Colt Express, the tabletop game of train robbery, has now arrived in digital form. It’s available for tablets for $6.99 on iOS or Google Play, and for PCs for $9.99 on Steam. I was provided access to the iPad version for review.
If you’re new to Colt Express, GeekDad Bernd Grobauer explained how the game works earlier this year. Briefly, you’re all bandits robbing a train, and you program your actions ahead of time, moving from car to car, climbing up onto the roof, pick up some loot, or punch and shoot at other bandits. Each round gives you a certain number of turns, with some turns playing out in reverse turn order or other special circumstances. At the end of five rounds, the best gunslinger gets an extra $1,000 reward, and then the player with the most loot wins!
The app gives you two versions to choose from: Story and Classic. Story mode gives you five chapters per character that don’t play out like the standard game, and Classic mode reproduces the tabletop game.
Classic Mode plays out the same way as the tabletop version, but with some fun added bells and whistles. The characters look like the card illustrations (rather than the generic gunslinger meeples) and the train is actually traveling down a track the entire time you’re playing. The walls are cut away so you can see into the train cars, but otherwise it does look a little more like a real train than the cardboard version. The characters are animated slightly—they change positions as they move, shoot, and take actions, but they’re made to look like two-dimensional flat cutouts rather than solid figures, particularly when they turn around and it looks like flipping a cutout over.
As you play, your cards and the other players’ cards will be placed into a pile in the upper right corner, and you can expand them to see what has been played—though “tunnel” turns will have them played face-down. Once all the cards have been played for all the turns of a round, the cards are revealed one by one and resolved, with animations showing the results. Whenever your cards resolve, you will get simple on-screen buttons to make your choices—what loot to pick up, which bandit to shoot or punch, or which direction to move. If your action can’t be taken (for example, if you try to shoot but there are no valid targets), then your character gets a big question mark to show that they’re confused.
There are nice added touches that aren’t crucial to the game but are a neat addition in the digital mode. For instance, during a “tunnel” round, cards are played face-down so you don’t know for sure what anyone is doing. In the app, the animation shows the train going through a dark tunnel during these rounds. When the Marshal moves, he stomps over and kicks open the door before entering. Characters spin around when they get shot.
Each of the six characters has a six-page comic that explains the character’s backstory. The first page of the comic is included, but to unlock the other pages, you’ll have to play through story mode. There are five chapters per character, and the difficulty level increases as you go. The chapters provide scenarios with different win conditions: you might have to punch a particular character before anyone else does (to represent interrogating them), or you might need to grab a strongbox and meet up with the Marshal in the last train.
These chapters vary greatly—you’ll have a different number of rounds to complete a particular task, and new mechanics may be introduced. For instance, in one you can use the punch action to hit the brakes in the locomotive, and in another the punch can transfer a cursed amulet to another character. I’ve managed to unlock many of the comics pages, but not all of them—chapter 4 and chapter 5 gets pretty difficult. Each of the chapters also tells its own story (separate from the comics), with some dialogue that pops up.
The comics themselves show a little more about the characters, often cutting to flashbacks to show a little more about the character’s past. There are also some connections between characters, and you’ll see one character appearing in another’s comics. One note for parents: although the app is rated 9+ (and the tabletop game is rated 10 and up), the comics seem to be targeting older readers. I was surprised to see some profanity (including at least one instance of the f-word) in the comics. My other complaint is that the drawing style made it hard to tell some of the characters apart—there are a couple people who look a bit like Ghost, but I finally decided that they weren’t Ghost (and that there were two different people who looked similar to each other).
So far, if you’re playing on a single device, the game is single-player only, with AI filling in for the other three slots. You can play online using your Days of Wonder account, though I haven’t been able to use that yet because so far the times I’ve logged in I haven’t been able to get a game going because there aren’t enough players online late on the west coast. I imagine that as more players start playing, it’ll be easier to find a quick match or invite your friends to play.
I do find that the app version can make it a little tricky at times for me to visualize the cards that are being played, particularly since you can zoom in and out on the train so sometimes you don’t see the entire train at once. That will probably change with more experience playing, as with anything, and I imagine that player who have more experience with the tabletop game may find the transition easier. The tutorial did make learning the game itself easy, though, and even if you haven’t played the tabletop version, you shouldn’t have much trouble picking this one up.
Whether you prefer digital or cardboard, Colt Express is an excellent game with a bit of bluffing, a bit of planning, and a bit of luck. The double-decker train is a very cool feature, and the “programming” aspect is a lot of fun as things are resolved and don’t go as you planned. The app adds fun variations to the basic game, and if you like the bells and whistles (and a computer to help resolve everything properly), then it’s worth a look.
Colt Express is published by Days of Wonder, and the digital adaptation was developed by Frima Studios.
Disclosure: I received a review code for the iOS version of the app.