Teaching Time: 15 mins
Playing Time: 40 mins
Setup Time: 5 mins
Value For Money: High
Colt Express is a genuine delight from the moment you crack open the box and onward. I'll get the problem, such as it is, out of the way fast and that is a bit of assembly. Putting together the trains takes a little while and can be quite fiddly. That's the down side.
Which brings us to the first upside, the train models. The game uses 3D punch board train models as the game board and they are actually lovely to have on the table top. They work neatly as a modular board which both carries information and allows the games mechanics to flow smoothly and elegantly. In addition what might seem a minor thing but the box stores the train bits neatly with the rarest of things in boardgaming, an inlay that's worth having. Also, the little bandit meeples are cute.
Game play involves programming your meeples' movement around the train, along with the other players, by playing out cards representing actions. Once sufficient actions are plotted they are played out, moving around the train, robbing passengers and other players, moving and avoiding the marshal or blazing away with six-shooters. Gun fights drop useless command cards into players decks in a form of deck clogging deck building. At the end of the game the most successful robber wins.
The game is full of fun and manages that special balancing act where even things going wrong for you can be entertaining. Seeing your little bandit constantly blunder into harms way because an early reaction from one of your opponents has derailed your programming is endlessly amusing. Game play is varied enough that players can take different routes to victory and every choice is interesting. Varied rounds and asymmetric player abilities keep you on your toes with just the right level of unsettling rules variation. You become confident in your options without finding choices obvious or grinding. Occasionally the last action or two of a round can be essentially lost but there is rarely a feeling of powerlessness, rather a feeling that you may have messed up this time but you have the chance to figure it out next time.
As a Spiel Des Jahres winner Colt Express ticks all the boxes. The train board itself fits in with the SDJ's tendency to celebrate games with unusual tactile elements. The programming is easy to learn and mechanically splendid, with its slick combat mechanic the icing on its cake.
It has recently had some A.I. expansions allowing the game to be played co-op or even solo, which I'll review later. The game gives a lot for a fairly low price, there are few programming games and none that offer such a comfortable introduction. Lovely to look at and play, Colt Express is a great package and a total SDJ winner.