Charterstone Board Game Review

Game: Charterstone (2017)
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Game Designer: Jamey Stegmaier
Artists: David Forest, Lina Cossette & Gong Studios
Board Game Type: Legacy Game, Worker Placement Game
Price: $70

Players: 1-6
Duration: 60 minutes (each game over 12+ sessions)
Age recommended on box: 14+
Age we’ve observed: 8+
Time to learn: 5-10 minutes

Charterstone Board Game Review - Spoiler Free

 What's in the booooooox?!?

What's in the booooooox?!?

Game Description

Legacy board games are all the rage, with the likes of Gloomhaven, Seafall and Risk Legacy earning critical praise and tearing up the sales charts in recent years. Z-man Games' spectacular Pandemic Legacy is in a rarefied class, in serious competition for the coveted title of the greatest board game of all time. 

For the uninitiated, Legacy board games are games that are played repeatedly that change permanently with each playthrough. Stories are unlocked, boards are marked on in permanent ink and cards are ripped up and thrown in the trash. Liberating for some, panic-attack-inducing for others, board games haven't seen this level of innovation since Catan fiercely swept aside the lackluster roll and move board games of yesteryear with a wood and clay-filled cart full of hope for the future of our beloved hobby.

A quick glance at the growing library of hit legacy games reveals a decided lack of whimsy. From seabound plundering to dark, dank dungeon plundering to saving the world to annihilating it, legacy games have thus far been decidedly serious business. 

So what happens when you add a dash of light worker placement whimsy to the legacy genre? Charterstone is here to show you, with delightful results.

Gameplay

 Of course Futurama characters make for great naming inspiration choices for medieval-themed card games. Why wouldn't they? What smells like blue?

Of course Futurama characters make for great naming inspiration choices for medieval-themed card games. Why wouldn't they? What smells like blue?

In Charterstone, players are sent out to colonize the land beyond the borders of the kingdom of Greengully by the wise, yet cult leaderesque Forever King. Over the course of twelve games, players will gather resources, build villages (in this case Charters) and slowly uncover the secrets of the mysterious monarch pulling all of the strings. 

Gameplay will be familiar to those who love worker placement games such as Lords of Waterdeep or Viticulture, with players taking turns trying to secure the optimal space to secure resources, gain currency or build structures.

What makes Charterstone unique is the focus on slowly building a village over time via stickers placed on the board. At times, you'll feel more like you're playing some sort of cardboard-based version of Sim CIty than a traditional board game, and the game is all the better for it.

No Spoilers!

Of the many innovations Legacy games brought to the tabletop, perhaps the most interesting was the concept of spoilers. Now, just like as in movies, literature and comic books, fans have to worry about key plot points being spoiled, forever ruining the game. Making matters worse, the typical statute of limitations for spoilers is tricky to pin down. Everyone can now openly talk about Luke Skywalker's diabolical father, what was in the box in Se7en or the fate of Negan's latest victim on The Walking Dead, but when is it ok to talk about the big surprise at the end of April in Pandemic Legacy?

Unlike many of the aforementioned legacy games, Charterstone's whimsical nature isn't so much a page-turning narrative as it is a light series of guideposts that builds a bit of mystery over time, but mainly offers fun reasons for gameplay innovations and alterations from game to game. About three-quarters of the way through, the narrative picks up steam, but this reviewer suspects that most players will figure out where things are headed several games ahead of each twist.

What can be spoiled in this game are the myriad gameplay mechanics added and subtracted from game to game, sometimes building on what came before, sometimes tearing it to the ground. I was given a stern warning by May Begaming to steer clear of any of these, for fear of ruining the game, and she's absolutely right. You'll have far more fun opening each of the advent calendar-style boxes, placing new rule stickers and building your kingdom the less you know going in.

To Binge or not to Binge?

Charterstone is best enjoyed like the newest season of Stranger Things or Altered Carbon: as quickly as possible. Each game flies by, especially with lower player counts (Automa options are there to keep things more complex, but can slow down the pleasant sense of speed). We finished all twelve games over the span of five evenings after the kids were tucked into bed and without interrupting our beauty sleep before the next days' rat race.

Verdict

Charterstone is village-building blast! It's the Pandemic Legacy of worker placement games, while bringing a much-needed dose of levity to the genre. The game is a revelation for all but the most hard-nosed and humorless gamers. Pick up your copy and binge away; Netflix can wait a few evenings.

Pros

  • A fast pace, rapid variations and addictive gameplay make for a wild ride
  • Adds a dash of much-needed whimsy to the legacy genre
  • Best legacy gateway game, hands down
  • OCD gamers will be somewhat consoled by the double-sided board and option to buy a "recharge pack" to play again. You can play it, but keep one side pristine and pretend it's still mint condition so you can sleep at night
  • Choose your own-adventure style branching paths work remarkably well. It's amazing this game is as well-balanced as it turned out

Cons

  • OCD gamers may still be put off by legacy mechanics
  • Cartoonish art style and fanciful storytelling may be off-putting for overly serious gamers

Gateway Game Score (What's This?) – 10/10
Overall Rating – 9.5/10

Review by Happy Strategerist, who is dying to spoil something. He's about to run outside and shout the fate of Dumbledore to whoever is listening.

Is Charterstone a worthy addition to the growing canon of essential legacy games or are you just headed back to play Pandemic Legacy again? Let us know in the comments below.