In the interest of full disclosure, I have no previous experience with the board game that Colt Express is adapted from. Everything written here is from the perspective of a completely new player. I went in blind, but I came out a fan.
As great board games tend to do, Colt Express turns a simple premise into a surprisingly complex affair that’s a blend of strategy and luck. Players take on the role of bandits trying to rob a moving train, and it’s far from an orderly affair. Each game features a series of rounds, and each round has two components with names that fit the setting well: schemin’ and stealin’. Players start by selecting action cards that range from snagging bags of gold to shooting your fellow outlaws. You won’t just select a single card, though — you’ll have to choose three or more cards ahead of time, depending on the rules for the round.
That’s where it starts to get hairy. You’re able to see your opponents’ cards, but it only does so much good when you’re trying to plan out multiple actions around up to six other players. You’re tasked not only with figuring out the cards that work best for you, but also the ones most likely to keep you safe from everything that’s about to unfold. Given that, there’s a good amount of strategy, but it’s impossible to plan around so many actions, and that’s what makes the stealin’ phase so much fun.
Actions occur in the same order they were played, so the first card down tends to set the tone for the entire round. That role rotates each round, though, so you’ll eventually have a chance to play first. The first few actions lean toward mild, but it’s pure chaos near the end of each round, and I never felt safe in my choices. That’s one of Colt Express’s biggest strengths — you just can’t predict how everything will play out, and that’s reinforced by round modifiers that hide played cards, punish you for being on top of the train, and overall make your life more difficult. Although I felt this was a strength of the game, I can understand how some players might be put off by the large element of luck, as it will occasionally make you feel like your choices don’t matter.
At this point, you’re probably wondering why I haven’t explained how to actually win the game. That’s because there are two modes: classic and story. In classic, whoever bags the most stolen goods is crowned the winner. Story mode, on the other hand, requires you to complete certain objectives — like moving to the front of the train with a suitcase of gold — and it’s a substantially different experience. It doesn’t feel tacked on, either, as you have access to 30 story missions played through the perspective of six different characters. It plays much more like a puzzle in that there’s an ideal card selection for each scenario, which creates a noticeable contrast from the classic gameplay.
I’m sure some of you will want to jump straight into multiplayer, but you’ll miss out on additional game modes that are only available through the single player campaign. Plus, each mission you complete opens up comic book pages that tell the story of the six characters. They’re short, but well done, and fit in nicely with the high production values of the rest of the game. Overall, Asmodee did a great job creating a compelling single player experience that meshes nicely with the quick-play modes.
And speaking of quick-play, you have plenty of options for customising the experience. You can play online or against AI opponents, with as few as three players or as many as six, and with one of six variants enabled that alter the gameplay. The matches I played against AI opponents did feel a little on the easy side, but not so much so that it dulled my enjoyment. The matches against real players work fine, but there’s a tiny player base that can make it difficult to find games.
Colt Express is a board game that will keep you on your toes. It rewards and punishes planning, and the unpredictable results will often make you smile. There’s a lot of meat here that’s sure to satisfy board game addicts, but don’t turn away if you’re not one of them. Colt Express never really feels like a board game, and combined with rules that won’t take long to pick up, it’s a game that anyone can enjoy.
Colt Express (Reviewed on iOS)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
Colt Express is a ton of fun, and it doesn't really feel like a board game. Some players might not like the reliance on luck, but that chaos is what makes it so enjoyable.