Full disclosure: A review copy of Charterstone was provided by Stonemaier Games.
Also. I don’t know what you consider a spoiler, but I am not writing anything about the plot of the game or anything beyond what you would find out from reading the rulebook, looking at the board, and opening the Scriptorium. If you consider any of those things spoilers (I do not), you may want to stop reading, now.
This is roughly the part where I crack my knuckles and say “well, let’s try reviewing a legacy game”. My agreement to you is that I’m not going to post any plot-related spoilers (which means my photos will be somewhat scarce), but I may imply / state outright some basic gameplay elements. I’ll avoid mentioning anything that happens after Game 1 (or involves any permanent changes to the game), since the basic mechanics are similar between games (as far as I know).
In Charterstone, the Forever King has sent you to explore a new sector and create a village there. He’s gifted you a Charterstone similar to the one that sits in the Eternal City. Sure, you’re headed out there with friends, but you want to perform the best if you wish to earn his favor and get the requisite glory. Will you honor the Forever King with your charter? Or will you only incur his wrath?
You’ll be hard-pressed to get at anything inside of the box without at least taking out the board:
You’ll note that it’s double-sided; part of this is to allow interested players to purchase a Recharge Pack to play a second round of Charterstone once their first game is complete. As you might guess, you’ll be placing stickers on the board (and writing on it, both things that are My Personal Nightmare), so if you want to start fresh you’ll need a new set of stickers, at the bare minimum. You’ll notice there’s a bunch of stuff inside the box:
We’ll get to it in time. You’ll also want to set aside the Achivement Board:
You don’t know what this is yet or what it does, but I’ll cover it in a second in Gameplay. Next, also set aside the Objective Board:
Again, more on this later. So, the major things in the box you’re going to want to grab are labelled — there are resources in the Scriptorium:
There are many different resources. Pumpkins, clay, iron, coal, wheat, and wood are all in there:
You’ll need those for various worker-placement-y things during the game. There are also dope metal coins!
You’ll also definitely want the Index:
This gives you cards that advance the plot of the game. Do not look at the cards in the Index. You’ll need to open them and set them inside, but don’t flip through them unless you’re looking to give yourself incredible game spoilers, which is a bummer. Anyways, now, have each player choose a Charter Chest:
That should contain some player-specific tokens:
The small ones are Influence Tokens, and the large one is your points tracker. Set the Charterstone in the middle of the board:
And then you’ll start by reading Card 1 of the Index! In future games, you’ll just set out the resources, prep the Achievements and Objectives, and move forward from there by rolling the Charterstone to determine which player goes first. This may change due to additional rules being added, but I mean this more that you won’t read Card 1 of the Index for future games.
At its core, Charterstone is a worker-placement game. This means that you’ll place your two workers:
On various locations in the game to collect goods and currency, and then spend those goods and currency to gain goods, currency, points, or other things that you want. As you do so, you’ll advance the Progress Token along the track:
And once it hits the orange space at the end, the final round begins. Once that’s done, you’ll resolve End of Game stuff, which may change from game to game. More on that in a bit.
Each Charter specializes in one of the six resources (as you might have guessed, given that there are six non-money resources and six charters) and you’ll be provided with a way to leverage that to gain that resource. That’s about the most I can say, currently. I’ll probably write a more spoiler-heavy set of final thoughts and put it on my Punchboard Media page or something, since it doesn’t totally fit here. We’ll see.
Either way, on your turn, first, check to see if you still have Influence tokens. If you do, great! Carry on. If you do not, well, you must immediately advance Progress. For more information on that, see the Progress section below.
Now, you may place your workers or recall them all, your choice. As you might guess, if you cannot place your worker on any location, you must recall them all. You may, however, “bump” any player (including yourself) from a location if you place there. Players may bump each other or themselves any number of times. Up to you. Let’s talk about the locations, at least in the Commons (the center):
- The Zeppelin: Here, you may construct a Building. Over the course of the game you may acquire Building cards, and if you pay their resource cost and 3 of your Influence Tokens to the general supply, you may peel the building sticker off the card and stick it on an empty space in your Charter. Once you’ve done that, if the Building Card has a chest on it (they should have letters / numbers on them), keep it; otherwise, put the Building card in the Archive. This gives you 5 points and advances Progress.
- The Grandstand: Here at the Grandstand, you may place an Influence token on an Objective card that you’ve completed. You don’t have to spend resources beyond the Influence Token. This, too, gives you 5 points and advances Progress. Turns out yelling about your accomplishments works.
- The Market: The Market allows you to spend one money and one good of your choice to gain the face-up Advancement card of your choice from the Advancement card area. They have many types; you may choose any one you’d like as long as it’s face-up.
- The Treasury: In the Treasury, you may spend any one good of your choice to gain one coin. I’ve never seen anyone use it, but, it exists.
- The Charterstone: At the Charterstone, you may spend 4 coins and 2 Influence tokens to open a chest! Look at the Index Guide and pull out the cards specified by that chest’s value (from left to right). You’ve unlocked something new! It may involve updating some parts of the game, which can change any number of things. It’s quite exciting! If that weren’t exciting enough, you also gain 5 points and advance Progress. What a turn.
- The Cloud Port: Here, you can spend resources to send your spoils back to the Eternal City and the Forever King. Each row is represented by some resource, be it Money, Any Resource, Advancement Cards, etc. If you spend / discard them to the general supply, you may put an influence token on any space in that row corresponding to the amount you spent. You always gain 3 points, but you might gain other bonuses, like an additional point or Reputation.
Those are all the buildings, so let’s talk about the other two things to care about: Reputation and Progress.
Reputation is a measure of how highly people think of you. It’s always nice to be well-thought-of. Or, at least, that’s what all my popular friends tell me. Over the course of the game, certain things will give you Reputation (such as spaces on the Quota Board or certain spaces on the Progress track). When that happens, you have the option of placing an Influence token of yours along the Reputation Track headed out towards the sea. At game’s end, the player(s) with the most Reputation gain 10 points. Second-most gains 7, and third-most gains 4. Everyone else gets nothing because nobody’s heard of them.
Progress is a measure of how long the game has gone on. Again, when it hits the orange space, that round is the last round of the game. Some players will not get an extra turn, so be careful! You may advance Progress through various actions, which might cause you to land on certain spaces. The one that looks like a boat lets you gain one Reputation (see above), and the Refresh-icon-looking space is … currently not relevant. Don’t worry about it.
Play continues in a game until you’ve advanced Progress to the orange space! Finish the round, award points for Reputation and any cards that give you end-game VP (they’ll have the orange end-of-game icon on them, as well), and the player with the most VP wins! If you didn’t win, don’t worry — the Forever King still appreciates your effort, which might honestly be worth it!
Player Count Differences
Couldn’t say, honestly; since it’s a campaign, I have always played with the same group at four players. It seems to work pretty well, as I imagine 6 might be a lot of downtime between turns. I’ve been told at two or three friends of mine have found that the Automa rules are a lot of fun (as they add in AI-controlled players, essentially). There are ways to change your group on the fly as you play (just in case you stop liking someone you game with, as one does), but generally speaking you should play at least the first two games with the same group to help establish a cohesive narrative. After that, players can drop in and drop out as they please, though I prefer having my entire group together the whole time. You can also play solo, but then you need the Automa rules, as you might guess.
- Build some buildings. That’s not just the fun part of the game; it’s also a really useful way to score points. Plus, who doesn’t love stickers! Just remember — any buildings you build, your opponents can use, too, so maybe don’t help out your rivals too much.
- Use the Charterstone. Okay, building buildings is fun, but cracking the Index and finding out what secrets lurk inside is why you bought a legacy game, let’s be real. It does not disappoint. Plus, it’s worth points. Don’t you love when a game incentivizes you to do the thing that’s also the most fun? So go crazy; knock yourself out. Especially in the early games, you’ll find that that’s a useful way to score points since there aren’t many buildings out because nobody’s built that many, yet. And, again, it’s really fun. Just kind of wing it! Generally, I use the Charterstone whenever I can.
- Don’t forget about the Cloud Port. Everyone in my group has overlooked the Cloud Port and it’s super useful, especially if you’re flush with something like cash (which, uh … doesn’t happen that often, as far as I can tell). We missed the point value of the Cloud Port in our first game and we’ve certainly not made that mistake again.
- A good reputation is a wonderful thing. 10 end-game points is nothing to shake a stick at, you know. You might want to spend some time working towards getting a good reputation. Just … you know, don’t win Reputation by 5 Influence. You want to edge other players out, not blow them out of the water. If you use up all of your Influence, you might find it hard to do the other fun things, like the Charterstone or the Zeppelin. Actually, on that note.
- Don’t use up all your Influence … unless that’s your plan. Remember, every turn that you start with 0 Influence forces the Progress Token to advance. You can game that to accelerate the end of the game, if you want, especially if you’ve already got that Reputation locked down and you want to stay in the lead. Just watch out for players using that to try and take you on Reputation.
- Honestly, don’t really ignore anything except for the Treasury. I think there are faster ways to make coins if you’re enterprising. That said, the Market is often worth looking at — it’s got some nice stuff for sale. Maybe some of those Achievement Cards will help you score the points you need to impress the Forever King? Who knows. Similarly, the Grandstand is a fair number of points, so it might be worth spending some effort to earn some objectives.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art is incredible. It’s thematically excellent, but the box in particular just looks extremely nice. Like it’s eye-catching, sharply done, and all-around impressive. I just wish it had the name of the game on the left side so I could store it normally instead of having to pivot it because the name is on the bottom of the lid. It’s a very well-arted game.
- Metal coins are awesome. They were great in Near and Far and they’re also great now. I didn’t realize how here for metal coins I was until I had the chance to experience them all the time, and, I can confirm — metal coins are the best. They’re better than everything.
- I really like the way that things in the Index are unlocked and the progression of the village. No spoilers. The standard progression is get a building card -> build it at the Zeppelin -> open the chest at the Charterstone -> discover new stuff in the Index. It’s a lot of fun and gives the game a really satisfying sense of discovery. I’m a big fan of it. Plus, it makes the game easy to recharge since you’re mostly resetting the Index.
- Honestly, it’s a reasonably basic worker placement game at its core, and that makes it pretty accessible (and pretty fun). The high-level rules aren’t hard to learn (once you read them / learn them, see below), which makes it pretty easy to pick up and play. It’s not the easiest game to learn I’ve ever played, but at its core it’s not too bad. There are just some extra things that can be a bit confusing at the beginning. Like I said, though, the core is there (and the core is pretty fun), and I think that’s what’s important.
- I think I just really like legacy games. I think that the narrative component of most games is what hooks me, even if they’re mostly narrative like Legacy of Dragonholt, more of a mix like Near and Far, or narrative-between-games like Spy Club. I really like the feeling of moving through a story and hitting important notes. It makes me want to play the game more to discover more secrets and see what new things will be coming up each game, and I think Charterstone does an excellent job of capturing what I like about the genre. Sure, I still get a bit stressed when I write on cards or stick permanent stickers onto things, but I’m getting over that (gradually). It also helps that I’ve had three really great groups for all of my legacy experiences, thus far — with these, I think your group is super important, and in every case my groups have been excellent. While the actual worker
- Pumpkins are an excellent resource type. I have some basic tendencies, and my love of the pumpkin is one of them. So, naturally, their presence in Charterstone is something that I’m enthusiastic about.
- I like that you can continue playing it after you’ve finished the campaign. Once you’re done with it, you’ve created a pretty unique worker placement game, but not one that’s burnt forever like the Pandemics. I’m kind of interested to see if I’ll keep playing it after we’ve finished the campaign, so, I guess we’ll have to check in again after Game 12. I’ll hopefully have more to say in a much more spoiler-heavy review, probably posted much later once I’ve had a chance to think about it.
- Due to the way the box is organized, it’s not balanced, weight-wise. One side is very clearly (and significantly) heavier than the other. Be careful when picking it up, as if you’re not aware of that you can drop it, flip it, or get hurt. Not much to be done about it; just making people aware.
- The rules are far more nonlinear than, say, Pandemic Legacy. You’ll pretty much see immediately in the rules that there are multiple empty spaces for new rules to be added (as with most legacy games I’ve played), but there are many more than there were in either Pandemic Legacy Season 1 or 2, for reference. That’s somewhat more difficult because Pandemic Legacy has the benefit of being backed by Pandemic, which is a game that plenty of people are reasonably familiar with. Since this is entirely new, the nonlinearity of the rules can be pretty confusing to new players. They recommend having a player read the rules before starting (even though you don’t totally need to do so), and I’m inclined to agree.
- Pretty much at the end of every game we’ve played, my group has said “that was so much fun! …But man, it would be even better if it were cooperative.” It’s a great game for our group and we love the whole schtick of building up a village over multiple games, but we are consistently bummed by the competitive aspect of it. Not that we don’t enjoy a bit of friendly competition, but rather that the game feels like it would be even more fun if we were working towards a common goal. I imagine that’s because we’re enjoying the narrative and worldbuilding aspects, and would like to collaborate more than compete. I think that also leads to some fatigue, as you might lose every single game (or close to it) and that can feel … less fun. That said, some people prefer competitive games, so I imagine if you don’t love cooperative games and want to play a legacy game, this might be a great one for you.
- The rules are … very tiny. The rulebook has a lot of very tiny words in it, which leads to rules mistakes, which is unfortunate. I’d rather a rulebook be long than dense, honestly, as I’m reading these rules quickly to keep the game moving and there are plenty of mistakes happening every now and then.
- The Progress Tracker has a bit of an out-of-sight, out-of-mind problem. I don’t really look at it while I play, and since it’s both in the corner of the board and infrequently activating, it’s a very easy thing to overlook. This is not good, as it might overextend your game or give you extra rounds / deny other players an opportunity for Reputation if you forget to move it when you’re supposed to. I’m not sure how it could be made more prominent, but perhaps having it in the center of the board (maybe surrounding The Commons?) might have helped, as it would be easier for every player to access it. As it stands, just make the Blue Player keep track of it.
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Overall, I quite like Charterstone! My group is often asking me when we’re going to play it next and I’m super enthusiastic about playing it more often and more frequently. After nine games, I’m still not going to let go of my desire to play it cooperatively, but that doesn’t mean I’m not enjoying it; far from it, in fact. That said, I’ve still got a few more games before the campaign is complete. If you’re interested in my more spoilery thoughts, let me know, as well! All in all, Charterstone is a fresh take on a dangerous part of the Legacy genre — lacking a core game to build off of. Initially, I was worried that it would be inaccessible, but thankfully, we found that that’s not the case, and, in fact, it’s quite fun! Sure, the nice coins and the great art help, but it’s got a good core of a fun game, even if the rulebook can occasionally be hard to parse. If you can get a group together and you’re interested, I’d highly recommend checking it out!