What is this game about?
Charterstone is a legacy worker placement game from Stonemaier Games. In it, you and your fellow players (or automas, if you're playing solo) each get an empty charter that you build up over the course of a twelve-game campaign. The goal of each individual game is to win the most victory points, and there is also an overall winner at the end of the campaign. You can keep using your fully-developed board after the 12th game, or you can flip it over and start fresh after purchasing a recharge pack.
Charterstone starts out as an almost ludicrously simple worker placement game, but it gets more complicated by the end. You will uncover new buildings and mechanics as you play. The rulebook is initially very bare, but ultimately ends up filled with stickers that you acquire over time and that add newer and more complicated mechanics. You also interact with the Forever King, a distant monarch who has sent you and your companions into the world to build very successful settlements. His level of happiness or unhappiness with you can impact the direction the game takes.
How does it play solo?
Charterstone is playable solo thanks to an automa deck. I played my campaign with two automa players, and it was very manageable. The game even comes with a small separate rule sheet specifically for play with the automa deck.
If you go for solo play against automa players, I highly recommend that you start your automa on level one for game one (the rules suggested level two). I went with the rulebook for my first game, and I got spanked. I only found out later on BGG that other people had the same problem!
My thoughts about Charterstone are conflicted. On the one hand, I respect this game tremendously. It's beautifully put together. The components feel downright luxurious. I love the thought put into the rulebook and into the stickers that add rules and story elements. Opening new boxes with fresh surprises in them added a nice sense of discovery to the game. Charterstone was an ambitious undertaking, and I believe that aspects of it—perhaps especially the recharge packs and options for post-campaign replayability—will have a tremendous impact on legacy games to come.
Charterstone also represents the continued development of automa players, because for Charterstone they created a small yet functional automa deck that actually scaled its difficulty up and down from game to game, depending on how I was doing. That was really cool.
But while I appreciated Charterstone, I can't honestly say that I enjoyed it. My first 3–4 games were a total slog because not enough new options had opened up yet, leading to repetitive gameplay. And by the time interesting new game mechanics did appear, I wasn't feeling too committed to the game or to what story there is to it. Charterstone is very much a Euro game, and you aren't going to get a very deep or exciting story—just a frame upon which the game can hang new mechanics. I was determined to finish the campaign no matter what, but Charterstone never really sang for me, and sometimes it felt like a chore.
Some of my issues may have sprung from the fact that I played the game solo. The automa system generates victory points so quickly that it negatively impacts the way you play. While a game with other humans might have been more focused on opening new charter chests, admiring new buildings, and generally exploring, I immediately had to race automa characters who were not interested in such things. Playing with other humans would also have added more fun to the part of the game where you name parts of your new settlement and the assistants you interact with as you play.
Do I recommend this game?
For solo play, I do not recommend Charterstone. I appreciate it. I respect it. But I didn't enjoy playing it.
Overall Rating: 2 stars (for solo—I can't comment on multiplayer)
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.