I own this entire collection (except I only have one of the two that were never available in the US. I have Risk Express, but was never able to get my hands on a copy of Life Express: if anyone is willing to part with theirs, be sure to let me know)
Here they are ranked and reviewed in order of my favorites.
In general, I find each of these games does an excellent job of giving you the feel of the original source material, even though the core mechanic is often quite different, and I believe that without exception, the games are superior to their inspiration, though with Scrabble the full game is probably better in a tournament context and I could imagine people preferring Monopoly or Risk for nostalgia, though I would much rather play a fast game if it is going to be predominately luck based and with very obvious and superficial strategies, and save my multi-hour gaming sessions for truly, deeply strategic offerings. So in that sense, I do have something of a bias toward fast games.
This game and Battleship Express, both designed by Reiner Knizia, are what got me interested in the collection in the first place. And Risk Express is great. It’s fast, it’s intuitive, it’s dice rolling fun. Continents are divided up into 1 to 4 major regions that you try to capture one at a time, either to claim them initially or take them from someone else. Once you capture an entire continent, you get bonus points and no one can take those regions from you again.
You have to roll specially marked dice trying to match one of the “lines of defense” on a region, and then after selecting the region you want to attack, you place the dice that match on the line you have satisfied, and then roll the remaining dice hoping to satisfy each of the other lines in turn. If you fail to satisfy a line, you lose one of the dice but get to re-roll the remainder. You either conquer the region or run out of dice and have to wait until next time. There is an additional line of defense (a “General”) that you have to roll if you want to capture a region away from someone else.
9 out of 10, for what it does. It isn’t the deepest game or the most strategic, and it helps if all players to go after the leader to provide balance and mitigate the randomness of the dice, but it is fun, fast, feels like you are conquering the world, offers lots of chances to trash talk, and is the best of the Express series of games.
This game provides a good feel of a game of scrabble, challenges your mind and vocabulary in very similar ways, and doesn’t take long at all. You roll dice with letters on them, form your words on a much smaller grid, and your opponent rolls the remaining dice and builds off of your word. Then you pick up some of the dice and build off of theirs.
8 out of 10; it is great word fun that won’t overstay its welcome, and is the closest to the full experience of any of the Express games.
My kids love this game, and it has most of the feel of the full Clue game (less locations, but still plenty of good deduction and logic skills to develop). And I don’t mind playing it with them because it plays quickly and you don’t have to roll a dice just to hopefully be able to make an accusation. You do have to make accusations related to the dice you rolled, though, and there is a bonus dice that confers special privileges (like seeing the color on a card showing through a keyhole in the solution envelope), and there are two sets of rules for a simple or more advanced game. I tend to house-rule a lot of this game to make it more about the logic itself and less about the special die, but overall a good game in any of its rulesets.
7 out of 10.
This game is the least like its inspiration, but is a solid, fun “press-your luck” dice game that manages to get a lot of the themes from monopoly into the game. Your turn is over when you roll three “go to jail” symbols. You get points by making monopolies of matching colored “properties” or utilities or railroads. You can use a “chance” question mark as a wild. You can roll “Go” and collect 200 dollars. You can even collect houses and try to place a hotel, or roll a get out jail free, so they caught most of the major thematic elements in a different style game that I still recommend and think plays quickly enough to be enjoyable.
Sorry express is very, very fast. You roll dice and try to score 4 pawns of the same color in your “home” on your color disc. Each player has a disc and is doing the same thing, taking pawns from the starting disc when they roll those colors on three dice, and moving them to their own discs. Your disc can only show one of the four colors at once, though, so you can only have one of the colors of pawns in your “home.” The rest remain on the disc in case you roll a “slide” die face and decide to switch which color you are collecting.
6 out of 10. This game often gets maligned as the worst of the Express Line and a game without meaningful decisions, but I disagree, partially. This is another one that even very young children can play and have fun with, and though it is an overwhelmingly chance based game, there are decisions in whose pawns you steal and what color to grab when you roll a wild. True, those decisions are generally obvious or inconsequential, but I find this game far, far more enjoyable to play with my kids than say Candyland or Chutes and Ladders. And its short length is great for the game (or child entertaining event) that it is.
In this game you have an armada of the standard Battleship naval vessels, and each gets to roll a different number of dice or a different number of times, and in the advanced rules they get even more unique strengths and weaknesses. The dice show different symbols, and the cards for each ship in your fleet tell you what constitutes a hit and how many hits it takes to sink a ship or sub. There are rules governing the pattern of your navy, which is basically a straight line and, with some exceptions, the current front ship is the only one that can fire or be targeted by an opponent.
5 out of 10. It’s interesting to me that my favorite and least favorite from this series are both the Knizia designs. I may not have given Battleship Express a fair shake, as it seemed to me to have a first player advantage problem and very obvious strategies even in the advanced game, but I have not played all of the different variants that have been proposed. Mainly, I have not been able to find people who are that interested in trying it out with me. Battleship Express is not a bad game at all, it is just a decidedly average game with nothing to really recommend it over other fillers. But I think the original battleship game is pretty useless, trying to totally randomly fire at your opponent’s grid in places that are near the corners but generally not in the corners at first, something like a blind Go player hoping to start strong with a broad initial scattering that then tightens up when he finally scores a hit. This game, whatever its problems, is better than that . . .
I think most of these games are worthy fillers for people who enjoy a good dice game. I’d rather be playing Ra: The Dice Game or Roll Through the Ages over any of them, but they are easy to teach, fast to play, and nostalgic in the extreme. It is unfortunate they didn’t do very well commercially, as I do not think they are made any longer and they can often be picked up on deep discounts if they can be found.
I recommend them if you can find them for under $10, and I even ordered Risk Express in German just to have a copy of that game. I only wish more of these kinds of games were made (and that it were possible to find Life Express in any language).
- Last edited Thu Oct 8, 2009 2:48 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Thu Oct 8, 2009 1:01 am