and (eventually) as costs to use some buildings. They are a limited resource (12 per player), and serve as the key resource to manage as they are typically gone once spent.
Once the end game is triggered, players will fulfill the guidepost then move into scoring additional points based on their placement in the reputation track, earning glory, increasing capacity, and more.
The winner from game to game does not determine the overall campaign winner (so winning the majority of the campaign games does not necessarily equate to winning the campaign)
This is one jam-packed box of stuff. Opening it up for the first time gives a feeling of money well-spent because there are sooooo many things in here. Charter boxes with six different player pieces, a Scriptorium with coins and resources, an index with over 400 cards, and several special tuckboxes (including an archive for cards that are no longer needed as you progress). People like to complain about the MSRP of Terraforming Mars and the quality/amount of things you get in that game. For the same price, this game delivers the goods. And they are all really good in quality. I don’t know how Jamey can pack all this in here and sell it for under $100, but I am sure glad that he can! This may be the game out there that provides the best value for its MSRP in terms of content inside the box.
I really love that the winner of a game isn’t necessarily the one who gets to scratch off and make the decisions on the guidepost cards for each game. Those guideposts usually have two choices listed, and the person to decide is the player who did best at the individual criteria (which changes every game) such as “have the most resources”. My wife got to choose on probably 10/12 of those guidepost cards, and so that was really cool to see her get to make those choices even during my early streak of victories.
The artwork on here is outstanding. I really enjoyed the look, not just of the characters that you control but also of the cards, the buildings, the board itself. This is a visual masterpiece of a game, and I am utterly disappointed that I can’t share much of it with you because of spoilers. You’ll enjoy the process.
Finally there is a legacy game that plays 1-2 players and isn’t Pandemic. I wanted to play Seafall, but it is 3+. She has no interest in Risk, because we’ve had a really bad Risk experience (it’s all about those dice!). Neither of us were impressed with Pandemic itself, and she’s not a fan of cooperative games in general anyway. So when I heard there was a legacy worker placement game, I knew this was the one. And boy did it deliver. There were exciting moments to be found, and some things that really impressed me as we unlocked some special stuff in there. The legacy experience of this one set the bar high. That packed box is full of great things to enhance the experience and gameplay.
There are benefits to winning games. You get more glory (stars marked on the box) which can help you unlock start-of-game bonuses faster. The loser(s) of a game increase capacity by one, which lets you keep more items after the game. That is a really good balance there, and it started to really level the playing field toward the end of the campaign. My early victories helped me grab things to start, yet I couldn’t keep much at the end of a game. My wife, on the other hand, started most games with a plethora of things and was able to use that to her advantage (and come back to win the overall campaign due to some really strong performances in the final games!) It feels very balanced because of this, something I really appreciated.
There is a certain level of satisfaction in constructing and unlocking things in this game. You’re transforming the map as you build new things, and bringing out new cards (sometimes buildings, other times new rules and other goodies!). The game experience is enhanced with every progression made, regardless of who unlocks it or which charter it is placed into. While the early games can feel bogged down from stopping and unlocking crates and reading the new rules, it is something that does slow down (eventually) as you get most of the rules into play and focus on just unlocking better stuff.
Speaking of the unlocking, I like how every player’s color has several “forks” built into the content. You unlock a crate and you might get two new buildings. Now you have to build them and then unlock them, and thus you are faced with a decision of which to unlock first. Which then gives you more things, providing even more options to build and unlock. This means that your game of Charterstone, even with 6 players, may not play out the exact same as mine. With 2, this is especially true.
Building in even more on the above, there is something called capacity. You start with 1 in everything for capacity, which simply means that at the end of the game you can keep 1 coin, 1 resource, 1 card, and 1 “mystery” thing that will be unlocked later. So remember how you unlock a crate and get two buildings. If that triggers the end of the game, you can keep at most one of those. Which means the other gets shuffled into the advancements deck for anyone to draw later. So your stuff isn’t necessarily going to remain your stuff. Which is part of the beauty of the game, because you aren’t tied down to what is your color’s stuff. However, it also means your opponent may get to build/unlock your top-tier stuff later in the game.
I’m sensing a snowball effect here, because this point ties into the above as well! While your opponent(s) are building your stuff in their charters, there is no real downside here because every space on the board is open for anyone to use. So let them build your new pumpkin building in their wood-based charter. That means they’ll have to come to your charter in order to gain said pumpkins in order to trigger the cost of that new, shiny building they placed. And if your worker happens to already be on that pumpkin space, it bumps them back to your supply which saves you an action.
I am torn on how I feel about the bumping mechanism in the game. I really like, during the game, that every space is open to place my workers on. However, it never makes the game feel challenging in figuring out what to do. Even with more players, the board would never really feel restricted at any point. Sure, there would be a higher chance that bumping would occur with more players. And there are reasons why you would want to avoid doing that. I think if it was restricted to only your larger worker could bump people, that might have made your placement matter just a little more. Kind of like how you have to hold back and plan well on how to use the Grande worker in Viticulture. I don’t dislike the mechanism, but it does feel just a little too “nice” in a worker placement game.
The story is interesting but overall didn’t wow us. That may be partially due to spreading out the campaign across three months of play. I imagine if you binge-played the campaign in under a week it might feel like the narrative was stronger. It wasn’t bad, by any means, but not memorable. I’ve heard Pandemic Legacy builds a strong narrative, but I haven’t played it so I can’t compare the two. There were some nice touches along the way, and some interesting decisions that get made without full knowledge of how that will affect things. The campaign experience was memorable. I just wish the story was a little bit stronger to be on par with the rest of the experience.
The Automa. My wife hated them. They scored way too often and way too early, making it feel like there was no point in trying to win. We dropped them out after 3/4 of Game 3 (the first game we tried to implement them). They are easy to run and help you unlock things. They unlocked a ton of stuff in that 3/4 of a game. But they also ruined the fun factor for my wife because of their easy scoring. You may like the challenge. I look forward to it when I solo the other side of the board (once I buy a recharge pack, of course). But they do give you a sense of hopelessness in those early games when there aren’t many ways to form an efficient VP engine.
If you don’t like naming things, you will have some moments of frustration. My wife is one of those people – and some of the names she created for things reflect her lack of enthusiasm. I, on the other hand, relished the role of namer for things. There will be many opportunities to provide names that serve no purpose other than giving them a unique name. But hey, you could skip that and still be okay.
Maybe it was just us, but that archive box was way too small to hold everything by the end of the campaign. Small nitpick, sure, but with a game this spectacular (overall) you have to find those little things to complain about. My wife thinks I should just throw those things away. Maybe she’s right. At least about most of it. But it is nice that you don’t have to destroy the components, something that a lot of gamers might appreciate.
Charterstone was our first legacy game we played, and I have to say that it was a really great experience. The storyline was good, although forgettable to my wife, and the gameplay itself was fantastic. Watching the charters grow and evolve over the course of the campaign was satisfying, and there were more than a few times that we would be more excited about unlocking new crates and building new buildings than trying to generate points to win the individual game. That speaks well to the experience of the campaign and the system Jamey designed.
And let me tell you, there are some fantastic surprises along the way when opening things. We had more than a few “what?” moments when things were coming out and being revealed. Game 9 was very memorable, although it would have been a lot more tense with the full 6 players. Every single time the crate would have us open a tuckbox, I knew we were in for something special.
My wife wasn’t a fan at first, but by the end she had warmed up. The early games saw us unlocking a host of rules with crates, so the time spent reading those new rules and adapting to them kept her from feeling immersed in the experience. However, that eventually slowed down enough to where most crates unlocked pure content without needing to add in additional rules and that is when she really got into the game. And our win/loss ratio, I think, reflects that change. I won a lot of early games, but she came roaring back at the end and obliterated me in Game 11’s score, making it the most lop-sided game we played. It was enough to give her the overall campaign victory, too, even though I won more individual games along the way. We both really, really enjoyed the experience.
If you’ve been on the fence about this as a 2-player game, get off that fence and plunge right into Charterstone. It is fantastic, even at just 2. We used the Automas for 3/4 of a game (Game 3) and then retired them and still had a fun and competitive experience. By the end of the campaign we still had a completely full board for all of the inactive charters, although things did unlock at a slower pace than if we had used the Automas. But there was nothing wrong with that, in our eyes.
We haven’t played yet with the board post-campaign, but after reading through the updated rules I am confident that it will provide a fun and exciting experience for many future plays. This is a difficult thing to discuss, just as it is a difficult game to review, as I don’t want to spoil a single thing for you. But rest assured, you’ll be able to get more than your initial 12 plays out of this game. It is a worker placement that I would put about on par with Lords of Waterdeep in terms of complexity (and we do enjoy some Lords of Waterdeep!). Because no space is ever actually blocked from use, this is a friendlier version of a worker placement game than Viticulture or Agricola. You’ll always be able to do what you need to, although it may benefit your opponent if you use a space they are on.
Overall, once again, this is a game I would strongly recommend to everyone. In terms of the overall experience, this is the best thing Stonemaier has produced so far. We’ve logged more plays of this than Viticulture or Scythe so far, although part of that was wanting to finish the campaign. But our plays won’t stop here, and I’ll eventually be picking up a recharge pack so I can test out the other side as a solo experience with a few Automas. Yep, it was fun enough that I’m wanting to do it all over again and, perhaps, make a few different decisions along the way. It won’t be the same experience, which makes this campaign one that can be replayed. So what are you waiting for? Go out and pick this one up. Fantastic game!
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