Time: ~20 minutes
Times Played: 15+
I really enjoy press-your-luck style games. Games like Clank! and Codenames just resonate with me as I have the ultimate control of how far I want to go. That reward of reaching such a high peak is balanced by the high risk of losing everything you’ve worked towards.
Can’t Stop, a game published in 1980, might be the best example and best usage of this press-your-luck mechanic in any board game out there. It’s also incredibly distinctive due to the bright red stop sign that is the board.
First things first, don’t discriminate against the publication date. Yes, this game is older than most (it’s even older than me) but that in no means makes it less worthy of the praise I’m about to bestow upon it.
I want to get my negatives out of the way first, just since they’re so few. The box is large and the board is massive (comparatively to the game play). My copy is an older version but even the newer copies take up a sizable amount of real estate. I’m not sure why that is. This game is screaming for an travel edition with pegs or something like those cheap games at Cracker Barrel. It should fit in a Tiny Epic box as opposed to something that rivals Ticket to Ride Anniversary Edition (although thinner).
Now that my negatives are out of the way, lets get to why Can’t Stop should be a mainstay of any collection.
The bright red stop sign that is a board features numbers from two (2) to twelve (12) with each number supporting a column underneath it. Each column has a square for player pieces and the board is symmetrical based off probability, where seven (7) is the longest column and two (2) and twelve (12) are the shortest. The remaining components are the player pieces (in my case, squares but in more recent editions, cones) and four dice.
The goal of the game is to be the first player to reach the top of three different numbered columns. To accomplish this, players will roll four six-sided dice. After rolling, the four dice must be grouped into two separate pairs. When done, they are added together to form two totals.
For example, if a player rolls 1, 3, 5, and 6, they could make the following possible pairs: 4 and 11, 6 and 9, or 8 and 7. Once the pairs are chosen, the active player places the white markers on the bottom of the numbered column that the pair corresponds with. If the same pair could be made twice (for instance, rolling a 3, 4, 6, and 1 and making two pairs of 7), then that track can be moved up twice.
The white markers hold a players position on the columned track. Now, players can decide to roll again or hold steady. There are three white markers so players will typically be able to roll twice without any concern. After all white markers are placed, they will need to roll and make at least one pair one of the numbers that they currently have the white markers in. If they fail to do that, they “blow it” and lose all progress made that turn. If they decide to stop (instead of rolling), they replace the white markers with their own colored markers. This will let them start from this position as opposed to the bottom of the track next time they make that number. Once a player reaches the top of a column, all other players on that track are removed and that number can no longer be used for the rest of the game.
That’s the focal point of the game. Advance a white marker or lose everything, like a Who wants to be a Millionaire episode without the trivia or money. Every player can play their own way. Some will make small, incremental gains each round as they slowly sneak their way up the board. Others will go big, rolling again and again looking to either make large gains or bust trying. Some will choose high probability numbers (5,6,7,8 and 9) which require more movement but are easier to gain whereas others will look for the 2,3,11, and 12 for the shorter pathway to victory.
Can’t Stop starts stressful and becomes exasperating as the game goes into the later rounds. Once a column is scored and closed off from other players, two things are apparent: the game is closer to being won by someone and a number is now not available to be used as a pair. This might change the playing philosophy for players. If you’re in the lead, maybe you nickel and dime your way up each column instead of pressing your luck, knowing you don’t need to be so reckless. On the inverse, maybe you need to gamble with your rolls as players are scoring columns and you’re being left behind. Maybe you can’t bring yourself to stop as one more roll will put you at the top of your own column.
Can’t Stop is a blast to play as it lets everyone play the way they want to. There is no best strategy and while the odds might say to go for 7’s, the time commitment is much longer and dice don’t always follow the laws of probability. The game allows players to feed off of each others heartache and sorrow which is entirely self-inflicted. This is a game that will have an entire group laughing with one another as opposed to at. You’ll also find yourself cheering or egging on opposing players and that builds the camaraderie and tension that Can’t Stop harbors.
Can’t Stop plays well at any player count in my opinion and that ability to laugh at or laugh with aspect of the game makes turns where you’re not the active player still engaging. It’s an excellent game to play during downtime or between heavier sessions. It requires little to no in-depth thinking and just asks players to do some simple addition. Four-player games can take at most thirty minutes but the average time for my group has us clocking in around twenty. As everyone is invested in one another’s actions, the game is incredible more social than you’d imagine looking at the box art or game components.
Can’t Stop’s versatility is due in large part to the ease of play. Rules are explained quickly and the game play becomes addictive as it unlocks the inner gambler inside all of us. The simplicity opens the game up to players of all ages. The components on my copy (which was a thrift purchase that was a former library rental) are not anything that would make passerby’s look twice but they’re nothing to turn a nose at and the images from more recent copies appear to be quality and fit more with the theme (as the markers are traffic cones).
For the length, directness, longevity, and fun factor I think Can’t Stop is the best push your luck game on the market. Other games might utilize that mechanic in more fruitful ways but as a core mechanic, I can’t think of another game that I’ve played that can rival this one in that department. It has stood the test of time and is still being reprinted today…which can’t be said for many games from that era. If you haven’t played Can’t Stop before, are looking for a quick filler game with meaningful decision making, or are looking for a way to incorporate non-gamers into the fold, this is a game that should be on your radar.