Introducing Can't Stop



Sid Sackson (1920-2002) is one of the world's most famous game designers, with notable designs including the game Acquire, and other popular titles like BuyWord and I'm the Boss. His book A Gamut of Games continues to be enjoyed by modern gamers around the world. Someone well said: "in the world of games, he was Beethoven; he was Shakespeare; he was Michael Jordan." Also a collector, Sackson's game collection was said to have been approaching 20,000 games by the end of his life. With a collection that big, can't you stop Mr Sackson?



As it turns out, Can't Stop is also the title of one of Sid Sackson's most popular games. It's a press-your-luck dice-rolling game that was originally published by Parker Brothers in 1980, and was more recently reprinted by Face 2 Face Games in 2007 - the edition I'll be reviewing here. Despite celebrating its 30th birthday this year, Can't Stop stands up well amongst the very best press-your-luck dice-rolling games of the modern era. Simple rules, tense game-play, enough decisions, suitable for 2-4 players, and now benefiting from a contemporary reprint, now's a great time to start taking a look at Can't Stop, an addictive game that is widely regarded as one of Sackson's best.




COMPONENTS

Game box

The game box is quite large, mainly because it needs to accommodate the large Stop-sign board which is the hallmark feature of the game.



The back of the box pictures the game and its components.



The inside of the box is designed to house the game board, under which there's a bag with the remaining components. Note that the component tray of the Face2Face edition doubles nicely as a tray for rolling the dice!



Component list

Here's what you get inside the box:
● game board
● dice
● 3 white runners
● 44 player runners (in 4 colours, 11 of each)
● rulebook



Rule book

The rulebook of the Face 2 Face edition is a 12 page booklet in three languages: English, French, and Spanish.



I particularly appreciate the fact that the rules contain pictorial examples of the rules and game-play - this makes the game much easier to learn.

Game Board

This is what the game is all about, and the Stop-sign shaped board is the chief attraction of the game:



It's made out of sturdy plastic, and its notable feature is that it contain the numbers 2 through 12 at the top. As can be seen in this detailed image, below each number is a column of plastic indentations, and it is on these column spaces that runners (with a square base) will be placed.



In the game, you win if you are the player to get three of the `runners' in your colour to the top of the board. The beauty of the board is how Sackson has been able to marry elements of theme, gameplay, and mathematics. You don't have to be a whiz at probability to know that when using two D6s, results like 2 (double 1) and 12 (double 6) are the least often rolled; while 7 is the most often rolled. If nothing else, games like Settlers of Catan have done us a service in making us have a sense of numerical outcomes of two D6s almost instinctively, and any Settlers of Catan player will tell you that 6s and 8s are the most likely results along with 7s. In Can't Stop, these mathematical probabilities have determined the shape and size of the board - to get your marker to the top of the board, you only need three 2s or 12s, but you'll need thirteen 7s - this makes achieving each result more or less equally difficult. But since the game is in essence a press-your-luck game, turning this into an octagonal stop-sign shape is a turn of genius - what could be more fitting for a press-your-luck game where it's so hard to stop!

Runners

Player runners

There are 11 plastic runners in each of four colours: orange, yellow, green, and blue. Each player will have enough runners in their chosen colour to work their way up each column on the board and try to get to the top.



The runners are stackable, so that several players could have their runner on the same spot. They are also very sturdy and durable. The only thing I don't really like about them is their shape, because the pyramidal design can sometimes make them elusive to grasp - only a minor annoyance.

Turn runners

There are 3 white runners that will be shared by the players.



On your turn, these are the runners you'll use to work your way up the board as you roll the dice; if you decide to end your turn, your coloured runners are placed where the white runners are; if you take one too many risks, the white runners will be removed without getting to advance your coloured runners.

Dice

It goes without saying that a dice-rolling press-your-luck game needs dice, and Can't Stop comes with four attractive looking dice. The red colour and white dots fits nicely with the Stop sign theme.



GAME-PLAY

Set-up

With the game board in the middle, each player gets 11 runners in their colour, and the starting player also gets the 3 white runners and dice. Here's an example of a set-up of a two player game between green and orange:



The basic aim of the game is to be the first player to advance three of your coloured runners to the top of the board. On your turn, you can press-your-luck to try to move the three white runners up the board as far as you can. You do this by rolling all four dice, dividing the four results into two pairs (e.g. a 2 3 4 and 5 could make sum pairs of 6 and 8), and advancing the white runners up the board on those numbers (6 and 8) - you can do this as many times as you wish, but if you can't move a white runner (there are only three, and you can't switch columns midway a turn once you've placed a white runner!) after rolling the dice, your turn ends and you lose everything you achieved. So each turn there are two decisions that need to be made: how should you divide up the four dice you've rolled into two pairs? And after you've moved the white runners, should you stop?

Flow of Play

Rolling dice to place and move runners



On your turn, you do the following:
1. Roll all four dice (note: the box insert of the Face 2 Face edition works well for dice rolling!).
2. Divide the four dice into two pairs; e.g. if you rolled a 2,3,4,5, you might choose the following pairs: 2+4 (=6) and 3+5 (=8).
3. Place a white runner on the bottom square of the columns matching the sums of your dice pairs.

In the above example, you would put one in the 6 column and the other in the 8 column, as follows:



If you'd chosen as pairs 3+4 (=7) and 2+5 (=7), you'd only place one white runner, but move it up onto the second square in the column.

Rolling again

Now you must decide:
Stop? If you decide to voluntarily end your turn, you replace the white runners on the board with your coloured runners. Your turn is over, and it's the next player's turn.
Can't Stop? If you decide to risk rolling again, you repeat the process by rolling all four dice again, dividing them into pairs, and again placing or moving the white runners.

For example, let's say on your next roll you got a 1,1,5,6.
A. You could introduce the third white runner into the 2 column (1 + 1) or the 11 column (5 + 6).
B. Or you could introduce the third white runner into the 7 column (1 + 6) and move the white runner on the 6 column (1 + 5) one square upwards.



Here's the fun part: on your turn, you can't move a white runner from one column to another. So what happens if you have three white runners on the columns 2, 6, and 8, and you roll a combination that doesn't enable you to make a pair with a sum equalling 2, 6 or 8 (say you rolled a 2,2,2,5)? Then you can't place or move on of the three runners - then your turn ends immediately, and none of your coloured runners are placed or moved! Too bad!

Example of Play

Let's illustrate the flow of play using an example from the rule-book. Here the orange player has placed the three white runners on the three squares marked with an X. After re-rolling successfully several times, she has moved the white runners up the board. At this point she could stop voluntarily, and move her orange runners on the spaces currently occupied by the white runners (in the case of the 9 column, she just stacks her orange runner on top of the yellow runner).



But now let's say the Orange player starts getting greedy, and decides to roll one more time before ending her turn! It's a 2, 4, 4 and 6 - that makes sums of 6, 8 or 10, and so there's no match for the columns of 3, 7 and 9 which she is working on this turn! Bust! She loses everything she's gained that turn!



Of course, here's the beauty of the game: should you keep rolling, and hopefully move your runners up the board, at the risk of losing everything you've gained that turn? Or should you play conservatively and be content with small gains? If you have a runners on 6 and 7, there probability is quite high that you'll get a roll with four dice that will allow you to create at least one pair matching that sum; but if you have runners on 2, 3 and 11, the risk is much higher! So it's not completely luck - you need to assess the risk, and decide whether or not it's worth it!

How to Win

Winning a column

If you have a white runner at the top of a column when you decide to Stop and end your turn, your coloured runner is put at the top of that column: you have won that column, all other player runners in that column are removed, and from now on no runners can be placed in that column, i.e. that column cannot be used anymore for dice results by any player - this will make the options fewer and fewer as the game progresses! Here the orange player has already won the 7 column, and in is present turn could claim the 5 column ... if he decides to stop!



Winning the game

The first player to win three columns wins the game!

A recommended variant is to play to four columns with a three player game, and five columns in a two player game. Sometimes the outcome can come down to the wire! In the thrilling two player game pictured below, we played with the variant that required five columns to win. Green has already won four columns and is one step away from the fifth (column 7), so orange is risking everything to try to columns 4 and 10 to win the game! And yes, orange did win!



Variants

The rules also contain three small variants which change gameplay in the following small ways:
1. altering the win condition slightly depending on the number of players (e.g. 4 columns for a three player game and 5 columns for a two player game)
2. making it mandatory to form dice pairs that will introduce all three white runners as soon as possible
3. forbidding players to end their turn if one of their runners is on a square occupied by an opponent's runner
These all change the game in small and subtle ways. The second variant in particular clarifies what some considered to be an ambiguity in the originally published rules, where it was arguably not clear whether the requirement "If you can place a marker, you must..." was intended to be applied before or after subdividing the four dice. In the Face 2 Face edition rules, the second variant applies this to before subdividing the four dice, whereas the regular rules only requires it to be applied after subdividing the four dice - so you can choose to play by whichever rules you prefer.



Exploring Further

Probabilities and Strategies

Can't Stop isn't all luck, because there are important decisions to be made about which numbers to choose (when dividing your four dice), and correctly assessing the risk. You need to think about whether or not to focus on columns that are easy to achieve but require more results, like 6, 7 or 8, or more difficult to roll columns like 2, 3, 11 or 12. You also need to take into account which columns your opponents are aiming for. At the start of the game, try keeping the white runners off the board as long as you can, to enhance your chances of re-rolling safely. Certain number combinations also have a higher chance of making a successful roll (apparently having markers on 6, 7 and 8 has a 92% chance of making a successful re-roll, while having markers on a 2, 3 and 12 has a 44% chance of making a successful re-roll). You'll find detailed articles online explaining some of the probabilities, such as the numbers here: http://www.taterenner.com/cantstop.htm You don't have to be a math wizard to become the local Can't Stop champion, but having a rough idea of probabilities with D6s will help. You're also more likely to get skunked with a set of all odd numbers than a set of all even numbers. Risk is slightly decreased if you avoid choosing markers that are all above 8 or all below 6, and having a wider distribution. So there is a lot you can think about and consider, in an effort to maximize your chances of a good score!

Electronic versions

Many electronic versions and clones of Can't Stop have been implemented, that enable you to play the game against the computer, on a handheld device, or online. One such is the Windows version found here: http://www.rollordont.com - you'll find more in the Files and the Web Links sections.



Other editions

Over the years, the game has gone through a range of editions, and been in the hands of a range of publishers.



Many gamers have tried their hand at making a home-made print-and-play edition, since the components needed are minimalist.



Some do-it-yourself examples:



If you've never played before, by all means give the game a try with a free PC version or by repurposing dice and components from other games just to get a taste of how it works and feels. But if you enjoy the gameplay, you'll find that getting the lovely stop sign edition from Face2Face games is well worthwhile.

CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

Here are some things I particularly like about Can't Stop:

It has a fun and addictive push-your-luck element. The push-your-luck element works well, and the game is very appropriately named: should you keep rolling, or should you play conservatively and stop? Too often, you'll find that you can't stop! This makes the game a social and fun experience, and there can be whoops and hollering at getting a roll you need or for that matter when an opponent can't stop and rolls just once too often! Theoretically, you could even win on your first turn - although you'd really have to push-your-luck and have everything go right to do it, but it does mean that if you are losing, it's not totally impossible to catch-up! The more you push your luck, the greater your potential gain, but also the greater the pain if you come up with a nothing roll! Should you roll again? Maybe just once more? Oh dear, that was once too often, now you've lost it all! And therein lies the fun of the game - especially if you egg on an opponent to roll again, and he comes up with a dud!

It's not pure luck, and there's enough decision making to make it interesting. The game is winnable, but it takes self-control and careful judgement! It's not a mindless push-your-luck game, because you need to make some decisions about how to divide your dice results, and which numbers to go for. There is some strategy behind this, so it's not all luck. Having a basic sense of probability will help you play better, so in that regard the game also offers a challenge that enables good players to consistently beat bad players by making better tactical and strategic choices, while still giving the potential to reward risk-takers trying to make up ground.

It's quick enough to prevent the luck from being too frustrating. It's a game with luck - of course - that's also part of its appeal. I personally do find that there's almost a bit too much down-time when played with four players (although this will depend on who you're playing with, and the spirit in which the game is played). But for 2-3 player games especially, the game is over before the luck element becomes annoying, and there's enough decision making to have a real impact on the gameplay.

It's suitable for everyone. Gamers, non-gamers, adults, children (8 and up), Can't Stop offers something that will please people of all types. I'd especially recommend it as a good choice to introduce to your non-gaming family and friends.

It's easy to teach and learn. The rules are very simple, and you can be playing with newbies in no time.

It's got attractive components. Like many others, I love the stop sign shaped board, which fits the press-your-luck concept perfectly, and has a shape that reflects the probable outcomes of the different dice pairs from 2 through 12.

Overstating the case for the game won't do it any good, because it would be too much to say that it is absolutely the world's best ever press-your-luck dice game. But considering its age (30 years), it's stood the test of time very well, and the fact that it's still being reprinted today is a testimony to its evergreen qualities, which enable it to hold its own among some of the very best press-your-luck games of the modern era. When placed alongside other press-your-luck dice rolling games like Excape, or even classics like Yahtzee and Farkel, Can't Stop is certainly not at the bottom of the pile, and it even compares favourably with other press-your-luck games like Incan Gold (aka Diamant). The press-your-luck elements makes it more appealing to me than dice-rolling games like Yahtzee, while the decision-making elements make it more appealing to me than press-your-luck games like Excape. In the final analysis, Can't Stop gets the blend of all these elements just right, and that's undoubtedly the reason it's still in demand today, and with good reason.



What do others think?

Can't Stop has multiple pages of comments from fans who rate it 9 or higher. Here are what some of the enthusiasts have to say about it:
"The best dice fest ever." - Todd N.
"One of the best press-your-luck games ever made. There is more strategy to this game than people realize." - (settlerdave)
"Although a game of the 80's, it's amazing how addicting it is. Easy rules and a lot of fun." - De Waey Joeri
"I have played few games where I and everyone else laughed this much during the game." - Mac Mcleod
"As far as dice games go, this is a masterpiece which will be hard to beat." - Mik Svellov
"THE push your luck game. THE dice game. A masterpiece of simplicity. For what it is, Can't Stop is approaching perfection. Every time I end up playing a push your luck game, or a dice game I end up wishing it was Can't Stop." - Matt Dodor
"Sid Sackson Masterpiece. I have always had a blast with this game. Non-Gamers and Gamers both love it. I will always own a copy of this game." - Brian (pwn3d)
"The perfect game to play with just about anyone." - Ryan McSwain
"Most fun you will ever have with dice...ever!" - Joss Ives
" PERFECT light, press-your-luck game for children (probably no younger than about 6 or 7) and adults alike." - Mike Summers
"Maybe Sackson's best game." - David Arnott




Recommendation

Is Can't Stop for you? As far as press-your-luck dice games go, this is a tried and true classic from a master designer, that still has the same appeal as it did when it was first released 30 years ago, and that matches the best of the press-your-luck dice rolling fillers of the modern era. You really can't go wrong with this one - almost every gamer will have a time and occasion where Can't Stop is the perfect choice!



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

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sunday silence
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Fantastic! Ive always wanted to figure out how this game played and you explained in about 5 minutes. Thank you..
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Laszlo Molnar
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So how does Excape (the game that is called RK's "answer" to Can't Stop) compare to Can't stop? Now you have written only a half sentence about it:
Quote:
the decision-making elements make it more appealing to me than press-your-luck games like Excape.
and in your Excape review you wrote
Quote:
Excape has simple and tense decisions with a high fun factor.
Can you go into some further detail about their comparison?
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lacxox wrote:
So how does Excape (the game that is called RK's "answer" to Can't Stop) compare to Can't stop? Can you go into some further detail about their comparison?
Good question Laszlo! There are two important ways in which the the decision-making of Can't Stop and Excape differs:
1. In Excape, the press-your-luck related decision is simply: should you re-roll in an effort to get a higher result than the one that you just rolled, at the risk of getting a lower result or of going bust by rolling an X? In Can't Stop, each re-roll represents accumulated gains, so the more re-rolls you do, the greater you stand to lose if you do go bust.
2. In Excape, the only other decision is where to place your final roll on a six step ladder of 0 to 5. In Can't Stop, you have to decide with each and every roll how you're going to divide the numbers into two pairs in order to determine which numbered columns will potentially score - this requires strategic choices related to the kinds of numbers you and your opponents are going for, and some understanding of probability and risk. So Can't Stop has a stronger mathematical component, and it wouldn't surprise me if the mathematician in Knizia would even concede that its design is actually superior to Excape in that regard!

The choices in Can't Stop aren't complex or mathy by any means, but they are more involved and important than the ones of Excape. There's more to think about, and and while luck still plays an important role, understanding and playing the odds to your advantage can play a larger role in determining the winnner in Can't Stop than with Excape. I'd stand by my original comment about Excape - it is tense and fun, but the decisions are less interesting and simpler, so that luck plays a larger role in deciding the eventual outcome than it does in Can't Stop. For me personally, I prefer Can't Stop for this reason, and of the two games, I'm more likely to still be playing Can't Stop in ten years time than Excape. But both are excellent games, and for families with children, Excape might be a better choice by virtue of a simpler and less mathematical design.
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Jim Cobb
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visit rollordont.com for a free computer game with a challenging AI player!
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Great article, Ender! It's gotta be the most comprehensive article on "Can't Stop" I've ever read.

One thing, though: My computer game, "Roll Or Don't", doesn't run just on Windows, it runs on Windows, Mac, Linux and Android. Check http://www.rollordont.com or the Android Marketplace.

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MK
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Cannot believe now that I've never had this game. I have been around since its original publication... now i'll have to get it.
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Laszlo Molnar
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Jim Cobb wrote:

One thing, though: My computer game, "Roll Or Don't", doesn't run just on Windows, it runs on Windows, Mac, Linux and Android. Check http://www.rollordont.com or the Android Marketplace.
For some reason it does not run on my windows. It just pretends to When I click on it it shows the sandtimer for a sec and then nothing happens.
 
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Joe Simpson
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Great review Ender! We played this game quite a bit at my grandparents house when I was younger and always had a blast! I have the game now and still have fun with it playing with friends.
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Jupiter Jones
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This is an EXCELLENT comprehensive review. I've heard so much about CS but have never understood the game play. One recommendation. In the name of balance, it would be nice to post the comments from those who rate the game low (below 6?). Other than that, this is awesome work.
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I cannot see a time when Can't Stop won't be in my top three favorite games. Quick, easy to learn, and the mechanic allows the chance for people seemingly out of the game to come back. Brilliant.

Also brilliant is the name, eliciting shouts of the title during almost every roll. Ironically, it may be my least favorite element of the game, but it was a very clever marketing ploy.
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Laszlo Molnar
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lacxox wrote:
Jim Cobb wrote:

One thing, though: My computer game, "Roll Or Don't", doesn't run just on Windows, it runs on Windows, Mac, Linux and Android. Check http://www.rollordont.com or the Android Marketplace.
For some reason it does not run on my windows. It just pretends to When I click on it it shows the sandtimer for a sec and then nothing happens.
Okay, I'm sorry. I falsely remembered I had java installed on my PC. The game works fine! thumbsup
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Clint DeSena
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You've just convinced me to purchase this game in my next order.
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Vinicius Yuiti Takaki
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Another great review, Mr. Ender.
You have introduced me a classic that I had no previous knowledge at. It really looks great as a filler or to introduce to new players.
Thanks!
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Gustavo
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I can't believe I always passed by this game and never took the time to read a good review such as yours. You just convinced me to buy this game.
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