Review: Colt Express08 Dec 2016 5
Review: Colt Express
Released 28 Nov 2016
Asmodee has been churning out digital versions of their boardgame lineup in 2016. The latest title to get the mobile treatment is Colt Express. The game hasn't been around for long, even in physical form, but won a slew of awards in 2015 including Spiel des Jahres (game of the year), which is kind of a big deal. How does the mobile version compare? Read on.
Colt Express is set in the wild west of the year 1899. A train—the Union Pacific Express— has departed Folsom, New Mexico full of passengers…and their valuables.
Also aboard, and of paramount interest, is the Nice Valley Coal Company's weekly pay tucked into a suitcase under the supervision of one Marshal Samuel Ford. Within minutes of departure armed bandits board the train and begin relieving the passengers of their wallets, jewellery, and other valuables.
The game is played on a moving train. Players can move about from car to car and even go on top of the train itself. Marshal Ford is aware of the bandit invasion and is out to find them. He is outnumbered, but greed has got his back. Each bandit has one eye on the prize and the other on the rest of their number. Each bandit plans to leave the train as the richest and each knows the rest want the same thing. In Colt Express you play one of those bandits and your goal is to collect more loot than your opponents. It's a battle of the bandits where only one walks away the winner.
Colt Express is a strategy board game played out over five rounds. Each round consists of two aptly named phases: schemin' and stealin'. The schemin' phase is where you plan your turn by playing action cards. The stealin' phase is where you carry out those planned actions.
You start with six action cards in your hand and draw six more at the start of each round. Action cards dictate exactly what your character does each turn, and there are quite a few options. Movement cards let you move from inside one car to another, or up to three cards if you're on top of the speeding train. Floor Change cards let you climb to the top of the car you are currently in, or back down and inside. Robbery cards let you loot cash, gems, or the Marshal's suitcase which is how you ultimately win. The Fire card lets you shoot at one of the other bandits. This puts a bullet card in their deck, which is a blank taking up a spot in their hand when they draw it. Each player gets six bullets and the bandit who shot the most bullets by the end of the game gets a "Gunslinger Bonus" of $1000.
You can also play a Punch card, which lets you slug another bandit and knock them into an adjacent car. The punch jars loose some of their loot which falls to the floor for anybody to take. A Marshal card lets you move the Marshal to an adjacent car. When the Marshal enters a card with a bandit he shoots them, giving them a neutral bullet card, and forcing them to flee to the roof of that car. Finally, if you don't like your cards you can skip a turn and draw 3 more.
Each round is broken up into a series of turns which are detailed at the start of the round. Normally, players take turns playing one. There are also special turns that pop up over the course of a round and throw a wrinkle into things. During a "Tunnel" turn, for example, the train goes through a tunnel and rather than playing cards face up so everybody can see they are played face down, further complicating your scheming. In "Speeding-up" turns you play two cards instead of one and on "Switching" turns the play order is reversed.
There are six different characters to choose from, and each has a special rule-bending ability. Cheyenne can punch another bandit and snatch their loot, rather than letting it drop to the ground. Doc draws seven cards, rather than six, at the beginning of each round and so on. These abilities are all interesting and interact in different ways. Knowing what characters can do is important to your scheming.
The plan than act phase layout makes Colt Express a challenging and sometimes chaotic experience. You will likely know what you want to do: head to a particular car, grab some loot, maybe do some gun slinging. Unless the train is in a tunnel you can also see what cards your opponents are playing and try to scheme around it. A central truth of Colt Express, however, is that your scheme will not survive contact with your opponent. The game is about doing your best to plan for an uncertain second phase and then adapting based on the reality of what actual happens. It is part strategy, part psychology, and part luck.
MODES OF PLAY
There are two main modes of play: Story and Classic. Story mode is single player and allows you to explore the backstory of each of the six characters by completing a series of games called chapters. Each chapter unlocks another page of a comic-book story about that character. Once you've unlocked the entire story (five chapters) for a character you also unlock a new game variant that can be used in the Classic mode.
Classic mode is for multiple players and has options for online or local and either quick play or a custom game. Quick play jumps right to a four-player online or six-player local game with nothing fancy. A custom game allows you to modify players (three to six), choose options (like random character assignment or whether or not you want a ranked game), and whether you want to play with any unlocked variants.
Unfortunately, Colt Express multiplayer is more or less unusable and badly needs an update. It's unclear to me how it is even supposed to work. There's no list of games you can join and your only option seems to be to set up a game and wait on the matchmaking screen. I assume that the it is looking for other players who set up a game with the exact same requirements as you, but I don't know that for sure. This issue makes it very tough to find any kind of a custom game and your best bet is to either do a quick game and wait, or try to coordinate with other online players via chat. There is certainly no option to invite friends to join your game.
The problem is further exacerbated by a very small online population. Twenty players was the most I ever saw—though it is supposed to be cross platform between iOS, Android, and Steam—and it's no wonder given the difficulty in even getting into a game. To make matters worse you cannot leave the app while waiting for or in a game. If you do, you'll be disconnected. So, essentially, you must devote your device to Colt Express.
As for local games, there is no pass-and-play option, you simply square off against AI bandits. The AI is decent but not overly challenging. You can, however, leave the app and come back to it to finish your game.
The Story mode's use of comics is clever, fits the game perfectly, and is fun to play through. The chapters have different and interesting objectives and tie well into the storyline of the character. The rule variants you unlock are like the cherry on top.
Gameplay is fast and the user interface is clean and simple to use. I like the two-dimensional characters on the three-dimensional background. They spin when punched or shot exposing their lack of a dimension and making them feel like the board game pieces they represent.
I'm also a fan of the way players interact, planning first and then acting. The fun of the game is where the schemin' doesn't quite work out and you find yourself walking into the same car as the Marshal, shooting at nothing but air, or reaching down for non-existent loot. The potential to mess with your opponent's well-thought out plan with a well-timed action is fun as well. All's fair in train robbery, after all.
If that's where it ended I'd be handing Colt Express five stars and recommending you pick it up. Unfortunately, it's not, and a huge part of any board game is the ability to play human opponents. Online multiplayer here is very nearly unusable and the bottom line is that this game is just not done. My recommendation is to hold off on buying this one until an update fixes online play unless you want it for the single-player gameplay.
Editor's Note: Impressions are correct as of 08/12/2016. We've been told by our contact that an update is due sometime during the W/C 12th December that is aimed at improving the multiplayer experience, however we can't comment until we've had time to test it out. Keep an eye on the comments for more information.