Released back in 2014, Colt Express immediately found a large audience of fans. The game ended up winning the Spiel Des Jahres in 2015 which recognizes the best board game from the previous year. The game also currently stands as one of the 300 best board games of all time on Board Game Geek. In Colt Express you play as one of several bandits that are trying to rob a moving train and make off with more valuables than the rest of the players. Between the combination of the game’s critical acclaim and the intriguing train robbery theme I was really excited to try out Colt Express. Colt Express can be frustrating as one move can ruin your entire strategy but there is no denying that Colt Express is a chaotic blast to play.
How to Play Colt Express
- Each player chooses a character and takes the corresponding set of cards and playing piece. The player places their character card in front of them. The players find their six bullet cards, sort them based on the number of bullets that are shown on the picture (the six bullet card goes on top), and places the pile to the left of their character card. They shuffle the rest of their cards and place them face down to the right of their character card.
- Each player takes a purse token worth $250 and places it on top of their character card value side down.
- Place the locomotive on the table and attach cars behind it equal to the number of players in the game.
- Look on each car to see how much loot starts in it. All tokens are placed face down. The purses are randomly chosen so none of the players know the values.
- Place the marshal pawn (yellow) and a strongbox token inside the locomotive.
- Randomly choose four round cards based on the number of players in the game (2-4 players or 5-6 players). Shuffle these four cards. Randomly choose one of the train station cards and place it below the other round cards. Place this deck of cards near the train.
- Set the neutral bullet cards next to the train.
- One player takes all of the player pawns that will be used in the game and mixes them up in their hand. The player randomly selects one of them and that player will be the first player in the first round. The player to their left is the second player and so on.
- Players place their pawns on the train based on the turn order. If the player’s turn order number is odd they will place their pawn in the last car. If the player is an even number they will place their bandit on the second car from the end.
Playing the Game
Colt Express is played in five rounds. Each round consists of two phases:
At the beginning of each round all of the players shuffle their deck of cards and draw the top six cards (seven if you are playing as Doc) to form their hand. The player who is first this round will flip over the top card from the round deck. The round card shows how many turns the players will have in the current round and when special actions will occur.
Each turn in a round is indicated by a symbol on the round card. The symbols indicate any special circumstances for the turn. The symbols include:
The players have to play their cards face up this turn.
The players play their cards face down this turn.
Each player will get to take two consecutive turns. The players can either play two cards, draw six cards, or play a card and draw three cards.
The current turn will be played counter clockwise starting with the first player.
Some of the round cards also have some special events that come into play at the end of the round.
Angry Marshal: The Marshal will shoot any bandits that are on the roof of the car that the Marshal is currently in. All shot bandits will receive one neutral bullet card. The Marshal will then move one space towards the back of the train.
Swing Arm: All of the bandits who are on the roof will be moved to the roof of the last car.
Braking: All bandits on the roof will move one car towards the front of the train (remaining on the roof).
Take It All: The second strongbox is added to the game. The strongbox is placed in the car currently occupied by the Marshal.
Passengers’ Rebellion: Any bandits who are inside a car at the end of the round will receive a neutral bullet card.
Pickpocketing: Any bandit who is alone in a car that contains a purse token can take that token for free at the end of the round.
Marshal’s Revenge: Any bandits who are on the roof of the car occupied by the Marshal will lose their least valuable purse token. If the player has no purse tokens they won’t lose anything.
Hostage-Taking of the Conductor: Any bandit that is in the locomotive or on its roof at the end of the round will receive $250.
Starting with the first player and moving clockwise, each player takes one turn performing an action. On a player’s turn they can perform one of two actions:
- Play an action card to the play pile. The card is normally placed face up unless otherwise directed.
- Draw three cards from their deck and add them to their hand.
Once all of the round’s turns have been played, the round moves onto the next phase.
The first player will take the pile of cards that were played and flip it over so the card that was played first will be on top of the pile. The players will then resolve one card at time by taking the appropriate action for each card that is played. If the action is possible the player has to perform the action even if it hurts them. Once the action is performed the card is handed back to the player who it belongs to. Once all of the cards have been resolved the current round ends (see End of Round section).
The action that is performed for each card type are as follows:
Move: When a move card is played the player will move their bandit to one of the neighboring cars. If the player is inside the car they move their pawn to the car before or after their current car. If the player is on top of the car they can move between one and three cars in either direction.
Floor Change: When a floor change card is played the player will move their pawn up or down on their current car. If the pawn is currently in the car it will be moved to the roof. If the pawn is currently on the roof it will be moved into the car.
Marshal: The player who plays the card will move the marshal to the car before or after its current car.
When the Marshal is on the same space as one or more of the players’ pawns, the Marshal will attack them. All of the players on the space will take a neutral bullet card. All of the pawns are also moved to the roof of their current car.
Fire: When a player plays a fire card they can fire at one of the other players. When a player shoots at another player they will give that player one of their bullet cards which they will have to add to their deck of cards. A player cannot fire at a player that is in the same car as them. The range that a player can fire is dependent on whether they are inside a car or on the roof.
If a player is in a car they can only hit a player in one of the adjacent cars. If there are two or more pawns in the same car, the player can choose which one they want to shoot.
If a player is on the roof they can shoot any bandits that don’t have another bandit between them and the shooter. If there are two or more pawns on the same roof, the player can choose which one they want to shoot.
Robbery: When a player plays a robbery card they can take the loot token of their choice from their current car. If a player is in the car they can’t take a token from the roof and vice versa. The player is unable to look at its value before choosing though. Once a player chooses a token they can look at the other side of it and then place it face down on their character card. If there are no tokens on their space the player takes no action from the card.
Punch: When a player plays a punch card they can punch another bandit that is in the same car and location (inside or on the roof) as they are. When a player is punched the punching player chooses one of the punched player’s tokens (without looking at their values) and places it on their current location. The player then moves the player they punched to one of the adjacent cars (on the same floor that they were on before).
End of Round
At the end of the round the players will shuffle all of their player cards which includes their action cards and any bullet cards they have been given. The new shuffled deck is placed to the right of their character card. The player to the left of the previous first player will be the first player in the next round.
End of Game
The game ends after all five rounds have been played. Each player looks at how many of their bullet cards they were able to give to other players. The player who gave out the most bullet cards wins the gunslinger bonus. They flip over their character card to indicate that they received $1,000 for the gunslinger bonus. If two or more players are tied for the most bullets given out, all of the tied players will receive the bonus.
Each player then flips over all of the tokens they acquired during the game. They add up their total along with their potential gunslinger bonus. The player who has earned the most money wins the game. If there is a tie, the tied players compare how many bullets cards they received from the other players and the marshal. The player with less bullet cards breaks the tie.
Bandit’s Special Abilities
Each bandit in the game has their own special ability that only the player playing as the character can use.
Ghost: During the first turn in every round, Ghost can play their card face down even if they otherwise would have to play it face up. If the player draws on their first turn, this ability cannot be used in the round.
Belle: When a player is firing or punching and has a choice between Belle and another bandit, the player must shoot/punch the other bandit.
Cheyenne: When Cheyenne punches they can immediately take a purse and add it to their own character card instead of placing it on the train. If the player loses a jewel or a strongbox, it is placed on the train.
Tuco: Tuco can shoot bandits that are on the same car as them. They can shoot bandits that are on the same level or bandits that are on the other level.
Django: When shooting a bandit, the bandit will move one car in the direction that they were shot. This is ignored if it would push the bandit off the train.
Doc: Doc begins each round by drawing seven cards instead of six.
The expert game is played the same as the normal game except that players will get to keep cards in their hand between rounds instead of reshuffling all of the cards at the beginning of each round. The expert game adds a discard pile to each player’s setup which is placed to the right of their draw pile. The following rules are also added to the game.
- At the beginning of each Schemin’! phase any bullet cards that are drawn are immediately added to the discard pile. The player does not get to draw additional cards.
- At the end of the Schemin’! phase a player can choose which cards from their hand that they would like to keep and which ones they would like to discard.
- During the Stealin’! phase when a card is returned to you it is placed on the discard pile. Any bullet cards that are acquired are placed on top of the draw deck.
- At the beginning of each round you will draw enough cards to get back up to six cards (seven if you are playing as Doc).
- When you run out of cards in your draw pile you will shuffle the cards in your discard pile. You will place the shuffled cards face down to form your new draw deck.
My Thoughts on Colt Express
While there are quite a few other games that use a similar mechanic, Colt Express is the first game that we have reviewed on Geeky Hobbies that I would consider a “movement programming” game. For those of you who have never played one of these type of games before the basic premise of the game is that you have to program out your moves for a round before you are able to actually implement any of them. Players take turns playing cards trying to keep track of which cards they and the other players have played to determine what cards they should play next.
I will say that I haven’t played a lot of movement programming games in the past. I think Colt Express is the perfect example of what the genre can be though. I think the idea of having to pick your actions before seeing the actual outcome is a really interesting mechanic. To do well in the game you have to plan out what moves you want to make in the round and then play the corresponding cards. You will also need to study what cards the other players play to get an idea of what they are trying to do. It is key to figure out what the other players are trying to do because otherwise they can mess with your strategy. While there is a decent amount of luck in the game, there is quite a bit of strategy hidden in the game as you try to maneuver around the train, grabbing loot, and avoiding the other player’s attacks. There are other games out there that use a similar programming mechanic but if you have never played one of these type of games before it is unlike anything you have ever played before.
For most of the game you likely will be trying to acquire as much loot as possible. You have to maneuver around the train stopping in cars with loot and grabbing it before the other players. You need to make sure that you can steal it before the other players or you might end up wasting turns trying to steal things that are no longer available. Instead of moving around the train trying to collect loot, you could try to steal loot from the other players. While it can be hard to land a punch, it can be quite powerful as you can take loot away from another player while also likely messing up their strategy for the round.
Most players will spend their time going after the loot but I think it is also a valid strategy to go for the gunslinger bonus. You don’t have to gather a lot of loot if you are able to get the gunslinger bonus as it is worth $1,000. You can’t totally ignore the loot but shooting the other players as much as possible is a valid strategy in the game. In addition to getting the gunslinger bonus you can fill the other players’ decks with worthless bullet cards. These cards will either force them to waste turns drawing cards or will give them less cards to chose from which will hinder them for the rest of the game.
What is really interesting about playing Colt Express is that your game is likely going to have a lot of ebbs and flows. You likely will have really good rounds and really bad rounds. This can lead to a somewhat chaotic experience as your fate in the game can change with the play of one card. Most people might think this is not a good thing but it really works for Colt Express. It may become chaotic at times but it is a blast to play. Colt Express is one of those games that you have to play in order to fully appreciate. The mechanics aren’t going to be for everyone but I think most people should have a lot of fun with the game.
I would probably classify Colt Express as light to moderate on the difficulty scale. I give the game this classification as it is not as simple as your typical mass market game (Monopoly for example) but it is also something that is pretty simple once you know what you are doing. I would say that it will take around 10-15 minutes to explain Colt Express to most new players. A decent amount of this time will go to teaching the idea of movement programming to people who have never played one of these type of games before. The rest of the time is used to explain the different actions you can take in the game. It will probably take most players a couple rounds to fully understand what they are doing in the game. The good news is that once players know what they are doing, Colt Express is quite easy to play. You may have a few struggles in your first game but you shouldn’t have any troubles in your second game. While I wouldn’t play Colt Express with really young children, I think older children should have no problems with Colt Express. Colt Express is one of those games that maintains the perfect balance between being accessible while still having enough depth to keep everyone interested.
Typically I don’t really care that much about a game’s theme as themes rarely make a bad game good or vice versa. When it comes to Colt Express though I thought the theme actually added quite a bit to the game. The game owes a lot to the components since they make it really feel like you are robbing a train. The whole idea of robbing a train is a great idea for a board game. Colt Express does a great job combining the theme with mechanics that actually support the theme. While I think Colt Express will work well as a family game, the theme may turn off some people. The game is far from explicit but there is quite a bit of inferred violence in the game. Bandits are punching and shooting one another as well as stealing. I don’t see this being an issue for most people but some people might not approve of the theme.
Colt Express is a great game but it does have a somewhat big problem that is going to drive some players nuts. The main gameplay in Colt Express is trying to keep track of where you and the rest of the players are at any given time. While it matters what cards you play, the cards that other players play can have a big impact on your strategy. Each player comes up with a strategy for the round which they will play all of their cards in order to achieve. The problem is that another player can easily throw a wrench into your plan that will likely ruin the rest of your round.
To explain let me take you through an example of what happened to me in one round. At the beginning of the round I and another player (who was playing as Ghost) started on the same space. As I started the round on the roof I was planning on moving to the neighboring space, climbing down, and then grabbing two tokens. This strategy would have worked perfectly except for the Ghost player messing up my entire strategy. This player started the round by punching me (I didn’t know they were going to do this due to Ghost’s special ability). This moved me to the space that I wanted to move to on my first turn, which ended up ruining my whole strategy. I could no longer move one space, go down the ladder, and then take two tokens. I tried to adjust by moving to another train car but other players took all of tokens from that space. Due to one action by another player my round went from getting two tokens to my whole round being wasted.
I will be the first person to admit that this can be quite frustrating. Just because you were unable to predict what another player was going to do can ruin your entire round. You can usually have a good idea of what the other players plan on doing but there are situations where it is impossible to predict what the other players are going to do which will ruin your plans. While this can be frustrating, in some ways it is kind of fun to see someone’s plan go totally haywire. The fact that your plan doesn’t go as planned plays into the theme of a chaotic train heist. Robbing a train is never going to go as planned so it is expected that your plans are never going to work as planned. This is definitely going to turn off some players but if you go into the game not taking it that seriously it doesn’t ruin the experience.
While on the topic of a player being able to totally ruin your entire round, maybe it is just me but I think Ghost’s special ability is rigged. You can somewhat mitigate his power with experience but it still seems overpowered. Basically Ghost’s ability allows his player to hide their first move every single round. This might not sound like a lot but it can be huge in a game where knowing where you and your opponents are at any given time is extremely important. Being able to hide their first move allows this player to somewhat hide their intentions for the entire round. You will still get to see most of the cards they play but not knowing that first card prevents the other players from knowing exactly what the player is going to do. This is really bad for players that are on the same space or near where Ghost starts each round. Ghost’s ability allows them to mess with this nearby player without them knowing what they are going to do. This gives the Ghost player the ability to ruin another player’s entire round. Ghost’s ability can also be used every single round while most of the other special abilities require specific circumstances. As everyone will probably want to play as Ghost I would probably recommend not letting anyone play as him if possible.
Other than a player’s whole round potentially being ruined due to another player’s action, I would say that there are two other smaller problems that I had with the game.
First I think the trains should have a little more loot in them. Maybe it was because my group didn’t utilize the punch action that often but it wasn’t that difficult to acquire most of the tokens on the train. You will usually only have one or two tokens remaining on the train at the end of the game. I am guessing this was done to encourage players to use the punch action more often. Once all or most of the tokens have been taken though, the players that are behind are forced to attack the players in the lead and the players in the lead just try to run away from the other players. I think the game would have benefited from having a little more loot that the players could acquire.
The other problem that I had with Colt Express is that there is a decent reliance on luck. Luck in Colt Express tends to come from two areas. As I have already addressed, your fate in the game is dependent on the other players. If a player decides to mess with you there isn’t much you can do as it will hurt your chances of winning the game. Otherwise luck comes from what cards you end up drawing. If you don’t draw the right cards at the right times you won’t be able to perform the actions that you want. Bad card draw luck could make the difference between winning and losing the game. This is why I would highly recommend playing the expert rules. The expert game is only slightly more difficult and it succeeds in getting rid of some of the card draw luck since you can keep cards between rounds.
For most board games I wouldn’t say that the components make or break the game. While Colt Express would still have been a good game with subpar components, you simply cannot ignore the component quality in the game. The most notable components are obviously the 3D train cars. Colt Express could have just used cards or flat cardboard pieces to represent the different train cars but the game decided to take it to the next level by including the 3D train cars. These cars really help with the theme and are surprisingly sturdy and well built. This is combined with some great artwork throughout which gives the game its own unique style. Then you add in the custom bandit/Marshal meeples and you can’t deny that the game went all in with the game’s components. Outside of the scenery pieces being pretty pointless, I really couldn’t find a single thing to complain about with regards to the components.
With how popular Colt Express has been it is not that surprising that there have been expansions made for the game. I was actually surprised by how many have been released though. While I have never played any of these expansions, most of them actually seem like they add quite a bit to the game. At this time Colt Express has the following expansions:
- Bandits: These are a set of expansions that turns the game into a semi-cooperative experience. Each expansion allows for one of the bandits to be controlled by the game itself. The players must work together in order to prevent the associated bandit from completing their objective. If the players fail they all lose the game. If they succeed, whichever player has the most money wins the game. Amazon (Belle), Amazon (Cheyenne), Amazon (Django), Amazon (Doc), Amazon (Ghost), Amazon (Tucco)
- Cursed Loot: Comes with seven loot pieces which are worth considerably less than the other loot in the game. This expansion seems to add a bluffing mechanic to the game where players are unsure how much the other players’ loot is worth.
- Horses & Stagecoach: This expansion adds horses and a stagecoach to the game. The horses allow the bandits to move quicker between train cars. The stagecoach includes additional loot and a guard that the bandits have to get rid of before they loot the stagecoach. The bandits can also receive a ransom by taking hostages. Amazon
- Le tunnel avant l’arrivée en gare: A promotional round card from a magazine. The card starts with the first three turns being hidden and adds a mechanic that forces players to drop loot when they are shot.
- Marshal and Prisoners: This expansion adds three new things to the game. It adds a new character. Players can free prisoners from the prison car which opens up an additional ability. Finally one player can play as the Marshal who is given hidden objectives that they must complete in order to win the game. Amazon
- North Pole Station: Came as part of Brettspiel Adventskalender 2015. It is a round card with a Christmas theme.
- The Time Travel Car: This expansion basically adds the DeLorean time machine from Back to the Future to the game. If a player is the only player in the car at the end of a round, they get to take a special action. All of the other players cover their eyes and the player can hide their bandit under one of the cars thus being able to play cards in the next round with the other players not knowing where their bandit started the round.
Should You Buy Colt Express?
While I knew that Colt Express was going to be pretty good, I was actually still a little surprised. It is kind of hard to explain why but the game is a blast to play. It is one of those games that you have to play to fully appreciate. I honestly think the game gets as close as a board game could to simulating a train robbery. This is supported by the game’s fantastic component quality. The movement programming mechanic is used in other games but it works perfectly for Colt Express. Players need to plan out their own strategy each round while also trying to figure out what the rest of the players are doing. The game has a slight learning curve but is quite easy to play once everyone knows what they are doing. While Colt Express is a great game, it does have a couple problems. At times it is frustrating that one move by another player can ruin your entire round. The game can also rely on a little too much luck at times. At the end of the day though Colt Express is a fantastic game.
I honestly have a hard time not recommending Colt Express. If you don’t really care for the theme, don’t like movement programming games, or would get too frustrated that one move by another player can ruin your entire strategy; Colt Express may not be for you. If you think Colt Express sounds like fun though I think you will really enjoy the game and I would highly recommend that you pick it up.