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Sunday 23 October 2016

More Rootin', Tootin', Shootin', Stealin' Fun!

Tired of running from one carriage to the next and robbing the passengers? Tired of jumping from one carriage roof to the next? Tired of punching and shooting your fellow bandits and getting punched and shot at in return? Tired of dodging Marshall Sam whose bullets will send you racing to the roof? Tired of having your plans disrupted and messed up by your fellow bandits so that your rivals make off with the passengers’ purses and jewels and even the strongbox containing the payroll—worth $1000—for the local mine? Want to try something different? Leap onto a horse and ride it alongside the train and then leap off again? Check! Leap onto a horse and ride it alongside a stagecoach to swing inside and take a hostage? Check! Leap from the top of the locomotive onto the stagecoach, duke it out with the guard and grab the strongbox—containing another $1000—that the shotgun-wielding guard was protecting? Check! These are the core additions to be found in Colt Express: Horses & Stagecoach, the first expansion for Colt Express, the 2015 Spiel des Jahres winner.

There is no denying that Colt Express is huge fun. It is a programmed movement and action game in which bandits attempt to rob a train—the passengers of their purses and their jewels and Marshall Sam of the local mine’s payroll. They can move from carriage to carriage, climb up and down onto carriage roofs, shoot and punch their rival bandits, and hopefully dodge the Marshall when another Bandit moves him! The fun of game comes in both a well-conceived plan executed perfectly and in a well-conceived plan coming into contact with the plans of rivals and being thoroughly disrupted—especially when they affect another Bandit instead of the intended target. It is a Wild West game of Old School movie action and the fact that it comes with a cardboard model Train as the playing area makes it a highly attractive looking game.

With Colt Express: Horses & Stagecoach, an actual stagecoach cardboard model can be added to the game as well as wooden horses. Bandits can use the new Ride action card to leap onto a Horse adjacent to a carriage—either from inside a carriage or from its roof—and ride it alongside the Train, either to move back or forward along the carriage and then reboard the train. This provides a new movement action to the game, plus it allows players to leap from a horse and get inside the Stagecoach. Alternatively, a Bandit can use a Movement card to leap from the roof of an adjacent carriage onto the roof of the Stagecoach—or vice versa. Once inside the Stagecoach, a Bandit can take one of its passengers hostage. There are eight Hostage cards in the game, but only five are available during a game. A Bandit can only take one who remains with him throughout the game. At game’s end, a Hostage will earn a Bandit more money, but not without a penalty. For example, ‘The Lady’s Poodle’ earns a player $1000 at game’s end, but he suffers a Bullet card at the beginning of any Round because the yappy little dog keeps biting him!

The Horses are also used to determine Bandit placement at the beginning of the game. Each player takes his Bandit pawn and a Horse and hides them in his fist. He selects which one to reveal. If he reveals his Bandit pawn, it is placed in the most rearward carriage. If he reveals a Horse, his Bandit keeps riding forward alongside the Train. The process is repeated and any Bandits revealed are placed in the next forward carriage. This process continues until all of the Bandits have been placed. Essentially this spreads out the placement of the Bandits at the start of the game. The advantage of being placed further forward is quicker access to carriages containing Jewels and even the Strongbox in the Locomotive, but the Bandit at the rear of the Train will go first.

Atop the Stagecoach is a guard with a Shotgun—presumably a grizzled old veteran seeing out his time as a stagecoach guard—who has been trusted to protect a second Strongbox, also worth a $1000. He will not act unless a player tries to steal this Strongbox, in which he shoots the player who takes a neutral Bullet card just as if he had been shot by Marshall Sam. It takes a Punch action to knock the Shotgun onto the roof of the carriage adjacent to the Stagecoach. There he takes potshots at anyone who lands on the same roof, but his absence on the Stagecoach means that the Strongbox he was guarding is now available to steal.  Any player atop the Stagecoach can be shot at from anywhere on the roof of the Train and can likewise shoot anyone on any any carriage roof of the Train.

Colt Express is not quite perfect though… There is an issue in the game where a player has a bad hand of cards, sometimes because he has too many Bullets in his hand after getting shot once too many, other times because the cards he holds mean actions that make no sense in the current situation, and thus he cannot act—at least not logically. In the base game, a player can give up an action to draw three new cards, but losing an action can be almost as bad as having no suitable cards to play. In addition to the new things that players can do in Colt Express: Horses & Stagecoach, it also adds a means to counter this issue. This is a number of Whiskey Flasks littered throughout the Carriages. These are picked up using Robbery Action cards—just as a Bandit can to pick up Purses and Jewels—and come in two types. The Normal Whiskey Flask enables a Bandit to draw three Action cards and play an Action card instead of playing an Action card as normal. The Old Whiskey Flask enables a Bandit to play two Action cards instead of the usual one. In either case, a Whiskey Flask can be used twice before it has to be discarded. 

Colt Express: Horses & Stagecoach adds several new Events to the game that can occur at the end of each Round and/or game. These include ‘Sharing the Loot’ in which any Bandit with a Strongbox is forced to share it with a rival Bandit who ends the game with him in the same carriage; ‘Escape’ in which all Bandits must leave the Train by game’s end or risk being arrested and thus be prevented from winning the game; and ‘A Shot of Whiskey for the Marshall’ in which the Marshall picks up a Whiskey Flask—if there is one in the carriage—and moves towards the Caboose at the rear of the Train, shooting any Bandit he comes across. Presumably in a drunken rage!

One last set of mechanics that Colt Express: Horses & Stagecoach adds is rules for team play wherein each player controls two Bandits who work together in robbing the Train. In each Phase of a Round, all of the players put an Action card down for their  ‘A’ Bandits first and once done, they take in turn to put down an Action card for their ‘B’ Bandits. Play is otherwise as per Colt Express, but at game end, the Bandit pair with the most money will be the winner. This set of mechanics lets fewer players play a fuller game with more Bandits and more actions so that they get to play the game at its fullest.

Physically, Colt Express: Horses & Stagecoach is as well designed as you would expect. The Stagecoach is bright and colourful, the Horses are fun (if only because a Bandit can sit on them), and the new cards are clear and easy to understand.

Colt Express: Horses & Stagecoach takes Colt Express and just adds more of what makes Colt Express fun. More Actions, more to do, and more theme—and it also helps  alleviate the issue of a Bandit having a bad hand of Action cards. Plus the Horses and the Stagecoach look great on the table. If you have Colt Express then robbing the Stagecoach is just as much fun!

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