I spoke in a previous review about Charterstone and what you do and such. This review will include all the spoilers that I left out of that game. A spoiler free review can be found here. If you do not want Charterstone to be spoiled, stop reading now. Also of note, there will be a distinct lack of photos for my review of Charterstone (spoiler-free and spoiled) due to a roof leak. Whomp whomp.
For full disclosure, I was provided this copy of Charterstone from Stonemaier Games for this review. The provided copy has not impacted my views below.
How do you feel about the story of Charterstone? It was just okay. I didn’t feel like I knew where it was taking us for the longest time and I definitely feel let down by the conclusion of the saga. In hindsight, the story felt like a typical fable that you would find in maybe a children’s book or watered down YA novel. There were enough turns that made the story engaging but I wasn’t as riveted as I have been with other Legacy game storylines. Once we completed the game, we immediately were curious to see what the other endings were. After some quick Googling, we saw that there was a good and a bad ending. We got the bad ending.
The bad ending, for full transparency, is that defying the King results in him transferring his soul into the winning players body. You become the very thing you fought against.
The good ending, where you play along with the King, allows the player to destroy the Charterstone and kill the King.
These endings are supposed to mirror how threatened the King feels by you (story 17) but it felt flat for me. Maybe to me the betrayal of the player, who had been ‘good’ to the King the entire game, felt weak as it was forcing my character into what to do.
How did the story progression feel game-play wise? While the story guided players for the most part, board creation was almost entirely up to the players. While I liked the freedom, there was an issue we had with building replacement buildings. You never quite knew what was going to come next or what was going to be scored so you were never sure what was worth building. It made planning difficulty and sometimes frustrating. Logic was that the higher point cost buildings would be worth building but that wasn’t always the case as we found some cheaper options were more beneficial comparatively.
Was building the board satisfying? Kind of. It was less building a functional village and more just placing the buildings that would grant you the best resources. My SO and I did enjoy the building of the board (her more so than I). I feel like I went far too hard on opening boxes and placing buildings than I should have but I wanted to explore the world. I really enjoyed the Sky Islands as I definitely worried about using up all my real estate early on.
Did the game ever feel repetitive? Yes. Even with the inclusion of new workers (Minions) and buildings and such, we still were stuck with the same play off the place a worker, place a worker, retrieve a worker style that the game introduced in the first turn. While there was additional strategy as the game progressed (like the bonuses gained from using Minions), I never felt like we escaped the original rut. This may also be due to the two-player game where turns are flying and it stands out more than if there was downtime to sit and digest.
What was the worst part of playing? The bookkeeping. There are four hundred legacy cards and when they are unlocked, players will consult a spreadsheet. This is useful because there are a ton of cards but it also pulls you completely out of the game. With these additions, cards, new rules and changes to the game were constantly being added and rotated in and out. This did work to keep the game fresh but it also felt overwhelming for how ‘light’ the game started. The rules were not particularly difficult to learn but there just came a point where there was just so much that we spent more time rehashing all the rules than playing the game. This may have also been because our plays were delayed and not in succession like most legacy games we’ve played in the past.
What was the best part? I feel like every legacy game has had either a moment or a gimmick that everyone talks about. For Charterstone, that was the candle. The candle was amazing and honestly it was one of the biggest reasons I passed the game along; just so a friend could experience that moment.
The candle adds tension to the game and speeds up players turns in a way that can be anxiety inducing for some players. Players could just end the use of the candle by performing a certain action if this wasn’t to their liking as well; which is a nice inclusion as some people do need the time to take their turn but we appreciated that ‘stress’.
I’m also going to add a second favorite part: comparing yourself against the mean in game six. I just found that to be a fun wrinkle. In so many of our games, we wonder if the scores that we are recording are good, bad, average, etc. and for once, we were able to compare ours to everyone else.
Would you do anything differently? I feel like if I were to play Charterstone for a second time, I would do remarkably better. I would be prepared for the Guideposts that grants points for having constructed buildings, I would completely ignore some high point value buildings as I found them worthless and I would target Minions more proactively.
How did end game scoring resolve itself? I wasn’t a fan of this. My SO handily defeated me in all but one of the games but I still finished within 100 points of her, which felt too close in my opinion. I will say that each game felt competitive; I just never ended as the victor and sometimes I got blown out. The ‘ghost’ mechanic did help mitigate some of the falling behind but in a two-player game, I don’t feel like it helped as much as it would have in a higher player count game (but that’s just speculation as I’ve only played a two-player campaign).
Is the game balanced? I don’t think so. The first few games felt that way but there seemed to be a clear difference in our charters as the game played on (this was in a two-player game though). The game, while featuring the catch-up mechanic, also features a sort of ‘rich get richer’ style of play as the winners will get more stars which lead to more unlocks and bonuses which leads to a great divide between the players.
How do you rank it compared to other Stonemaier games? It was one of my least favorite. Maybe that’s on me for comparing it to other productions from the company but it did not feel like it felt in the same class as Viticulture, Scythe, Euphoria, etc. (besides from the production values).