Introducing Can't Stop

In the genre of press-your-luck type games, things don't get much better than Can't Stop. And in the select group of the world's most famous game designers, they don't get much better than Sid Sackson (1920-2002). Someone once said about him: "In the world of games, he was Beethoven; he was Shakespeare; he was Michael Jordan." And in the collection of games designed by Sackson, one of the most popular and very best is Can't Stop.

Don't be fooled by its age. Can't Stop may have been first published more than 30 years ago, but it's an outstanding gem of a game that continues to be reprinted, and any publisher can consider it somewhat of a coup to get the rights to publish it. Until now the most recent reprint was a 2007 edition produced by Face2Face Games. This publishing company has now been bought out by Gryphon Games, so it's not entirely a surprise to see a brand new 2011 edition appear under the Gryphon Games label, with all new components which honour the time-tested and successful formula that made the game the big success that it is, but give it an attractive new look with some small changes.

Folks, this is one of the very best press-your-luck dice-rolling games of the modern era, if not THE best. Simple rules, tense game-play, enough decisions, suitable for 2-4 players, addictive, and now available in an all-new quality edition - this is a great time to look at Can't Stop! I'll show you the components of the new edition, briefly explain how the game works, and share some final thoughts, including a comparison between the Face2Face and Gryphon Games editions.


Early stages of a four player game

COMPONENTS

Game box

The game box is large, not unsurprising given the size of the game board it contains. The dimensions of the box are slightly greater than those of the Face2Face edition, which is a result of a slight increase to the size of the board.


Box cover

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


Box back

It's worth mentioning that the cover artwork was inspired by a cover design contest run by the publisher, which produced some great entries like the ones seen here:


Box cover contest entries

The publisher eventually decided to go in the direction of creating their own cover artwork by "combining elements of the older covers that have been used for this game with the components from the current edition," although personally I think the some of the entries submitted for the contest were superior, and the absence of a stop sign in the final artwork is a bit of a pity.

Box insert

The inside of the box is absolutely fantastic - it's a very durable transparent plastic insert which houses the game board, and four corner trays for housing the player traffic cone pieces.


First look inside the box

When you remove the game-board, there's a handy storage tray for the dice and white runners underneath! This is a very intelligent design and good quality, and is a very nice piece of work!


The plastic component tray

Component list

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


Everything inside the box

Game Board

This is what the game is all about, and the Stop-sign shaped board is the chief attraction of the game. The publishers have opted to go with the iconic style of older editions of the game, including the words Can't Stop at the bottom.

It's made out of very sturdy plastic, and the red/white colour scheme suits the "stop sign" theme perfectly. A notable feature of the board is that it contain the numbers 2 through 12 at the top. Each number has a corresponding column of plastic indentations, and it is on these column spaces that the white runners and player traffic cones (with a square base) will be placed.


The Stop Sign board

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!

Player traffic cones

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


All the player traffic cones in four colours

The traffic cones are stackable, so that several players could have a cone on the same spot. They are also very sturdy and durable. In a nice nod to the theme, they have been designed to look like traffic cones

Turn runners

There are 3 white runners that will be shared by the players, and used on a player's turn. They're identical in design to the player traffic cones, but are white.


The three white `runner' cones

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 traffic cones 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 traffic cones.

Dice

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


The four game dice

Rule book

The rulebook of the Gryphon Games edition is double-sided sheet the size of the box, and is English language only.


Instruction sheet

It's shorter than the rules of the Face2Face edition, but only because that was multilingual. All the rules you need are here, and the actual text is essentially the same, with a few small improvements here and there, mostly cosmetic.

GAME-PLAY

Set-up

With the game board in the middle, each player gets 11 traffic cones in their colour, and the starting player also gets the 3 white runners and dice.


Complete set-up for a two-player game

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.
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. 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 7 column.


It's all about those dice!

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 traffic cones. 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 traffic cones are placed or moved! Too bad!


Halfway a game, as player traffic cones are slowly working their way to the top!

Example of Play

Let's illustrate the flow of play using an example from the rule-book.





Examples of play

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 traffic cone is put at the top of that column: you have won that column, all other player traffic cones in that column are removed, and from now on no runners or traffic cones 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!

Winning the game

The first player to win three columns wins the game!


A narrow win for Blue!

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!

Variants

The rules also contain several small variants which change gameplay in the following small ways:

Variant 1: alters 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)
Variant 2: makes it mandatory to form dice pairs that will introduce all three white runners as soon as possible
Variant 3: forbids players to end their turn if one of their runners is on a square occupied by an opponent's runner
Variant 4: cones are placed in the nearest open space, skipping existing cones rather than placing them in stacks (i.e. this speeds up the game).

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 Gryphon Games edition rules (as was already the case with the Face2Face 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.


The traffic cones in play

CONCLUSIONS

How does it compare with the Face2Face edition?

If you are familiar with the history of Can't Stop, you'll already know that it has appeared in a large number of different editions over the years. The current edition produced by Gryphon Games builds on the success of the Face2Face edition from 2007, but there are a few minor changes to the components that are worth noting, including new cover artwork and a slightly larger sized box.


Comparing the game boxes

I'm glad that the classic Stop Sign shaped board has been retained - it's iconic, very representative of what the game is about, and so it's thematic as well as functional. The new edition features a slightly larger board, with a more vivid red colour.


Comparing the game boards

The lovely plastic box insert of the Gryphon Games edition is a definite improvement, and I'm very pleased with how this looks and works. The other component changes are relatively cosmetic, but I also consider them improvements, especially the use of plastic traffic cones for the player runners. This helps contribute to the theme, and they also are easier to grab than the runners from the Face2Face edition. The orange has been switched out for a purple/pink, and the overall result is a more brightly coloured game on the table. While I personally prefer the semi-translucent Face2Face dice, I have to concede that the colours of the new dice match the colour scheme of the board better.


Comparing the game components

The rulebook has also had a makeover, and while the content is nearly identical, some changes to the formatting have been implemented (e.g. paragraph breaks, bold print) to make certain elements stand out better. The addition of a fourth "speed" variant for faster games is new, and is another nice element that I look forward to exploring.

Overall the Gryphon Games edition compares very favourably to the Face2Face edition - it builds on the iconic components and style of the game, continues with what has proven successful already, with some small cosmetic changes that continue to improve things, and thus it should be well-received by gamers everywhere.

What do I think?

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

The 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!

Enough decision making to make it interesting. 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 don't have to be a math wizard to become the local Can't Stop champion, but having a basic sense of probability will help you play better. 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 is not all luck, and there is some strategy behind your choices, but it takes self-control and careful judgement, and one can never completely count on the probabilities being on your side in any particular roll!

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.

Universal appeal. 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.

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

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. The colourful traffic cones only serve to enhance this. Overall the components of the Gryphon Games edition are excellent in every respect.

Perhaps it would be too much to say that Can't Stop is absolutely the world's best ever press-your-luck dice game. But considering its age (30 years), it has 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. Can't Stop certainly compares favourably with the very best press-your-luck games of today, and in many respects it offers elements of appeal that aren't found in games like Yahtzee or Incan Gold. In the final analysis, Can't Stop gets the blend of the elements of press-your-luck and decision-making just right, and that's undoubtedly the reason why it's still in high demand today.


Can't Stop in play

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. This is a game that belongs in nearly every collection, and Gryphon Games has done gamers around the world a real service by producing a high quality edition that should help ensure that it continues to be readily available for years to come!



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

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Your Friendly Neighborhood Hairfarmer
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Ender,

Yet another GREAT review! Push your luck at its best!
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Giles Pritchard
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EndersGame wrote:


CONCLUSIONS

This section of the review is strangely out of place given the game.




Seriously though - great review of a great game (as usual).
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Greg Gatto
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Great review, Ender! I love this game, although I have to admit, after reading your review, I wish I had the newer Gryphon version than my current F2F version.

(Of course, I had a copy back in the early 80s which I can no longer locate. I've scoured my parents' basement multiple times...still can't find it. angry )
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Patrick C.
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Great review as usual Ender. This is definitely a game that should be in most people's collections.

I'm glad, however, to own the 1980 Parker Bros edition which allows for additional players using pieces scavenged from a copy of Advance to Boardwalk. True, the game can bog down with 5 or more players, but the flexibility is sometimes greatly appreciated.
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The Compulsive Completist
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For us this game is a no-brainer. You've explained it well enough that readers should know if it is for them. If it is they won't be disappointed.
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Gustavo
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Like I wrote in your previous review (a day before you posted this one, actually), I am totally convinced to buy this game. However, $28 including shipping is the best deal I could find (Amazon.com), which is way overpriced IMO. As good as this game can be, I think there are better choices in this price range.

I mean, seriously, almost 30 bucks for a 30-year old, filler-like game with such simple components? Somebody is making loads of money here. And good for them BTW, maybe I would do the same, but they ain't gonna have my money! arrrh
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Kathy Sheets
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I've had this game for nearly 30 years; the box and rule book are long gone, but it's our most-played game. We have had more pure fun with it than any other game before or since.

Thanks for describing the variants--I never realized there were any!
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Tom Lehmann
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The variant for 2 that I enjoy is the "Can't Stop Can't Stop Variant", where A) you play to be the first to 4, not 3, columns; and B) once you close out your third column, you are not allowed to stop (you must take both your third and fourth columns on the same turn or go bust).

(This variant can be played with 3 or even 4 players. With 4, this results in a truly brutal end-game, which you may or may not enjoy.)
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travvller wrote:
Great review as usual Ender. This is definitely a game that should be in most people's collections.

I'm glad, however, to own the 1980 Parker Bros edition which allows for additional players using pieces scavenged from a copy of Advance to Boardwalk. True, the game can bog down with 5 or more players, but the flexibility is sometimes greatly appreciated.
Unofficially I've heard that the publisher has also produced orange and black traffic cones as promotional pieces. So if these become available somehow it will be quite possible to play the new edition with 5-6 players. You can see what the extra pieces look like in the photo of a six-player game below.


A six player game using additional orange and black traffic cones
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J Rachfal
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EndersGame wrote:

Unofficially I've heard that the publisher has also produced orange and black traffic cones as promotional pieces. So if these become available somehow it will be quite possible to play the new edition with 5-6 players.

I think they are "officially" available as they are for sale at Funagain right now:
http://www.funagain.com/control/product?product_id=024705

No?

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Steve Wagner
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Can't Stop is the greatest 10 to 15 minute game I've ever played.

A lot of people will chalk up Can't Stop to being a random dice fest, but there's so much to this game. Yes, there's randomness in the game, but it's learning how to control the randomness and do it faster than the other player(s).
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The Compulsive Completist
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Yeah the extra cones are already available. I already have the black cones. Unfortunately, how can I have a game with traffic cones and not have orange ones. I'm off to buy my orange cones...dang!

Edit: I'm back. $11.50 for cones after shipping is ridiculous but I am a completist after all. I will consider it a Christmas present to that sixth player at the table over the holidays.

"Happy Holidays chump! I told you you should have stopped! Pass the dice!"
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Bob Wilson
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EndersGame wrote:
travvller wrote:
Great review as usual Ender. This is definitely a game that should be in most people's collections.

I'm glad, however, to own the 1980 Parker Bros edition which allows for additional players using pieces scavenged from a copy of Advance to Boardwalk. True, the game can bog down with 5 or more players, but the flexibility is sometimes greatly appreciated.
Unofficially I've heard that the publisher has also produced orange and black traffic cones as promotional pieces. So if these become available somehow it will be quite possible to play the new edition with 5-6 players. You can see what the extra pieces look like in the photo of a six-player game below.


A six player game using additional orange and black traffic cones

I collected many thrift store copies of Advance to Boardwalk with this in mind. After playing it with 5 players, I decided there's a good reason it maxes-out at 4... it was dreadfully slow with five, and felt unbalanced due to the extra congestion.

Just as an aside (or minor thread hijacking, depending on your perspective), the Advance to Boardwalk pieces fit perfectly in the depressions of the board in the 3M and original (1970's) Avalon Hill copies of Acquire! How's that for a circular coincidence? I collected enough Advance to Boardwalk copies that I can make a customized, re-themed copy of Acquire. I was thinking an Illuminati themed version (based on some cool pyramidal pieces I salvaged from a DaVinci code game that cap the Advance to Boardwalk pieces perfectly). Any suggestions otherwise for theme?
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Michael Kandrac
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Count me among those who find the "traffic cones" edition to look clunky and feels clunky.


More like it!


The original just looks better.

Gg
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