Welcome to Board Games With OB, a somewhat profane, possibly semi-regular feature where OregonBeast gets a board game he likes and briefly explains how to play it and hopes you would be interested in playing it, too. Because board games are fucking awesome.
There's lots of board gamers out there who just like to play the game. The nerdy ones (raising my hand at my keyboard in guilt) like to talk about board game designers, the people behind the cardboard/wood/plastic universes we immerse ourselves in.
And you can't talk game design, especially game design in the United States, without mentioning Sid Sackson.
Sackson was a giant in game design, particularly at a time (70's and 80's) when the American games were generally lackluster in creativity, while the European designs were pushing forward with new concepts in gameplay that led to the Eurogames genre we know today. Sackson became so sought after for advice by novice designers that by the time of his death in 2002, he had a personal collection of 18,000 board games, most of which were sent to him by others seeking critique and feedback.
While Sackson was a prolific designer, there are a few of his games that are particularly standout. My personal favorite Sackson game, Acquire, will be talked about at some point in the future. Today's Board Games With OB is about Can't Stop, a game with heavy drama and surprising strategic gameplay, despite just being about rolling dice. If there's a primer game to the world of Sackson, Can't Stop is it.
Game: Can't Stop
Players: 2 to 4
Gametime: 30-45 minutes
Designer: Sid Sackson (USA)
Key Mechanics: Press Your Luck, Progression Tracking
Story: No real story here. Can't Stop is an example of the "press your luck" game mechanic. It's the same one at works in games like Yahtzee, Farkle and King of Tokyo.
What do you do?: On a player's turn, they roll four dice. These four dice are then broken by the player into any two two-dice combination. Let's say, for example, a player rolled a one, two, three and a five. The player could choose to make those dice into a 3 and 8, or 4 and 7, or 5 and 6.
Once a player decides how to break down their dice, they then place markers on the game corresponding to the totals on the dice pairs. The board has tracks for all the dice totals between 2 and 12. Ultimately, the players want to take their markers all the way to the top of the tracks for a number, so they can "close" the number, scoring a point for themselves and making it so no other player is allowed to use that number the rest of the game. The tracks are not of the same length — the more frequently a number is rolled, the longer it's track. While it takes just three rolls of 2 or 12 to close out those numbers, closing out 7 will take 13 rolls.
So, where's the pressing of luck come in? It comes in with the limitation that you are only allowed to progress of the track of three numbers on a single turn. So, on that example roll before, let's say the player had already started progressing on the 2, 9 and 11 tracks. Since they cannot make a two-die combination that matches any of those numbers, they lose their turn and any progress made.
But alternatively, at any time on their turn, a player can choose to stop rolling, at which point a colored marker is placed on the point they've progressed to on that particular track. On their next turn, they can add to their progress from where their marker is located instead of the bottom of the track, putting them that much closer to the top of a track and closing out the number, making things that much harder for the other players.
And there's the strategy of Can't Stop: Figuring out, when exactly, to put down the dice and slowly back away. Maybe not so much strategy, but a risk tolerance. Well, there can be some strategy in deciding what numbers to go for on a turn, the calculation of how much progress you're putting on the line, combined with the probability of getting at least one of the numbers you need and not fucking up all that beautiful progress you've made.
How to taste, sweet, sweet victory: Can't Stop is a race to three: The first player to close out three numbers wins the game. And all the fame and glory that comes with it.
So, what makes this game awesome?
- Pretty simple to learn. Roll dice, count pips, move markers.
- The game progresses flexibly enough that players can change their approach throughout. Maybe after trying for 6, 7 and 8 early on, it's easy enough for a player to swap going for the 2 or 12 instead.
- Press-your-luck games create a lot of tension and drama, and tension and drama can be a whole lot of fun.
- Press-your-luck games also tend to have level playing fields, so a newcomer can be competitive with someone who has played a lot of Can't Stop.
Other ways to play: Can't Stop is available to play for free online at Board Game Arena. There's also an iOS app that's only 99 cents, but I've never played it and cannot vouch for quality.
Previous Board Games With OB: [Takenoko] [Snake Oil] [Tsuro] [Dixit] [The Resistance] [Hey, That's My Fish!] [Ticket To Ride] [Survive: Escape From Atlantis] [Castle Panic] [Small World] [Qwirkle] [Elder Sign] [Carcassonne] [Jaipur] [Tokaido] [Blokus] [Puerto Rico] [Love Letter]
Images via BoardGameGeek