Table Top

Published on November 5th, 2015 | by Rufus Hound

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Colt Express Review

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Trains. They either smell of B.O., sulpurized rubber or piss. The people that work on them are either braindead, jobsworths or the kind of people who fantasize about working at Belsen. Fortunately, a ride on the Colt Express has one chief difference from modern British rail travel: Instead of the rail operator robbing you, you’re there to rob the train.

Yes, it’s time to release your inner Butch/Sundance and hop aboard this brilliant boardless boardgame.

Setup

The first time you open the box, you’re going to find a TON of push-out-and-construct pieces. Now, if you’re as nimble fingered as a fairy harpist, then you’ll have no problems with this. If, however, your fingers resemble hefty, artisan sausages like mine, then the room for error is significant. It’s a shame when there are bits of your game crushed, ripped or broken before you’ve even played it, but maybe that says more about me than the manufacturers (though it did remind me of this: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zv1w9bg3bMM ).

What you end up with, (provided you follow the instructions) is a train. The titular, Back-To-The-Future-III-style ‘Colt Express’ – one locomotive and six carriages (although how many carriages you use is dependent on how many people are playing). Each carriage has a variable amount of booty in it, whilst the locomotive holds a strong box with $1000 inside. To win, you have to have the most cash when the Colt Express arrives at its destination.

Now, think of any of those old train robbery movies, and what do you expect? Gunfights, double-crossing, a rooftop chase over moving carriages, a put-upon marshall doing his best? Well, the game won’t disappoint you. The tropes of olden-times train robbery (as opposed to the Phil Collins sort) have been well considered and brought out in force here.

Each player selects a classic Western character (Django has a shotgun, so extra firepower. Belle is bewitching, so can avoid being targeted in gunfights. Doc is smart, so gives himself more options… you get the idea). A corresponding deck of cards, a meeple and a character sheet get dished out, the cash is distributed throughout the train and the marshall sits in the locomotive. Players then place their corresponding meeple on board the Colt Express and the heist begins.

Now, a 3D game like this (I’m looking at you, Mousetrap) would seem to imply that the crux of the game is on some physical action, but Colt Express’s real triumph is as a brilliant story engine. To call it filmic would be overselling it, but a lot of the fun comes from watching the villains’ plans unfold and realising that your own character’s genius scheme has been flawlessly realised/catastrophically undermined. How does it do this? I’ll tell you how!

colt express

Gameplay

The game has five rounds – how they run is decided by drawing cards from a deck.

Each round has two phases: Schemin’ & Stealin’ (the g’s have been dropped for added rootin’ tootin’ cowboy authenticity.)

Schemin’

This is the first phase of each round. Players take it in turns to play action cards. This creates a sequence of actions that will then be performed by our coterie of commuting criminals.

These actions are:

Move – forwards or backwards. Your call. It’s one carriage in either direction if you’re inside the train or up to three if you’re on the roof.

Climb – up or down. Your call. It’s how you get up to the roof, or back down into a carriage.

Shoot – Each player has six shoot cards. One for each bullet in his/her six shooter. The first player to successfully shoot all six bullets gets a $1000 bonus at the game’s end.

Punch – Standing next to another bandit? Want to mug them? Stick up your dukes.

Grab – Standing next to a loot token? It’s yours now, muchacho.

Marshall  – The marshall can only move when a player makes him. Play this card, and you decide where to. Bandits in the same carriage as the marshall get shot and flee to the roof.

Stealin’ – Once the Schemin’ phase is complete, it’s time to start Stealin’. The pile of action cards is picked up, and each action performed in turn, by the player who played it.

Was ever the hand of fate so cruelly illustrated? The robbers moves are locked in, but how those moves play out will be dictated by the decisions of your competitors. It sounds confusing, granted, but allow me to exemplify: Say you’re on the roof. You play Climb, then, on your next turn Punch, then Grab, then Shoot. Your plan is to climb down into the compartment, punch one of the other players, pick up their dropped swag, then shoot another. A tremendous, straight-forward, what-could-possibly-go-wrong plan.

Except that the player before you moved the marshall into your carriage, so now you climb down, are shot, sent straight back up to the roof, take a wild swing at no-one, grab no loot and fire your gun into the sky. As bandits go, you look a proper twat.

And it’s here that the game really comes into its own. The ‘Schemin’ phase is spent trying to work out what your opponents are up to, where they’re going to be and how to work around them. Then the Stealin’ phase plays out and with it, cries of “No way! Why did you do that! My plan! My plan! You screwed my beautiful plan!” Simply put, there may well be villains on the train, but the people you’ll hate most are all sat round the table with you, trying to obscure how they’re going to do you over.

That’s where Colt Express is at it’s funnest. The Schemin’ phase plays out just like a story. As the action cards are turned, it’s impossible not to become a narrator. “Cheyenne, hops down into the locomotive… as Ghost runs along the roof… Tuco – still reeling from his rooftop shoot out – climbs into the caboose – … where the Marshall finds him! Shot’s fired! Tuco, freshly wounded, heads back to the roof … and Cheyenne steals the cash box!” Throw in the odd hokey ol’west drawl, and you’ll be shouting “Yeeha!” in no time.

Colt Express

Verdict

Is it worth buying? Yes.

I played it with my 7 year old son who loved it (he got to shoot people, how could he not?) and my missus whose superior planning abilities meant she regularly trounced us both. The board is fun (if, for the sausage fingered amongst us, a little fiddly), the theming totally works, and the characters special abilities mean that you’ll soon discover a favourite based on your preferred tactics. I also latterly played it with two, fairly drunk mates, and it wasn’t long before we were calling each other ‘varmint’, ‘rattlesnake’ and ‘pilgrim’.

The game has sufficient depth that you’ll come back to it and isn’t so hard to understand that you couldn’t quickly teach it to non-gaming visitors. All in all, a very welcome addition to the family game shelf. Buy one. Or steal one – just keep a look out for the Marshall.

Rufus Hound
Rufus Hound

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