Back in 2017, Stonemaier games released their legacy worker placement game Charterstone. It was a unique idea at the time, and although I was a fan of it in my original review, I’d probably have rated it a bit lower had it debuted today as the legacy landscape has evolved quite a bit since then.
That being said, the game had a lot of unique ideas, and every now and then I’ve thought about jumping into a game of it. Fast forward to today and Acram Digital has brought us a digital version of Charterstone for your tablets, phones, and computers. So let’s fire up your device of choice and see how well it made the jump to digital.
Charterstone is a worker placement legacy game, which if you are not familiar with the concept, involves placing workers around the board to do various actions for you. The legacy aspect means that the game evolves and changes as you play. In the tabletop version, you’d be placing stickers on the board and opening up various boxes of hidden secrets. With a digital app, all that heavy lifting is done for you.
The campaign itself is a 12 game journey that I won’t spoil for new players. But the basics invoice each player in control of one-sixth of the town’s available real estate (the charters). During the game, you’ll be constructing buildings in your charter, and also using shared central buildings to try and gain victory points and accomplish objectives of the current game. If you want more of the nuts and bolts, you can read my original Charterstone review here, as the gameplay is largely unchanged.
Digital Game Experience:
On one hand, Legacy games seem like the perfect fodder for a digital game adaptation. It takes away the limited play experience and lets you play the game again and again. But on the other hand, part of the appeal of a legacy game is opening up those secret boxes, and being surprised at each new unlock the game throws your way. So where does Charterstone end up? We’ll get to that in a bit.
As with most great board game apps, Charterstone opens with a bit of explanation of how the game is played. Unfortunately, it stops short of being a guided tutorial and mostly just explains what the current buildings do. I really wish it held your hand over a few early rounds as I could see new players feeling somewhat lost. This feeling is further reinforced during the end game when it doesn’t really tell you that much as to what’s going on. Players are left to figure out what the best moves might be and stumble through their early strategy decisions. All in all a little more polish with the rules explanation would have been a welcome addition.
Speaking of polish, my early days with Charterstone were riddled with bugs. The day after the app was released, I all but gave up playing as there were just too many issues. Thankfully, developer Arcram Digital has been frequent with the updates, squashing bugs left and right. That being said, I can’t guarantee you a smooth experience as the patch notes are way more numerous than I would have expected.
One of the other struggles with the app versus the tabletop game is keeping track of what’s going on with the sizable board. When playing on the tabletop, you can slowly watch each of your opponents take their turn, and see the state of the board at a glance. With the app, there just isn’t enough screen real estate to keep your eye on everything. A good amount of things are hidden offscreen or behind menus. While this does streamline the interface, it does make it hard to keep track of the board state and what’s going on in general. I’m guessing this was Acram making the best of a bad situation as I don’t really have a better idea to fix it.
That being said, the gameplay and graphics are a faithful reproduction of the tabletop game. So if you wanted to try Charterstone but were hesitant about paying money for a legacy game, you got it here. The graphics are colorful and lifted straight from the board game. Playing the game does feel like you are playing the tabletop game.
Finally, for those wondering, the app does offer local play versus an AI or pass and play. You can also play online with other people which I didn’t get a chance to test. I’d recommend only playing it with friends as the thought of playing a long, 12 game campaign with random internet people isn’t very appealing to this reviewer. But to each their own.
So where does Charterstone fall? That’s a difficult question to answer. The gameplay has a bit of ebb and flow for me. There are times when it’s interesting and engaging, but then other times when it feels a little repetitive and I’m just ready for the current game to end. After 12 games of Charterstone, I don’t think it’s a game I’m ready to go back to. For new players, I think the app is worth the price if you want to see what Charterstone is all about. However, the lack of a real, guided tutorial and the vast amount of early bugs makes me think waiting a bit longer to purchase could make for a smoother experience. Just something to keep in mind. If you’d like to try it out yourself, its currently available for iOS, Android, and Steam.
Final Score: 3.5 stars – After a rough early going, Acram Digital seems to have smoothed out this solid worker placement game.
• New players are most likely to feel unsure as what to do
• Hard to keep track of the board state
• Early bugs were abundant