Colt Express (Boardgame, PC, iOS, Android)


In Colt Express, players are old west bandits hopping about on a train trying to gain loot, avoid the marshal, and maybe shoot each other up a bit in the process. Winner of the 2015 German “Game of the Year”, Colt Express is a fun, lightweight family game. One of its selling points is the elaborate 3 dimensional train that serves as the game’s playing “board.” The game has also been masterfully translated into digital form. With the “cool factor” of the 3D board replaced with artwork and animations that help the game’s theme shine through.



Colt Express (Boardgame, PC, iOS, Android)
Players: 2 – 6
Ages: 10 and Up
Time: 30-40 Minutes
Players each start Colt Express with equivalent decks of 10 cards and an ability that is unique to their bandit. The goal of the game is to collect the most “loot” on the train over the course of five rounds. Each round is broken down into playing cards into a stack (Schemin’) and then resolving all the cards in the stack (Stealin’.) The style of each round is determined from another stack of cards (the round deck) which determines how that round is played. The round deck primarily decides how many cards each player plays that round (before the Stealin’ phase) but can also affect game play by having players play cards face-down, play multiple cards at a time, or the round card may have special effects that trigger during the resolution phase (like everyone on top of the train will move backwards at the end of the round.) Players take turns playing cards to the central stack, but can skip their turn in order to draw new cards into their hands.



Once all players have finished putting cards on the Schemin’ stack, the resolution phase begins. The central stack is flipped over and the actions occur in the order they were played. Thus, if a player skipped a turn to draw, they will take one less action this round. The options for play include:

  • Floor Change: Move from the interior of the train to the Roof or vice versa.
  • Move: Move your Bandit one car (if he is inside the train) or up to 3 cars (if he is on the Roof).
  • Fire: Shoot bandits in view, giving them a bullet card which will slowly fill up their action deck, since bullets don’t do anything if you draw them.
  • Marshal: Move the Marshal, who damages (gives a bullet to) any bandits he meets and chases them up to the roof.
  • Robbery: Pick up some loot.
  • Punch: Punch a nearby bandit, moving them away and causing them to drop some of their loot.

While players have essentially decided on what moves they will make when they play cards in the Schemin’ phase, there are still important decisions that will arise during the Stealin’ phase. When your orders are revealed, you still get to choose what direction you (or the marshal) will move, who you will shoot, and which loot will you pick up. Note, that you do have to make the move you played (moving, shooting, etc..), even if you no longer want to do so.

The rules of the game are simple, and it moves along at a good clip so a game of five rounds only takes a half hour or so, making a very family-friendly game. The cute 3D train with the little bandit people running around inside is a great way to attract and keep players’ focus. Even though there is almost no reading required (everything is clearly explained through common symbols) the planning required of playing cards first (“programming” your move), then performing your actions later will limit the game to ages that can pull off a bit of tactical thought. There is a bit of randomness found in drawing cards, but the ability to skip a play in order to draw more helps to alleviate any bad luck. That said, the many possible ways players can interact on the board keeps the game interesting. Players can try to “gang up” on a player, but there is room for variability in the cards and actions so that it isn’t always simply a beat-down on the leader.



Electronic Version (PC, iOS, Android):
My initial worry about an electronic version of the game was the loss of the great 3D Train “gimmick.” Without the cute train and little wooden figures, the game could easily lose its charm and seem far too simplistic (or perhaps even too random.) However the developers managed to preserve that “fun” factor of the pieces through highly animated and entertaining graphics within the game. As one might expect, playing a game with the app speeds everything up considerably, which magnifies both the game’s strengths and faults. For example, the boardgame relies on its theme to help provide a fun experience. Gamers who play the electronic version can play games over and over frequently and lose that thematic feel. Playing an impersonal computer can also exacerbate any randomness involved as failing to get a key card at the right moment might shift things just enough to cost the game. I find this much more noticeable in an electronic version since I am less connected with the theme and my opponents in an electronic version.

To make up for some of the loss of this in-person gameplay, the app provides a great little “campaign mode.” Each character has a series of challenges that can be played in order to unlock a series of comic strips giving a bit more background to the bandits. This provides quite a bit of fun as the challenges require things like picking up all the loot bags or ending the game in a specific location, etc… After each challenge is cleared, another little comic vignette is played. Since each character has their own series of challenges, there are quite a few non-standard experiences to be had. I love how the reward (a new bit of story) just builds on the backstory of that specific bandit. It provides a new way to identify with the bandits and thus a new way to draw players into the theme of the game. It does a great job of replacing the otherwise fun experience of playing with the fancy boardgame bits.


Final Thoughts:
Whether using the nifty 3D train game board or the animated cartoony app, Colt Express provides a short, fun little game that doesn’t take itself too seriously. A dash of randomness (in the round cards and player draws) keeps things interesting without making things into a simple game of chance, while the different player powers and round events will make sure no two games are exactly the same. It isn’t a longer, more strategic game but works great as a shorter, lighter one. A great depth and length for a family game.


Kid Factor:
As mentioned, there is little to no reading involved so the primary age-limitation will lie in one’s ability to successfully “program” one’s moves during the Schemin’ phase so that the Stealin’ phase is productive. There isn’t a game-required limitation on what cards to play when, so the game is playable even with younger kids. They probably won’t win, but there should still be plenty of opportunity to “mess with” the other players during the game, giving a feeling of accomplishment. As for any age-related content, these are bandits robbing a train and shooting bullets but it is all in fun with cute little pieces and nobody dies. Perhaps getting caught by the marshal will inspire the younglings to toe the straight and narrow line.

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