In my recap of Gen Con 2014, I mentioned that one of the coolest games I played there was Colt Express from publishers ludonaute and Asmodee and designer Christophe Raimbault. The board is an actual 3D train!, with players as bandits robbing the train and shooting each other. A great gimmick for a game, but is the game as fun as it looks? Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:
Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine the setting described in the game?
Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?
Components: Well, let’s start off by talking about that awesome 3D Train. It looks really cool on the table, and they even included some decorations to go around the train (cacti, etc.) on the punchboard, which is awesome. The meeples themselves are great, and the cardboard money tokens are okay. Cards seem to be decent cardstock. I do have some complaints, however.
The train takes about an hour to assemble (!), and felt somewhat cheap. I know they wanted to keep the MSRP low ($40 – impressive!), but the cardboard pieces are very flimsy, and I almost bent one of them while assembling without even trying. I just assumed in my head the game was made in China while I was putting it together, although it turns out it was made in Germany. Once it’s all together, the pieces haven’t fallen apart or anything (although the little ‘brace’ piece on the boxcars keeps falling out), but it’s a bit awkward to use, since the meeples often move from the top of the trains to the bottom, and there isn’t much space for my fat fingers. So, while it looks really cool, and the game’s at a great price, I can’t help but think a flat board with a side-view of the train would have been better.
Accessibility: This game relies on a programming mechanic similar to Robo Rally or Lords of Xidit, but it’s not easily explained to casual gamers. However, I found that if we just played a practice round with people just randomly throwing cards down, it suddenly clicked and made much more sense. I also think the basic card-drawing rules are just fine, and the expert variant is too convoluted and unnecessary. The target audience for this game, is, I think, casual gamers, and the game isn’t too hard to figure out once you have person who understands it (which might be the difficult part) explaining it to everyone else. Of course, people will inevitably forget things during the game, like the fact that punches move you a space, but that’s actually what makes the game fun. It’s also worth mentioning here that the two-player game is horribly convoluted and not worth it at all.
Depth: And the fact that the game’s fun is dependent on the game going horribly wrong is sort of a double-edged sword here. It can be quite funny when plans go awry, but also quite frustrating. One thing I do really like about this game over other programming games is that the programming moves often give you a choice (like move left OR right), that you don’t decide until the card comes up – so you can somewhat adjust your plans on the fly. However, this is a very chaotic experience, even with three players, and the game is much more about enjoying the experience than it is about actually developing a plan.
Theme: This is where the game scores just about all of its points. You are quite literally playing as a character, doing things that (s)he would do – shooting and punching opponents, stealing loot, racing around the train and avoiding the marshal. The tactile element of physically moving around and doing those things is really strong. Even if the programming mechanism doesn’t quite fit, it allows for mechanisms that do make thematic sense – like getting wounded from gunshots by adding junk to your deck, and playing cards face-down while in tunnels. This is about the most thematic Wild West board game I’ve ever played.
Fun: I do think this game delivers a lot of laughs, but it’s not a game where you can plan much – you’re mostly just watching things happen, and just about all the time you spent thinking about your moves was a waste. This is another game that tries to stride the line between party game and strategy game, like La Boca, The Resistance or Skull & Roses – but this game feels much more chaotic and random than those. The game is good, solid, just not fantastic, which I’ve kind of realized lately is how most games are. I don’t know what it takes to have that spark of absolute greatness like Dominion and Ticket to Ride have, but it’s not here.
Colt Express looks great on the table and delivers a lot of chaos-fueled laughter, but don’t expect a very deep experience.
3 out of 5