Charterstone is a legacy worker placement game for 1-6 players from Stonemaier Games, the makers of the amazing Scythe. It was the legacy part of this that initially put me off Charterstone, I've never been eager to put permanent stickers on my board games and the idea only been able to get the full experience of a game once seems superficial to me.
However, the positive reviews I kept hearing and the pleasant art style it boasts, not to mention the love I have for Scythe and the faith I have in Stonemaier Games, kept pulling me back in until I buckled and plunged in.
Players take the roles of settlers sent out by the mysterious Forever King to expand the land of Greengully by founding a new village. Along the way they’ll be able to customise the layout of their section of the village, name just about anything, and curry favour from the King.
What's in the Box?
- The Chronicle which serves as both the guide through the story and the rule book, there are also rules for automa, Stonemaier’s AI players.
- The magnetised index box which contains all the cards used during play, though thankfully not all at once as there are almost 400 of them.
- The Scriptorium, which is a box for all the wooden pieces that represent the six resources and the metal coins of the game's currency.
- Six tuck boxes called Charter Chests, one for each possible player, where you can store components retained between games and each of these holds player specific tokens.
- The game board, which is double-sided so you can buy a refresh pack and start over.
- Four tuck boxes containing items unlocked during play.
- Archive tuck box which stores cards no longer needed.
Setting Up Charterstone
For your first game of Charterstone simply take out the Chronicle and it will guide you through setting up your first game.
In the rules, there are several sections that for now are blank which means there's a really smooth learning curve as you play through the campaign. For now, it's a case of choosing which six-plot charter each player will rule over and placing their first building sticker on one of those plots. Put the timer counter on the space with the number of players and each player's Victory Counter on zero. Then make sure all the resources and coins are nearby and set-up the three available objectives and the beginning five advancement cards for this game.
If you don't have six players don't worry about charters being left empty, each one will begin with its relevant starter building and will have the chance to grow throughout the story.
Playing the Game
I’m only going to give a brief run through of how the first game plays out as the fun comes from discovering each new unlocked item as you play. Each turn, a player can either place one of their workers or collect them all back. Like any worker placement game, you receive the reward you place your worker on and the first game has only a few options of where they can go. Each starter building gives one of each different resource and buildings in the centre, the Commons, allow you to spend those resources either in exchange for coins, or advancement cards, to be spent on constructing new buildings, completing objectives, or opening crates. Each of these last three actions moves the progress token one space towards the end of the game.
Crates are what’s left on a card when the building sticker is placed on the board and it’s not until the crate is opened and the cards are collected from the Index that the card is removed from the game.
Opening crates, placing buildings, and completing objectives are the main ways to score victory points in the first few games, each awarding five, and it’s these that players will be competing over. Once the progress token reaches the end of the game each remaining player of the round takes a turn then victory points are tallied up and Glory Points are awarded allowing players to improve their Charter Chests.
Thoughts on Charterstone - SPOILERS AHEAD
I’m going to talk about some of the things I’ve unlocked in my first few games through the story so if you prefer not to know what’s coming, skip to my final thoughts.
At the end of the second game you unlock special cards called guideposts, these help drive the game to develop the village. This is one of my favourite parts of Charterstone, just what happens at the end of the game is hidden by scratch-off panel and gives whoever wins the guidepost, not necessarily the same person who wins the game, gets to choose between the two options on the card changing the flow of the story and potentially unlocking new rules or abilities. I found this really intriguing to see where the different choices would take the players, either pleasing or angering the Forever King and I found myself trying to win the guidepost even if it meant losing the game.
One of the more complex aspects of the game is laying out your charter. As the games go on minions can be unlocked, and whilst they can only be placed in your own charter, in addition to the building rewards each one also grants a unique reward from extra VP to coins or advancement cards.
With careful placement of buildings in your charter, you have access to some powerful combos if you place your minions early in the game. This also creates one of the strange problems once you get later into the campaign; you have a full board and the only way to unlock more aspects is to open crates, which in-turn means placing the sticker first. With each charter only holding six plots your options are limited and building overused plots, while possible, always feels like you might possibly be losing something.
Then there’s the issue of inactive charters, ones that aren’t in use by a player. While buildings returned to the advancement deck can be added to the board, one per charter at the start of each game, they are placed at random and once the charter is full no more buildings are placed. Thus, players are stuck having to place buildings in their own charter compounding the first problem. This is a hindrance when one of the best and most driving forces of the game is opening new crates and discovering what else Charterstone has to offer.
Though the story could have more presence within each game, Stonemaier have done an excellent job of pioneering this type of legacy game. There is a great feeling of accomplishment as you see your village grow from a few buildings to a busy and thriving location, not to mention how addictive it is to open more crates and add to the rules.
This growth of the rules is one of the hardest parts to balance. While the Chronicle says not to worry about adding more too soon, opening crates and placing buildings is at the centre of scoring VP and advancing the game. Also, the first few games can go by quite fast without much to do so players will want to add more to the game.
The flip side to that is adding too much at once can leave players in a landslide of new rules that can be fatiguing and sometimes confusing.
It would be unfair not to mention just how well made this game is. The coins are metal as standard and each of the tuck boxes is elegantly designed both in the function of tracking stats from game to game, and the embellishments on each box. Not only that, but every card is solidly made standing up plenty of use even if some are only used for a brief time.
Charterstone is an addictive and heart-warming game both in its art style and its play style. This may be a legacy game but once you've played through your 12 campaign games you're left with a unique worker placement game that can continue to grow. Or you can purchase a refresher pack and flip the board over and start all over again.