When is a Legacy game not a Legacy game?
Welcome to this weeks review of Charterstone, a unique gaming experience from Jamey Stegmaier and Stonemaier Games.
And that is the core of Charterstone – it is a unique gaming experience. Today, almost nine months after Charterstone’s release, most people that jumped straight in have definitely played it already. For those people, Alpal and I did something a little different this time around, speaking of our thoughts on last weeks Blatherings.
But if you are still on the fence or new to the hobby, this is more a review and a game for you. You can still listen to the Blatherings after reading the review, there are no spoilers, and you can hear both Alpal’s and my Charterstone thoughts.
For now, let’s have a better look at an interesting idea.
Normally, I take readers through the rules of a game (at least the core rules) to give people an idea of the flow of the game as well as the feel.
This is hard to do with Charterstone, as you may unlock rules and abilities we didn’t. The funny thing about this with Charterstone though is that it really doesn’t matter.
This is first and foremost a Worker Placement game. The biggest rule to remember is always to do what the area tells you to do.
For example, place your meeple in the Cave, and get an Iron resource. Visit the Bakery, and for 2 coins you get a Chef and a Victory Point. It’s just learning the iconography.
Worker Placement games are a description for a very simple game mechanic.
In a Worker Placement game, players place down a worker meeple on a space that will allow a specific action. For example, placing a meeple on Square A will allow a player to gain 3 coins, but draw a card on Square B.
Normally in a Worker Placement game, taking a location denies that ability to other players, but there are plenty of games with exceptions to this rule.
Charterstone has been called a Legacy game by many, and this is both true and misleading.
You see, Charterstone has an overarching campaign in which you build up the Kingdom of Greengully. Each player has an area of the Kingdom (your Charter) which grows as the campaign continues. As you grow your Charters, more buildings are placed allowing more choices and extending strategies as you continue to play through the campaign.
For a normal Legacy game, the end of the campaign is normally where a group stops playing. Charterstone is different though, and why I try to not class it a Legacy game. You see, as you go through the campaign, you build yourself a reasonably heavyweight Euro Game that you can then just continue to play as a ‘normal’ game.
Euro Games are another label that many new gamers hear about, but is one of the hardest to define. In general, Euro Games competitive in nature, and abstract with light theming. Player interaction is usually minimal and indirect.
For example in Worker Placement games, you may stop another player from using a resource by placing a meeple where another player wants to place one of theirs. While this may sound confrontational, doing so simply to deny another player is usually detrimental to your own play so is usually not a common tactic.
Euro Games place emphasis on overall strategy and maximising scoring opportunities. Resource management is normally key, with direct player combat very rare. Because of this, Euro Games tend to be very popular among most gamers.
The Legacy game that isn’t. Charterstone is great for new players.
So you have seen me refer to ‘Legacy’ games a couple of times this review, but I am not putting a definition up. That’s because Charterstone isn’t a Legacy game, nor a Campaign game, in the truest sense of either genre.
In many ways, Charterstone is the greatest tutorial gaming experiment I have ever seen. While you play through a storied campaign, honestly it’s instantly forgettable. There were times I was tempted to read the story during the game to try and remember why we were supposed to be doing a thing.
As you play each Story in the 12 game campaign, rather than the Legacy emphasis of expanding the narrative around a game, Charterstone expands the rules and complexity of the Euro Game you are building.
This is like a Video Game – you start on level one with basic abilities. Play for a little bit, get through the level and become familiar with those abilities. Then at the start of the next level, get a new toy or ability to play with, expanding your skill set.
Charterstone works in the same way. You will always play the same base experience, but with an ever-increasing amount of tools to play with.
This expansion is done purely as a player choice as well. During the game, players decide which buildings to place and where. There are choices to be made, which makes each board of Charterstone largely unique.
As the game expands, this is a great way to see what weight of games you can enjoy. If Charterstone adds a little too much for you, you can replay the game as is just as a worker placement game. If you do this, I would ignore building placement and chest opening – just concentrate on the new strategies until you are comfortable with them, and then proceed to the next story.
For the Advanced Players
Charterstone is a game with a staggering amount of options. Not only can you choose the type of game you end up with as described, you can play it all on your own.
There are a couple of different ways to play with lower player counts. Alpal and I played where we essentially randomly filled the unused charters as we went. But if you are comfortable with more advanced rules, you can play the whole game solo with the provided Automa ruleset.
Automa essentially sets you against an in-game AI. The Automa rules will scale during the game, getting stronger as you beat it but also getting weaker when it beats you by a lot. Again, similar to Video Game Logic where the enemies scale enough to give you a challenge but not make things too easy on you.
There is also an issue for many advanced players. The first 10 games offer little in way of depth or complexity depending on the games you are used to.
I can also really see Charterstone being a game that needs all six Charters being under a players control. The Automa is a great idea, but really a six-player game will be where Charterstone will shine brightest.
So you don’t like Charterstone?
This is the hard bit. Personally, I wasn’t too fussed with it, but I can be talked into a 5-6 player game with the Recharge Kit. You see, I like the fact I can just buy the cards and play again by flipping the board, I’m just not excited about doing it now I have finished it.
For my friends that play heavy Euros with me like Founders of Gloomhaven or Scythe, no I won’t ask them to play this bigger game with them. It’s asking them to play a game lighter than they enjoy playing, and for 12 games.
But if there was a group of 3-4 people new to board games that named some heavier Euros as the games they want to play, I would play the campaign with them. This is the sort of game Charterstone was created for, and explaining rules and watching their understanding grow through the campaign will be awesome.
And the Nitpick
So I know I haven’t shown off most of the game, as our game was just that and I don’t want to influence people.
But one thing that really gets me is the iconography in Charterstone. Now I am a fan of premium components, to the point that I have a 3D printer that I made my own components with.
The wooden resource tokens that come in the game are functional and fine. But they don’t look like the icons used in the game. What they do look like is the roughly USD$30 premium components designed by Stonemaier Games. You can buy them via Meeple Source as well, but below I have the provided tokens and icons, then look at the picture of the premium components, and see which would make more sense to you while playing.
Now the fact the premium components exist show that Jamey and Stonemaier Games thought that Charterstone would be a game that many people would continue to play well after the campaign. Premium components are a thing, and I appreciate the commitment.
But making the iconography match the premium components to me is a halfway experience. Out of the box, Charterstone felt to me like I was playing with the wrong components, and this isn’t what you want in a game.
Yes, I can buy the premium components if I want to. Adding them to the base game would have made it more expensive, I also agree with this. But paying an extra USD$10-15 for beautiful components that match would have made Charterstone a more complete experience, and showed confidence that gamers would want to continue playing it when the campaign was done.
If you have a larger group looking for a Legacy game, Charterstone is instantly on your list based purely on player count.
For people that are looking to get into heavier games or board gaming in general, Charterstone is for you. The slow introduction of rules and complexity makes the game a great introduction to many core gaming mechanics, but you will still need an ‘experienced’ player to help you through the game.
While Charterstone becomes a heavier game as the campaign progresses, people that already enjoy a heavier gaming experience should probably look elsewhere.
While Charterstone was both a fun game but disappointing in a few areas for me, my main positive for Charterstone is it’s the first of a new genre of game. Being able to build my own game over time and teach new players while that game is built is ambitious. Really, really ambitious. And Charterstone almost gets there, but not quite – hence the ‘new player/experienced player’ duality.
Going forward though, plenty of designers can learn from this and create a lot of new games for us all to enjoy.