Design Diary

This is a compilation of the designer diary entries Jamey posts on the Charterstone Facebook group. They are listed here in chronological order, with the most recent entry at the top (so if you’re just now finding this, it’ll make more sense if you start from the bottom).

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June 16

The day has come for the Charterstone rulebook to be revealed. First, some context.

One of my favorite features of Risk Legacy (and, later, Pandemic Legacy) was that it was really easy to play the first game. It helped that I had played Risk a lot as a kid, but there were also these big gaps in the rules where stickers would later be placed. Rob Daviau could have introduced a dozen new rules from game 1, but instead he slowly unraveled them, easing players into new systems through the joy of discovery. It was brilliant.

Risk and Pandemic have the benefit of a lot of people understanding the core rules. Charterstone does not have that benefit. There is no existing foundation. So I decided it was incredibly important to ease players into the rules organically over time, even giving players control over when new content is unlocked so you won’t be overwhelmed.

There was a certain point in Charterstone’s design when the rulebook started off completely blank. When you opened the box, there was just a little note saying, “read card #1.” Card #1 had some rules on it for you to learn, and after you understood them, you’d peel a sticker off the card, affix it to the rulebook, and continue to card #2.

We tested this for a while, but I realized that when rules are introduced that way, there’s a much higher chance of players missing something important than when there’s some foundation for them to start with. So I moved certain rules to the rulebook—now called the Chronicle—while certain other cards are unlocked via the system I described above. As indicated on page 1 (which I revealed in this group last week), the game encourages at least one player to read through the Chronicle before Game 1.

So that’s what you’re going to see today, the foundational rules of the game. There are holes in these rules that are filled at various times throughout the campaign, and sometimes you’ll even have new rules replace older ones, all through the system of peeling a rule sticker off a card and placing it in its assigned spot in the Chronicle. That’s why the rulebook looks like an assortment of cards.

I applaud you if you read all this before looking at these pages! Without further ado, here is the Charterstone rulebook, which is perfectly fine to read in advance of Game 1.

Oh, and the Chronicle will be available in all 10 languages of the first printing in a few weeks. The translators are currently working on it.

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June 7

A long time ago, when I knew that Charterstone would not be on Kickstarter, I decided to put metal coins in every copy of the game.

Sure, I could have sold them separately as we do with the Viticulture and Scythe coins, but I really liked the idea of including something that felt like a treasure inside a legacy game. Also, even though you can play Charterstone after the 12-game campaign, if you decide not to, at least you have 36 metal coins to use in other games.

Also, I wanted Charterstone to be a game where you can open the box and proceed to play it—no need to punch out a bunch of tokens.

Originally I wasn’t even going to tell people that metal coins are included in Charterstone—it was going to be a surprise when you opened the box. But given the expense of adding them to the game, I figured it was best not to keep them a secret.

You’ll notice that the coins are all $1 denominations. Early in the Charterstone design, players had storage limits that applied during each game. You could only hold a certain number of resources, coins, etc unless you expanded your storage capacity. There were slots in your tableau that could hold 1 coin each, and I wanted to avoid the confusion caused by different denominations (i.e., can each slot hold $1 or 1 coin of any denomination?).

However, I quickly realized that I don’t particularly enjoy storage mechanisms. While they can be a useful construct, I’ve never met a storage mechanism that increased the fun factor. However, in a campaign game, it is fun to be able to carry over some components from one game to the next. So I shifted the storage mechanism to something called “capacity,” which you’ll learn more about after you complete Game 1.

Once I knew there would be only $1 coins, the challenge was deciding the quantity and quality of them. I eventually selected 36 as the quantity—you need exactly 36 coins in Charterstone, no more, no less. As for the quality, I wanted each coin to feel substantial heavy. So I made them 3mm thick (compared to the 2mm Scythe coins—see photo).

Some people have asked if we’ll be selling these coins separately, and I’m 99% sure the answer is no. If a significant number of people love the coins and want to buy more for their other games (remember, Charterstone has a hard limit of 36 coins—you’re not allowed to use more), I’m open to the possibility, but I’ll wait until people actually play the game before I add them to our future printing request form.

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June 2

A month or so ago, I sent the final prototype files for Charterstone to both my graphic designer and my manufacturer, Panda. The latter was a bit unusual–typically we only send Panda the final, printer-ready files, not the prototype files.

But Charterstone is an unusual game. I felt it was important for me to have a copy that functioned like the final version. For example, up until this point the playtesters and I have been cutting the building hexes off of cards, as there wasn’t a way to create card prototypes with hex stickers. I wanted to see how the unpeeling experience felt and functioned, among other things.

The other reason I asked Panda to create these special prototypes is so we could have something to send to our international localization partners. They’ve been taking it on blind faith that Charterstone is a game they want. Each of them got 1 copy of the nice prototype.

Alan and I sat down with the prototype at our weekly meeting on Wednesday to simulate the process of opening the game (when you sit down for your first play of Charterstone, there are instructions and story elements on a series of cards). Even though we’ve done this before with rough prototypes, it was incredibly enlightening to use a version that felt “real,” and I tweaked some of the instructions as a result to foolproof it (Alan does a good job of playing the fool when necessary).

I also realized that a few of the tuckboxes (one that holds global components from game to game, one that holds components you no longer need, and one other box with secret stuff) are too small. Fortunately, there’s horizontal space in the box available for adjustments.

I’m really grateful that Panda put forth the effort and resources to make these nice prototypes for us and our international partners. Overall, I’m really happy with the functional results, and I look forward to testing out the pre-production copy in 1-2 months.

For now, here’s a quick unboxing video of the nice prototype!

(After watching it, make sure to click on the link in the description for the real video, which shows Charterstone’s box size.)

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May 24

Today let’s talk about Charterstone’s resources.

From the earliest stages of the design process, resources were part of Charterstone. I wanted each charter to have a specific role to play in the village, and the resources would be the building blocks of those roles.

I knew it would be a 6-player game and that players would both be constructing buildings with the resources AND spending those resources at buildings, so I selected 6 resources that would meet those requirements: coal, iron, grain (for thatched huts; this was originally reed), brick, pumpkin (giant pumpkins), and wood. You can see in the charter image here that each area is primed for a specific resource—wood for the green charter (top) and grain for the yellow charter (bottom).

Another requirement was that the wooden resource tokens have unique and easily distinguished shapes and colors. While I’m sure there are some types of colorblind that may have trouble with certain color combinations, the custom shapes make up for it.

As Gong Studios went through the process of creating the art for the buildings, I would specify exactly which resources were used to construct the buildings. For example, the Pumpkin Market shown here is made from a big pumpkin, coal, and metal.

There are exactly 12 of each resource. From a publishing perspective, it’s a big precarious to have such a specific number, because it means if a copy of Charterstone is packed incorrectly, we’ll need to send a replacement part. But we found that playtesters very rarely exhausted any of the resource piles—there’s no advantage to stockpiling them during a game instead of actively spending them. So even if you have 11 grain tokens and 13 metal, it’s not going to make a difference.

It’s also no coincidence that many of these resources match our existing realistic resource tokens—if people already have those tokens, they can easily add them to Charterstone; if they don’t have them and want to enhance their game, the option is available. Pumpkin is the one new token we designed for Charterstone (and for other games that use pumpkins).

If you want the realistic resource set (or pumpkins) for Charterstone, you can order them from Top Shelf Gamer or any retailer worldwide who buys from Top Shelf.

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May 17

In the legacy games I’ve played, while I’ve enjoyed the ability to name places and characters, sometimes I’ve wilted under the pressure of coming up with a clever name on the spot. A permanent name, no less. So I really liked the note in Seafall’s rules that basically says, “Hey, no pressure. Name stuff if you want to, when you want to, or not at all.”

When I originally started sharing Charterstone with developers (specifically, JR Honeycutt), there wasn’t much to name: Just the charters and the main personas. But JR had some excellent feedback about the power of naming: It creates ownership and investment in your creation.

So I looked over all of the content in Charterstone and found a few dozen places to add the ability to name things (to avoid spoilers, I won’t discuss what those things are). I took the Seafall no-pressure approach, though: The ability to name things is an option, not a mandate.

Just to give you one tangible example, the very first thing you can name in the game is your persona. I’ve attached two of them here (these are the artist versions from Mr. Cuddington, hence the redundant card numbers, which are different in the final version). You’ll write the name you choose on the blank banner on the card.

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May 10

Back in December, I received a sample set of Meeplesource’s premium silkscreen-printed Scythe workers. I was amazed by the quality and attention to detail, so I reached out to Cynthia to see if she would be interested in making meeples for Charterstone too.

In Charterstone, each player is represented by a specific “persona”. There’s grey, blue, green, red, yellow, and purple. Thematically, you’re a group of strangers who arrive together at a mostly empty patch of land, and it‘s there that each of you will construct and populate a portion of the village (your “charter”).

I really wanted each player to feel like they are personally walking around the village as they gather resources and visit various buildings. Your worker meeple is you. Yes, there are other meeples in the game, but they are secondary to the one meeple that represents you (there are spoilery reasons why they won’t have Meeplesource versions).

That’s why I thought each player’s persona meeple deserved the premium Meeplesource treatment (for those who want to enhance their game). So I sent Cynthia the art files for each of the characters, and her graphic designer beautifully replicated them in both color and shape. Cynthia herself later served as a blind playtester for Charterstone, so she knows firsthand exactly how the worker meeples are used.

Meeplesource currently has a Kickstarter campaign for these meeples (and tokens for other games). As with our arrangements with all third-party accessory companies, Stonemaier doesn’t profit at all from these meeples–I just like to see great people make cool stuff for our amazing customers.

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May 5

Ora et Labora

The top 3 inspirations for Charterstone all have something in common: In these games, you can construct buildings that become action spaces for any player to use. I’ve posted images of those games here (Lords of Waterdeep, Ora et Labora, and Caylus).

The major difference between those games–and any other village-building game–is that the buildings in Charterstone are permanent. Thematically, it made sense that when you construct a building, it’s going to be there tomorrow–it isn’t just going to disappear. Hence why you’re removing a sticker from a card and permanently placing it on the board in your charter.

Caylus

So in Charterstone, I needed to encourage players to construct buildings, but not make construction so important or easy that they filled their charters in Game 1. This is a huge contrast between Charterstone (construct 1-2 buildings per game) and other village-building games (construct 6-12 buildings per game).

The focus of each individual game of Charterstone is not on constructing a lot of buildings–it’s on a variety of things worker-placement opportunities. This was both important for the campaign and for post-campaign play when players will eventually run out of buildings to construct.

Lords of Waterdeep

One solution I tested was to limit players to constructing 1 building per game. It worked pretty well. I was surprised to find that players actually enjoyed the restriction (previously, players had been frustrated that they ran out of space for buildings, after Game 2 or 3, even though it was entirely within their control).

However, I’m not a fan of arbitrary limitations, so eventually I pivoted to a more organic approach that strongly encourages players to only construct 1 building in their charter each game. It involves something called “influence tokens,” an invaluable and limited commodity in Charterstone. Constructing a building costs 3 influence tokens (among other resource costs), which is 25% of your entire supply of influence tokens, which are begging to be spent in a number of other ways too. This method worked much better. (Note: There are other barriers that prevent players from constructing so much, such as actually having building cards in hand–they’re not plentiful early on in the campaign.)

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April 28

One of the pivotal moments in Charterstone’s design happened about a year ago. It’s about a shape.

Up until that point, the plots in the village–and the buildings to be constructed on those plots–were square. The square shape seemed to fit well for the information I wanted each building to convey: name in the upper left, cost to use the building in the bottom left, benefit in the upper right, art in the middle.

However, something wasn’t working. A key element of Charterstone is that players are building and occupying a shared village. That is, even though you alone have control over what you construct in your charter, you’re free to place workers on buildings in any charter. The square plots weren’t doing the job of making players feel like they were participating in a shared village.

Two other limiting factors were (a) there’s a shared area containing a few pre-constructed buildings in the middle of the board called The Commons and (b) none of the plots should fall on the fold lines of the board.

So I turned to David and Lina at Mr.Cuddington to see if they had any ideas. Sure enough, after testing some options, they realized that a better shape for each of the plots/buildings was a hex. They created concept art for the board to illustrate this point, and I agreed with their assessment.

It’s an odd and somewhat nebulous thing, to have a single shape impact the design so much, but once I had that concept art, it really helped me start to capture the intended feeling of Charterstone in the buildings, charters, and the village as a whole. A ton of design and development happened after that, but without that step, I honestly don’t know what Charterstone would be today!

The images heredepict the evolution of the square plots to the hexagonal concept to the final rendering of the purple charter.

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April 20

It finally happened! A few minutes ago I sent all prototype and art files to my graphic designer for layout/typesetting. After working on Charterstone’s design, playtesting, and development for the last 16 months, this feels GREAT!

To celebrate the occasion, I wanted to share with you the image we’re using for the box bottom. It features the 6 characters in Charterstone, 1 of whom you will embody as you arrive in the outskirts of Greengully to start a new village. The illustrators (Mr. Cuddington) and I sought to feature a variety of genders, races, and ages in creating these characters.

As usual, I may not be able to answer your questions due to spoilers, but feel free to ask. If you’re curious about what the schedule looks like, there’s still a lot that needs to happen between now and when we go to print: In addition to the layout/typesetting, there’s the Automa portion of the game, refined prototype review and translations from our international partners, and more proofreading. I think the best-case scenario is an October release.

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April 13

I’ve been talking with my manufacturer, Panda, about Charterstone for over a year now. There have been a few times where we’ve had to dismiss an idea due to the expense or other logistical issues involved in the precarious nature of packaging a legacy game. But there have been far more times when we’ve added something awesome to enhance the experience, even if it costs extra. That’s why there are 36 thick metal coins in every copy of Charterstone.

That’s why there’s a special component found only in one other board game. And that’s why, based on a conversation I just had with Panda, we’re now upgrading another component in a way that adds a little spark of magic (figurative magic) every time you unlock a new card. I’m really excited about this upgrade, and I look forward to sharing it with you later this year!

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March 22

Biddy convinced me that it’s time to reveal the Charterstone board! There’s still some work to be done on it, but here’s a sneak preview of the completely unobstructed prototype.

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