Open Seat Gaming: Charterstone Review (Warning: Spoilers!)
We're back with more Charterstone! This time, for the people who either A) aren't going to play it or B) have played it and want to see how we felt when we were done with the campaign. So, you've been warned. A lot. It's all spoilers from here on, so proceed with caution if you have not finished your Charterstone campaign yet!
See our spoiler-free review for a run-down of the game mechanics.
Review (WARNING: SPOILERS; also Length, we had a LOT to say overall)
Scott's thoughts: Hoo boy, where to even start. I liked the experience that the campaign was, being able to shape the story (to a small degree) and the board (to a much larger degree) and actually make progress on developing things. The story itself was also pretty good, at least until it got towards the end. And for me, in a game about story, the story needs to be good or I'm gonna be disappointed. Let's just say I have mixed feelings.
I didn't really like the ending. The confrontation with the Forever King seemed really anticlimactic, you don't even get to do anything active when it occurs, it's just based completely on choices you've made in the past. That being said, I'm glad we got the ending where you defeat him and play the final game to finish end-campaign scoring and declare a legitimate new ruler.
After we finished everything we went back and read the other ending and, oh man, I would not have been comfortable with that if we'd gotten it instead. The whole possession/body-snatching thing is one thing when you see it on TV, but when it's a character you've been playing with and as for as long as the campaign goes, to have them just taken over is really creepy and a bit disturbing (as it felt to me like I would have been taken over, as opposed to my personas). I don't know if that's just because I ended up winning the campaign so I took it personally, but I'm really, really, really glad we didn't get that ending: I'm not sure I would have ever played the game again if we had (and it's actually a pretty good game even post-campaign, so I would have missed out).
One thing I did like was that, even though I had won the majority of games during the campaign, the end-game scoring was still really close: we were all within 100 points from 1st to 3rd (which seemed close to me, at least). Some of the games it actually came down to the end-game scoring to decide the winner as well, and not always being able to 100% confirm who would be the winner made it worth continuing to try most games. Although some games we did throw points to the wind and try to build/upgrade buildings or open crates to unlock new stuff regardless of whether it would get us the win. Honestly, those were some of the more fun games as well.
Sarah's thoughts: Charterstone has a fun, engaging campaign. Especially in first several games. The game mechanisms and what you discovered as the campaign progressed were my favorite things overall.
I'm going to leave most of the discussion of the story to Marti and Scott. I feel like the story was fine until the end which we all agree is pretty ineffective at best for reasons that have been discussed.
Halfway through the game, the "Ghosty" (as I called it) was a fairly decent catch-up mechanism for me, because I was most behind at that point in the campaign. Having the ghost is both good and bad. Good, as it lets you build up your reputation to get the bonus points at the end of each game. Bad, because you cannot win the end campaign if you are still a ghost; but there are a plethora of ways to buy your body back. Realistically, it was highly unlikely for me, the ghost player, to win the overall campaign. But, when I won my first game of the campaign, I was very thrilled! Storywise, the Ghosty was a strong hint that the Forever King wasn't as benevolent as he may have seemed and, in fact, was the evil big baddie of the story.
Through the Charterstone campaign, you discover many types of new things. Buildings, crates, personas, minions, assistants, friends, guests, objectives, peril, items, treasures, and sky islands. All of these things bring different aspects that help you throughout the game. They bring that lovely euro point salad goodness to Charterstone, but in a way that truly fits with the village building theme.My favorites of these were the minions, sky islands, and friends.
Minions are smaller workers that may only be played in your charter. They also a special benefit each time they are played. There are six types: Chefs, Golems, Robots, Cats, Ghosts, and Butlers, the last two of which we got later in the campaign than the others. My favorites were the Cats, which give you a victory point; Golems, which give you a resource of your choice; and Butlers, which give you a coin. The cats are very cute!
Sky Islands are available plots to place in your charter over another plot. They allow for a range of different buildings to be included in your charter during different games of the campaign and even afterwards. Having a diverse variety of options for buildings to be available in your charter and in other players charters makes things interesting and distinct from game to game, whether during the campaign or afterwards. Friends give you particular benefits throughout the game. My favorite friends gave me extra points and money when I utilized different buildings within my charter. I tried to keep these friends in my charter chest between games.
One of the most engaging parts of Charterstone was building the board and transforming it to the unique board you would have for post campaign plays. If the larger goal was about building and evolving the game board, Charterstone definitely was very successful in accomplishing that goal. The six plots you have in your charter are upgradeable with buildings. You can even upgrade previously constructed buildings to more efficient and effective ones and add the aforementioned sky islands for more variety.
In short, if you enjoy interesting twist on worker placement and city building games, you will find Charterstone intriguing. If you want a riveting storyline, Charterstone may not be your cup of tea. As for me, I enjoyed the Charterstone campaign and post campaign overall. Tom Vasel said in the Dice Tower spoiler filled review that he would want to have a recharge and build his own board without redoing the campaign. That would be very fascinating to me. It has its cons, but overall game mechanisms, production value, art, and village building were top notch.
Marti's thoughts: Alright, the gloves are off. I am not restricted by a spoiler tag and all is well. :) Anyway, as you could tell by my post on Wednesday, I wasn’t completely happy with everything that came with Charterstone. Be sure that you go and read my portion of no-spoiler review from the other day, because I’m going to elaborate on that more here.
First, let’s talk about the mechanisms. Like many worker placement games, you have workers. You only start with 2 workers and then, as you start working through the game, you are going to come across minions. I think that minions were one of my favorite parts of the game. They are just like your workers, but they can only go to your charter (the six buildings in your area). They give you bonuses when you play them. The cat gave you a victory point every time you played one; the golem gave you an extra resource, the butler (which we didn’t get until almost the end of the campaign) gives you a coin. Those little bonuses encouraged you to use your charter more often.
Opening the crates was an exciting thing - you got to find new personas, you found new buildings and you continued to build up everything that was going on in your village. It also pushed the story forward, and when you’d open certain crates, you got a lot of surprises that you didn’t really expect, and there were some twists and turns throughout the whole thing.
So, you may be wondering why I was so irritated with the game if there are parts of it that I enjoy. There are three big things - I believe that the game is imbalanced, the campaign’s story was anticlimactic, and I didn’t get as much as I expected from the game.
Here’s what I meant about the game being imbalanced. Sarah, Scott, and I played a 3 player game without automas. Sarah, Scott, and I are all semi-experienced Euro gamers. Worker placement games are our jam, we own a number of them. But no matter how hard Sarah or I tried, Scott blew us out of the water on 7 of the 12 games (Sarah won 2, I won 2 and tied with Scott in game 12). Why was this the case? Because the luck of the game (due to the randomization of the charters) ended up favoring one person immensely, and screwed Sarah over immensely as well.
Sarah played blue, I played yellow, and Scott played red, which are our normal player colors. At first, the areas were fairly balanced, but as they grew and we started randomly placing buildings onto the empty charters (as per the game rules), the charters were being randomized in a way that didn’t really help Sarah and I very much, so we ended up being (mostly) restricted to our own charters without being able to find a way to effectively utilize the others. Not only that, but it’s definitely a “the rich get richer” situation - if you’ve won past games, sure, you don’t get to increase your capacity (how much you can carry between games), but you get lots of stars, which give you some start-of-game advantages that can be argued to be stronger than capacity.
Why was I disappointed with the campaign story? First, because I figured it all out at around game 6, when Sarah’s character (who had the least number of stars) got her soul ripped from her body. I’m supposed to believe that this dude is good? Who in the world believes that? That was my turning point where I was bent on doing everything that I could to thwart the king and what he was doing to try and stay alive. Then, the “big reveal” wasn’t really a super big reveal, and defeating (or not defeating) the king wasn’t based on anything we could do in this moment. I understand that a legacy game is built on your choices throughout the game, but when it came down to it, we had to calculate our “power” and then we were at the mercy of the game - and that felt pretty crappy.
I listened to a lot of podcasts and read some reviews after we were done with the campaign and I’ve heard a number of people say that they were also disappointed with the story. I read on a forum that Jamey Stegmaier had said in an interview that he felt legacy was about building a game, and with the way that Charterstone’s story turned out, I’m not surprised by this. It wasn’t about telling a story (in my opinion), but about building the board so that we could play the game later.
As I mentioned in the spoiler-free review, I did enjoy the game as it was after the campaign. You’re still able to open crates and put new buildings on charters if you want to do so. We actually switched to the charters that we hadn’t played in order to build them up a bit more for later games. It was a lot more relaxed and more fun in general.
I mentioned my “hype” issue, and that really is the problem. When I saw Jamey Stegmaier, who has a great pedigree when it comes to game design, as the designer, I assumed it would be as robust as one of my favorite worker placement games - Viticulture. The fact of the matter is, Charterstone is nothing like Viticulture - I’ve heard it’s more like Euphoria, I’ve not played Euphoria, and when I was done with the campaign, I didn’t want to (I changed my mind after we played the game post-campaign, however).
I feel bad that I’m so disappointed about the game. It was one of my most anticipated games of 2017 and then it fell absolutely flat for me. As I said on Wednesday, it may be for some people - it just isn’t for me.
Have you played Charterstone? Did you enjoy the game and/or story? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments here or on social media!
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