On the road to Essen, I was told about Colt Express, a game that was shooting up the hotness list. Hearing about the game’s mechanics – I thought to myself “this sounds like an overhyped version of Walk the Plank, which I reviewed last year“. Essentially, you play cards to move meeples around and in the process – shoot and punch each other all over a train…
Hype or Over-Hype???
Finding out that Colt Express was going to be on general release through Asmodee, it didn’t seem too much of a priority to examine it at the German trade fair. Much to my annoyance and reluctance though, I was dragged into playing a demo at Essen with Nigel and three Belgium gamers.
Despite my misgivings, Colt Express is now one of my most positive memories from Essen! In fact, after playing it, I wasn’t at all surprised that it had sold out by the Saturday!
The game components looks fantastic – you have a minimum of four open train carriages littered with swag tokens, the more players the more carriages are used. Upfront you have the engine with the angry marshal guarding a briefcase of the railroad’s payroll. The players meeples are placed on the end carriages and then all hell breaks loose.
The Good, The Bad… And The Ugly Guys on the Colt Express!!!
Imagine, if you will, a spaghetti western – a gang of the meanest criminals have boarded the Colt Express – a steam train cutting through a cactus laden desert. Their sole aim, to steal the riches scattered throughout the carriages and make off with a bag full of cash held in the engine room.
The camera pans around the carriage and passes each of the hardened gang in turn.
Doc – Calm and calculating, always with an extra card up his sleeve.
Belle – Pretty little lady who makes you shoot or punch anyone in the room but her.
Ghost – Sneaky as hell, he plays his first card blind so you never see what’s coming.
Tuco – Mad as they come, a Mexican who can shoot at close quarters and through the carriage roof.
Cheyenne – Pick-pocket extraordinaire, who nicks your swag when she punches you.
Django – Guns so powerful, they’ll blast you into the next carriage.
The time approaches for the gang to perform the heist, the heat is unbearable, sweat trickles down their faces as each gang member eyes the others… There’s been a change… Personal greed has taken hold since the gang’s original plan was put in place… On the Colt Express it’s every man for himself!!!
Things are going to get messy on this here train heist… Chaos will ensue and bullets will fly!!!
Shoot, Punch, Duck and Dive… I Will Get You TUCOOOOOO!!!
Well, yes the bullets really do fly in Colt Express – I personally love games where you can shoot the other players and in Colt Express you are defiantly encouraged to shoot each other! In fact, shooting people is one of the paths to victory – because when you play a shoot card and you are able to shoot someone (this is not always the case), you give the player a wound card from your bullet deck. When that deck is empty, you receive a gunslinger card that’s worth $1000, the richest bandit is the winner in this game and $1000 is almost always just over a third of the winning score!
The main mechanic of Colt Express is your deck of action cards. There are two variants on drawing cards and these are represented on either side of the character boards. The first – you draw six cards at the start of the turn and then at the end of the turn, you shuffle all of your cards, including what is remaining in your hand and the discard pile. You then draw six fresh cards, unless you’re Doc, who draws seven!
The other option is to keep two of the remaining cards that you want, shuffle the discard pile and remaining draw deck and then draw up to six/seven cards. The variants aren’t that much different, and which one you want to use probably depends on if you have deck-builder fans playing in your game or not.
Action cards come in six different flavours – shoot, punch, pick up swag, move up or down, lateral movement or move the sheriff.
If you draw wound cards (after being shoot by the other players or sheriff) they do absolutely nothing for you other than clog your hand. However, you can give up an action turn and discard up to three wounds to draw a further three cards.
Scenario Cards… How Did I End Up at the Back of The Train???
The game plays over a series of rounds and is driven by the round cards. These cards dictate how many turns there are going to be in the round and the sequence in which the action cards are played. They also generate the scenario for the round. For example – if there’s a tunnel symbol for one of the turns – then cards played that turn are played blind.
There are also icons at the top of the cards too, and they have an effect at the end of that round. These effects could be anything from a:
Passenger revolt – where anyone who is not on the roof receives a wound card.
Swivel arm – which knocks you to the rear carriage if you’re on the roof at the end of the round .
Although there is a lot of randomness and chaos going on, there is also a fair amount of strategy to Colt Express too. You have to carefully follow what cards players are putting down and try and work out what they’re going to be doing at any giving moment. You can try and interrupt their strategy or attempt to out-think them and avoid them interrupting yours. This is not always possible or easy to accomplish, but players always work out some way to achieve victory or thwart their opponents!
Colt Express… Does the Train Run Out of Steam???
After many plays, I can honestly say that Colt Express is one of my favourite games of the year. The components are of above average quality – I love the train and carriages when they are set up, and the fact that the game box houses them properly is fantastic. Five to Six players is where the game really shines and I enjoy it when players start to roleplay their characters. The more players there are, the crazier the shoot-outs get – until the Colt Express is rife with personal grudges and duels that are fun to be in and to witness!
Colt Express is not a heavy game, but it is a fun game with a surprising amount of strategy– it can be enjoyed by experienced gamers and new players alike with a minimal learning curve.
One of the things that I really love about Colt Express is that it isn’t what I’d call a a silly game. While Walk the Plank is a very light filler game, Colt Express is more engaging – the asymmetric roles let the players roleplay to a degree and the random selection of round cards keep the variety going!
Finally, I’ve heard it argued that the best board games don’t need expansions – they should be a complete package. Colt Express fulfils this statement admirably and I think that speaks volumes about the game itself. Don’t get me wrong – I can foresee expansions on the horizon – more characters, round cards, etc. But, for now, if you’re looking for a game to get as a gift for someone, you will not go far wrong with Colt Express!
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Paul Matthews is a Sales Manager for Gamesquest Ltd, as well as a part-time Board game Demonstrator and Blogger. After several years playing Yu-gi-oh at Tournament level, his latest passion is all things board gaming. Besides playing board games, Paul is a part time author and enjoys reading and archery. Paul has a Degree in Humanities Psychology/Counselling and several Life-skill Degrees in Parenting, Horse Management and Ecommerce.