Colt Express is a game I have played about a dozen times, so I have not even come close to mastering this one, but for what it’s worth here are my tips so far! As with many other games, set up is out of your control, so time to jump straight in…
During The Game:
$1,000 Prize; Above all, the player who wins has one of the two $1,000 prizes (either the stock box or the “Gunslinger” award). I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily one or the other that dominates but without one of these you will not win the game. To put yourself in the frame for these, you need to fire the gun in the early rounds and you need to get up that train even if it means jumping certain carriages. Don’t rush too fast though – if you have to hold the stock box for a long time then chances are you are going to get punched and forced to drop it. Get there first, but not too early! After that, perhaps the roof?
Watch out for the round bonus; At the end of each round a special action happens – moving players, the marshal or adding goods. Pre-empting this is like having an additional play that round. Making use of these can give you the edge.
Take note of double actions, reverse & hidden actions; Every now and then an opportunity will arise to hide your action or to take two actions back to back. This is a good time to throw a punch and steal the loot, or fire the gun, or jump up to the roof so people lose track of where you are… The options are vast and depend on the circumstance. Nonetheless these are not the turns to pass, these are the turns everyone will be trying to increase their impact and you should too.
Punching can be good!; Intuitively when you can shot someone, punching feels weaker…however, knocking that loot out of their hands and sending them into another carriage can really knock their strategy. If you can push someone away and steal some good loot, then that can be a very big points swing – especially in the late game when all those goods are in people’s hands!
Concentrate your fire!; I would generally say that you should shoot the person who is directly before you or after you in the turn order – that person that will steal first or punch you after you steal. Filling their deck with bullets will reduce the possibility of them having a negative impact on you. If they have to pass and draw three cards then you just got a free action – plus you are well on your way to Gunslinger. Now one bullet won’t do this, but three or four might just tip the balance of probability at that key time.
Marshal Action; It can be forgotten that you aren’t the only mini with a gun! That marshal shoots everyone when he moves into the carriage. If that’s not enough he makes you move to the roof! Keep him on the move and you can use him at that key moment to push other players away from you. Equally useful is that point late in the game where people don’t know which way you will move him, but they have to spend their turns assuming that you went one way (which you may later choose not to!). The gap between planning and action here creates this opportunity for deception and wasting the other player’s actions.
The element of surprise!; All of this contributes to that key element in a programming game – the element of surprise. The last bit of advice I would give is to try and find those opportunities whether through hidden actions, the last move of the round, the marshal or a clever bit of mis-direction to surprise your opponent. This will be the way to avoid dropping that stock box, or to get that last bullet away. These will be the steps that get you over the line to being the richest bandit in all the wild west!