Everyone knows that a train traveling through the old west is loaded with money and jewels. That’s why they get robbed so darn much. In Colt Express you’ve loaded your six-shooter and snuck aboard in an effort to walk away with a ton of loot. Will you be able to scoop up the goods and avoid getting shot by your opponents or caught by the Marshal? It’s going to take careful planning and a willingness to take a few risks to win the game.
Colt Express is a family friendly, action programming game that was a big enough hit to win the Spiel des Jahres in 2015. It plays up to six with each player taking on the identity of an old west bandit in financial troubles. The big selling point of the game is the awesome 3D train that makes up the playing surface. Players will move from car to car collecting goods and avoiding the Marshal. They may even have to hop on top of the train to accomplish their mission. Through four rounds players will program their actions. After all the actions have been played they are revealed one at a time and then executed.
Each player has a hand of Action cards that will allow you to shoot or punch at your opponents, move the Marshal, climb up or down from the roof of the train, pick up loot, or move around the train. These cards are how you will program your actions. You get a hand of six cards per round and there’s a bit of a deck building element to making your hand. At the start of each round a Round card is revealed letting players know how the actions will be played out as well as a special action that may occur at the end of the round. Usually Action cards are played face up, so that everyone can see the action you’ve selected, but when the Round card indicates that you’ve gone through a tunnel, actions are performed in the dark and played face down. Sometimes you’ll even play two actions together allowing you to chain together certain moves. The tough thing is being able to predict what actions will be effective and what your opponents will be doing. I may throw a punch hoping to hit someone in the same train car as me forcing them to drop some loot, but if they moved out of that car on a previous action round, well then I’m just punching at the air or if I try to pick up a jewel and someone else grabs it before then I’ve just wasted my action.
The different characters you can play, each have a special skill. Doc can start each round with seven cards instead of only six, Tuco can shoot up or down at opponents on top of the train or in it depending on where he is, Cheyenne is a master thief and can snatch up loot as soon as she’s knocked it out of an opponent’s hands, and Ghost is able to play his first card face down (as if he were in a tunnel) every time.
The players each have a set of bullet cards. When you shoot an opponent you give them one of your bullet cards for them to shuffle into their deck. In the same way, if players get caught in the same car as the Marshal, they will get a neutral bullet card to shuffle into their deck. This is where the deck building element comes into play. When you deal out your next six card hand every bullet card you have in there is just taking up space. This can make it very difficult to play some rounds. You can skip playing an action card to draw three new cards into your hand, but that’s one less thing you get to accomplish this round. As an added bonus, if you manage to get rid of all your bullet cards there’s a $1000 bonus in it for you! Suffice to say the bullets should be flying.
Horses and Stagecoach is the first expansion to Colt Express and hit the market in late 2015. It adds a 3D stagecoach that rides along beside the train. Players can jump across or ride a horse to board the stagecoach. There is a new strongbox up for grabs and another lawman guarding it. The Shotgun rides on top of the stagecoach protecting the loot. If you punch him off he’ll spend the rest of the game patrolling the top of the train, doubling the law enforcement there. This expansion also adds horse pawns that allow players to move quickly around the train and to the stagecoach, by using the ride action. The most interesting added element is the hostages. When a bandit enters the stagecoach they must take one of the hostage cards. Now, hostages can be worth a lot of lot in the form of ransom at the end of the game, but holding on to a struggling victim is not the easiest thing. Each hostage will hinder you in some way. For example, the Minister is worth a $900 ransom, but you have to draw one less card each round or the Teacher, who will earn you $800, but you can’t use the punch action for the rest of the game. A new type of loot is also added. Whiskey flasks can be used twice before being discarded. They have no monetary value, but they’ll allow you to play or draw extra cards during a round. Horses and Stagecoach gives fans of this game more of what they love: cool, 3D components and ridiculous, unpredictable fun.
Colt Express lasts for four rounds and at the end of it the richest player will walk away with the victory. Let me say, I am terrible at this game. I do not excel at predicting other player’s moves and knowing what the situation will be when my action comes up, just not the way my brain works. That being said, I can still have fun with Colt Express. It’s the type of game where so much is out of your control that you just have to sit back and enjoy the ride. They’ve done an amazing job with the production of the train, the bandits, the loot. You really do get the sense of rocketing through a olde tyme western countryside they even include some cactus and tumbleweed to complete the effect. Colt Express quickly became a game night favourite. I look forward to seeing where the western world can be expanded to in the future.