Charterstone

We played through the campaign of Charterstone. It was OK?

Charterstone is a legacy worker placement game. “Worker placement” is a game type where you place workers around the board to take actions like harvesting clay, building buildings, and turning in completed quests. “Legacy” means that the game changes over the course of the campaign, rather than being a series of isolated games. In a non-legacy worker placement game like Lords of Waterdeep, you expand the buildings available over the course of the game then wipe it out when you’re done. In Charterstone, your village grows over time as you add and replace buildings. There is also a storyline across the games, with rules and complexity added over time as well as changing the rules to simulate story events.

I like the idea of it more than the execution. I have several worker placement games already, including a better one from the same creators, so the gameplay is not the big draw. The storyline, surprises, and legacy aspect must be. There are a few of those that are rather good, but those are one-time surprises that lack the replayability one expects in a boardgame. (The game has rules for playing with Your Unique Village after the campaign, but that is again just the novelty of having Your Unique Village.)

The storyline is OK. There are several points with delightful surprises, particularly the end of game 4. More or less anytime a new gameplay element was introduced, especially a new component from the sealed boxes, that was great. Those combine the joys of a storyline twist with opening a wrapped present. (Spoilers are allowed in the comments, if you have played and want to discuss.)

The game is not a massive, branching path, so player decisions have almost no effect on the storyline. There is a cumulative effect, and there is a climactic battle determined by earlier decisions, but you make those decisions with little information and no indication of future impacts. You are familiar with this in games: make a decision right now that will have permanent effects, with little context and no explanation of its implications. This is usually considered bad design. The quick tip here is that making the mechanically disadvantageous decision is usually the one that gets you closer to the “good” ending. And the entire difference between the “good” and “bad” endings is the flavor text on two cards.

We played Charterstone with two players. It is a 12-game campaign, and you want people to commit to the whole thing before playing. That’s kind of rough, especially if you want a full game of 6 players and have trouble getting them to commit for a regular gaming event. Even if they want to commit, life happens. 7th Continent has rules to drop in or out; Charterstone has them only for dropping out.

In a two-player game, we missed most of the gameplay conflict, as there is lots of space on the board, and the range of options was somewhat limited as the other parts of the village filled up with random buildings over time. There were always lots of options, but “fill in the empty charters with random buildings” gives you a mix of poorly developed options, while your own part of the village has the custom engine you have built up over the course of the game.

The rules explanation is just bad. In an attempt to keep the new mechanics a surprise, the rulebook starts mostly empty, and you fill it in over time. That can lead to references to things that do not exist. The first game explanation seems inadequate, so watch the recommended video. There is an official FAQ, but by reputation its “mild spoilers” are not all that mild, which makes sense given the thinness of the story. Also, just looking at the questions will give away things being asked about.

I really wanted to like Charterstone. If nothing else, it seems like good discipline to treat a game as something temporary, consumable, and alterable, rather than something I must keep pristine and preserve. You probably have many games you have never played a dozen times, so if you run through the campaign, you are getting your money’s worth. I just think you would get better time value out of better gameplay, and you can read the storyline in about five minutes.

: Zubon

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