Gaming Unplugged: Can’t Stop

February 28, 2010

One of the most fun gaming mechanics is the “press your luck” element; typically this involves one player continuing play until either they decide to stop or until some unfortunate outcome forces them to end their turn and lose all of their progress. The Sid Sackson design Can’t Stop! is that element distilled to its rawest form, which makes for fast and fun play.

On their turn, a player receives four six-sided dice and the three “runner” tokens. On their first roll, they have to generate two numbers by pairing the dice as they see fit. They place runners on the board in the columns indicated by those numbers. Then they can either stop or roll again. On each subsequent roll they have to be able to generate at least one of their previously-rolled numbers, at which point they advance the respective runner one space; the third runner is a one-time safety net that can be placed on an off result if — and when — one occurs.

When a player stops, he places his colored tokens on the last positions of the runners and passes the runners and dice to the next player. On that player’s next turn he can resume from those positions should those numbers come up again. Other players’ tokens on a column are ignored unless using one of the included variants. Of course, should a player fail to hit one of his three targets he ends his turn and removes the runners without gaining any ground.

If a player stops with a runner at the top of a number’s column, he has won that column and that number is no longer available for any player’s use; this is also true for the rest of that player’s turn while the runner is in that position. Each number requires a different number of hits to win, based on how likely those numbers are to come up. It takes thirteen hits to win column 7, but only three for both 2 and 12; each step in between is two additional hits. The first player to claim three numbers (or more in variants for less than four players) wins the game. 

Rolling a combination that allows you to only place one runner thanks to the other pair producing a “dead” result gives you an additional safety net on your subsequent rolls (another included variant does not allow this). Once all three runners are placed then the claimed columns become irrelevant for that player’s purposes. However, it is entirely possible for an initial roll to produce no viable results later in the game once two or three numbers (or even one in the case of 2 and/or 12 and a roll of all ones or sixes) have been claimed.

Naturally the only real strategy in the game comes from knowing when to pass the dice, although how you split up your initial roll(s) can affect your turn as well. Everything else is luck, obviously, but in a filler game like this that’s not too much of a hindrance. In theory it’s possible for the game to end on the first player’s first turn with a spectacular series of rolls! The far more likely scenario is a player slowly making progress along his three columns while the other players try to egg him on into making “just one more roll” and potentially missing, effectively wasting his entire turn.

Can’t Stop! supports up to four players; it suggests ages nine and up but really any kid capable of adding up to twelve should do fine. Technically the game can be played with nothing but four standard dice and a score pad, but the package offered by Face 2 Face Games is only $30 and features some solid plastic tokens and game board; the box is large, but only because of the 13 x 11 board (shaped like a stop sign). Like most filler-level games, it will quickly earn its worth in entertainment value in only a few sessions and is a nice casual game for all levels of experience.

Image by GamerChris