Colt Express Marshal & Prisoners is an expansion from 2016, published by Ludonaute. Coming from the designer of the base game, Christophe Raimbault – one again featuring artwork from Jordi Valbuena – it sees players returning to the wild west. Now up to 8 players can be part of the train heist, but not everyone will be a bandit fueled by greed with the Marshal becoming a playable character. Extending the base game length a little bit, does this expansion add more than time? Let’s find out!
Firstly, a prison cell train carriage is added to the back of the train (the caboose). Unlike the rest of the carriages with an inside and roof, the prison cell car has three sections: a roof area, corridor and cell. The cell can never be entered via movement, while the corridor and roof are otherwise treated normally. It isn’t just players that see the inside of the jail cell though.
Prisoner cards are shuffled and three are placed alongside the cell. These prisoners will pay whomever frees them $200 – adding to that bandits end game loot. The ability to free a prisoner is the first use of the new bright ideas card. Using this in the cell carriage’s corridor can free a prisoner or another player from the cell. Freeing a prisoner will gain the player an extra ability – on top of the end game money – while freeing another bandit will steal a loot item from them.
Using the bright ideas card when in the cell will see the bandit escape, either into the corridor or onto the roof. Playing it anywhere else has a special effect of mimicking the most recently played bandit action card. So, if a fellow bandit has just played their punch card that is the action it will copy. This is a great addition that will stay shuffled in even when the rest of the expansion isn’t being used. It opens up new opportunities and sees players praying for others before them to take specific actions even more than before.
As the name suggests this expansion brings in a Marshal – a playable one at that. With the prisoners ready in the cells and bandits equipped with bright ideas the game is almost ready. On top of having two separate gun decks, the marshal also needs to prepare an objective deck of 5 cards. These range from shooting an individual bandit 4 times to not being punched too much, and all seems within reach. Whomever takes up the role of the marshal must complete 4 out of their 5 objectives to win. Otherwise, scoring reverts back to the base game’s rules of the richest bandit wins. Therefore, there is an aspect of all against one whilst competing.
The marshal has a different action deck from the bandits. It features vertical and horizontal movement – so for the first time the marshal character will reach the heights of the train’s roof. Unlike the bandits the marshal has three guns cards, no punch card and has unique cards – the ability to arrest. When the marshal is on the same space as a bandit they are no longer instantly shot and moved to the roof. Instead, this is when an arrest can be made. Via the action card the marshal sends the bandit to the cell and flips over their wanted poster to complete.
Going into the first game there was a real buzz around the table that someone was going to be attempting to orchestrate the bandits downfall. This slowly ebbed away and there weren’t many hands going up to try the role for a second game – let alone after that. The main issue is that the marshal role is very limited – effectively being a job of following other players in an attempt to arrest or shoot them. The objectives added something to the role, yet the ability to move a sheriff was also missed by the bandits.
Alongside the Marshal role comes Mei. She is a brand new character ready to be part of the competitive train heist. Unlike the base game bandits Mei’s ability is all about movement. When doing a vertical movement she is able to move diagonally to an adjacent carriage. This might not sound like much. However, it can completely throw other bandits off your trail, allowing you to swoop in and claim loot.
Not having enough characters to go around was never an issue I ran into when playing the base game, with 4 – 5 being an ideal player count. Increasing the range to 3 – 8 players therefore doesn’t really benefit me. While having someone playing as the marshal opens up the train carriage door for one extra player I still cannot see the hectic mayhem that is a 6 player game improving with two more players. It is an experience to try once but for the love of all the loot don’t attempt it with new players – it will leave them confused for far longer.
Components wise everything hits the high quality levels of the base game, with cards indistinguishable for new players. There are a lot of cards included, and it is great to see a few extra round cards in the box to add additional variety – regardless of the player count you have. It is slightly irritating that the yellow meeple that has for countless games been the sheriff is all of a sudden now Mei. It created confusion for those with only a few games under their belt as they were still trying to remember what was being played and then there was a colour change. This being said, the orange marshal meeple which comes with a badge symbol is slightly easier to distinguish from the bandits.
Many of the aspects of the expansion sounded fantastic on paper, still the main focus missed the mark. An additional character was always welcome and Mei’s ability seems to be different from the rest and not too strong. The prison car and bright ideas are a nice twist, there just needs to be a way to utilize them fully without someone being the marshall. Perhaps, this could be done by house ruling a bit. The fact thoughts of house rules are there shows the expansion has merit but not quite for the right reason.
[Editor’s Note: Colt Express Marshal & Prisoners was provided to us by Asmodee for review purposes. The game is currently available on 365 Games for £18.99. It is also available from local board game stores, find your local store here]