We have finally done it, we have finished our Charterstone campaign! Charterstone is a legacy style, competitive, worker placement game that features a twelve game campaign.
In this review I will be sharing my thoughts on our Charterstone campaign as well as what we thought of how the game played once the main campaign was finished.
Disclosure: Thanks Stonemaier Games for sending us a review copy of Charterstone to play through. Links in this post may be affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and helps support this blog and our podcast.
What is Charterstone?
Charterstone was designed by Jamey Stegmaier. The game features artwork by Lina Cossette and David Forest. graphic design by Christine Santana and a solo mode developed by Morten Monrad Pedersen and David J. Studley. It was originally published by Stonemaier Games in 2017 and is still readily available and in print at the time this review was written.
Charterstone is a campaign game for one to six players with each game taking about an hour, with some games going longer and a couple going shorter. This legacy game has an MSRP of $80 USD.
Note: For the majority of this review I will by avoiding any spoilers for the Charterstone campaign. At the very end of the review I will be talking about some of the gameplay elements and mechanics that get unlocked and their effect on the game but will not be talking about the story at all.
Charterstone is a legacy style campaign game where each player controls one of six charters in a newly founded city. Each game, the players compete for points and honor while developing their own charter and working towards scenario specific goals. While building their charters players will build buildings, permanently adding them to the evolving map ,and unlock crates, which provide new rules and gameplay elements. At the end of each game, everyone gets to improve their charters and players are rewarded or punished based on how well they’ve completed that scenario’s goal. These improvements allow players to carry over items between games or provide start of game bonuses for the next game. At the end of twelve games, one player is awarded the win for the entire campaign. The game doesn’t end there though, as your group now has their own unique copy of Charterstone that they can continue to play with.
For a spoiler free look at the components you get in this campaign game, check out my Charterstone Unboxing video on YouTube.
As far as component quality goes Charterstone is near perfect. My only complaint at all is that many of the cards in this game have stickers you have to peel off and that is difficult to do without bending the cards. Normally this isn’t an issue, but in this game, some of these cards need to then be shuffled back into the deck after the sticker is removed. While I found this slightly annoying. it never actually ruined the gameplay or marked the cards in a way that gave any player an advantage.
I also did have a minor problem with the index lid coming right off the box. This was quickly fixed with some white glue and elastics.
Besides these two minor issues the components in Charterstone are awesome. The various meeples are great looking, the card quality is excellent, the various boxes to organize everything work very well to keep things organized and speed up set up, the metal coins are fantastic and the wooden resources each have a unique shape and colour which is great. The rulebook is pretty clear and my copy of the game even included an updated FAQ.
One other bonus that I appreciated is that Stonemaier included a two sided board with the game, so that you can play through two campaigns if you buy the Charterstone Recharge Pack (sold separately).
How to play Charterstone
While the rules in Charterstone do evolve as you play through the campaign, the basic game structure remains the same.
Each game of Charterstone starts with everyone gathering all of the stuff for their charter which is stored in a unique charter box. You then go through set up, which involves placing things like the Progress Tracker, the Advancement Mat and Cards, the Objective Mat and Cards, scoring tokens, etc. As the game evolves through play, more steps end up being added to the set up.
Next, players pick one of their Persona cards to use for that game. For your first game you only have one persona card to choose from but you will be unlocking more regularly as the campaign goes on. Each of these cards provides a unique asymmetric ability and at the end of the campaign you get points for each Persona you have used during the campaign.
Player then gain any starting bonuses unlocked through previous games. These bonuses are earned based on how well you score at the end of each game with every ten points giving you the ability to fill in one star on your Charter box. Whenever you fill in a complete row of stars, you unlock a bonus. These include things like starting resources, starting money, getting to take cards from the market before the game starts or the ability to use two personas.
The Charterstone Die is rolled to determine which charter starts the game. In this game every player gets an equal amount of turns. Once you have a starting player the game begins.
On each turn in Charterstone you have two options. You can either place a worker onto a building on the board or collect all of your workers that are already out on the board. Each building provides a benefit that usually comes at a cost. Only the basic production buildings have no cost. In general, if you place your worker on a spot with another player’s worker you bump that worker and they get the worker back.
At the very start of your Charterstone campaign each charter will have one basic resource building. These spots each generate one of six different resources with each charter producing a different one. In addition to these starter buildings, there are also six buildings pre-printed on the board. During the set up for your first game every player will get a number of cards which they will need to use these buildings. As the campaign continues players will be adding a lot more buildings, and thus a lot more worker placement spots, to the map.
Before I get into what the buildings do, I need to mention influence. Every player starts with twelve influence tokens. These tokens are spent to take various actions in the game and are part of the game’s timing mechanism. If a player runs out of influence tokens, not only are their options limited but the progress track also advances every time it’s their turn which can quickly bring the game to an end.
One of basic buildings already on the map is the Zeppelin, which lets you build a new building by paying three influence plus the four resources indicated on the building card you want to build. All of the building cards are stickers and when you build a building you remove the sticker from the card and place it somewhere in your Charter. This scores you points and also advances the progress track. After placing the sticker you check the card you just used and if it has a Crate symbol on it you keep it.
This leads me to the next basic building, the Charterstone. You can use the Charterstone spot to pay four coins and two influence and turn in a building card that has a crate market don it and has already had its building built. You then look up the Crate number on a chart and start taking cards from the Index, a box full of the cards that you will unlock during play.
Opening a crate will often introduce new game rules, give you more cards to add to the supply, award the player opening the crate with new buildings and personas, and more. You may even need to open up another box that comes with the game and unlock new physical components.
Unlocking Crates is the main way that the game evolves during play. This action also scores the unlocking player points and advances the progress track.
The Treasury spot on the board lets you exchange goods for gold and the Market spot lets you trade a gold plus a resource to take a card from the Advancement Mat. This mat is a separate board that holds the advancement deck and five faceup cards you can choose from. These start off being just buildings that you can build but the deck quickly grows as the game goes on and eventually features a number of different card types.
Another side board holds a deck and a set of three face up Objective cards. Players can claim these objectives by going to the Bandstand, which also scores them points and advances the progress track. This Bandstand action costs the player an influence token. The objective deck includes things like having one of each resource type, collecting a total of six gold, etc. The deck starts off small and grows during the game.
The final way to score victory points, at least when the game starts off, is to go to the Cloud Port. Here you can trade in various things for points based on the Quota Track. What you can turn in includes cards, resources and coins at the start of the game. Other things you can trade in will become unlocked as the campaign continues. The Quota track includes some spots where you can gain bonus points or Reputation for being one of the first players to trade in each item type.
Reputation is another track on the board where every time you gain a reputation you place one of your influence tokens on it. At the end of each game, players score points for having the most, second most, or third most influence token on the Reputation track.
As mentioned already, various actions advance the Progress marker. This is another track that forms the timer for the game. The length of the track is based on the player count and the game ends, with every player getting an equal number of turns, when the Progress market hits the end of the track. Along this track are some icons that indicate that the player who caused the marker to move to that spot gets a reward. At the start of the campaign this only includes gaining Reputation. The rules for Income are unlocked later.
In addition to these basic worker placement spots, players will be adding a lot of new spots to the board that do all kinds of things. These include the ability to trade in resources for rewards, the ability to buy specific card types from the market, improved ways to build buildings and unlock crates, other uses for influence tokens and a whole lot more.
As well as giving everyone more things to do, each building also gives the player controlling it points at the end of the campaign, which can lead to interesting decisions about what buildings to build and if you should build for the ability or the points.
At the end of each game everyone calculates their final score. This includes points for their rank on the Reputation track and any end game scoring cards the players may have collected. Next you check to see which player(s) best fulfilled the goal for that scenario as indicated on the Guidepost card. You then scratch off the Guidepost card and do what it says. In many scenarios the player who earned the card gets a choice. This choice could affect the scoring for that game, unlock new things, or add new rules, etc.
After completing the Guidepost card the player with the most points wins. They get to mark off a trophy on their charter box (worth points at the end of the campaign) and everyone else gets to fill in a capacity circle on their box. Each circle filled in here lets you carry over one thing from this game into the next.
Finally players are awarded glory. Players get one glory for every ten points they scored in this game with bonus glory given to the player who best completed the scenario goal on the Guidepost. Each point of glory allows you to fill in one star on your charter box as described above. Note, glory also gives you points during the end of the campaign.
After completing a game of Charterstone you pack everything up or play again, making sure that you only carry over the proper things between games based on what you’ve unlocked.
At the end of your twelve campaign game there’s a final scoring system which isn’t fully explained until part way through the campaign. What you do know from the start is that you will be scoring points for the buildings in your charter, the personas you’ve used, the glory you’ve earned and the games you have won.
We had a great time playing through Charterstone
I wasn’t sure what to expect when we sat down to start our Charterstone campaign. The reviews I’ve read, watched and listened to since it came out were very mixed. Many of the early reviews called the game far too simple saying it was nothing more than a “basic worker placement game.” The thing I noticed though is that many of these reviews weren’t from people who had played through an entire campaign. It seems that quite a few people played the first couple of games, shared their thoughts and then moved on. Or, if they continued to play, they never went back and updated everyone to say what they thought once finished.
When I agreed to review this game, I knew that I didn’t want to review it after only a few plays. I was in for the long haul. While I have been sharing some thoughts in the Bellhop’s Tabletop segment of The Tabletop Bellhop Gaming Podcast over the past few months, as we’ve played through each scenario, I wanted to save my full review for once we completed our campaign.
I even took it one step further. Once you are done with the Charterstone campaign, you can continue to play your own unique copy of the game, I wanted to try that as well before reviewing the game.
And, well…. here I am! Our campaign is done and we have even tried one after campaign game. So how did it go? Overall, the answer is, “Great!”
While I do agree that Charterstone starts off as a pretty straight forward worker placement game, it evolves into something much more as the campaign continues. It’s pretty early into the campaign that you start unlocking more components and rules which give all of the players more options. For us, game three was “The Big Game”, where we unlocked so much new stuff that it almost felt like we were playing a new game. There was so much new content added all at once that set up for game four actually felt a bit confusing.
Along will all of the fun brought on by added complexity, as Charterstone evolves you also get a rather solid storyline which features branching paths. After game one, each game you have a goal and how well you do at that goal will determine your reward as well as affect the story and potentially future games. These rewards can be positive or negative and some of them came as quite a shock to our group.
Through the Guidepost cards, each individual scenario of Charterstone ends up being unique. Each game features some different form of restriction or bonus which keeps things interesting. We personally found some of these restrictions annoying while others were awesome and we wished they would come up again. Even the games where the restrictions were annoying, it was still fun to play through and having to deal with those restrictions was part of the fun.
While the basic worker placement mechanic of placing a worker or collecting all your workers stays the same, and you will always be dealing with the same six resources and gold, what you will focus on doing with these mechanics and resources will change over time. Interestingly how this changes can be very dependent on your personal group and the order that you unlock things in. For example, for our group, there was a new use for resources that we didn’t unlock until the second to last game.
One of the things that it took us a bit to get used to is the fact that Charterstone is a competitive legacy game. The group I played through Charterstone with is the same group that I played with through Pandemic Legacy and a big chunk of Gloomhaven. At first, it felt odd playing a competitive campaign game with this same group, after all of those other cooperative legacy game experiences. In the end. we all got into it and found we really enjoyed the competitive aspects of the game. Unlike some other worker placement games, Charterstone can get quite cutthroat at times (even though there aren’t many ways to directly screw over your opponents).
Everyone in our group really enjoyed our Charterstone campaign. Individual games were engaging enough that some nights we played through two in a row. While I was worried that the game would start to feel repetitive, and while there was a bit of that, especially near the end, the Guidepost system really helped to mix things up each game and keep us coming back for more.
Where this fell apart for us was in playing Charterstone after we had finished the campaign. While yes, technically you can continue to play your copy of Charterstone after you are done with the campaign, we all found that it just wasn’t that rewarding of an experience.
The post-campaign game worked surprisingly well as a stand alone game. Each player takes on the role of a random charter and uses a drafting system to determine what they start the game with. Mechanically it was sound, and the game felt very well balanced even though our charters were very different from each other at this point. It was also fun to get to play with “someone else’s” charter.
The problem with playing a completed game of Charterstone is that it just didn’t feel like it mattered at all. Once the campaign is over, each game becomes just a standalone game and if you win you win and that’s it. You don’t get anything new, you don’t get to carry anything over, and you don’t get to make improvements that will pay off later. Yes, you can still build buildings and unlock crates, and the board may change. However, the changes you make will affect everyone in all games going forward and don’t give you that same feeling of self improvement. The long term stakes were gone and that removed a lot of what was fun about Charterstone.
Having tried a finished game of Charterstone I don’t think I would ever play it again, except maybe as a way to introduce the game to someone new. Having a finished copy to demo might be a good way to get someone that is on the fence to dive into a new Charterstone campaign.
What I’m personally much more interested in, and very much tempted by, is to pick up the Charterstone Recharge Pack and then play through a totally new campaign with the same group. Playing through the campaign again, knowing what we know now and knowing what will be coming up, would be a very different experience than the first playthrough.
The biggest concern I think every group is going to have with Charterstone is being able to find a group of players willing to play through twelve rounds of the same game.
While the game does include rules for adding and removing players, and they work, they feel somewhat forced. More interesting are the Automa rules that let a “bot” play any charters that are not being controlled by players. If you are thinking that you may have someone join into your campaign at some point I strongly suggest using bots for any inactive charters right from the start (the Automa rules are unlocked after game one). This way, when someone does join in later, their charters will start off in pretty good shape. I also recommend using a bot for any charters that get abandoned by players leaving the campaign.
Again, adding and removing players works, but it isn’t ideal. If possible you want to start and finish your campaign with the same players throughout. It will lead to a more balanced ending and makes sure that everyone gets to take part in all aspects of the story and the game evolution.
Overall our group really enjoyed Charterstone. This is a competitive worker placement game that slowly evolves and improves as you play through it. It features an engaging story that contains some great payoffs for early decisions. This is also a campaign where playing the long game can pay off and winning a specific individual game can be less important than the improvements you make to your charter.
If you can find a group of gamers who dig worker placement games and are willing to commit to playing the same game twelve times you should totally be picking up Charterstone. I honestly don’t see any reason not to.
If you have a core group of six gamers, but with some players who can’t make it all the time, or you have a different group of six players each session, I still think you could have a great time playing through a Charterstone campaign. My only suggestion is to make sure everyone is there for the first game and then use the Automa for any players not present on individual game nights.
What if you and your group don’t like worker placement games? While there’s a small chance Charterstone may win you over, it’s probably not worth the risk. However, I will point out that the one mechanic that many people don’t like about worker-placement games, the fact that you can’t go on a spot that is taken by someone else’s worker, isn’t in effect here. In general, you can place your main workers anywhere you want and aren’t restricted by other players’ placements. So if that’s what you dislike in worker placement games, Chartestone might be a good fit for you and your group.
Groups who are looking for an epic fantasy campaign that tells an epic quest are probably better off sticking to other campaign games. While Charterstone has some fantasy elements, at its core it’s really a euro worker placement game. You won’t be battling any monsters or delving any dungeons here.
Before I go, I wanted to share a few more of my group’s thoughts on Charterstone and specific aspects of the game that we enjoyed. However, I can’t do that without spoiling some parts of the game so I’ve broken this out in the section below. Note: I will NOT be spoiling any of the story elements or the surprise twists. I will mainly be talking about cool game mechanics and systems added to the game.
Some spoiler filled thoughts on Charterstone:
Talking about Charterstone without spoiling anything is hard. It’s especially hard now, twelve plus games in, when it’s difficult to remember what was an added rule and what was part of the game from the start.
I am pretty certain that I managed not to spoil anything so far. However, that’s about to change. So if you don’t want to know some of the ways that Charterstone evolves as you play the game stop reading now.
Ok, so, one of the first things we unlocked in our game of Charterstone was Minions. Minions are awesome. These are additional workers you can purchase that let you take more actions on your turn, but only within your own charter. In addition, each minion gives you a bonus, both when you place it and when someone else uses a spot that you already have a minion on. Each minion also has its own uniquely shaped wooden meeple (and having our friend Kat unlock the Cat minions first just made them even more awesome in our games).
Of all the things you unlock in Charterstone I think the minions have the biggest impact on play.
Another early unlock for us was Peril. Peril is represented by coloured cubes that, once they are unlocked, are scattered all over the board at the start of each game. These represent bad things happening in your village, including things like famine, bandits or fuel shortages. Sadly this theme quickly got lost and our group just referred to the cubes as their various colours. No one in our game said, “I’m going to work on fixing this Disrepair.” They just said, “Hand me a blue cube.”
What I did like about Peril is that as the game went on we unlocked more and more things we could do with the peril cubes in the form of additional buildings and goal cards.
The first couple of games that we played after unlocking them, the Peril cubes felt more annoying than anything else, mainly being something that blocked you from placing minions. However later in our campaign, they became a big source of income and points.
The next big unlock that really changed things up were the Sky Islands. I thought these were a very cool and unique system to give everyone more room to build and more options during set up. The rule that you must use two Sky Islands every game lead to some really difficult decisions. It was also interesting to see everyone scramble to build at least something on every island before the campaign end to maximize their end of campaign points.
In our Charterstone campaign, there was one aspect of the game we barely got to see, and that was crafting items. We didn’t unlock the ability to craft items until game eleven and then I think only one crafting card came up that entire game. During game twelve I think we still only saw two crafting cards. So crafting made almost no impact on our campaign. I found this disappointing as the crafting seems like a very cool system that gives you a totally new use for all of your resources. This is one unlock I wish we had found early in the campaign instead of at the end.
As for the twist at the end, I predicted it pretty much right from the start but didn’t expect it to play out the way it did. I will say it was rewarding. What wasn’t overly rewarding was the end of the final game. After adding up everyone’s points and seeing who won the campaign overall, there’s very little story to wrap things up. The finale was more about updating your rulebook to be able to continue to play non-campaign games than it was about celebrating the end of your campaign. I would have liked a bit more fanfare.
At this point, I’m so happy that we agreed to check out Charterstone. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this legacy game and it ended up being a fantastic experience for me and my game group. While I don’t think we’ll be playing my copy again any time soon, I’m not going to quickly forget the memories made during our campaign.
Playing Charterstone was definitely one of the best legacy game experiences we’ve had so far.
Have you tried Charterstone? What did you think? How did your campaign go? Let us know in the comments below!