Down There By the Train--A Double-Take Review of Colt Express

Last week we reviewed Broom Service, which won the Kennerspiel des Jahres last year. So today we thought we'd stick with that theme and review the 2015 Spiel des Jahres winner: Colt Express. It's a hand-management and card-programming game with some serious take-that aspects--designed by Christophe Raimbault and published by Ludonaute/Asmodee. It's for 2-6 players, and plays in 45-60 minutes. So is Colt Express a rip-snortin' good time, or a steaming pile of mule fritters? Let's find out!


The Components

A train!! The first time you play you'll construct a cardboard train that links together. Along with some cardboard standee rocks and cacti, it's super evocative. The downside is that you're constantly taking small things off the train or putting small things onto the train, and adult fingers aren't good at that. Even the kids have trouble with this. Still...a train!!

Plus you'll have a deck of Action and Bullet cards for each character, and Round cards. 


The Setup

Each player chooses a character and takes the associated Action and Bullet cards. Set the engine out, and then as many cars as there are players. Note that each car of the train has space on the inside, and also a roof space. Then seed the inside of the cars with Loot (either jewels, which are worth $500, or sacks of cash, which are worth between $250 and $500). Finally, place the Marshall and a briefcase (worth $500) in the engine car. Take the Round cards for the correct number of players, shuffle them up, and draw four of them facedown. Then draw a random Train Stop card and put it at the bottom of that stack. Randomly pick a start player.


The Gameplay

The start player flips over the first Round card. These do two things: 1) Tell you the event for the round, and 2), tell you how many cards you'll be playing, and the way they'll be played. Events include one that knocks everyone on the roof to the roof of the caboose, or everyone inside the train at the end of the turn takes a damage, or everyone on the roof of the car the Marshall is in takes a damage. These all trigger at the very end of the round, so you can prepare for it. You'll play cards faceup or facedown, depending on what the Round card tells you. So, for example, if you look at the card in the upper left in the picture, everyone plays the first card faceup. The second is played facedown (thematically, you're in a tunnel). Then you play two faceup cards in a row that will trigger one after the other. And finally one card faceup. So every Round plays differently, depending on those cards that come out. 




Everyone has an identical deck of Action cards, and they draw six cards each turn. 

  • The Move cards either let you move forward or backward between cars, or up to the roof or down inside the car you're currently in.
  • The Marshall card lets you move the Marshall one train car forward or backward. He's always inside the train, and if he moves into a car with a Bandit, or a Bandit moves to a car he's in, he shoots that Bandit and they immediately move to the roof of the car. 
  • The Robbery card lets you grab any Loot in the same car and on the same level as your Bandit. If there's nothing there, tough noogies. 
  • The Punch card lets you punch another Bandit in the same car and level as your Bandit. The Bandit drops a random piece of Loot and moves one car forward or backward. That's a heckuva punch. 
  • The Fire card lets you shoot a Bandit in another car on the same level as your Bandit. That Bandit doesn't drop Loot, but you give him one of your Bullet cards. Now, whenever that Bandit draws new cards, he might draw that Bullet, so it can clog up hands and limit Actions. 

Each player plays down a card to a single stack, according to the Round card (faceup, facedown, etc.). When everyone is done, the start player picks up the deck, flips it over (so you're activating cards in the order they were played), and then starts running through the deck. 

Thanks to the unpredictability of other players, you might find yourself with no one to Shoot or Punch, or no Loot to snag. Move along. However, if you play a Move card, you have to move. Even if that means you have to move down into a car now occupied by the Marshall. Kapow!

The game ends after the fifth round. Everyone adds up their Loot, and then you award a bonus $1000 to the Bandit who fired the most Bullet cards (of their six). If there's a tie on that, everyone gets the bonus. The winner is the hornswaggling sidewinder with the most money!



Here are the special player powers:

Tuco--He can Shoot someone in the same car, or on a different level of the same car. 

Ghost--He can play the first card facedown, regardless of what the Round card says. 

Belle--Other Bandits can't target her with a Punch or Shoot if there's another eligible Bandit who could be targeted. 

Cheyenne--When she Punches a Bandit, she gets to keep the Loot, rather than it dropping to the floor of the car. 

Doc--He gets to draw seven Action cards each round, rather than six. 

Django--When he Shoots a Bandit, that Bandit moves one car forward or backward--like a Punch, but they don't drop Loot. 


The Verdict

Firestone--Colt Express is a solid game. It's kind of a programmable game, but I'm not sure you can call it that since so much of the info is public. But I think it's replaced Robo Rally for me, if only because Colt Express plays in a fraction of the time of Robo Rally.

Jeremiah--Yeah, it's definitely a programming game, but there's a good amount of staring down your competition, since you can usually see what they're playing--and they can see what you're playing! The play time is great, and super appropriate for the type of game this is. It never overstays its welcome!

Firestone--I love the Round cards. The Events on them are fun and add new twists each game. And then the way cards are laid out each Round give you new twists, too. You have to take into account if you're playing a card faceup or facedown--and what you want opponents to know. You have to think about turn order. And, of course, it can all get crewed up because of the chaos. But that's part of the fun!

Jeremiah--Those Round cards are where it gets a little deeper than a straight up programming game for me. You may want to make a certain move right away, but you don't want to give it away, or vice versa. You're playing the cards, the rounds, and your opponents--so much meta!

Firestone--Colt Express can be frustrating. Since everything you can do comes from drawing cards, there's a fair amount of luck. You could be all alone in a car FULL of Loot, but if you don't have a Robbery card, tough luck. You can spend a turn getting more cards, but then you're behind others on Actions, and you still might not get the card you need. (This has happened to me.)

It's also got plenty of take-that elements, as you're punching and shooting your opponents, and stealing their Loot. Your plans will get messed up. Normally I'm not a fan of take-that, but this is light and thematic enough that's it's okay. 

Jeremiah--It's totally light enough that the take-that element doesn't bother me. Sure you can get tanked because you don't have the right cards, but I feel that it's something that everyone has to deal with. Luck plays a factor but it's never gotten to the point of frustration with me. Of course, it probably helps that I've never lost a game...

Firestone--Ultimately, Colt Express is fun. Not just I'm-having-fun-because-I'm-playing-a-game fun, but fun because your plans are getting messed up, and you're swiping Loot, and people are just laughing and having a good time. I wouldn't go so far as to call this a "party game," but it's definitely a game you could bring out as a gateway game. It deserved to win the Spiel des Jahres. 

Jeremiah--It's fun and let's not forget that the components are sweet! The train cars alone are worth playing the game once, then you'll know how fun it is. I agree it's not a party game, but it's light and approachable for sure.

Firestone's Final Verdict--Colt Express isn't a game we bring out with the game group. But I play this often with family, nongamer friends, and anyone else who's okay with chaotic, random fun. It's light, thematic, and absolutely stunning set up on the table. Saddle up!

Jeremiah's Final Verdict--My gamer group enjoys Colt Express, and so has every other game night/event/gathering I've brought it out with! It's a favorite of mine, for sure!

And tune in Monday when we'll review the new Colt Express app! Thanks for reading!