(2014 – Asmodee, Ludonaute)
“If you walk away, I’ll walk away….but first tell me which road you will take….”
Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight opens with a band of thieves and their attempt to break into a highly secure bank vault in Gotham City, disguising themselves with clown masks. As the plan unfolds you begin to realize that loyalties run cheap, as members begin to kill off their compatriots in the hopes of granting themselves a higher split of the score. You may be asking yourself, what in the world does this have to do with Colt Express? Well, imagine that they all had cowboy hats.
In Colt Express, (designed by Chistophe Raimbault) players take the roles of infamous, fictional outlaws as they collectively attempt to rob the upscale Colt Express, in particular the lawman on board, Marshal Ford. Each player has a number of action cards tied to their set outlaw, and they’ll play these cards to take such actions as moving, punching, shooting, and climbing. Colt Express uses a programming mechanic similar to that seen in RoboRally, where once all of the players have played their action cards, they collectively resolve one after another in the order in which they were played. Therefore, it is most likely that plans will get derailed (puns!) and hilarity will ensue as outlaws punch, steal, and shoot their way to becoming the richest varmint in the West.
– 3D Colt Express train cars & scenery pieces (used as the game board and play area)
– Round cards (2-4 player & 5-6 player sets)
– Train Station cards
– Character cards
– Actions cards (1 set per character)
– Bullet cards (1 set per character)
– Marshal Bullet cards
– Outlaw & Marshall tokens
– Loot tokens
At the beginning of the game, the locomotive train piece and a number of train car pieces equal to the number of players in the game are placed together in the central play area
. Players will move their outlaws throughout the areas of this 3D train during the game. Marshal Ford is placed in the locomotive with a briefcase token
. Each of the remaining cars list icons referencing which tokens are placed on them at the beginning of the game, whether they be purses of cash or jewels (seen below).
As seen below from left to right, there is a set 7 Round cards used for a 2-4 player game, a set of 7 Round cards used for a 5-6 player game, and a set of 3 Train Station cards used for all games
. Depending on how many players are in the game, take the corresponding set of Round cards and randomly select 4, then shuffle them together. Finally, choose one of the Train Station cards at random and place this card face down on the table. The 4 Round cards will go face-down on top of this Train Station card to create the Round Deck.
Players will then choose one of the six available Characters in the game and will receive a Character card, a set of Action cards for that Character, and the Character’s token. He also receives a set of Bullet cards that matches his Character’s color, which he will place in order showing the fully loaded 6 bullet card on the top. As the Character shoots other players, he will discard these cards to show how many bullets he has left. Finally the player receives a $250 purse token which is placed face-down on his Character card.
Players will determine turn order how they see fit. 1st and 3rd players will place their Character tokens on the caboose train car, while the 2nd and 4th players will place their Character tokens on the train car to its left.
Finally, all other components are placed near the central play area. The game also comes with scenery tokens that can be placed around the play area to help to enhance the western theme of the game. They really serve no other purpose though. After setup the play area should look something like this:
A game of Colt Express will consist of 5 Rounds. The number of turns taken each Round will be dependent on what is listed on the Round card for that Round. If you remember during setup, four Round cards were randomly selected from the seven available, and placed with one of the Train Station cards to make a Round card draw deck. At the beginning of each Round, the top card of this deck is drawn and it will reference the number of turns taken during the Round and any special rules used during a particular turn. It may also list any events that occur at the end of the Round.
For instance, taking a look at the Round card above we can see that this Round will consist of 5 turns (as referenced by the 5 boxes at the top portion of the card). You can see that the 3rd Round contains a special icon (the tunnel), which means that all cards played during this turn are played face-down. Normally during each turn, the actions cards are played face-up.
There is also an event listed at the end of the last Round. This particular event is called “passenger rebellion”, and means that at the end of the last turn, any Character that inside any of the train cars (as opposed to being on the roof of the train) will add a neutral bullet to their personal deck.
There are two phases to each Round. The Schemin’ Phase will have players play actions cards from their hand one after another, in order to create a line of actions. This is the programming element of the game. Once all players have taken their turns (the number of turns for each player is listed on the Round card), The Stealin’ Phase will begin, in which the played action cards will resolve in the order they were played. At the beginning of each Round, players will draw 6 cards from their deck, into their hand.
1.) Schemin’ Phase – On a player’s turn they can either play an action card from their hand and face-up into the central play area, or they can draw 3 new cards from their draw pile. During this phase, players will attempt to plan out the actions of their Character that will be resolved in the following phase. As these actions cards are played, they are laid out in a single line in the central play area. All player’s cards are played in this one line, therefore all player’s actions will resolve one after another as the 2nd phase plays out.
Usually these cards are played face-up so that players can see how previously played actions from opposing players may effect their next played action, however sometimes players will be allowed to play these actions face-down (for example, with special Character abilities or during a turn with a Tunnel). Let’s take a look at the different types of actions available to the players:
When a player takes a move action, he must move from one car to the next, either right or left
. If he is on the roof of the cars however, he can move as many spaces as he wishes along the top of the roof.
Move the Marshal
When a player takes this action, he must move the Marshal from one car to the next, either right or left
. Characters can not stay in the same space as the Marshal, therefore if A Character is moved into a space with the Marshal or vice versa, the Character is also forced to move to the roof space above the Marshal. The player controlling the moved Character is also required to add a neutral Bullet card to his discard pile, which will later clog up his draw deck.
When a player takes a climb action, he must either climb from the car to the roof space above it, or from the roof space to the car below it
. You’ll see with the next few action why it may be advantageous (or dangerous) to be on the roof during the game.
When a player takes a Loot action, he can take one loot token from the space his Character is currently on (if available) and add it to his Character card, face-down
. Before choosing, players are not allowed to look at the bottom of loot tokens. Once they have selected a token, they may look at it, but must keep its value a secret. Loot tokens can range between $250 – $500 for purses, $500 for Jewels, and $1000 for the Marshal’s briefcase.
When more than one Character is on the same car and space, the player can take a Punch action to hit the opposing Character
. The Character taking the punch will lose one loot token from his Character card. The punching Character will choose which loot token to take off of the opponent’s card (but can not look at the value), and places it on the current space of the two Characters. This loot is now available to be picked up by anyone on the same space, with a Loot action. The player will then move the opponent’s Character one space, either right or left to an adjacent car.
When a player takes a Shoot action, he can fire upon a Character in an adjacent car space while on the lower level (can not shoot a Character in the same car space), or can shoot any Character in his line of sight while on the roof
. Line of sight is defined as a direct line from one Character to another Character without any other Characters in between.
When shooting another Character, the player will remove one of his personal Bullet cards and place it on the opposing Character’s draw deck
. All players begin the game with 6 bullets. Each time the player takes a Shoot action, he will use one of his bullets by placing the Bullet card on the other player’s draw pile. This means that when the player has exhausted his Bullet cards, he can no longer resolve a Shoot action. As with the neutral Bullets received from the Marshal, Bullets received from other players will clog a Character’s draw deck, possibly leaving him less actions to use during a Round.
2.) Stealin’ Phase – Let’s take a look at an example of how a couple turns will resolve after all actions cards have been played during the 1st phase. Using the previous Round card, we know that the first in the first two turns, players will have to play their cards face-up on the table.
The picture above references the cards that have been played. You’ll notice that Ghost’s (white player) first card was played face-down. If you remember, this is his special ability when playing his first action card each Round.
Doc is the first player, and the first card he played was to rob his current car. The player controlling Doc simply takes one of the loot items from the car he is in. In this case, Doc has a choice between a Jewel or a Purse. Because he is in the same car as Cheyenne, he is worried that if he takes a Purse, she will have taken a punch action and will automatically get to steal it (per her ability).
She’s probably less likely to make him lose a Jewel when punching because it will simply fall to the floor (Cheyenne’s ability only allows her to immediately steal Purses when punching). Plus, Purse’s range from $250 to $500, whereas all Jewels are worth $500. So it makes sense for Doc to take a Jewel in this case, and so he does, placing it on his player card with the Purse he began the game with.
Ghost is next. Ghost’s ability was that he plays his first action card face down every Round. This means that only he will know the first action he is taking, and will be the only person that has full knowledge of everyone’s actions unless other players have the opportunity to play cards face down during a Round (per something like a tunnel effect on the Round card).
Therefore, it is best to usually take account of what actions Ghost is taking during future turns, since he may be the only with knowledge of how things will resolve. When flipping over the face-down action card, we can see that Ghost has decided to take a Move action. He decides to move to the adjacent train car to his right.
Next, we can see that Cheyenne has taken a punch action (which Doc had guessed correctly). The only bandit she can punch is Doc, since a punch must be to a player in the same car location. When punching Doc, he will lose one of his Loot tokens. Cheyenne gets to choose between the Purse token and the Jewel token. If she chooses the Jewel token, it is dropped on the floor per the normal punch action rules. If however she chooses the Purse, her ability allows her to immediately steal the purse as her own. She chooses this option and places the Purse token on her character card.
It is now Tuco’s turn. When playing his card during phase 1, Tuco had no knowledge of what action card Ghost played, so he had to be careful when deciding what to do. If he thinks Ghost might have punched him, he could take a Rob action to get the token back he would have been forced to drop. But since he’s not entirely sure what Ghost did, he decides to move instead. When moving he can go either right or left. In this case he decides to move to the adjacent train car to his left, which currently houses Doc and Cheyenne.
The first turn has been completed and it is now Doc’s turn again. The Round card shows that there are no special rules for cards played during this Round, so all cards will be played face-up as normal.
Doc’s next action card shows that he will take a climb action. Since Doc is currently in one of the train cars, he will move to the roof of the car above.
Ghost, now in a car all to himself and far enough away from the other bandits where he won’t have to worry about being shot at, resolves his 2nd action. We can already see that being able to play his 1st action card face-down has been beneficial to himself in that he was able to distance himself from the other bandits without them knowing what he had planned. Knowing that he would be in a car all to himself and protected, he decides to take a rob action, allowing him to take one of the Loot tokens on the space and place it on his character card.
It is now time to resolve Cheyenne’s 2nd action. For this Round, Cheyenne had played a shoot action, allowing her to shoot any character in an adjacent car. However, both Tuco and Ghost have moved from the adjacent train car, and Cheyenne can not shoot anyone in the same car as her, or anyone above or below her. Therefore, her shot misses and nothing happens for this action. You’ll find that this can tend to happen when resolving actions during the 2nd phase.
We now stay in the caboose of the train, where Cheyenne and Tuco are located within the car itself and Doc is now on the roof. Seeing that Doc had played a climb action on his previous turn, Tuco decided to follow with a shoot action. It seems that Doc forgot about Tuco’s special ability of being able to shoot above and below his current location, instead of being limited to only shooting left or right.
Since Tuco successfully hits Doc, he will discard the top bullet card from his bullet deck and give it to Doc to put with his draw action deck. When Doc draws this card into his hand later in the game, it will be a wasted card that he can not use to do anything with.
After the 2nd turn has been completed, play moves to the 3rd Round. According to the Round card, we can see that cards played during this turn in phase 1 had to be played face-down (the tunnel icon). Now things can get a bit out of hand and zany, as no one knows any of the actions that the other players are taking.
After five Rounds have been completed, the game is over. The player who has the least amount of bullets left in his gun (player who successfully shot the most) will receive the “Gunslinger” award, which counts as $1000. Players will add this (if applicable) plus the values of any loot they were able to obtain during the game. The bandit with the highest total is declared the winner.
Colt Express includes one of the most unique “game boards” I’ve seen in quite some time. While it may take a good half hour to assemble, playing on a 3D train reminds me of playing Cowboys and Indians with my train set and action figures when I was a kid. The designers could have easily made a 2D board depicting a roof area and car area, but it’s something about the 3D train that sucks me right into my childhood. On top of that, the inclusion of the small set pieces (cactuses, Monument Valley rocks, etc) only adds to the western flavor of the game. Totally unnecessary, but totally worth it.
Even though Colt Express involves a programming mechanic, the game is quite light in its approach to strategy and can be viewed more as a fun party-style game than one that requires much experience to master. In the 1st phase of each Round, player will attempt to organize their best laid plans. Of course these seem to always go awry, without fail once these actions are resolved in order during the 2nd phase. Even if you know the type of action an opponent will take by looking at their played action card, there’s no way to really know how they plan to resolve it. Of course, playing these action cards face down stirs the pot even more. By the end of the Round, Characters are using punch actions when there’s no one else in their car, looting a car with no loot, and shooting whoever they can. This can be frustrating for those that are looking for Colt Express to have serious strategy, but this element of the game is really why it shines.
Thematically, the amount of goofy chaos amongst the backstabbing, disloyal gang of outlaws is both charming and hilarious. Nothing is better than watching someone climb from the roof to a car space, using your Move Marshal action to move the marshal into that car, forcing them to move back up to the roof they just came from, all while adding a Bullet to their draw deck. Expect to laugh, expect for plans to unravel, expect to get punched, shot, and stolen from. Since the game basically requires players to merely play cards from their hand each turn, the game is quite simple to learn. And once new players see how the programming mechanic resolves after the first Round, it should be easier to grasp and understood. Colt Express walks the fine line between party game and light strategy, and one that is a nice change of pace for a game night filled with heavier titles.