Well this is odd – my second board game review and once again it revolves around trains! Although in this case it’s just single Pacific Express locomotive, represented as an eye-catching 3D model, and the focus is on a group of outlaws looking to relieve the passengers of their valuables. But this group aren’t ones for sharing, meaning up to six players will be competing to end this train robbery as the richest bandit through shooting, brawling and robbing their way to victory. As you’d expect it’s a recipe for mayhem.
Despite the chaotic theme the actual rules for Colt Express are fairly simple. Across five rounds take turns to place a number of action cards during a schemin’ phase, before all the action kicks off during the stealin’ phase. This use of a programming mechanic for a board game is a new one for me, but it works very well. In theory you’re able to carefully prepare your sequence of cards for each turn, but in practice all your carefully laid plans can go flying out the window. Sometimes literally as the bandit you were planning to shoot has climbed out onto the roof of the carriage, while another snatches the loot you were about to grab for yourself. As you might have guessed Colt Express isn’t a game to take itself too seriously. Even getting shot isn’t too serious a problem as players can’t actually be killed – being shot is just a minor inconvenience as it clogs up your card deck with a bullet card and potentially dilutes the actions you can take each round.
The family-friendly vibe is further enhanced by the cartoony artwork on all the playing cards and artwork that really gives Colt Express a distinctive style. It’s just a shame that the wooden playing pieces don’t share the same look as they’re all identically modeled and only differentiated by colour – which could be a major problem for colour-blind gamers. And while I’m nit-picking I should also mention it’s sometimes a bit fiddly moving these characters within the train carriages and picking up the various loot tokens. Although at only about 30-40 minutes per game it’s unlikely to become a major irritation, especially given the madcap fun and glee that comes about from running around on rooftops shooting at your friends or stealing their ill-gotten gains.
Of course, that 3D train itself is one of the biggest plus points of the game and instantly draws the attention of gamers of any age. Taking the place of a standard board, the locomotive and up to six carriages (to match the number of players) is a fantastic way to shake up the usual tabletop approach. Assembled from punch-out cardboard they’re of good quality and I was able to (carefully) put them together without damaging anything although it’s worth noting it took me about 20 minutes so you might want to plan ahead of your first game. As a nice touch various pieces of scenery such as cacti and rocky outcrops are included – these serve no purpose but you can dot them around your tabletop as you play to further immerse yourself in the Wild West.
As previously mentioned there are five rounds with which to rob as many valuables as you can, with a bonus for being the player who fires the most bullets or stealing the strongbox guarded by the marshal in the locomotive. Each round players draw their hand from their own deck and take turns putting down action cards ranging from moving to the next carriages, climbing up to (or down from) the roof, grabbing valuables, punching someone in the same carriage, shooting someone in an adjacent carriage or moving the marshal. The marshal is a great way to disrupt the plans of other players as once he enters a carriage all players immediately move to the roof to escape him (and take a bulletin the backside, just to make things worse). The instructions actually encourage you to initially play with just these basic rules to start with, before introducing advanced rules such as events and special abilities once you’re more comfortable.
None of this is too complex, although for younger players you might want to keep just the basic rules. (Although considering some of the small pieces I’d advise against very young children playing anyway). It does mean that Colt Express does cater for all gamer though – there are even further ‘expert’ rules that can be introduced to make the game more strategic. On top of that there are different round cards depending on whether there are 2-4 players or 5-6 players. I’d definitely recommended as many players as possible, although there’s a further set of rules allowing players to control two bandits each if there aren’t many of you which is another nice touch.
Of course the key factor with Colt Express is what a joyful experience it is. Playing out like an action scene from a particularly zany western there’s plenty of shouting and chaos. Admittedly there’s not a great deal of strategic depth, and while my group of amateur players were enthused with the experience I imagine serious gamers might ultimately find it a bit basic. But no matter your level of skill I doubt anyone would be able to deny it’s great, chaotic fun in small(ish) doses.
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