Horses & Stagecoach was the first expansion released for Colt Express by publisher Ludonaute. Designed by Christophe Raimbault, the player count of the base game (2 – 6 players) is unaffected – though Mei from the Marshal & Prisoners expansion is still able to be used. What could make Colt Express feel more like an American Western? Cowboys riding on horses. This and more is added into the experience. However, is the core of Colt Express still able to flourish? Let’s find out!
The horses element of the Horses & Stagecoach expansion changes the start of the game, as well as adding a new action into the mix. Rather than players starting in the carriages on the train, in a predetermined order, players start on horseback. All players hold their character’s meeple and a horse meeple in their hands. To choose the carriage where you start you will secretly select either the character or horse. This is effectively a choice between the current carriage or riding forward to the next. Players simultaneously reveal one or the other.
Revealed characters are placed onto the train in the current carriage – starting at the caboose. Those that revealed a horse repeat the process for the subsequent carriage, until all players have boarded. It is not possible to board the locomotive or the stagecoach this way. Therefore anyone that gets to the carriage adjacent to the locomotive must board there. The horses do not magically disappear. When a player boards the train the horse is placed adjacent to the carriage they jumped onto. Note that these are not considered individual players’ horses from this point onward.
During play a ride action is now available, as one of the action cards players shuffle. Played during the Scheming phase, this sees a character jump from a carriage, inside or the roof, onto an adjacent horse. If there isn’t an adjacent horse the action is ignored. After landing on a horse it then rides up to 3 carriages in either direction, or stays stationary alongside the train. Finally, the player must reboard the train into the carriage they end up adjacent to.
Whiskey is also added in the expansion. This is a new loot type, which doesn’t help towards players’ final money totals. There are two types, normal and old. The normal whiskey allows players to both draw 3 cards and play an action card twice. The old whiskey enables a player to play two action cards on a turn instead of one, again twice in the game. This may be a little too much information brand new players. For everyone else it is an interesting choice that can make turns feel special.
The Horses & Stagecoach expansion adds a range of new round cards, with a turmoil turn. Not only is it great to have more variety for the round cards, this new special turn adds to the chaos nicely. Denoted as a lightning bolt, all players simultaneously reveal the card they want to play. These still happen at the end of the scheming phase, and in turn order. It is the not knowing what others will do that can throw best made plans out of the window though. These can be used regardless of the experience of the other players, and for my set won’t be removed from the round deck.
Each round the stagecoach moves backwards along the side of the train, always being lined up with a train carriage. An additional $1,000 briefcase starts on top of the stagecoach, accompanied by a shotgun character. This is a semi-sheriff character. The briefcase is unavailable until the shotgun is punched. At this point the shotgun moves onto the train roof, acting like a sheriff and shooting players whom enter that roof space. The shotgun character stays in line with the stagecoach so when it moves the meeple is also moved backwards along the train roof.
Within the stagecoach are hostages ready to be taken. With one drawn from the deck per player these vary from one game to the next. By entering the stagecoach, not standing on the roof, each player can claim one of the hostages each game. These all come with a ransom amount to add to the player’s total loot value. Unfortunately, the majority with big ransoms also have a negative. These range from players being unable to use the ride action, to adding a neutral bullet card to their deck each round – even losing their bandits special power.
With another action card the probability of getting the shoot action cards is reduced. This, alongside movement feeling more important, means that less shots are fired. While less player shots will be taken the same amount of bullets still end up in players’ hands, thanks to the new way to obtain neutral shots. You’d expect this to make the $1,000 shooting bonus easier for one player to get. While it can be, with the loot from ransoms and the second briefcase the $1,000, it has less impact on the scores – giving different routes to victory.
Having the riding at the start of the game is the ideal setting maker. Players get into the cowboy train robbery, even pretending to gallop in. The limitations on the locomotive are perfect at not giving an advantage, plus it shakes up the locations of players. While new players may not understand where is best to board it is still fun to include regardless of experience level. The ability of the ride actions does add extra options, so perhaps leave this for after an initial game with new players. It does take players back to the stage of not always being able to follow the action. Much like moving on top of the train, the ride action can see a player drastically alter where they are on the train.
While the Marshal & Prisoners expansion felt a bit lacklustre, working better on paper than in reality, Horses & Stagecoach is full of what Colt Express is all about. It instills a splash more chaos, new choices are available and there are new routes to victory. Some of the content can be included with new and experienced players alike. On top of this one great benefit is it all fits in the base game box – with a bit of wiggling. For those looking to extend their Colt Express experience Horses & Stagecoaches is certainly the expansion to get!
(Editor’s Note: Colt Express: Horses & Stagecoach was provided to us by Asmodee for the review. The game is currently available from local board game stores, find your local store here.)