Enlarge /. The graphics here are bright and colorful. (Note that all footage is from the pre-release version of the game.)
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Charterstone has been one of the most popular "legacy" board games since this style of play first appeared. (A legacy game changes rules and board status permanently across multiple runs, often based on an overarching storyline.) It is also a standalone legacy game, not an extension of previous brands like Pandemic (the massive hit), Risk (the original ), and Machi Koro (the unnecessary).
Acram Digital has just released its digital adaption from Charterstone (read our review of the tabletop version). It's a powerful version with great graphics and competitive AI players – but a very crowded screen that made it difficult to see the whole board, at least on Steam.
The game will be released on Steam on March 26, and the ports for Android, iOS and Nintendo Switch will go live shortly after.
Build your charter
Charterstone itself is a classic worker placement game. You start with two meeples that you can put on the board to use buildings or gain resources, build new buildings, or open "boxes" that add cards and rules to the game itself. The ultimate goal in twelve-game history is to score the most victory points. In each game, however, you can make decisions that are less advantageous in the short term, but help more in the long term. The buildings you place on the board are stickers and can hide other buildings, so the board itself changes as the game progresses.
From game to game you transfer some things you win (gold, resources, cards); After each game you don't win, you increase your ability to transfer these things by one. You also get "fame" based on the points you score in each game. If you achieve enough fame, you can redeem it for a certain reward at the start of the next game. In the buildings themselves, you can create some kind of points engine, although some rules that come up in the course of the game make this a little less complicated.
Acram's digital port from Charterstone takes on the fun, bright graphics of the physical game and adds some quirky animations to liven things up while speeding up gameplay. I could do without the extra graphics when players open a box that introduces two or more new cards into the game, often with new rules. You have to see everything, but the display on the screen is not smooth or intuitive. However, the other animations do not interfere and often help to illustrate what is happening.
And a lot happens in this game, and an exchange takes place in almost every round. I even found the intermediate AI players to be more than competent and I wish it was easier to go back and see what they had done so I could improve my own strategy. (Of course this can be a statement about my own ability). AI players also take turns extremely quickly. In a game where there can be significant downtime at the table – especially if a player generates something like an income that affects every player – the digital port moves quite well in local and AI modes.
If you have not yet played Charterstone on the table, it is a large board with a lot of information about the fourth or fifth game. There are six "charters" that can accommodate six buildings each, and some of them change every game. If you add the six community buildings in the middle, you have 42 buildings that you can use in almost every game. This is a lot of cognitive strain for the players themselves on the table, but at least there you can quickly scan the entire board and quickly get an idea of your options.
The app does about half of this right: If you choose a meeple, any buildings you can't use will become darker, making the buildings you can use easier to see. However, on Steam there was no easy way to pan or zoom in / out quickly, and I often overlooked – or simply forgot – the options available to me in each game. Acram did well by moving some information, such as promotion cards, progress, reputation and public destination cards, to the top line of the screen and showing only the number of fields remaining, if relevant. You can click on it to get the full view. If you receive private destination cards later in the game, you must open the destination card display and scroll to the right.
If you liked the Charterstone tabletop version as much as I did, you will like the app. It is far more likely that I will play this than buy another copy of Charterstone (or the recharge package that allows you to play the game again) and go through this investment of over 12 hours again, although I am for the game think great. The pre-release version of Early Access had some tiny issues like displaying error codes at the bottom of the screen, but nothing that affected gameplay, and I would still recommend this adjustment. You can also use it to play individual games with your own finished board or randomly generated cards, so the replay value here is quite high. And if you've never played the physical game before, this app might convince you to try it out.