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Subject: Can’t Stop: A four-sided game review rss

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Chris Marling
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Four-sided reviews subscription thread

Originally posted here (with images):

http://goplaylisten.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/cant-stop-a-fou...

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Can't Stop is a classic push-your-luck dice game that retails for just over £20. It takes two-to-four players and scales well, playing out in about half an hour. It's a very simple yet clever abstract game that's light on components, so works really well as a filler game.

Originally released in 1980 by Parker (the current English language edition is from Gryphon Games), it was designed by much loved game designer Sid Sackson (Acquire, Sleuth, I'm The Boss and many more), who sadly passed in 2002. All you need to play is four dice, a simple board and 11 pieces in four player colours (in fact the game started life in the 70s as a pen-and-paper game). It would be simple to make your own version and I've seen some lovely wooden versions.

The components in the Gryphon version (the one I own) are solid. The board/pieces have a traffic sign/traffic cones 'theme' and although a little garish its perfectly serviceable; I just like the game enough that I'd love a fancier version!

Teaching

The game is incredibly simple to teach. The rules are on a single two-sided piece of paper and the simplest thing to do is to just go first and play out your turn, rather than bothering explaining anything.

As I'll prove now, it's harder to explain than show... A player takes the four six-sided dice and rolls them, making two pairs of the results; so if you rolled 3,4,4,4 you would have to make a 7 and an 8. The board has a track for each possible number (from 2 to 12). There are three neutral cones - in the example you would take two of them and place one on the first space of both the 7 and 8 tracks. You now roll again (if you want to) and again make two pairs of the results.

If (following our example) you rolled another 7 and/or 8, you could advance the neutral cones you've already placed. Otherwise, you can use your final neutral cone to advance another number. So, if you now rolled 3,3,4,4 you could take an 8 and 6; or two 7s. While you've got neutral cones unplaced, you're not in much danger (at least early on). But once all three of your neutral cones are on the board, you have a tough choice. If you can't make one of your three numbers with your roll, you lose all your progress.

So, to follow our example, say you've gone for 6, 7 and 8. If you then roll 5,5,5,6 you can only make 11 and 12 - the neutral cones are removed from the board and your turn ends with nowt. You can of course decide to 'stick' before your next roll. If you do, replace the neutral cones with those of your colour and it's the next player's turn. The next time it comes to you, the exact same process happens - but this time the neutral cones move from the positions you've achieved before. If you push your luck and fail now, you only lose the progress from this turn.

You are all racing up each number to claim it. The easier the number to roll, the more of it you'll need - so while you'll need twelve 7s to claim them, you'll only need two 12s. When you claim a number, everyone else's progress on it is discarded. The first player to claim three numbers wins.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious amalgams drawn from observing my friends, and their respective quirks and play styles.

The writer: On the surface Can't Stop may look simple and repetitive, but as the game goes on the dynamics shift. As fortunes ebb and flow you may be forced into crazier luck-pushing - but when it pays off it's a blast. And as a game draws to an end and numbers are closed down, even that first roll can end in tears. For such a simple device, the game has a genuine story arc that's always different.
The thinker: While I would be quick to jump on a poor game, it would not be fair to do that here. The game is a luck fest, but good judgement will make a difference; dice means odds and while every game will be touched by luck a good player will still win more than a bad one. That is enough to make a filler worthwhile and as a break between heavier games I'm always happy to play.
The trasher: There's something brutally combative about Can't Stop that has enduring appeal. Fortune doesn't always favour the brave but at the same time this game rarely rewards over-cautious opponents; meaning there's nothing more fun than chasing the timid up their chosen numbers and watching them fret all the way to the top. And one day, maybe, I can win in the first turn - I'll always give it a try!
The dabbler: Great! The game can be taught in no seconds flat and, better still, everyone remembers the rules even if they only played once five years ago. You can socialise between turns too, as it's easy to quickly work out the board position on your turn. But it's just as much fun to ooh and aah, deride and cajole, as your friends try to make that tricky role-or-not decision.

Key observations

Can't Stop is criticised by some for being a bit slow; especially in a four-player game, there can be quite a wait between turns. But this comes down to your group. If you chat amongst yourselves, or like a lot of table banter, this really isn't going to be an issue - quite the opposite in fact. Beyond this, criticism tends to simply come down to personal preference. This is a simple push-your-luck dice game and if that concept really doesn't float your boat, while this is a classic, it isn't a miracle worker.

Conclusion

Sid Sackson was years ahead of his time and for me, alongside Acquire, this is his greatest gift to gamers. While more straightforward than his classic game of stocks and shares, this is every bit as enjoyable and in terms of push-your-luck dice games it simply hasn't been bettered since. When he died (in his 80s) he left behind a personal collection of over 18,000 games. He was a true gamer and his love for the hobby shines through in his best designs: simple to learn, decisions to make, fun to play.

I wouldn't say this about many games, but I think Can't Stop deserves to be in pretty much every collection. It ticks so many boxes - it's a good filler that's easy to teach; its quick, with fast set up/put away time; it's clever yet simple, while encouraging table banter and is suitable for all ages. What's not to like? I rate it 8 out of 10 and simply don't have a bad word to say about it. If you're new to the hobby, this one should definitely be on your shopping list; but don't expect it to be more than it is - a fantastic game of gambling and luck that's a great way to kill half an hour.
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