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Subject: Thoughts on Completing the Campaign with My 5-Year-Old Son rss

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D . J .
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Hi everyone,

I've never started a thread like this before, but this is a special occasion: today I finished the complete campaign of Charterstone... with a 5-year-old! As a way of sorting through my thoughts on this experience (a debrief for myself, if you will,) I feel compelled to relate the ups and downs as a series of bullet points. Here we go!


* INTRODUCTION: After watching Rahdo's review of this game several weeks ago, I initially dismissed this game as one I could skip; I just didn't think I would want to rope my wife into playing a 12-game campaign, when it is hard enough to get her to the table for a single session! But then I started reading the experiences of others who were playing Charterstone with their young children, and I was intrigued: might this be the game to introduce my son to worker-placement games? I decided to take the plunge and bought Charterstone as a Christmas present for the family. Well, when my 5-year-old son opened it, he was absolutely delighted! Stickers?!? Whaaaat?!?

He was immediately eager to try it out, and when I explained to him that the board would continue to grow over the course of 12 games we would play together, well, let's just say patience is not a virtue that many 5-year-olds embody! It took a few days after Christmas for us to get started (mostly because I at first wanted my wife to join us for the campaign, but she kept resisting.) So, on December 30th, 2017, with just the two of us, we began our 2-player journey. And only 8 days later, we finished the campaign!


* MY FIVE-YEAR OLD SON: My son is already obsessed with board games -- I guess that's what happens when your daddy has 5+ bookshelves lined with these intriguing colorful boxes of goodies! He has basically skipped right past the "children's game" phase, and is now hooked on "hobby-level" games.

Here are all the games we've played to date: Splendor, Majesty, Century Spice Road, Fabled Fruit, Formula D, Elfenland, Zooloretto, El Dorado, Dimension, Kingdomino, and now of course, 12 games of Charterstone.

Obviously, he is not a strategic mastermind, and he cannot yet read, but he very much enjoys playing, and even occasionally pulls out a win (last week he beat 3 other experienced adult players in a game of El Dorado!) And based on others here in the Charterstone forums who have been enjoying the game with their young'uns, I was confident he would be able to understand the rules.


* GAME #1: All it took to hook him on this game was the notion of unlocking "crates" and adding stickers to the board. He was determined to do this as quick as possible, and as much as he could (this singular-minded obsession would actually hold him back in later games; more on that to come.) He understood the basics just fine; in fact, this was an easier game to teach him than Elfenroad or Spice Road, which require a lot more complexity in "thinking a few turns ahead." With Charterstone, he was methodical, albeit predictable: go here, get resource, go there, get resource, etc., go to Zeppellin, build building, rinse and repeat! More stickers = very happy 5-year-old!

He actually beat my score in the first game, I think because his singular focus worked better in the early going than my feeble attempts to pick up points in other ways. But certainly, winning made him immediately fall in love with the game, and although his winning streak would be short-lived, he remained enthusiastic throughout the campaign.


* GAMES 2-3: We were unlocking new buildings, rules, etc. so quickly that I was a bit worried he would soon become overwhelmed by the game. But Charterstone does a great job of introducing new concepts without getting too bogged down, and he was able to keep up relatively well. However, he continued to focus solely on building and unlocking crates, thereby mostly ignoring objectives and the quota track. I frequently attempted to explain to him that they were important in scoring points and thus winning the game, but he resisted my lessons. Still, he was having so much fun that every morning to come, he would beg me to play the next game. Good thing he was on a two-week winter break from school!


* MID-CAMPAIGN: I think I better use spoiler tags for this next section!

(minor spoiler)
Spoiler (click to reveal)
The first minion we unlocked was the cat; lucky us, we love cats! Suddenly, he had a new obsession to temporarily replace the stickers: buy lots of cats! Not long after, we unlocked the golems (in his charter,) and he was so delighted.

This is where the strategic limitations of the 5-year-old mind began to become a hindrance: starting with game 4, he didn't have a win until game 10 (we tied in game 2, and he won game 3.) He would eagerly buy new minions, but then didn't want to use them. I explained to him the benefits of using his golems, but he really didn't care; it was fun enough for him just to collect them.

As the mid-campaign continued, with the rapid unlocking of more types of advancement cards, the discrepancy in our scores became greater. He can't read, and although I explained to him each new card as it was revealed, they just didn't hold much interest for him compared to minions and stickers. Although I played a bit sub-optimally on purpose, he just couldn't keep up with the myriad ways I was discovering to score more points.

But here's the beautiful thing: although he wasn't winning anymore, his enthusiasm continued to grow! One thing that certainly helped (and IMHO one of the beautiful aspects of the game,) is that even when he lost, he was still getting "stars" (glory,) and the added capacity consolation prize. On top of that, he was so thrilled to scratch-off those guidepost cards! Winning the game became very unimportant to him; it was all about the thrill of getting to see more goodies!



* LATE CAMPAIGN: I am happy to say that his interest remained piqued all the way through, a few games past where the giddy feeling of unlocking new stuff began to wear off a bit for me (I still very much enjoyed the campaign overall, but by the later games it was no longer a challenge for me, because his point-scoring strategy was non-existent.)

However, by the last couple of games, the sheer number of possible actions he could take, although not overwhelming for him per se, lulled him into repetition. Get coal, trade coal for coins, get more coal, get more coins. There was no strategy to his actions, and for me, the games were dragging a bit because he was no longer a viable opponent.

Still, I got such a thrill from his excitement, because he was having so much fun just doing his thing, not worrying about points. He didn't want me to help him much; he would get upset when I tried to explain optimal moves for him to make. Although I wanted to teach him how to better understand the game's systems for earning points and actually, you know, winning, he was content to just keep on doing his thing, his own way! And in the end, I suppose I can't argue too much with that!

To his credit, he did in the last couple of games catch on to the quota track and the points he could earn there, so I am hopeful for the future of this game as a "regular" worker-placement-score-the-most-points-to-win game; he will be able to continue exploring the various ways to score points, pay more attention to the advancement cards, etc. Thus, I am very eager to keep on playing the game now that the campaign is over, and he is too!


* AUTOMA: We tried them once in Game 3, then dropped them and never regretted it. For us, the game was just fine as a two-player experience. Using the Automa took him out of his "flow," and created too much stress for him, watching them outpace his score. Since the campaign became for him more about the "wonder of discovery," I think leaving out the Automa was the right choice for us.


* IN CONCLUSION: If you're reading this, have young'uns of your own, and are wondering if Charterstone is worth your time, I can say enthusiastically, YES!

This was such a wonderful experience to share with my five-year-old! He says it is his favorite out of all the games we've ever played, and this despite him getting crushed in the final score tally!

(end-of-campaign story spoiler)
Spoiler (click to reveal)
Although, based on the story card we ended with, I guess he sort-of "won" after all, since by me having the higher score, my body and soul were consumed by that bastard Forever King!


I think Charterstone has done a wonderful job with what is ultimately the most important thing for me: immersing my son in hobby gaming, sharing a story, having memorable moments, and even teaching him a few things about long-term thinking along the way! Definitely this is the best "family gaming" experience I've ever had.

If you've made it this far, hey, thanks so much for reading, and happy gaming to y'all!


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Josh Ward
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Re: Thoughts on Completing the Campaign with My 5-Year-Old
That's an awesome story, thanks for sharing it! I don't have kids myself, and I couldn't see playing this with a 5 year old and keeping their interest for the whole campaign. I loved hearing about his attempt to collect all the cats and golems! That sounds like a perfectly good objective to work towards. (:
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D . J .
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kredal wrote:
That's an awesome story, thanks for sharing it! I don't have kids myself, and I couldn't see playing this with a 5 year old and keeping their interest for the whole campaign. I loved hearing about his attempt to collect all the cats and golems! That sounds like a perfectly good objective to work towards. (:


Thanks for commenting, much appreciated!

I have to add here that Charterstone's length is perfect: about an hour for us per game, even for the later games. Because he focused so much on building and unlocking crates, he usually ran out of influence tokens before I did. He can at times get jumpy and fidgety when we play (typical five-year-old,) but in this game turns are very quick, so that also helped for him to stay alert.

Oh, and it took me a while to convince him to part with some of his precious kitty-cats for the sake of getting points on the quota track. laugh

 
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Ira Fay
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This post inspired me to try Charterstone with my 5 year old son, too. So, thank you very much for the inspiration. Perhaps even more importantly, your post convinced my wife that it would be a reasonable idea for me to try Charterstone with our 5 year old son. I'm a professional game designer working on a legacy game, so I actually really want to play it, and while I like and appreciate solo gameplay, I ideally wanted to try it with other people. I started a campaign with 2 friends, but they can play only rarely, so I got the refresh pack and started a new campaign with my son. At the moment, my son and I are up to game 10, and the game with my friends is only on game ~7.

My son can read, but often won't actually read the cards unless prompted. He discovered the quota track strategy pretty early on, and got the assistant that rewards it, and will regularly put 6+ influence on the quota track. He also loves opening crates, and of course, collecting more minions.

I will regularly handicap myself in games against him, but generally with Charterstone I didn't feel compelled to do that due to the catchup mechanics. Of course I would always ensure he could tie me on the reputation track and/or for the guidepost, if he wanted, and that was pleasant for me anyway because I like semi-coop play.

I experienced the same thing as the original poster with every game after ~5. There was just too much complexity on the board for my son to really optimize well. But, you know, he's five. So that's OK with me, because it was still fun to play with him and not worry too much about who wins. We are enjoying exploring the cards and what comes next. And on at least two occasions we've managed to tie (with a little careful planning on my part). At least in 2 (or maybe even 3?) games early on, he won legitimately, because the quota track is a viable strategy, especially with the assistant that gives +1 VP. Spending a few resources and an influence for 5 points is perfectly viable...

Oh! In a few of the later games, he's started the game with me, then gotten tired half-way through the game. I finish for both of us in that case, taking directions from him about what he wants me to accomplish for him. Then he still gets to fill in all the stars and be happy about that.

So, overall, I completely agree with the OP that playing with your game-savvy five year old is a huge amount of fun! Thanks for the suggestion, and thanks to Jamey for making such an approachable yet strategically deep game.
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D . J .
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Hey Ira, thanks so much for sharing your experience! Makes me really happy to hear that I inspired someone else to play this game with their young'un. My son still asks me to play, even though we finished the campaign weeks ago; the game is definitely a hit with him. Hope you enjoy completing the campaign!
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Sophie Leung
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Thanks for your story, that was exciting! I am thinking which introductory worker placement to get for my 6 year old girl, and here i am! I have some questions:

-My girl can read but she may not be able to read all texts independently--is it alright that i read it aloud for her, but at the same time not put her in a disadvantage position ?(as we are competitive, not cooperative, and those information supposed should be hidden from your components?)

-Did you deliberately handicapped yourself to keep up your boy along to play? If yes, how and what's the best way to do so?

-Heard some comments that more players the merrier. Should I introduce the Automa/ AI player to make up to six? or alternatively, is it possible that we each control 2 characters to play?

Appreciate if you could reply to me. Thinking if this is the right choice to pick up her 7-year-old birthday present!
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D . J .
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sophieleung wrote:
Thanks for your story, that was exciting! I am thinking which introductory worker placement to get for my 6 year old girl, and here i am! I have some questions:

-My girl can read but she may not be able to read all texts independently--is it alright that i read it aloud for her, but at the same time not put her in a disadvantage position ?(as we are competitive, not cooperative, and those information supposed should be hidden from your components?)

-Did you deliberately handicapped yourself to keep up your boy along to play? If yes, how and what's the best way to do so?

-Heard some comments that more players the merrier. Should I introduce the Automa/ AI player to make up to six? or alternatively, is it possible that we each control 2 characters to play?

Appreciate if you could reply to me. Thinking if this is the right choice to pick up her 7-year-old birthday present!


Hi, Sophie; thanks for reading my thread... wow, it's been over a year since I first wrote it! Since that time, I've been able to introduce my now 6-year-old son to many games I couldn't have imagined he could handle at his age (such as Wingspan, also a great Stonemaier game!) But we'll always have fond memories of Charterstone. Oh, and he can read now, which has greatly expanded the list of games I can now share with him!

To answer your questions: yes, it is fine if you need to read cards for your daughter; there really isn't any hidden info in the game. Just let her have fun with the discovery aspect of the game; unlocking new buildings and collecting goodies is a joy. You can handicap yourself by simply not being too aggressive with your scoring opportunities.

I would recommend leaving out the Automas; though it is not as good a game with only two as it would be with more (human) players, it is still quite fun, and there are rules that will have you adding new buildings each game even without the Automa. I think that trying to control 2 characters each would be too much to handle, especially later in the campaign when the sheer amount of options may prove overwhelming for your daughter, and you will have to step in a lot to help her.

So, bottom line, yes even a year later I would still recommend this game to anyone with precocious children.

However, there may be even a better option that came out more recently, and it also happens to be a Stonemaier game: My Little Scythe! It is also a great kid-friendly family game (my son loves it) and is really great at teaching the young'uns a bit of strategy and planning.

Either way, you can't go wrong by just going with the flow (not worrying about who wins) and enjoying the time spent gaming with your daughter; hope this helps, enjoy!
 
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