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Subject: Review of Can't Stop rss

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Martí Cabré

Terrassa
Catalonia, Spain
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Although Can't Stop is a game from 1980 and it seems to be quite popular in some countries, I had not played it until recently. In fact, I was not even aware of its existance. Looking for easy games for the iPad I stumbled upon it and then thanks to yucata.de I've managed to play about fifty games of Can't Stop using standard and variant rules.

And I must say I'm not surprised that Can't Stop is still one of the most played board games: its rules are easy to understand, it's easy to play and to find opponents with whom to play, the game is catchy and replayable and the board can be easily made from scratch if you don't have a manufactered one and there are virtual versions available on the iPad and the web, I'm sure among others.

So what's it about? Can't Stop is a dice game but instead of rerolling some of the dice like in other games you only roll once four dice and then pair them two by two, adding the numbers. Thus you will have several combinations to produce two numbers from 2 to 12 centered on 7 as any player knows. The board has several columns numbered from 2 to 12 with a different number of steps in each column. When you decide on a combination you advance your marker on each column that matches your numbers and reroll to do it again but with a caveat: you can only have three columns with moved markers at a given time. If you think your luck is going to end you can stop your turn and fix the positions of the markers. Next round you'll start moving them from there. When a marker reaches the top of the column you claim it and not you nor anybody else can use that column anymore. If for any reason you cannot advance a marker on legit columns, you lose your turn along with any advance you had made during the current turn (only). Once a player claims three different columns, the game ends and that player wins.

The game itself is so simple that it does not seem possible to attract much attention, but under its simplicity and apparent randomnes there is a subtle strategy based on statistics. Will you try to go for the frequent numbers (6, 7, 8) with longer columns or for the rare numbers (2, 3, 11, 12) with short columns? When given a choice (usually on the first roll of your turn), will you choose numbers above and under 7 or both will be on the same side of 7? When given a choice, will you repeat the same column twice or spread the numbers?

These are not childish choices as even though each roll is totally random and thus unpredictable, the way numbers on dice add together follows some statistical rules, the relation between the number frequencies and the column size is not exact and the rules favour concentrating each turn in a single column when possible.

Although the game motor is rolling four dice, after a couple of plays any gamer senses that maybe there is a subjacent strategy in the choices of the player, and that subtle feeling makes the game catchy and replayable. But there are no good moves in Can't Stop. Only avoiding bad moves and hoping for the best. As you try again and again to find a schewing strategy the game plays with you by relying in pure luck.
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Thank you for giving an old game some new love, which doesn't happen enough around here.

I took Can't Stop to the hospital while visiting a relative last week. She's one of those who looks down her nose at games because they're "for kids," but at the same time the kind I play are "too complicated." We only got to play one turn before dinner was delivered, forcing us to clear the table. But she actually played one whole turn and was interested in playing more. It was a major psychological victory.
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