Straight out of the box you can tell that Colt Express is going to be a different board game experience. Coming with a three-dimensional game board for meeples to move around, along and in, setting the game up will grab players’ attentions straight away. The unsurprising aim of this train robbery game is to grab more loot than the rest of the players. Standing in your way is the Marshal whom starts out defending the biggest loot item, the $1,000 briefcase, and some other pesky robbers.
Colt Express is a game for 2 – 6 players with the length of the train, the playable game board, growing by carriages to match the number of players. At the start of the game players set up the board with loot, the marshal and the players’ meeples in the starting positions. Players get a set of the same 10 action cards (2 horizontal movement, 2 vertical movement, 2 shoot, 2 loot, 1 punch and 1 marshal), which each player shuffles and draws the top six cards. From here the round card is turned over, the first player starts the round and the entertaining heist occurs.
Normally in board games when you play a card the action takes place straight away and you move onto the next player. In Colt Express the entire round of cards is played before any of the actions take place. This results in plans being disrupted by others, players losing track of where they are on the train and where the good loot is. Has the briefcase or that gem you were looking to loot been picked up by another player? As the cards are flipped over and the actions of others unfold you’ll soon learn anticipating your adversaries isn’t as easy as you might think.
The marshal figure is the best example of this. When he moves into a carriage any meeples in the carriage take a Neutral bullet, clogging up their action deck, and the meeples are moved to the roof. If you are expecting to be in the carriage and are suddenly on the roof your actions may not play out in the way you expected and can even turn out to be detrimental to your cause.
I’ll be first to admit I’m not the best at construction of things but putting together the train and carriages of Colt Express was a rather fiddly ordeal. Thankfully, you only have to do this once and it is worth every second you spend putting it all together! The quality of the components start to sing through at this point. Instantly players can see what is going on from the theme of the train heist to how the game will play out. This includes the addition of small rocks and cacti to dot around the table around the train, which reinforce the theme.
The components come together, resulting in little to no visualisation being needed, as the train is physically there before you. This means Colt Express is perfect for younger players and casual gamers whom might get hung up about movement and event visualisation on a flat game board.
The game has a two of ways that you can add additional rules into the game. The first of these is via the action on the round cards. In the beginners game when all the turns of a round have been completed nothing special happens and you move onto the next turn. With the addition of the round card rules everyone is equally effected at the end of the round. Potentially the marshal drops a second $1000 briefcase, maybe the train brakes and sees everyone on the roof fly one carriage towards the front of the train or maybe the passengers rebel against the players. It’s a nice extension rule that can throw a spanner in your perfectly made plan.
Each character also has a unique ability. These range from Ghost’s ability to play his first card of a round face-down to Tuco’s ability to shoot to the roof above or down into the carriage below. I can see what the developers have tried to do with these unique abilities. They have tried to add a uniqueness to each character but it feels unnecessary. To the extent that these character powers almost make Colt Express, ever so slightly, unbalanced. There doesn’t seem to be one ability that necessarily is better than the rest. This being said, often one player has the opportunity to use their ability more often than the others. While it doesn’t drastically change the outcome of turns the game seemed to go down better, especially with new players, when everyone was on a level playing field; with a random selection of the same 10 identical actions.
While the rules are not overly complex, describing the game to those whom are relatively new to board games leave many with a confused look on their faces. This instantly falls away when they get hands on experience in their first round. Unfortunately, this can put them at a bit of a disadvantage as they test the water, on in this case the train. This is most likely as Colt Express is a rather different game mechanic wise. I found a quick dummy round was enough for new players to get the concepts and mechanics of Colt Express. Allowing the proper game to commence and everyone be ready from that start.
The way the game varies between games with different rounds and a different order of rounds keeps players guess what they will be able to do. This is before players get their random selection of actions, which can change how they can play the game. I would prefer to see a round card where the first action of the round is a tunnel, where actions are played secretively face-down just for extra mystery. Alas, this would interfere with Ghost’s ability. Minor hope aside, these round cards add to the replayability of Colt Express as it is yet another way that means no two games could be the same.
Past the initial ‘this is different’ stage the core game of Colt Express is simple to play but allows for great interaction between players. These interactions are far from positive for one of the parties involved so soon the concept of an eye for an eye, or in this case a shot for a shot, enters play. This drives increased entertainment into the competitive nature of the board game and even when you inevitably get screwed over by another player the experience is still enjoyable. Even to the extreme case of a game where I ended up with a score of $0, a pitiful attempt as you even start with $250, I still had a great time playing. Overall, Colt Express is as enjoyable and entertaining as it is a unique game, subsequently it has firmly earnt its space on my gaming shelf!