Head 2 Head: Walk the Plank vs. Colt Express

Asmodee announced recently that it would be releasing an app for its Spiel des Jahres winner Colt Express. The game has broad appeal with a passionate audience suggesting that the app will land with a ready made audience. Today I want to bring you a head to head with another game released the year before Colt Express that also uses the programming mechanic, Walk the Plank by Mayday Games. Walk the Plank may not have received the accolades of Colt Express, but it is a beloved game for myself and many of my friends. In previous head to heads we pit games against each other to declare a winner. I want to do this head to head differently by pitting Colt Express and Walk the Plank against each other to examine what makes both of these games great for any collection.

Walk the Plank versus Colt Express Head to Head versus by Gameapalooza Australia Colt Express vs. Walk the Plank

The Basics:
Colt Express (2014)

Designer: Christophe Raimbault
Publisher: Asmodee
Plays: 2-6 People
Play Time: 30-40 minutes

Walk The Plank (2013)
Designer: Shane Steely, Jared Tinney
Publisher: Mayday Games
Plays: 3-5
Play Time: 20-30 minutes

These details are not as dissimilar as they appear. The play times may vary slightly due to group dynamics, but even with such variability accounted for each game hits a good play time that is satisfying without feeling dragged out or tiring. The player count is not as different either when you consider that Colt Express does not really have a “two player” game, instead the two players play a modified four player game. Both games will suit a group of 3-5 well in a time frame that will not consume an evening, but provide some quick light hearted fun.

Components:
There is no doubt that Colt Express has some of the most amazing components that look absolutely stunning while playing. The trains may take a bit to set up, but they are an entire presence themselves within the game play. Additionally they pack away in a very cleverly designed box that makes set up and pack down simple. Walk the Plank may not have the same stunning components, but it does have a fun and enticing design utilising its components well. Meeples with a retractable plank that sends pirates to their watery death at the hands of the Kraken is both colourful and amusing to look at. Both games break free from traditional boards and use a free form design that is easy to understand and pleasant to use. Once set up, these play areas lead to lots of player interaction that represents the game play in an engaging and easy to follow manner.

colt express tabletop game review head 2 head with walk the plankColt Express is a lovely looking game, very thematic.

Gameplay:
While both games use a programming mechanic there are key difference that sets them clearly apart. The main difference between these two games if how the “end game” is achieved. Colt Express plays out in five rounds with the player holding the most money declared the winner. In Walk the Plank the last few pirates remaining, whether two or fewer, are declared the winner. Despite this difference both games do well to retain player engagement.

Walk the Plank utilises player elimination for determining the end game. This is often a curse on many games, as it is undesirable to force players to watch other people play and have fun until the game is finished and reset. This mechanic has almost become anathema among designers as it can be worse than downtime and kills interest in a game rather quickly. However some games have utilised this in an acceptable manner. Coup is one such game where the elimination is so brief that it has minimal impact on wanting to replay the game. So too with Walk the Plank early elimination will rarely happen as each player has 3 pirates to manage. When elimination does start to occur it is towards the end of the game an eliminated player is rarely out for long. Plus it must be said that watching the remainder of the game can almost be as much fun as playing.

Colt Express however keeps all players in the game and simply penalises players who get shot by clogging up their hand with bullet cards. It can be frustrating not being able to do much on your turn, but again this is an accepted part of play and your hand rarely gets so clogged up that you cannot do anything. Play remains fast and free flowing despite this minor handicap. The end game for Colt Express is reaching round five. Each turn is so action packed that these turns will feel like they are going quicker than they should.

Both games feel fasted paced with lots to think about and do. This makes for a lively gameplay experience for both games.

The next big difference that sets these two games apart is how they utilise the programming mechanic. Walk the Plank maintains hidden information throughout the programming stage. Players select three cards and lay them to be played from left to right. Once all players have three cards they take turns revealing their first card and executing it’s action. This is the same for the second and third cards with the expectation that all commands must be completed, even if it results in your own team of pirates being cast off the plank.

Walk the plank head 2 head tabletop game review with Colt ExpressWalk the Plank! Kersploosh!

The hidden information results in players not being able to fully comprehend what the state of play will be like by their second card. The more you play the better you get at knowing your opponents, and possibly guessing what they might do, but “certainty” is a word seldom used in this game. This only adds to the hilarity and light-hearted nature of the game. People often laugh and face palm themselves as they end up having to throw their own pirates overboard. I was once on the cusp of winning until I misread my position and programmed my entire crew onto the plank and then took the plank out from underneath them. It was hilarious to watch and silenced my skiting and boisterous bragging.

Colt Express forces players to select actions one at a time and play them into a common pile. For the most part this programming is revealed for all to see. In this way players are actually able to be more tactical in their schemin’. This also means that turns where information is hidden become hugely powerful in upsetting the intended course of play. Only those players who read the action right will get the advantage. More often than not it will be after a hidden turn that players start punching the air wildly, shooting at nothing, and throwing themselves at the Marshal. In a similar way to Walk the Plank this is all part of the fun. Yet due to the way programming is done in Colt Express there is a slightly stronger competitive element. In both games the programming is a core element that often provides outrageous laughter and an old fashioned good time.

And the winner is…..
I am not declaring any winner in this head to head. I hope by pitting these two games against each other you got to see how both might be worthy of a space in your collection. With Christmas only a matter of weeks away this might be a good time to consider picking up a copy Colt Express or Walk the Plank.