Ender Wiggins
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Introducing Can't Stop Express

One of the world's most famous game designers is the legendary Sid Sackson (1920-2002), whose most famous game designs include the game Acquire, as well as other popular titles like BuyWord and I'm the Boss. But arguably one of his most popular and often-played games is his press-your-luck game Can't Stop, first published in 1980 and subsequently reprinted in many editions since. It's an addictive dice-rolling game, and is one of his very best and biggest selling titles (see my pictorial review of it here).

But now, as the #12 in their EGG series of small box games, Eagle Gryphon Games is publishing Can't Stop Express, also by Sid Sackson. This game is a perfect fit for the EGG series, because it is a more compact game, while retaining some of the press-your-luck charm of the original. But how is it possible for there to be a new Sid Sackson game release, given that he was deceased more than 15 years ago - is he producing game designs from the grave? The answer is that Can't Stop Express is the reimplementation of an existing Sackson title, which was published in Germany many years ago as Einstein and Choice, and later as Extra! In actual fact, it was first published in his fine 1969 book "A Gamut of Games" under the title Solitaire Dice, and it is this form of the game that has now been published as Can't Stop Express. So it's been around for a while between the dusty covers of his book, and in earlier incarnations, but now has the benefit of a fine new edition under a new title as part of the great EGG series.

Dice games have always been popular, and modern classics like Yahtzee and Farkle continue to have a mass appeal. This game fills a similar niche, and will appeal to players of games like those, so it means that it is something accessible to many. Will Can't Stop Express build on the success of its big name older brother Can't Stop, and is it a good fit for the EGG series? Let's show you the game and find out!



COMPONENTS

Box

The game box is the same size as all the other games in the EGG series, which means it is compact and portable. The red and white colour choice, as well as the graphic design, is obviously inspired by the design of the companion Can't Stop board game.



The back of the box summarizes the game and its connection with Can't Stop, as well as listing the included components.



In terms of the game-play, the game was described on the crowdfunding project that produced it as follows: "Can’t Stop Express is an elegant game where you use a shared dice roll (with the other players), and mark down a “Combo” total (adding the total amount of the two dice). Out of the 5 dice rolled you will always exclude 1 die, and it will be marked in the “5th Die” area. This mechanic functions as a timer throughout the game giving Can’t Stop Express a tidy 30 minute play time. Throughout the game you are attempting to score pairs, but you do not immediately receive a positive score. First you must push through the -200pt column to break even, then any successful score of that number becomes positive points.

Component list

Inside our conveniently sized box we find the following:
● 5 dice
● scorepad
● rules



Dice

The dice are exactly what you'd expect for this dice game - five red dice with white dots.



Scorepad

The scorepad that comes with the game is the same width/height as the box, and has score-sheets that can be torn off.



This contains several columns, which in order are:
A: Points - how much you'll score
B: Pair - a two-dice total required to get those points
C: Number - an area where you check off pairs as you roll them
D: Results - an empty column where you'll score points earned/lost
5th Die - a game timer where you mark three chosen numbers and track your 5th die results.

Rulebook

The rulebook consists of a small eight page booklet available from the publisher here. Be aware that this is a draft version, and the final published version included a small amendment about choosing the 5th die, that went back to the original Solitaire Dice rule, as discussed here.



GAME-PLAY

Flow of Play

Set-up

Everyone gets their own score-pad, and all five dice are rolled. It doesn't matter who does the dice rolling, since all players use the results of the same five dice.

Scoring a roll

Each player now must use these five dice to make two pairs, while the remaining die becomes the "5th die". Each roll for a pair is marked in the third column on the scoresheet. So each turn you'll be marking off two "pairs", and have one die left over.

The Fifth Die

In their first few turns, each player must write the value of their "5th die" (the one not included in the two scoring pairs) in the left column of that area of the scoresheet, and mark the first check box. In most cases after three turns you will have three unique values listed there. However you don't have to choose three unique results for the 5th die within your first three rolls, but can choose to check off a second occurrence of an already chosen "5th die", thus delaying your choice of a different valued 5th die. However once you have three different numbers there, in all future turns you must select one of these three values to be the "5th die" wherever possible, marking it on the scoresheet under the "5th Die". Any time no dice have one of these three values, it is considered a "free throw", which simply means that the 5th die is simply ignored.



Scoring

Game end

Whenever someone marks the eighth box for any of his "5th die" values, that ends the game for him. Once this has happened for all players, the game ends and final scoring happens. So the "5th die" part of the game not only limits your options for choices, but it also acts as a timer that will indicate the end of the game.

Scoring

Each pair that you have marked on the score sheet begins with -200 points (a mechanic similar to the negative investment value in Lost Cities). So if you only have 1-4 results of that pair, you'll get -200 points for that pair! Getting 5 results of a pair avoids this penalty, and earns 0 points. Getting more results for a pair earns the positive points listed in the first column for each result more than five. For example, if you have 9 results of a pair totalling 8, this means you have 4 results above the required five, and since each is worth 40 points, you'd score 4 x 40 = 160 points. The most you can score for a pair is 5 x the bonus figure (i.e. 10 marks for that pair). Although you can get 11 or more marks for a pair, anything beyond the 10th mark just won't increase your score for it.

It's not easy to score in the positives, so consider any positive score a satisfying achievement if you are a beginner! As a variant, the rulebook suggests that with new or younger players, you may wish to change the negative value from 200 points to 150 or 100 points, to make it easier to get a positive score. For experienced players, these are some targets to aim for:
0-500: Good
500-800: Very Good
800-1000: Excellent
1000+: Amazing

In his book Gamut of Games, Sid Sackson says "The player naturally tries to make as high a score as possible, but if he reaches 500, he can consider himself a winner."

Example of Play

The way the game works can be a little tricky to "grok", but is easily understood with an example of play.

Roll #1: 1,3,4,4,6. I choose the pairs 4 (1+3) and 10 (4+6), leaving the 4 as the 5th die.

Roll #2: 2,4,4,5,6. I choose the pairs 9 (4+5) and 10 (4+6), leaving the 2 as the 5th die.
Note that I could have chosen the 4 again for the 5th die (adding a second mark to that row), because I'm not required three unique numbers for the 5th die within in my first three rolls if I can.

Roll #3: 1,2,2,4,5. I choose the pairs 4 (2+2) and 5 (1+4), leaving the 5 as the 5th die.
From now on, one of the numbers chosen for the 5th die must be 2, 4 or 5 if possible, otherwise it is considered a "free throw" and the 5th die can be freely chosen.

Roll #4: 2,3,3,4,6. I choose the pairs 5 (2+3) and 9 (3+6), leaving the 4 as the 5th die.
On this turn I must select either the 2 or the 4 to be the 5th die, so that limits the options for the pairs I can make.

Roll #5: 1,3,3,6,6. I choose the pairs 4 (1+3) and 9 (3+6), leaving the 6 as the 5th die.
Since none of the numbers are the three fixed "5th die" numbers, this is a "free throw", and any number can be chosen as the 5th die, and the 5th die doesn't need to be marked.

Final Roll: 3,4,4,5,6. I choose the pairs 8 (3+5) and 10 (4+6), leaving the 4 as the 5th die.
Here we fast-forward to the end of the game. Since the 4 has been marked as the 5th die for the 8th time, this ends my game, and I move to final scoring. The scoresheet below gives an example of how things turned out.



OTHER EDITIONS

Comparisons

A big question is going to be how Can't Stop Express compares with Sid Sackson's original Solitaire Dice, the Choice/Einstein editions of 1989, and the Extra! edition of 2011. A thread discussing the differences between editions can be found here, and here is my overview.

Solitaire Dice

The original version of this game is Solitaire Dice, as published by Sid Sackson in Gamut of Games. At that time wasn't published as a separate game, but simply consisted of a description of the rules in Sackson's book. Having read Sackson's description there, Can't Stop Express appears to be identical, although the rules have been clarified and a small variant added. Aside from cosmetic changes to the terminology, Can't Stop Express is identical to Solitaire Dice.



Choice & Einstein

Solitaire Dice was first brought into print as an official game in 1989, when Hexagames published it in German/English as Choice, and Fun Connection published it in French as Einstein. From what I can tell, both these versions are identical to Solitaire Dice as far as the rules and the scoring is concerned.



Extra!

In 2011, Schmidt Spiele republished the game under the new name Extra!. This was accompanied by some rule changes to Sackson's game, however, specifically to the scoring.
1. The scoring track was adjusted to approximate better the probability curve of a two-dice sum. Since pairs like 2, 3, 11 and 12 are rarely rolled, the number of times these were achieved before earning points was reduced.
2. The bonus multiplier for the two final scoring rolls of a pair was increased from 4x and 5x to 5x and 7x respectively.
3. The lengths of the "reject/5th die" columns were varied. Instead of all three selected "5th die" numbers each requiring 8 occurrences to end the game, one was assigned 9, the other 8, and the other 7 occurrences, thus potentially making the game end more quickly.



Print-and-Play

You certainly could give this game a whirl in a print-and-play format if you wanted to. All you need are five dice, a scoresheet (which you can download from the BGG Files), and a copy of the rules.

Score-sheets

Lots of people have made their own versions of the game with customized scoresheets, and have produced some lovely results. You can find a Choice-style score-sheet in several places here on BGG (here, here, here, here, here, and here), as well as Extra!-style score-sheets (here, here, and here).

Rules

The Choice rules can be found here and here, and a draft of the Can't Stop Express rules can be found here (the final published version included a small amendment to make it in line with the original Solitaire Dice rule, as discussed here); the Extra! rules can be found here.

Of course you could always look up the original rules for Solitaire Dice in Sid Sackson's book A Gamut of Games as well. Here's Sid Sackson's original scoring example for Solitaire Dice (as included in Gamut of Games):



A print-and-play version can be a great way to try the game to see if it is for you. But for the relatively low cost, it's worth picking up a published version of the game, because that way you also get the rulebook, score-pad, and dice, all in a portable and well produced package.

Online Play

You can try a good java implementation of this game for free over at Summ Summ.

It is in German, but is easy enough to figure out. It has optional jokers, but I just ignore those, and then the game-play is identical to the original Solitaire Dice. This means that it uses the exact same scoring system as Can't Stop Express, rather than the amended scoring introduced by Extra! Note that in this implementation, three jokers give special abilities (explained here), and each unused Joker is worth 100 points, so not using the jokers will add 300 points to your score.

I definitely recommend giving this a try, to get a feel for how the game works. You'll quickly discover how addictive it is, and how hard it is to score well!



CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

Rules: Can't Stop Express is not a hard game to learn, although the rules are quite dense, and it can seem a bit confusing when you first read them. Fortunately there are some good examples included, but even then it can be easy to get things wrong. I would have liked to see just a couple more examples included (e.g. it gives an example of a "free throw", but there is no example of a normal roll and how the 5th die works after the three fixed 5th die numbers have been assigned). The game can be a bit tricky to explain, but once you watch it played, it all comes together quickly and easily.

Can't Stop: Although this title bears some superficial relationship with Can't Stop by virtue of the title, it's not really a similar game aside from the fact that you are making pairs. The press-your-luck mechanic isn't nearly as strong here. There is some vague similarity, and it makes sense from the perspective of marketing to use a similar title, but in reality this game has quite a different feel and involves different types of decisions. But there's enough overlap and even some press-your-luck to justify the name.

Probability: The expected values for Can't Stop correspond to the probability in which they are rolled, but the payoff for 2s and 12s in Can't STop Express doesn't seem to correspond to how unlikely they are in actual fact. Someone has done the math for this, and suggested some revised scores here. In reality previous editions of the game haven't always been consistent in the scores they assigned, or in the number of rolls needed for a pair to score, and that's why there are differences between the Choice/Einstein edition and the Extra! edition.

Previous editions Many thought that the Extra edition improved the scoring balance, whereas the Can't Stop Express edition seems to go back to the traditional scoring of Sid Sackson's Solitaire Dice. Whether the Can't Stop Express edition uses the best possible implementation of this is a matter of debate, but given how light the game is and the impact of taking away dice used for the 5th die, I'm not sure it matters too much.

Decisions: When introducing the game in his book, Sackson had the following to say: "With their long history, it is surprising how few games have been developed using dice, and most of these are purely gambling games offering little opportunity for exercising skill or making decisions. Solitaire Dice is an attempt on my part to fill the gap. It is a game calling for considerable skill and a great deal of decision-making." Did he succeed? I think so. It's not by any means an exercise in pure luck, and you will have to make careful choices. Having a good sense of the probabilities involved will definitely help.

Tension: Someone once described this game as "Can't Stop with Lost Cities scoring", and I think that's a very good description! Every time you begin marking off another pair, you are taking a risk - it's like the investments of Lost Cities, in that if you don't get enough results, it will cost you points rather than make you points. So you don't want to mark off too many pairs, in order to avoid minus points, and in order to get into the positives you want to ensure that the pairs you are going for will have lots of results. But sometimes the dice will work against you ... it is this tension that makes the game so much fun.

Difficult: It's not easy to get a positive score, and anything over 500 is indeed a good achievement! You'll find many gamers lamenting how hard it can be to do well in this game, but that's also part of its appeal and charm: the game will beg you to return to it, to try to improve your previous efforts. Keeping track of your scores and personal bests is a great way to be competitive, even when playing this solitaire. It also makes good scores very satisfying to achieve.

Addictive: This can be a very addictive game - if you don't believe me, try the online version, and you'll quickly see that it just begs to be played again to try to beat your best score!

Solitaire: This game does work well as a solitaire activity. In fact, when it was first published by Sackson in 1969's Gamut of Games, it was called "Solitaire Dice". That's not a bad thing; in fact you'll find that many people who own earlier editions of this game will remark how addictive it was as a solitaire game!

Multi-player Solitaire: I like the fact that everyone is using the same roll. This means that strictly speaking nobody can consider themselves unlucky, because everyone is saddled with the same dice results and must make the best of them. As such it does work well as a competitive game, even if it is multi-player solitaire.

Dice genre: There are a lot of dice games on the market already. But the popularity of classics like Yahtzee and Farkle and of newer games like Qwixx show that there is a real demand for games of this type. Given that it is from a big name designer and has a link (in name at least) to an existing successful title, there's a good chance that Can't Stop Express could be well received.



What do others think?

The critics

While this is a "new" game, there are lots of comments about previous editions, so I've scrutinized those to get some sense of what people think of this game. Those who do compare it with Can't Stop do note that the press-your-luck element works differently, so if you find the board game appealing, it doesn't mean that appeal will necessarily translate to this "Express" game. Perhaps the biggest criticism is that it has a very solitaire feel, so if it's a game with strong interaction that you're looking for, this is not it. Others found it hard to score in the positives, and to end up with something over 500. But even some of the critics conceded that it is a fun mathematical puzzle, and that it can be rewarding to try to play the odds of probability. Others even remarked that it has an interesting scoring system, and that they found more enjoyable than Yahtzee. So even those who feel lukewarm about it conceded that it has value as a solitaire filler, and several even speak of it as a predecessor of Qwixx - which is high praise.

The praise

"Extra! is Sid Sackson's predecessor of Qwixx - a perfectly decent push-your-luck dice filler." - qwertymartin
"One of the best dice games ever created." - Gernspieler
"Fascinating, how players use the same dice throws and, depending on strategy and luck, get totally different scores at the end." - S.K. Lator
"An awesome variant by Sid Sackson on his classic game of Can't Stop." - timewellspent
"Why didn't I think of it!" - skeletodoc
"What it is with Sackson and dice? The man had talent." - Arnott
"As solitaire, it's fairly addicting." - scriptorum
"One of my favorite dice games." - Socal Tim
"A cousin to Can't Stop, it doesn't rank as highly because of the lack of player interaction, but it's still fun with a decent amount of skill needed to balance the luck." - jodyjm13
"Love it." - King Kolrabi
"Fun quick re-issue of Sid Sackson's classic 'Choice' that has a touch of Can't Stop more than just being a Yahtzee clone." - Hopalong
"Of all Sackson designs the game which gets played most often in my family. I like it even as a game of solitaire." - S.K. Lator
"The java computer game version has eaten my brain! I am not a mathfreak but this is addictive!" - Tyler
"Nice short filler." - zelador
"A very lively game, less polished but more demanding and not very far from "Can't Stop"." - Ottia
"Not bad for a Yahtzee like game" - sa266
"Great little Sid Sackson game. Basically plays as multiplayer solo, but who cares, I Can't Stop playing it." - Der Das
"Great pastime." - zefquaavius
"Good tension and it feels like you have meaningful decisions." - Ajax
"Really fun and addictive." - SurfinDecoy
"Dang, but this is an addictive game/puzzle/whatever. It's like a solo version of Can't Stop, with some tactical know-how required to get a good score." - Verkisto
"Great solitaire game to waste time. Once you start playing it's hard to quit." - Neal Herperger
"Great Sackson solo dice roller with tough decision making." - fibroptx



Recommendation

So is Can't Stop Express for you? There's something charming about a simple dice game, and Can't Stop Express is a good example of a game that is elegant in its execution, and yet challenging and addictive to play. While it might not have quite the charm or appeal as the larger Can't Stop board game, this clever little game offers a lot of fun in a small package, especially as a solitaire experience.

Give it a try with some dice and a print-and-play scoresheet, or with the online implementation at SummSumm, and don't be surprised to find yourself enjoying it enough to pick up the published version for yourself, or to buy as a gift for a friend or relative!

Where to get it? Can't Stop Express is now available for $9.99 directly from the publisher Eagle Gryphon Games (here), and from game retailers.

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mb The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596

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Dan Conley
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Great review as always, Ender. I got my copy of this via the KS campaign and tried reading the rules. They are indeed pretty dense and made ME feel dense. shake I’ll have another go at them sometime. Can’t Stop is a longtime favorite of mine, so backing the KS for Express was a no-brainer. Guess I was thinking Express would resemble Can’t Stop more closely...
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Ender Wiggins
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yosemite wrote:
Great review as always, Ender. I got my copy of this via the KS campaign and tried reading the rules. They are indeed pretty dense and made ME feel dense. I’ll have another go at them sometime.

You might want to try the Java version here (ignore the Jokers, although this will add 300 to your final score) - it's a good way to see how the game works.

Sometimes seeing the game in action makes it easier to learn.
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-=::) Dante (::=-
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How do you feel about the gameplay of Can't Stop Express vs the changes implemented in Extra! (which sound quite positive to me)
 
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Ryan Keane
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Great review! It's a great example of a solitaire game that is an even better filler/party game. I've played it a bit solitaire but find it kind of boring, while it is one of my favorite fillers at game night, even though I am doing EXACTLY the same thing game-wise. Being a group affair just makes it a lot more enjoyable for me.

I prefer the Extra! score sheet, but happy to play the original as well. I'm working on a thematic redesign.
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Ender Wiggins
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NuMystic wrote:
How do you feel about the gameplay of Can't Stop Express vs the changes implemented in Extra! (which sound quite positive to me)

I've only played with the Can't Stop Express scoring. Given how light the game is, the fact that the scoring track doesn't exactly match the probability curve of a two-dice sum hasn't made it feel so unbalanced that a change is essential. Comments about this from others (e.g. in this thread) suggest the same.

As I wrote in my conclusions above:
Many thought that the Extra edition improved the scoring balance, whereas the Can't Stop Express edition seems to go back to the traditional scoring of Sid Sackson's Solitaire Dice. Whether the Can't Stop Express edition uses the best possible implementation of this is a matter of debate, but given how light the game is and the impact of taking away dice used for the 5th die, I'm not sure it matters too much.

Perhaps a case can be made that Extra's method of scoring improves things slightly. But as Ryan Keane notes from his own experience, he's happy to play both. So in the end perhaps the difference it makes is relatively minor, and both are great forms of the game and can be happily enjoyed.
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Dan Conley
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EndersGame wrote:
yosemite wrote:
Great review as always, Ender. I got my copy of this via the KS campaign and tried reading the rules. They are indeed pretty dense and made ME feel dense. I’ll have another go at them sometime.

You might want to try the Java version here (ignore the Jokers, although this will add 300 to your final score) - it's a good way to see how the game works.

Sometimes seeing the game in action makes it easier to learn.


Thanks, Ender!
 
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Alfred D.
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Great article Ender and very well presented.


The rules of the Extra-implementation better represent Can't Stop as an Express game. More thought should have been put into this, especially when blantantly building on the Can't Stop name and the Express format of games to push sales.


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