Pony (and Stagecoach) Express
I’ve always been a fan of Colt Express. For a game featuring programmed movement — a system where your moves are planned three or four steps in advance before being carried out — it was generous enough to provide some wiggle room rather than dooming you to rigidly follow an ill-conceived plan, and always embraced a unique sort of physical comedy. You’d punch an opponent, sending them reeling into the adjacent train car; the marshal would drive you onto the roof in a flurry of gunsmoke; outlaws would tussle over a lockbox filled with one thousand Union dollars. It was good stuff.
My one complaint was that it could end up being too straightforward, with the same beats arising every game. That’s where Horses & Stagecoach comes in. Colt Express has never been wilder.
The most immediate thing that Horses & Stagecoach does for Colt Express is open it up even more. It was always a flexible system, letting you use many of your cards in different ways even after you’d committed to them. Shooting your gun, for example, often let you strike any number of targets, while a move might send you in different directions. If you’d clambered onto the roof of the train, you could even run farther, hopping from car to car without being slowed down by passengers or food carts.
Horses let you get around even easier. Which makes some sense, I suppose, since the whole reason we domesticated the things was so we could feel the breeze in our hair while we rode naked along the coast. Play your horsey card (I think that’s its proper name) and you can leap onto a horse and bellow your way along the train. As with so many of the aesthetics in Colt Express, the fact that your little gunslinger meeple can actually slip into the saddle is entirely cosmetic, but it’s the sort of attention to cutesy detail I can dig. It’s also a considerable move, letting you get around more easily than ever, though it never feels unbalanced since you need to make sure there’s a horse alongside your current car before you can hop along.
The stagecoach is another excellent addition, and gives the outlaws another prize to pursue. It starts out alongside the front of the train and gradually falls behind as the robbery progresses. Crucially, it boasts a second lockbox, protected by the dude riding shotgun, who you can punch out in order to steal the goods. Inside the stagecoach there are also a number of hostages, and you can nab one of them for their ransom. The trick here is that most hostages confer some penalty as they struggle against your outlaw. The Old Lady slows you down when you try to run across the roof, the Zealot refuses to spread her legs and thus makes it impossible to ride on a horse, and the Poodle will give you a nasty bite. They’re usually worth a good sum of money, but these downsides might make you think twice about claiming them too early.
All in all, it’s a great expansion for a good game, adding all sorts of chicanery to your stickup. There are a few other bits and bobs, extra cards and some whisky tokens that confer some minor bonuses, but the highlights here are the titular horses and stagecoach. These take the Colt Express formula and give it a well-needed mule kick in the rump, making each robbery feel new again.