Colt Express (Ludonaute, 2014)

Date played: May 25, 2020 (reasons it took us a month to post this remain unclear)

Basic details: 2-6 players; 40 minutes

Expansions played: Horses & Stagecoach (2015)

Gist of the game: A group of bandits tries to rob the Nice Valley Coal Company’s payroll, guarded by a marshal, in transit via the Union Pacific Express, but only 1 bandit will succeed in becoming the richest.

Each player chooses a character, which comes with a character card, 10 action cards, and 6 bullet cards, as well as a $250 sack of money. The value of this sack of money remains hidden from your opponent, because as you rob more and maybe have to forfeit riches, the total value of your holdings will change.

Each train car has prescribed loot, and the marshal and a strongbox are situated in the locomotive.

Four round cards (as in, period in which all players take a turn, not the shape) are drawn at random, as is 1 train station card, which is placed at the bottom of the stack, so that there are 5 rounds total. Each round card specifies the number of turns that will be taken that round and how cards should be played on each turn (face up, face down, simultaneously, etc.).

The first player begins the game with the round cards in front of them. Players are numbered according to their order. Odd players place their bandit meeple in caboose. Even players place their bandit in the next-to-last car.

Each turn in a round has 2 phases: schemin’ and stealin’. At the beginning of a round, players shuffle their deck and draw a hand of 6 cards. The first player draws the top round card and places it where everyone can see.

In the schemin’ phase, each player must either play an action card onto a common deck or draw 3 additional action cards from their deck into their hand. In the stealin’ phase, the first player takes the common deck of action cards and flips it over, revealing the cards one by one in the order they were played in order to perform the bandits’ actions. Actions include moving in between train cars, moving to the roof or floor of a train car, firing a gun, throwing a punch, picking up treasure, and moving the marshal.

To end the round, each player shuffles their 10 action cards and any bullet cards they’ve been hit with (either from another bandit or from being in the same car as the marshal) back into the deck. The next player becomes the first player and receives the remaining round cards.

The game ends after 5 rounds. Each player adds up the value of their loot. The player who shot the most bullets (has the fewest bullet cards left) is named Gunslinger and receives $1000 for the honor. The richest player wins.

In a 2-player game, the train is assembled with 4 cars (instead of 1 per player) and each player chooses 2 characters. One bandit is placed in each of the last 2 cars. Bandits retain their bullet cards and $250 loot token, but action cards are combined into a single deck of 11 cards (duplicate cards for each bandit are removed, as is one move-the-marshal card). Two-player games are also played using the expert variant. At the end of the schemin’ phase, players keep cards in their hand that they want for the next round, discarding all bullet cards and cards they’re not interested in playing the next round. During the stealin’ phase, the performed action is placed on the discard pile (instead of back into the deck) while bullet cards players receive are placed on the top of the draw deck. At the beginning of each round, players draw their hand up to 6 cards. Each time the draw deck is depleted, the discard pile is shuffled to form a new deck.

Bullet cards basically limit the options available to a player during the schemin’ phase by taking up space usually reserved for action cards.

In the Horses & Stagecoach expansion, the stagecoach is placed to the right of the locomotive during setup, with a strongbox and a meeple holding a shotgun placed on top of the stagecoach. A flask of whiskey is placed inside each non-locomotive train car. A number of hostage cards equal to the number of players minus 1 are drawn and placed face up to the left of the locomotive. New round cards are shuffled in with those from the base game (but have some different symbols, so they can be differentiated). The marshal gains an additional 3 bullet cards. Each player gets a ride action card and a horse meeple. Bandit meeples are placed after the “Horse Attack” is played out.

In the Horse Attack, bandits can choose which train car they start in, except for the locomotive or stagecoach. Each player hides in their fist either their bandit meeple (or meeples, if 2 players) or horse. The contents of everyone’s hands are revealed simultaneously. Players with their bandit in hand place their bandit(s) in the caboose. These players then place their horses outside the caboose. Those players who displayed their horse proceed to the next car and repeat the process until they place their bandit in the car of their choice and the horse next to the car. After this, the horses belong to no particular bandit.

The ride action card is played during the schemin’ phase like any other action card. If there is at least 1 horse alongside the bandit’s car, they ride the rose. They can jump on the horse from inside the car or the roof of the car. They can then move their bandit up to 3 cars, either forward or backward. At the car where the bandit stops, they jump inside the train car. Bandits can also jump into the stagecoach. When a bandit enters the stagecoach, they must take a hostage, which is placed next to the player’s character card. The hostage gives extra money at the end of the game, but may have stipulations that affect gameplay, like being able to draw fewer cards per turn. Bandits can only have 1 hostage each.

The stagecoach is considered adjacent to the train cars for punching and shooting purposes. A bandit on the stagecoach can shoot any bandit on a train car roof and vice versa.

To get the strongbox away from the shotgun meeple, a player must punch the shotgun. When punched, the shotgun abandons the stongbox and is moved to the roof of the traincar next to the stagecoach.

If a bandit ends their movement in the same place as the shotgun, they receive a neutral bullet (as opposed to player bullet) card and must move (but not to the stagecoach).  A bandit can move across the shotgun’s position, but still receives a bullet. The shotgun blocks line of sight on roof cars, affecting the ability of a player to shoot other bandits.

At the end of the round, the stagecoach is moved one car toward the caboose. If the shotgun has been moved to the train, he is also moved a car to remain even with the stagecoach.

Whiskey flasks are a new kind of loot that can be played up to 2 times and can be played instead of an action or drawing 3 cards. Regular whiskey flasks (there are 5) let a player draw 3 cards and then also play an action. The old whiskey flask (there is only 1) lets a player play two action cards in a single turn).

Color commentary: THERE ARE 3D LOCOMOTIVE AND TRAIN CARS YOU GET TO ASSEMBLE. AND IF YOU PLAY WITH THE HORSES & STAGECOACH EXPANSION, THERE’S A 3D STAGECOACH AS WELL. The meeples are also shaped like gunslingers with guns blazing. And in the Horses & Stagecoach expansion, the horse meeples really look like little horses! And a bandit meeple actually fits into the divet in the horse’s back! Honestly, getting to assemble the all the vehicles was really fun, and they add a great tactile dimension to the game.

Some rounds have actions that occur at the end of the round, which add new twists to the game and tweak the action somewhat. These aren’t the easiest to interpret, and we definitely had to consult the instruction manual every time.

I think M might have liked the game more than me (Western month was his choice, after all), but it was a lot of fun and is definitely worth replaying. It’s unlikely we’ll play it as anything other than a 2-player anytime soon, but it seems like multiple players would add a new dynamic as you might start each round over with a fresh deck instead of the game operating more like a traditional deck-building game in that regard. It would also be nice to have 2 of each action per bandit, instead of the single action you get in a 2-player game (e.g. being able to move Doc between 2 cards instead of just one).

Thoughts from M: The bandit meeples have guns! They’re adorable! In general, the game has excellent animation-influenced artwork.

Shooting is a neat feature because it really can make life a lot more difficult for your opponents. Having to place the bullet cards on top of the deck means that they’re likely to draw them at the start of a round, meaning that they just have worthless cards and would have to sacrifice an action to try to get better ones by drawing 3 more cards instead of doing something with a bandit. However, even drawing more cards is no guarantee, because you might end up drawing old bullet cards that have been shuffled in.

The base game is a lot of fun, and the Horses & Stagecoach expansion adds fun new dynamics. There’s also a Guillotine-esque element to the game, because the best strategy is to do the best you can at any given moment rather than trying to think ahead a few turns, because, for example, you could be planning to shoot a bandit in the next car, but if you’re playing actions facedown on a turn, the owner of the bandit may move the bandit before you can shoot it, effectively wasting your shot. Grabbing treasure whenever possible would be the dominant strategy, as would combining punches (which force a bandit to lose some treasure) and nabbing treasure.

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