Sep 11, 2018

[Games] Charterstone Review

Legacy games are a big deal but not all of them have managed to be great right out of the gate. Risk Legacy and Pandemic Legacy set the bar pretty high and delivering an experience that isn't as memorable as those games can often feel like failure, which is a shame. But it's still a relatively new game genre and there's so much potential for new ideas.

Charterstone is a unique legacy game given it's an original concept not based on an existing game. So this is a game designed with the legacy mechanic in mind and the result was certainly interesting, to say the least. And it had the unique promise of still being playable even after the campaign is over.

Charterstone: A Village-Building Legacy Game is a legacy strategy game designed by Jamey Stegmaier. The game supports 1-6 players with a roughly 12-session campaign.

The Kingdom of Greengully has been ruled by the Forever King as long as anyone can remember and players are the leaders sent out to establish new charters that compose the new community. At its core, this is an engine-building worker placement game that starts with limited locations but develops into a pretty complex board game.

As a legacy game, players will obtain new cards, apply stickers to the board that represent new action spaces and eventually unlock new rules that gradually increase the complexity of the game. Players will compete to have the best charters and record their individual progress that will eventually be evaluated at the end of the campaign for the overall winner. The game includes a pretty diverse range of tokens, coins, and other fun stuff that are all contained in different boxes, packets and other secret places.

What I Liked: At its core, the game actually has a pretty solid strategy ruleset driving it and the slow introduction of new rules only adds new diversity to the game and eventually changes how people can envision winning at all. And the way these rules are crafted to be revealed at key moments based on when players trigger then makes for some great gaming moments.

And this is a legacy game that largely gets players pretty curious about the meta-fiction behind it. Sure a lot of legacy games have some sort of a story and Charterstone seems to start with a fairly simple one at first. But as the campaign progresses it's inevitable for players to get more and more drawn into the narrative and further intrigued by what exactly is going on in this village and why the Forever King seems to be overly interested in the progress of the charter leaders. It makes for great flavor on top of everything else.

What Could Have Been Better: Despite the richness of the narrative, the resulting game can feel a little short whether in terms of the individual sessions or the campaign as a whole. When you play this as a 2-player game each session is going to be ridiculously short given how end of game is determined and that's a shame since there's a lot of fun to be had. I know it was a conscious design constraint worked into the ruleset but I wish it were a little longer all the same.

And then there's the way the story ended, which felt like a bit of a cop out. The narrative builds up really well for most of the game but when you get to the ending and the way the final sessions are scored, it felt rather underwhelming and not at all what I had hoped given my excitement across the earlier sessions. Alas, you can't have it all.

TL;DR: Charterstone is still a unique legacy game that for the most part has a strong story coupled with an intriguing game mechanic. The game remains playable even after you finish the campaign, but it may not be ideal or you can get a Recharge Pack to play the campaign again with the other side of the board, which may be a better investment of your time.

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