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Review: Colt Express (App)

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To put it mildly, Asmodee has expanded its publication, reach and brand in the last few years.  Lately that means exploding onto the digital scene, porting a handful of popular titles on the heels of a successful lineup from similar efforts by Days of Wonder, which the company acquired in 2014.  After big names Pandemic and Mysterium blazed the electronic trail, Asmodee Digital now heads West, young gamer.

How to Play

Game play in the digital app is essentially unchanged from the board game.  In Colt Express you are a desperado running around and climbing about a speeding train to collect loot, knock out rival outlaws and dodge the marshal.  Each round, you and the other players play a specified number of action cards according to a certain variable sequence.  After they’ve been played, you resolve each in order and find out who is the quick and who is the joker left empty-handed!  Check out how to play this 2015 Spiel des Jahres winner with our review here.  Don’t worry, we won’t leave the station without you!

Now that you’re familiar with the rules, rest assured the digital version is just as much of a blast as the analog and can run off the rails as quickly as you can say, “Randolph Scott!”

Now when programming your actions in the dark tunnel, you’re actually in a dark tunnel!

Fast Trains Drifter

The French have a curious fascination with – and image of – the Old West.  Or at least their board game designers do!  The award winning Colt Express is the latest stereotyped caricature of one of America’s favorite parts of history as parodied by the likes of Faidutti, Cathala, Bauza, and Maublanc.  Which works out just fine.  It avoids all the unpleasant violence, back-breaking work and body odor.

The app provides two playing modes.  The classic mode is a straight and faithful analog-to-digital translation.  The rules are exactly the same and veterans will only need the tutorial for the technical details behind their raucous punching, shooting and looting.  The tutorial is actually very well done and just the length it needs to be, giving you the low down without dragging you around.  The interface is all very intuitive, making play easy to navigate.  You can also pause the game at any time to check a rule or mechanic and then return to play.  In short, it does all the fiddly particulars for you, which is why one plays digital games in the first place.  Well, one of the reasons, anyway.

Come and listen to a story…

Retaining the original artwork and adding even more illustrations in the same style, the program is expressively vibrant and colorful, even if overtly cartoony.  It’s smoothly integrated with a graphic design and layout so that there’s no confusion as to what you need to do and when.  The animation is basic, but works seamlessly.  In many ways it looks as if the design is simply moving around cardboard standees, maintaining a good deal amount of the medium’s rigidity, which is completely appropriate.  The sound effects are spot on and the music, while any repetitive music can get annoying, varies with theme depending on the particular game or character you’re currently playing.

A simple transition of the game from cardboard to electronic device is all fine and dandy.  However, it likely wouldn’t be as attractive at the price.  Where the Colt Express app really shines is in its story mode and online multiplayer (if you can get it).

The story mode works exactly as it sounds.  Each of the six characters have five scenarios that you play through in progression.  These are preceded by introductory narratives and you must pass one chapter’s goal before moving on to the next.  For example, Belle’s first mission is to pick up a prototype of a steam-powered gun.  All of these stories unravel on the same fast-moving train with identical mechanics as from the classic mode.  However, new elements are also introduced, like being able to punch someone to give them an item, which is necessary to fulfill a number of the missions.  All of them come in varying degrees of difficulty.  Some are very straight-forward and simplistic – seemingly a matter of mere introduction to a new mechanic or concept.  Others provide a moderate test, while each character has at least one onerous scenario.  The spectrum is balanced to offer both enjoyment and a challenge.

Story mode offers new environments, objects and eve game play mechanics.

These are a lot of fun to work through on their own, but you also get two rewards – one cute and the other totally amazing.  For the cute, all of the characters have a comic-style story which you can read about their individual origins and/or adventures.  Each story chapter you complete unlocks a new comics page for that character.  They’re nice to read.  (Be aware that I have since read that one of the comics has a very unfortunate, unnecessary and out-of-nowhere f-bomb dropped…just so that those of you with kids are aware.  I did not see that, if true.  In reviewing the app I have so far only played through Cheyenne’s and Belle’s stories, and did not come across anything objectionable in those.)

Much more exciting than that, though, are new in-game features which you can unlock once you’ve passed through all five chapters of a character’s story arc.  These rewards then carry over into variants you can add in classic mode and online play.  With Ghost’s variant, one train begins the game on fire!  Each round it spreads and if you get caught in a blazing car, you take a neutral bullet card in your deck and are pushed off. With Belle you can unlock the prototype gun which can be picked up and fires three of your bullet cards at the same time when you play the shoot action – and hit multiple targets if available.  Cheyenne’s backstory yields a cursed amulet which can be picked up like loot and is worth $750 – but the player who carries it cannot use their special ability.  Tuco introduces the flatbed car where the climb action is worthless and you can’t move or jump across when on other roofs.  Django adds explosiveness to the game with dynamite.  It’s available to loot, but you immediately throw it into an adjacent car.  Anyone caught inside that car at the end of the round takes two neutral bullets and any bandit on that roof or in an adjacent card takes one bullet.  Finally Doc tacks on the last car element.  After each round, the rear car gets unhooked.  If you’re caught on it, you get pushed to the new last car and take a neutral bullet.  Anything else inside it is lost for good – that includes loot and the sheriff!

You can also unlock other in-game rewards for accomplishing certain feats, like punching another outlaw into the sheriff five times.  These all give you customized skins or environments and other typical features to digital apps.

Uncover each character’s backstory in his/her unique issue!

To save all your progress and achievements, you’ll need an Asmodee Digital account, which is both monetarily and hassle free.  Plus it gives you access to the multi-player mode.  With my brief experience so far in Steam, I have not been able to play online.  Setting up a game and/or joining one is a little harder to suss out.  It’s just not as intuitive as the rest of the well designed app.  When I was waiting on a game, there were few players and I waited several minutes for others to join before I gave up.  I’ve heard updates are attempting or will address this issue.  And perhaps the experience through Apple or Android is different?  If you can get online to play, it promises other rewards and a worldwide leaderboard.  So you can conquer more than just the Old West.

Other than that and the repetitious music (which can be turned off/down) there are almost no drawbacks to the Colt Express app – although I do realize the disappointing online play might be a bigger deal to others.  The AI is questionable, but probably to no one’s surprise as that’s an issue endemic to the medium.  And there is no pass-and-play ability, which has its pro and con.  It’s not a problem if you own the actual board game – you’d likely just play it, anyway.  If you don’t own it, well then it’d be nice to have the option to pass your device around.  And you could very well prefer the digital version thanks to its unlockable variants.

Asmodee Digital strikes gold again with its Colt Express implementation.  It’s easier than riding a horse, as faithful as an old ‘73 Winchester, and just as pretty as the inestimable Marlene Dietrich.  It even adds some bells and whistles to amplify its infectious game play.  It’s online multiplayer feature may still prove a bit cantankerous, but if you’re just looking for a faithful porting of the board game with some added extras afforded by its digital technology, then you can surely stake a claim with this affordable offering.

 

Asmodee Digital provided a keycode to the Steam version for the purpose of this review.  The app is $6.99 on Steam and $4.99 on Apple/Android.

Head This One Off at the Pass

  • Rating 8.5
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Summary

Pros

Classic mode is great faithful implementation
Intuitive design/layout
Story mode fun with lots of unlockable achievements

Cons

Multiplayer less than optimal

8.5 Very Good

I have lots of kids. Board games help me connect with them, while still retaining my sanity...relatively speaking.

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