Tabletop Tuesday: ‘Colt Express’
It’s been a couple of weeks without any board game reviews, but that’s because we just brought in a haul of new titles and have been slowly working through them all! To mark the return of the series: ‘Colt Express’.
I have this base assumption when I see a game with intricate design or 3D game elements – that the look of the game was more important to the designers than the game mechanics. Simplicity tends to bring out the really clever mechanics with high replay value (a prominant example being ‘Love Letter’), whilst big eye-catching games run on a gimmick. When I saw the model train carriages complete with decorative cacti and boulders I couldn’t see much of a game going on. Luckily, in this case, making an assumption made an ass of me. This game has surprisingly simple and enjoyable mechanics with enough random elements to ensure it never plays out the same way twice.
All players take on the persona of an Old West bandit and compete to steal the most loot during the train highjack. Everyone has their own deck of action cards, from which they draw a hand, and bullet cards. During the planning phase every player takes it in turn to place an action card face up in a central pile.Action cards allow your character to move through carriages, climb onto the roof or back into the train, punch a rival, shoot at a rival, loot the carriage or move the marshall. Once everyone has played the required amount of cards the pile is flipped and the actions occur in the order in which they were played.
‘Colt Express’ is similar to ‘Robot Rally’ in that you plan your moves in advance and then have to sit on your hands while they play out for better or worse. How well you do in any given round is largely determined by how closely you keep track of the cards put out by other players, planning your moves so you’ll be in the right place at the right time to loot, throw a punch or fire a shot. If you make a mistake you could easily find yourself punching the air or moving into trouble that wasn’t there before. Random occurrences can throw a spanner in the works, such as tunnels that, for a round, allow people to play their cards face down, hiding their upcoming actions, or track switches that reverse order of play.
Getting in each other’s way is the biggest obstacle players face. Playing a punch card on someone forces them to drop their loot and get knocked back into an adjoining carriage, potentially ruining the rest of their turn. Shooting is easier but has less immediate consequence – the victim is given one of your six bullet cards to add to their action deck, essentially throwing a useless card into future hands to limit their planning. To encourage more gunplay, the player who has fired the most in the game gets a big ‘Most Wanted’ bonus on top of their loot. Then there’s the marshall who players can move through the train, forcing people to take bullets and escape onto the roof of the train. It’s not a game for easily frustrated players, as it’s not much fun seeing your plans fall about when someone else trips you up.
In spite of the element of planning involved, ‘Colt Express’ is a very fast paced game. You want to play your action cards quick to reduce the thinking time your opponents have, and then when the plans go into action it’s a matter of moving meeples and swapping tokens. An entire game can be completed in less than half an hour, leading to many replays and revenge is sought on trigger-happy foes. It takes a long time to punch out and assemble the components of the different train carriages when it’s fresh out of the box but the packaging is designed to keep them assembled and protected, meaning it’s easy and quick to set up subsequent matches.
‘Colt Express’ may not be an exceptionally in-depth in terms of strategy and planning but it is fast and one of the most fun games we’ve come across in the past year. They has been plenty of friendly rivalries born out of this Western themed free-for-all. Check it out if you get the chance.