Game Report: Colt Express

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One tabletop game Your Humble Blogger has enjoyed lately is Colt Express. I’ve played it twice now, and enjoyed it both times, which bodes well, I would think. I haven’t tried any of the expansions, and some of the reviews have said that the game is so much better with them that they would only recommend it as a set, so that’s probably worth keeping in mind if you are thinking about a purchase.

The game play is sort of RoboRally lite, in that each player sets up a few moves in advance, and then those moves are played out without the opportunity to react to the other players’ moves, so your clever plan may well be foiled, leaving you spending a few moves punching the air, attempting to pocket non-existent treasures, or even repeatedly walking into gunfire. That sort of thing can be an MFQ problem, if the players are not going to enjoy the hilarity of their misadventures. In our games (and with my household of players) the humor of it outweighed the frustration, so that was all right.

I suspect that our willingness to play along with the game’s reversals was affected by the entertaining art and theme. The players are competitive mail-train robbers, scooping up treasures on the Colt Express (hence the name) and attempting to evade the Marshall (a non-player hazard, although one of the extensions makes the Marshall a player). The board for the game is a multi-car train, and the players move back and forth along the cars of the train, or on top of them. As far as YHB is concerned, there’s inherent Fun in the whole top-of-the-train chase and shootout. As a bit of a warning, the game comes with decorative cardboard cacti and such, which play no role in the game whatsoever, so don’t waste your time putting them together. And the tiny cardboard sacks-of-money tokens are very small and difficult for me to manipulate in the train cars, but that could just be me—there is some point to them being tokens that can be moved or transferred rather than using a score sheet or game-dollar-bills.

While all the players are on the wrong side of the law, it is not a co-operative game in the slightest (no honor among proverbials) and the player with the most money at the end of the game is the winner, with a cash bonus for the player to have shot the other players the most frequently. So if your group are likely to hold grudges for, well, shooting each other, then this may not be the game for that group. On the other hand, in a straightforwardly competitive game of this kind, sometimes it is easier to take when another player chooses to shoot you; in a game like Settlers or Ticket to Ride or Careers, it is often an obviously deliberate choice to play to disadvantage an opponent rather than further your own goals and I think that leads to more sulking and less fun. In Colt Express, everyone is going to try to shoot each other no matter what, so it’s harder to hold it against anyone.

What’s remarkable about the game construction is that it is (it seems to me) well-balanced, with the various characters having very different special powers but none of them being obviously the most or least powerful. Also, the format, with a few short rounds of play, some rounds with a slight variation on the rules, makes the game rattle on pretty quickly—the repetition makes it easier to figure out what to do, and even gives you a second chance to accomplish a goal you failed at, while the variation keeps the choices from being obvious and repetitive.

Often much of the fun of learning a new board game rests (for me and my Perfect Non-Reader of this blog) in the discussion, afterward, of what works and what doesn’t. And specifically in what changes could be made to improve the game without changing the fundamentals. This one, though, we didn’t have any particular improvements (other than not bothering to set up the cactus), which is, for us, a pretty remarkable level of acceptance that the game is about as good as it could be.

MFQ: I think the ideal group for this game would be veteran game-players who know each other well, and perhaps are tired of playing other games of more serious time and strategy commitment.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

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