Chris Stockdale
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Charterstone

As usual in my reviews, I won’t be significantly rehashing the rules here, as those are readily available if people are interested. Instead I will be focusing on my opinion of the game itself, and the various gameplay mechanisms of the game.

With this review I have done my very best to stay away from spoilers, but to be honest it is very hard to discuss a game without ANY form of spoiler, and so as fair warning while I don’t think I give away anything major (except in the spoiler tag below) I think that anyone that wants ZERO idea what is to come while playing should probably not read any reviews, this one included.

I won’t be posting many pictures with this review because sadly for legacy games these give away spoilers.

Experience with the game:
Let me first state that my play-through of charterstone was only in 2 players the entire time through. I can speculate for what I think about the game with more players, but I haven’t had a chance to experience it at higher player counts. In a few months I am planning on spending a week with some family on vacation and the plan is to play through charterstone again in that week at 5 players, if everything goes as planned I’ll be sure to post updates at that time. At this point we’ve played through the entire legacy portion of the game. We haven’t tried any further games with our custom village, but wouldn’t be opposed to it. We have however moved on to other games for now.

Rules clarity:
One of the few weaker areas of the game in my opinion. The rules are sufficeient, but honestly when you first start the game the rulebook is rather confusing, even more so than other legacy games. The big gaps in the book (and I mean huge gaps) make it somewhat disconjointed to read. The game does a good job of updating the rules as you go, but I must say there were a couple of times I wanted to revert back to read an original rule and… I couldn’t find it because it had been covered. One example is the bonuses you get to start each game. This really was not easy to look up intricacies of the rules. Now I know there is an FAQ posted but I review rules as printed, because that’s the standard we really should have for publishers, and there are a few areas of concern here. Rules are simple and easy to understand for the most part though.

Components and Art:
Simply put the art is fantastic. It is a fun style that just looks great on the table. You can upgrade the resources (which of course we had to do because yeah… they just look so good) but the wooden ones are just fine on their own. The metal coins are a nice touch as I am a huge fan of metal coins. The only issue we ran into was the sticker cards, once the building is peeled off and they are shuffled back into the deck the cards tended to be bent from getting the stickers off them and they tended to get stuck shuffling. It’s not a deal breaker, but it isn’t perfect either. An ingenious system just difficult to use at times.


Fantastic optional resource upgrades... for people who just can't help themselves... like me.

Gameplay:
It’s easy for me to quickly state that I love this game. So there, that’s out there. Now as to why I love this game and what I enjoyed so much about it. I’m always pretty open that I am a very big fan of Legacy games. I’ve tried nearly all of them to come out so far, with varying degrees of fun. So it’s no surprise that when I heard of Charterstone my interests perked up, and I’ve been anticipating it for some time. While I have enjoyed the previous legacy games, most especially Pandemic Legacy Season 1 and Season 2, I had soured a bit on competitive legacy due to Seafall. I was curious to see if a legacy game could be pulled off in a non-cooperative game made from scratch and not building on the grounds of a previously successful base game.

Charterstone did not disappoint. The game starts as a relatively basic worker placement game, and over time becomes a far more complex and intricate worker placement game. New elements are introduced on a regular basis through unlocking of crates, and there is plenty of motivation to unlock crates not only to advance the story, but also to get victory points for your current game and to get access to the cards within the crate. The way crates are unlocked is rather ingenious, as you are given a very large deck of cards called the index to start the game, and you slowly chip through these cards which give you access to new buildings, personas, give new rules, new mechanics, and progress the story. Each crate has certain things which the person who opened it gets to keep for themselves which is part of what gives the drive to unlock more. But unlocking more also pushes the current game towards the end.

The village starts out very basic with very basic buildings in each location, with charters (the starting areas) having general areas of specialization. It could be ore, pumpkins, brick etc, but all of your buildings will have theme. As the game goes on you can focus on keeping your charter limited to a certain focus, or you can expand your focus and diversify through adding new buildings to your charter. But your charter only has a limited number of spaces on which you are allowed to build, and eventually you start making tough choices about which buildings are truly deserving of your space. And do you go for more useful buildings now or buildings that score better later in the game? Many decisions to make in your own charter. It doesn’t take long in the game before you start to realize that your own charter is important to be useable for you in order to get the most efficiency out of your turns.

The story is relatively strange, but it fits and makes sense. It is unlocked game by game, and it does seem to have ways it can diverge depending on how your gaming sessions are going. I haven’t flipped through the story cards we didn’t use because the game was intriguing enough we want to play through it again and see where the story takes us. The ending will always essentially be in a similar vein based on what I did see though, so I’m sure there will not be any major surprises. I did enjoy the idea that what we were doing from game to game did affect the story, even if it was only to a very minor degree. Every new game had a temporary rule in place which fit with the story and required a new strategy for the game to come. These temporary rules ranged from minor and less interesting changes to completely game altering strategies, and I must admit on at least one occasion I actually said “wow” when we read the rules. And that’s a good thing in a legacy game.


Spoiler (click to reveal)
The most interesting of all was when we unlocked this gem, which made me pause and think how in the world are we going to be using this in the next game?


But the bottom line of gameplay is, is the game actually fun to play? Did I look forward to playing it at each and every opportunity afforded me? The answer is a resounding yes. In fact I had very little to no interest in playing anything else during the course of my time playing Charterstone. When I had time to game all I wanted to do was play some more Charterstone. I didn’t necessarily have that feeling because I was loving the individual mechanics, but because I wanted to progress as a charter and to improve my buildings and my standing. I wanted to see what was next. I wanted to see what else I could do. The mechanics of the game work very well, and the more complex the game became the more interesting I found it. As new strategies emerged I shifted the way my village was built and shifted the way I was playing in order to accommodate the new strategies.

So what about twists? Well it’s a legacy game so of course there are twists, no spoiler saying that, it’s inherent in Legacy games. But something that is a positive with Charterstone is that there is never a twist that a player looked at it and said “that’s unfair.” That’s actually hard to do in a legacy game it seems. How to you incorporate twists into a game and yet not invalidate one of the strategies that an individual player has been using? This is where other competitive legacy games have failed, too many twists completely obliterated a player’s strategy while over rewarding another’s. It means unbeknownst to you one strategy actually is superior, but you won’t find out until it is too late. This game doesn’t make that mistake. My wife and I chose very different strategies and yet we evenly split the games in terms of wins (we tend to be relatively close competition in games) and the final score was extremely close. You can always react to the changes in a way that always feels doable. That’s huge.

But what about playing the game going forward? I have to admit we have not yet played the game after completing the legacy campaign. And… my interest in doing so is somewhat lower. I think we will play it from time to time, but once the legacy part is completely a bit of the charm of wanting to play it again is gone. It becomes a bit of a more standard worker placement game with some changes still occurring as time goes on but nothing like during the campaign. But while I don’t have a big itch to play the game in our custom village a bunch right now, I must say before we even finished we had the itch to get a recharge pack and play again on the other side of the board trying completely different strategies to see what we could pull off. We had nearly 1/3rd of the index deck unexplored at the end of the campaign, think of the varieties left in that box. That itch to play the entire campaign again is not the usual for us with Legacy games. We finished Pandemic Legacy Season 1 in a matter of weeks and loved it, but… there wasn’t enough variety for us to want to go back and try again. Maybe in a few years when we have forgotten things. But the fun in charterstone doesn’t just come from discovering what is there, but from the long term strategy choices you can make with your charter. Hands down I love this game, and it may just be my the legacy game that has the most legs, but not for the reasons people think.


Scalability:
I’ve only played it 2 players, but based on what we experienced with this game it would only be better with more players, and that is saying something considering what we thought about it with 2 players. The game does include automa players but… I don’t use those as I think they take away a lot of the fun simplicity of games, so I’m sure they are fine but not my thing.

Final Thoughts:
Charterstone had high expectations coming in, and yet it still failed to disappoint, in fact it surpassed our expectations. We’ve already played all the way through it once and have plans to play through it again, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets a third play in the future. The game is rewarding to play and leaves you looking forward to each and every game. It’s a great game I recommend for everyone, even those who haven’t been sold on legacy games in the past. Give it a try, it’s worth it.

Score: 9.5/10

UPDATE 6/9/18
After a second campaign with 5 players:
Update to this review.

Played through the game (well most of it) again this time with 5 players. I think my review is actually about the same at more player counts as well. Sure your workers were bumped a few more times than they were at 2 players, but it didn't make as big of a difference as I initially expected. There was more of a focus on variety, with lots of different packages being rapidly opened. The game time was a little but longer, perhaps twice as long at 5 players compared to 2 players. We averaged around 1.5 hours at 5 players, and most games came in under 45 minutes at 2 players.

So if you are thinking of playing at 2 players but worry you would need more, I would say it actually works fine at 2. Mildly better with more players.

One other addition to my review-
I didn't enjoy the second play as much. Without the mystery of stuff getting unlocked I found myself instead trying to open certain boxes in order to try and unlock certain elements of the game that I wanted introduced again. It didn't ruin the game for me, but it certainly made me not want to play the game a 3rd time. This is the first time I have ever played a legacy game a second time through, and it was a bit disappointing. I'm not going to change my score because it really isn't made to be played a second time, but it is worth noting.


If you enjoyed my review, see my other reviews here.
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Andrew Watson
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Re: My charter is the best one... or is it? A review after completing charterstone. Spoilers avoided
Thanks for the review. You communicated your experience of the game with a minimum of details that might be considered spoilers.
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Chris Stockdale
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Re: My charter is the best one... or is it? A review after completing charterstone. Spoilers avoided
AndAgainMA wrote:
Thanks for the review. You communicated your experience of the game with a minimum of details that might be considered spoilers.


Thanks glad to hear it. I was hoping to largely avoid spoilers but sometimes after you've already seen the end result it's hard to remember what exactly you didn't know before you started playing.
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Re: My charter is the best one... or is it? A review after completing charterstone. Spoilers avoided
11 games done and I agree... the game is fun to play and I was always wanting to play again immediately following the last game. I am a little sorry to be coming to the end of the campaign. My wife and I are talking about the recharge pack too. We played a 2 player campaign also, but we want to experience the game with 4 because I believe more options will open up earlier. We didn't get 3 types of cards revealed in our campaign until game 10.
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Re: My charter is the best one... or is it? A review after completing charterstone. Spoilers avoided
dboyee wrote:
11 games done and I agree... the game is fun to play and I was always wanting to play again immediately following the last game. I am a little sorry to be coming to the end of the campaign. My wife and I are talking about the recharge pack too. We played a 2 player campaign also, but we want to experience the game with 4 because I believe more options will open up earlier. We didn't get 3 types of cards revealed in our campaign until game 10.


Same here. Which was totally fine, but it would be interesting to see how more players worked out, especially in terms of the benefits of getting your workers bumped which happened only sporadically in 2 players. We are meeting up with some family members (who will love this game I think) for a week of skiing in late march, so I'm planning on bringing this and playing through 5 players at that time. Ski during the day, charterstone at night, not a bad vacation.
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Re: My charter is the best one... or is it? A review after completing charterstone. Spoilers avoided
chrisoc13 wrote:
dboyee wrote:
11 games done and I agree... the game is fun to play and I was always wanting to play again immediately following the last game. I am a little sorry to be coming to the end of the campaign. My wife and I are talking about the recharge pack too. We played a 2 player campaign also, but we want to experience the game with 4 because I believe more options will open up earlier. We didn't get 3 types of cards revealed in our campaign until game 10.


Same here. Which was totally fine, but it would be interesting to see how more players worked out, especially in terms of the benefits of getting your workers bumped which happened only sporadically in 2 players. We are meeting up with some family members (who will love this game I think) for a week of skiing in late march, so I'm planning on bringing this and playing through 5 players at that time. Ski during the day, charterstone at night, not a bad vacation.
Sounds fun. You should report back to this thread once you finish the 5 player campaign on how the games went.
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Re: My charter is the best one... or is it? A review after completing charterstone. Spoilers avoided
dboyee wrote:
chrisoc13 wrote:
dboyee wrote:
11 games done and I agree... the game is fun to play and I was always wanting to play again immediately following the last game. I am a little sorry to be coming to the end of the campaign. My wife and I are talking about the recharge pack too. We played a 2 player campaign also, but we want to experience the game with 4 because I believe more options will open up earlier. We didn't get 3 types of cards revealed in our campaign until game 10.


Same here. Which was totally fine, but it would be interesting to see how more players worked out, especially in terms of the benefits of getting your workers bumped which happened only sporadically in 2 players. We are meeting up with some family members (who will love this game I think) for a week of skiing in late march, so I'm planning on bringing this and playing through 5 players at that time. Ski during the day, charterstone at night, not a bad vacation.
Sounds fun. You should report back to this thread once you finish the 5 player campaign on how the games went.

Will do!
 
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Herodotus Halicarnassus
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Re: My charter is the best one... or is it? A review after completing charterstone. Spoilers avoided
I was on the verge of writing this off due to the fact that many reported it played best with more than two players and (like yourself) I didn't want to deal with an Automa player.

Guess it's time to take another look at it...
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Re: My charter is the best one... or is it? A review after completing charterstone. Spoilers avoided
Herodotus Herodotus wrote:
I was on the verge of writing this off due to the fact that many reported it played best with more than two players and (like yourself) I didn't want to deal with an Automa player.

Guess it's time to take another look at it...

Even playing it two players only I could tell that it would be better with more players, so I think that still applies. But yeah I was surprised at how much we enjoyed it at 2 players. It was all we played for a while until we made it through the campaign.

Now for a little more background my wife loves worker placement games and we play many worker placement games 2 players only and have no problem with it. yes there is less interaction than with more players but we tend to not care as much all while fully acknowledging that more players means more interaction and generally is a little more fun.
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Re: My charter is the best one... or is it? A review after completing charterstone. Spoilers avoided
chrisoc13 wrote:
Herodotus Herodotus wrote:
I was on the verge of writing this off due to the fact that many reported it played best with more than two players and (like yourself) I didn't want to deal with an Automa player.

Guess it's time to take another look at it...

Even playing it two players only I could tell that it would be better with more players, so I think that still applies. But yeah I was surprised at how much we enjoyed it at 2 players. It was all we played for a while until we made it through the campaign.

Now for a little more background my wife loves worker placement games and we play many worker placement games 2 players only and have no problem with it. yes there is less interaction than with more players but we tend to not care as much all while fully acknowledging that more players means more interaction and generally is a little more fun.
Fully agree with you Chris. The game was enjoyable with 2 players. I especially liked the length of play at that number count. But I can see that much more would have been unlocked had I played with more players. There would have been more competition for spaces, however, since you bump players when you take their spots NOT having competition for space wasn't a big factor in the game. My only gripe with 2 player is I would have liked to have had some of the cards in the deck earlier in my games, is all.
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Re: My charter is the best one... or is it? A review after completing charterstone. Spoilers avoided
I agree with the original review here, we hardly played any other games during the campaign, and even played again straight away after the twelfth month. Very compelling, although I expect we will play it less often now the campaign is finished. But I'm still looking forward to playing it again!
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Re: My charter is the best one... or is it? A review after completing charterstone. Spoilers avoided
dboyee wrote:
chrisoc13 wrote:
Herodotus Herodotus wrote:
I was on the verge of writing this off due to the fact that many reported it played best with more than two players and (like yourself) I didn't want to deal with an Automa player.

Guess it's time to take another look at it...

Even playing it two players only I could tell that it would be better with more players, so I think that still applies. But yeah I was surprised at how much we enjoyed it at 2 players. It was all we played for a while until we made it through the campaign.

Now for a little more background my wife loves worker placement games and we play many worker placement games 2 players only and have no problem with it. yes there is less interaction than with more players but we tend to not care as much all while fully acknowledging that more players means more interaction and generally is a little more fun.
Fully agree with you Chris. The game was enjoyable with 2 players. I especially liked the length of play at that number count. But I can see that much more would have been unlocked had I played with more players. There would have been more competition for spaces, however, since you bump players when you take their spots NOT having competition for space wasn't a big factor in the game. My only gripe with 2 player is I would have liked to have had some of the cards in the deck earlier in my games, is all.
Update: I have started a 4 player campaign now and it is amazing how much quicker components (surprises) are being revealed in 4 players versus my 2 player experience!
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Re: My charter is the best one... or is it? A review after completing charterstone. Spoilers avoided
I added an update to the review above after having played it with 5 players as well. Hopefully that helps anyone who has questions regarding player counts.
 
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I've now completed a campaign with 2 players and one with 4 players. What is interesting to me is that with more players, more cards are unlocked, and at a quicker pace. With 4 players, by game 12 mostly all our buildings were unlocked with the exception of some NPC (empty charter buildings). I played game 12 and I had no built cards to unlock which meant I couldn't use the charterstone or build.

Personally, I like 2 player games for the quickness of turns.

I like 4 player games for the speed of unlocking crates and revealing stuff.

By the end of the campaign in 2 player, we were left with quite a number of unlocked cards which meant there was stuff to unlock post-game. 4 players: not much left to unlock. (I would imagine at 6 players, everything would be virtually unlocked, perhaps sooner than game 12).

For me, I liked the game better at 4 players. However, the game is fine at 2 players. IMHO - the Charterstone recharge pack is a must buy if you want to experience different player counts. I am very glad I played the campaign twice!
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