Colt Express brings a high speed train robbery to your mobile device.
Android & iOS
10 - 15 Minutes
# of Players
1 - 6
Colt Express puts players in the middle of the action in a high speed train robbery, battling fellow Bandits and a pesky Marshall to try to collect the most loot before the train reaches its destination. Colt Express is the 2015 Spiel des Jahres winner, the prestigious German board game of the year award. Like most other winners, Colt Express is a lightweight family game, an action planning game that plays up to six players in about 10-15 minutes, mostly varying based on player count.
A round in Colt Express consists of two phases: Schemin’ and Stealin’. Schemin’ has each player take turns selecting a card from their hand which represents an action they will take during the Stealin’ phase. There are a few turns of Schemin’ before moving to Stealin’. Stealin’ has players act out the actions from the cards they chose earlier. These actions are taken in the order they were placed. The actions have you moving around the train both between cars and from roof to cab, attacking other Bandits, grabbing some loot, or moving the common enemy: the Marshall. After five rounds ofr Schemin’ and Stealin’, the player with the most cash wins the game.
The trick of Colt Express is that most of the actions you can take are highly dependent on where you, as well as your competing Bandits and the Marshall, are on the train when you take the action. This gets tricky because there is no way to guarantee these placements unless you are going first in the first round of Stealin’. After that, even though other Bandits mostly play their cards face up during Schemin’, exact locations are unpredictable because other Bandits can move in multiple directions, as can the Marshall. This can result in many wasted moves. You might end up trying to punch an opponent only to find yourself standing alone, or trying to pick up some loot only to find yourself in a location without any to grab. This inevitably leads to a high degree of luck, which will likely leave this game as a hit or miss for players.
There are a few additional odds and ends that alter the game. Each Bandit has their own special ability, such as Ghost who’s first card is played faced down. Throughout the five rounds, the phases of Schemin’ are injected with variations on the standard “play a card face up” rules. A tunnel phase, for example, means everybody plays their cards face down. The “U-Turn” phase reverses the order, and there are a few others. The Marshall acts as the common enemy of all Bandits and is manipulated by players using the Marshall card. He moves through the inside of the cars only, and when he is in the same location of a player, he shoots them, adding a useless bullet card to their deck and sending them fleeing to the top of the train car. Speaking of bullets, players can shoot each other, which adds a bullet card to the receiving player’s deck and the player who has the fewest bullets in their six-shooter at the end of the game receives a major $1000 bonus.
Cash is gained simply by picking it up using a card. The game starts with a handful of different loot lying in the cars. Players can force other Bandits to drop their loot by punching them, always a fun interaction. The ultimate goal of all of the moving, climbing, shooting, punching, and everything else is to end up with the most cash to take the win.
I’ve only played the physical version of Colt Express once, and it was a couple of years ago, but from my recollection, the physical setup and playing of the game was a very fun portion of the experience. The 3D train, moving your Bandit around, punching other players, etc… all very fun interactions. The gameplay in app form falls a little short for me, personally, but let's take a look at what the app offers and how well it pulls it off.
Barrier to Entry
Colt Express provides a tutorial and a rulebook. Both are very well done. The tutorial starts you off slowly and builds up to the full complement of concepts in the game. The rulebook is very thorough in its explanations of the rules and it does a great job of explaining the extras not covered in the tutorial, such as the Bandit abilities. The rulebook also has a section explaining the online ranking and karma systems which is a great bonus, too often things like this are left unexplained. Colt Express does a great job teaching the game to new players, we couldn’t ask for more on this front.
Loading...one of many great graphics
Robbery in action!
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Look and Feel
The app looks great. While a digital version couldn’t capture the physical feel of playing on the 3D train board, it does a great job providing eye catching graphics. The Bandits come to life with great interpretations, and the animations throughout simply look awesome. Seeing the train constantly moving is a fantastic touch. The menus all have bright, shining graphics and are laid out very well. They even add a series of comics for the Bandits which look great. We wish the designers on this one could get their hands on some other apps, Colt Express simply looks amazing.
One oddity that I might as well mention here is that upon first startup I received an Android permissions error:. “Colt Express does not have access to its resources from your device’s storage.” This was annoying. Many apps require permissions, and Android allows apps to either request permission upon install (the old way) or in real time as the app needs those permissions. Colt Express apparently does neither. I had to go into my app settings and manually give Colt Express the permissions it needed in order to even launch the app. This is a one-time issue, but is an odd oversight for a game that is otherwise incredibly polished.
Online play is synchronous and cross platform. The game allows you to enter “Quick Play” which will find you the quickest match possible or create a game with options of your choosing and wait for others to join. The game uses the familiar 1500 ELO ranking system as developed for chess and used across a bunch of board game apps. You start ranked 1500 and raise and fall with wins and losses. There is also a karma system which deducts points for leaving an online match earlier and rewards you for each completed game. This karma system is a nice touch we would love to see in other games.
The list of features here is passable, but in practice there are a few shortcomings. First, it’s just plain hard to find games to play. There is a lobby where you can chat with other players and attempt to set up a game, which is the best option. Going straight to Quick Play and waiting (and, yes, you must wait with the app open) has been a fruitless endeavor for me. There simply aren’t a lot of people playing this game. Every time you open the app and are signed into your Asmodee Digital account, you see the number of players online. It is almost always 1 or 2 when I am playing, rarely spiking at 7 or 8 over the past few weeks while I’ve been playing this app.
One final note, online play is blocked by many corporate or school networks, a fairly common occurrence for board game apps.
Single player in Colt Express comes in the form of a normal game or by playing through Story Mode. Story Mode has five chapters per Bandit, each being a game with a different set of rules or winning conditions. One early example is that you must pick up a specific piece of loot by the end of the third round, picking it up any earlier results in a win. The Story Mode is a nice addition to the game, it gives some varying challenges and it a fun mode to play through. As a bonus, if you complete all five chapters for any Bandit you unlock a unique game variant which you can then use in normal games.
A normal game of Colt Express is as straightforward as you can get. Simply pick the player count, whether you want randomly assigned Bandits, and if you want to use any of the variants you unlocked from Story Mode. There is no AI which is usually a huge red flag for me, but with a game this luck driven, you aren’t going to win every time regardless of the AI level. Thankfully, the AI here is competent, so the games remain a decent challenge.
A rainy day, another great visual touch
More fantastic graphics on display
There are a few expansions for Colt Express, but thus far none have made an appearance in the app.
The Wrap Up
Colt Express is a very strong port of the physical game. The graphics are great, the app is extremely well designed, and adds in a great Story Mode. The problem for this reviewer, however, is that the game just doesn’t feel at home in the digital world. The board game has such a unique and striking physical look and feel, the app couldn’t possibly recreate that. Take away that aspect and you are left with an elaborate lightweight game that relies heavily on luck. That is fine, many people will likely enjoy that, but for me, it falls a little short. I’d rather play a Ticket to Ride or Carcassonne if I’m going to open up an app in that category, but that's just my opinion. Colt Express provides some features those others don’t, and if you prefer the gameplay here, Colt Express could easily turn into your go to lightweight app.
Although the app is extremely well designed, the overall package isn’t without its flaws. The lack of online player base is a huge downside, you will have trouble finding games so much of the enjoyment of this app must be taken from the offline modes. It’s also a bit surprising not to find a pass-and-play mode, we think that should be an automatic addition to board game apps at this point.