Theme and What is it?
I’ll confess that when I was a boy, I had a fascination for old spaghetti westerns such as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly or A Fistful of Dollars. For some reason, the old west seemed like a fun and exciting place to be. As a young, naive boy, I was completely oblivious that these pioneers of the old wild west often led dangerous and uncertain lives. I’d like to think that I’m a little wiser now and am grateful for my uneventful urban life.
Fortunately, Christophe Raimbault, Ludonaute and Asmodee had delivered a fun way for us to act out our childhood fantasies (well for some of us at least) as gun slinging bandits in the form of Colt Express, all in the safety of our home.
Colt Express goes some way to parodying old western movies, often with a comical twist. There are no playable heroes or protagonists with Colt Express, as all players take on the roles of various robbers seeking to rob a train of its riches and loot. In short, we are all villains in this story.
Gameplay and Components
The first thing that would grab the attention of anyone who has not played Colt Express before is the 3 dimensional cardboard train .
The goal of the game is simple enough. The robber with the most loot (in value) is the winner. As one can probably guess, this isn’t a cooperative game. All players are out for themselves and will each shoot and punch other as they claw their way to the riches aboard the Colt Express.It is as the old adage goes, there is no honor among thieves.
Colt Express is a game for 2 to 6 players. As mentioned before, all players are train robbers and each will be given their own respective meeples (color coded to match their corresponding player boards) to represent their characters on board the train. The six characters in Colt Express that players choose each have their own unique ability. Belle for example is capable of dodging shots or punches as long as she is next to another character. That character next to her would be shot (or punched) instead of Belle.
The only character not playable by any one player is the Marshal. However, the Marshal may be moved by any player that has played his corresponding action card.
The game set-up is fairly simple and not too time consuming (if you do not count the assembly of the train carriages that is). There aren’t many components to set up for a typical Colt Express game.
An equal number of carriages as there are players (not including the locomotive) are placed. Each carriage are clearly marked with the loot or gems that to be assigned. Take note that loot bags have different values. All gems are assigned to values of $500. There is a strongbox that will be placed in the locomotive along with the Marshal.
Each player is assigned a player board that has two deck slots for the bullet deck and their action decks. A character card would be placed next to the player’s board. All player will start the game with a loot bag worth $250 on the character card.
Each players’ meeple would be placed on the caboose or the carriage next to it. The marshal’s meeple is to be placed in the locomotive with a strong box (worth $1000).
The game also comes with pieces such as cacti, rocks or cattle skulls to add flavor. These pieces are placed in an ad hoc manner.
Each player will be assigned a deck of action cards. Some of these cards will have basic movement actions such as climb or descent or moving left or right. Other actions that players can execute are punch, shoot grabbing loot or moving the Marshal. Another deck of cards that each player will be assigned are six bullet cards. As this is the wild west, all characters are using six shooters. Every time a player shoots another player, that player being shot will receive the shooter’s bullet card. The recipient of the bullet card will then place that bullet card into his or her action cards deck. The idea is that when a player draws 6 cards into their hand, the bullet card will represent one less action that the player can possibly take. This simulates a player getting injured thereby placing a handicap on that player. There is no player elimination with Colt Express so the worse that could happen to a player taking too many shots is that their action options would be severely limited. Once a shooter has run out of bullet cards, that player can no longer fire any more shots.
A game of Colt Express is played in 4 rounds. Each round will be represented by a round card. Depending on the number of players, 2-4 players round cards or 5-6 players round cards are used. The only round cards independent of the number of players is the end-stop card . There are a total of 7 number of players specific round cards and 3 end-stop cards. 3 of these 7 cards should be chosen at random.
Each round card is further broken down into action trackers and an event. For each action tracker, a player would then play their chosen action cards face up into a common pile. All actions cards are played in turns. In the case of this round card for example, each player plays 4 actions. Take note that the 2nd action is a dark tunnel action. During the dark tunnel turn, each player should play their action cards face down, to simulate the train entering a dark tunnel and that each player should have no knowledge of the action taken by their opponents. The actions available to each player are climb/descent, move left/right, shoot, punch, rob and Marshal movement. The Marshal movement card moves the Marshal in the direction of the player’s choice. If a Marshal is the same carriage or locomotive as a player, that player is shot by the Marshal and receives a Neutral bullet card. The Marshal however, cannot be shot at by the players.
The basic game mechanic Colt Express utilizes is the programmable movement mechanic. Programmable movement is a mechanic that’s used in games such as Robo Rally or Space Alert whereby players, usually in turns, play out their respective action cards. Once all players had played their respective actions, the game would move into a resolution phase where all players will see the result of their actions.
Actions are planned and resolved in 2 phases for Colt Express:
- Schemin’! Phase
- Stealin’! Phase
During the Schemin’! phase, each player would play their action cards face up (or face down if the current action is a dark tunnel action) according to the number of actions on the round card. Each player plays their action into a common pile.
The Stealin’! phase is where all players will see the resolution of the action cards that they have played into the common pile. Starting with the very first card played by the first player, resolve the action card that player had played.The character meeple is then moved accordingly on the train to reflect the action that was taken.
An event usually occurs at the end of the Stealin! phase. In the case of this round card, the passenger’s start to rebel. Any bandits left in cars will each receive a Neutral bullet.
There is an end-game bonus that will be added to each players’ total score (each player’s score is the aggregate of the value of loot accumulated over the course of the game). The player who has shot others most will be entitled to a $1000 bonus at the end of the game.
When I first saw prototype copies of this game, I was so thrilled with the idea of playing a tabletop game with an actual 3D representation of the train. The designer could have used a 2D flat board as an abstract of the train. Fortunately, by thinking outside the box, Ludonaute provided us with this glorious representation instead.
The manual is reasonably clear in its instructions and presents the game play mechanics quite well. I did not have much problems learning the game from the manual but there were gaps and some ambiguous rule descriptions that forced me to look up game play videos to clarify certain rule aspects.
Quality of Components and Insert
The production quality for Colt Express is fairly noteworthy. The 3 dimensional representation of the train would get anyone’s attention. When my gaming group played this at a cafe, we had many curious eyes looking our way. The only downside to having a 3D train made of cardboard is that is doesn’t come assembled. I had to spend about 30 minutes of my time extracting the various train pieces then assembling the locomotive and the carriages. Each train piece was snapped into place without any need for glue or adhesives. It’s fortunate that you only need to assemble the locomotive and carriages once.The box is well partitioned so you can place the carriages and the locomotive quite comfortably in the box.
The wooden meeples are well made and well colored. Each color represents each character well enough, although I heard some complaints that Belle’s purple and Trucco’s red meeples are hard to distinguish under certain lighting.
The loot tokens are nicely represented as well. The value of the money bags gems are large enough that we can glance at its value without having to strain one eyes.
My only complaint about the 3D train is that there isn’t much space between the roof and floor of the carriages. I often knocked my own meeple (or an opponent’s) while attempting to move my character’s meeple during the Stealin’! phase.
Jordi Valbuena’s art work for Colt Express is simply top notch. The somewhat cartoon like representation of the characters sets a lighthearted tone for Colt Express.As for 3D trains Ian Parovel should be given much credit. It’s cute, whimsical design complements the artwork nicely.
I will be the first to admit that the 3D train gimmick is what caught my attention to this game. Prior to this title being nominated for 2014’s Spiel des Jahres, I had some idea that it was good title due to the hype it received. However, I was still somewhat surprised by the solid game play that this title offers.
As this is a programmable movement game, a typical game play strategy is to attempt to anticipate your opponent’s action. This typically works well that is until all players are required to play their action cards face down during the dark tunnel actions. This throws a degree of randomness and unexpected actions that often results in hilarious outcomes.
This is a game that takes a rather tongue-in-cheek approach to train robbing. It’s depiction of the characters are humorous. I find it amusing that each character is something of a book or movie stereotype of an old west villain. This keeps very much in line with the lighthearted nature of the game and with the artwork and the overall theme of the game. So anticipate lots of laughs, chuckles and harmless banter when playing Colt Express
Difficulty and age range suggestion
There is a little iconography to get one’s head wrapped around with the end round events. That shouldn’t be much of an issue after getting this title on the table a few times. Colt Express in general doesn’t have steep learning curves. The roles of the action cards are fairly intuitive and when one understands the concept of programmable movement, it should be easy enough for anyone 10 years or older to play
Colt Express is a great, uncomplicated game. It implements the programmable movement mechanic well enough through the use of a few action cards that are quite intuitive in how each character’s action should be played out. As for the production quality, it’s noteworthy. The 3 dimensional representation of the train is a the standout component from the box and it’s bound to get other table’s attention. I actually got a copy of this title for the train set alone. For me, the solid game play was merely a sweet bonus.
I have a few quibbles though. The first being the flavor pieces, while I appreciate the publisher had taken the trouble to include some cardboard cacti, rocks and cattle skulls in the box, they serve very little in the way of game play. I understand that these are aesthetics and add flavor to the theme of the game but I usually leave them in the box whenever we decide to have a game of Colt Express. However, having said that, my gaming group started using one of the cactus as a player turn tracker.
Another pet peeve of mine when it comes to gaming is the use of custom jargon in instruction manuals. While I do appreciate that using “Schemin’!” and “Stealin’!” is pretty much in the spirit of the theme, I would prefer if publishers would use more ubiquitous terms such as planning and resolution phases. However, these are minor quibbles as the game play for Colt Express remains solid.
All in all, Colt Express is pretty much a staple for my gaming group. The aesthetics and good game play should be enough to convince any collector to keep this in their collection.