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Colt Express

Reviewed by Andrea “Liga” Ligabue

(Asmodee/Ludonaute, 2 to 6 players, ages 10 and up, less than 60 minutes; $39.99)

coltexp1The Old West is always fascinating, at least for us Europeans looking at the wide spaces of the US with a mix of awe and astonishment. Gunslingers, Indians, coaches, saloons and shoot-outs are powerful tools in the hands of expert designers. Bang!, Carson City, Dice Town, Shadows of Brimstone are some of the titles that revived the genre in the last years. And now, from designer Christophe Raimbault, we have Colt Express.

Colt Express is a game set back in 1899 during the travels of the Union Pacific Express. Players are bandits trying to rob the train, fighting other bandits and the marshal attempting to get the greatest amount of money before the end of the trip.

The first things you will discover is that there isn’t a map but the game is played on a 3D train you have to build the first time you play with a locomotive and a number of random cars equal to the number of players. (The train and cars fit in the box and you don’t need to build them again.) Each player choose a Character (Tuco, Belle etc.) getting the corresponding bandit pawn, a deck of 10 Action Cards, 6 Bullets Cards and a bag valued at $250. In the basic game, Characters do not have special abilities.

Each car shows the loot you have to place on it: purses (valued from $250 to $500) and diamonds (valued $500). The Marshal and the Strongbox ($1000) are placed on the Locomotive and the Character pawns in the two last cars. Finally, you have to randomly prepare the Round Deck with one of the three train station cards and four round cards on top. There are different round cards according to the number of players. The randomness of the loot, car position and in the round deck are enough to make every game a little different.

There are five rounds in the game: each round starts by revealing a Round Card. In the first part of the round, called “Scheming”, players will play cards to program the actions of the bandits. In the second part, called “Stealing”, Actions card are revealed and performed.

Colt Express is a programming game where you need to carefully think what to do in the Round according to your cards, evaluating other players’ actions, making hard decisions. It is not a memory game but you need to remember (or at least picture) what other players are doing and where their characters are probably moving card after card.

The 3D map is actually a row of boxes with two different spaces each box: interior and roof. Characters will move from car to car or from interior to roof and vice-versa. On the roof, characters can quickly move reaching the roof of distant cars. The Round card will show how many cards players will use in this round and any special situations occurring during the round and/or at the end of the round. A typical round card can, for example, say that players will have 5 actions in this round and the third one will be in a tunnel.

coltexp2Starting from the first player and going clockwise everyone will play one face-up card showing what the character is doing (move, floor change, marshal, robbery, fire or punch) for all the actions of the round. In the above example where a round card declares 5 actions in the round, during the Scheming phase, in a 4 player game, there will be a deck of 20 action cards. In the Stealing phase, those Action cards are revealed and executed starting from the bottom up to the top. So, you know, for example, that Tuco in the 3rd round has played a move card but where actually Tuco will move will be decided by in the Stealing phase when Tuco’s Action card will be revealed. Some actions like Punch and Marshal can really mess up characters’ programs.

Every player will start a round with only 6 random cards from the 10 available (2 for each action) so is not always easy to decide what you really want to do. During your turn, you can decide not to play a card to draw two more from your deck. We need now to go in the details of the actions.

As already explained, move will let you move your character from one car (including the Locomotive) to an adjacent one in the interior or from one car’s roof to any other car’s roof up to 3 in distance. You can’t enter the car interior with the Marshal. With “Floor change”, you move from the interior to the roof or from the roof to the interior. With Marshal, you will move the Marshal in an adjacent car (the Marshal never moves on the roof). Robbery will let you take one loot of your choice from the car in which you are located: if you are in the interior you can take only loot in the interior and if you are on the roof you can take only loot on the roof.

With Fire, you can choose a bandit in one adjacent car (in the interior) or one in line of fire in the roof and give him one of your bullet cards. The bullet cards will add to a player’s action deck and are useless. That means that if you are fired on, in the following rounds, it could happen you get one or more bullet cards in the 6 drawn in the beginning of the round clogging up your hand, leaving you with lesser choices. This is a nice way to simulate injuries (something we already saw in Mage Knight, you may remember). You can Punch a character in the same space, actually making him drop one Loot token and moving his character in an adjacent car. Every time a character and the Marshal are in the same car and floor, the Marshal will fire (giving the player a neutral bullet card) and the character will move on the roof of the car.

Colt Express is fast and furious and there are always surprises and twists because there is a lot of interaction with players going to rob the same loot, punching and firing at each other or moving the Marshal to upset other players’ plans. To make the fight more spicy, sometimes the train will pass through tunnels. This means players will play their corresponding action cards face down: what are Belle and Tuco doing in this moment? No one knows! Round cards will also show a special action triggered in the end of the round: something like “the train is braking” and all the characters will move one car ahead or “passenger rebellion” and all the characters in an interior will take a neutral bullet card.

At the end of the last round, the player with the highest loot value will win. There is a $1000 award for the best shooter/shooters (the player has given away the highest number of bullet cards). Using all of your 6 bullet cards is a big step in the direction of victory. Also the Strongbox, valued $1000, is an important objective to conquer but sometimes you can win just with diamonds and bags.

I suggest using the advanced rules after the first game. These rules give every character a different ability: Ghost will always play the first action card in the round face-down, Tuco can shoot from roof to interior and vice-versa and so on. You can also preserve unused action cards for the next round (refilling always to 6).

Christophe Raimbault is relatively new to game design but this game, so far, is clearly his best. I really love Colt Express. It is easy to learn, quick to play with a lot of interaction with the possibility to program and to interferer with other players’ decisions. The materials and graphics are great and the theme engaging. A game will last for less than an hour and you can easily play two in a row without getting bored. I think it really deserves its SDJ nomination and it is the horse I’ll bet on. It is a kind of game that can equally entertain gamers and occasional players of all ages.


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