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Review: Can’t Stop Express

Cant_Stop_Express_Product_ImageDesigner: Sid Sackson
Publisher: Eagle/Gryphon Games
Category: Family Game, Dice Game
Player Count: 1-4
Price: $11.99 MSRP
Despite the thousands of board games available to us these days, Yahtzee and Farkle hold a special place in many of our hearts. Many recent designs have set out to recreate the simple joy of dice and a scoresheet, often with quite a bit of success (see Qwixx and Rolling America, for example). Yet years before those saw the light of day, game-design genius Sid Sackson brought us not only Can’t Stop, but a simple game called Solitaire Dice.
Sackson published a book called A Gamut of Games that had a wide variety of ideas for simple games, one of them simply being a scoresheet for a solitaire game that could be played with five dice. Due to its obvious parallels with Sackson’s famous dice game, it’s now being reprinted as Can’t Stop Express by Eagle/Gryphon Games. Can’t Stop is a personal favorite of mine, a game I’ve played almost 500 times on yucata. Does Can’t Stop Express capture that same magic? Let’s find out!

Content Guide

The game is literally a scorepad with numbers and blanks, and some dice. Although, to be fair, it does encourage risk-taking in various degrees, although nothing is wagered. 

Review

cantstopTo explain Can’t Stop Express, it seems necessary to explain Can’t Stop. In Can’t Stop, players roll four dice and split them into two pairs. You then use these pairs to advance along corresponding columns (2-12) on a turn. You can advance up to three numbers in a given turn, and you can roll as many times as you want. However, if you ever make a roll where none of those numbers are possible, you “bust” and lose all your progress for the turn. The first player to get all the way to the “top” with three different numbers is the winner. I’m skipping a few subtleties, but you should see the gist immediately. The game is very much about pushing your luck, and it’s also one that has a lot of “implied” interaction. When another player is really close to winning, for example, you’re okay with taking bigger risks. 
Can’t Stop is one of the most brilliant pure dice games I’ve ever played, but it doesn’t lend itself to solitaire play whatsoever. Sid Sackson, being the 20170209_214119genius that he was, tried anyway. He ended up with Solitaire Dice, a game that could be played simply with five dice (not four!) and a scoresheet (now repackaged here as Can’t Stop Express). The “three numbers” that limit your progress on a given turn are transformed into values chosen for the fifth die, which limits your overall time allowed for the game. Additionally, each number needs a fair amount of progress before it can begin to score you points (a high score is now the goal). You can see a scoresheet on the left.
It works like this: you split four of the five dice just like in Can’t Stop and make marks in the appropriate rows. The fifth die on the first three turns determines what three numbers (of 1-6, not 2-12) are put in the upper right “fifth die” area. Every turn, you have to set aside one die matching of your three choices (if you can) and make a mark in the appropriate row. When any of those rows are filled, your game is over. When you’re finished, you count the marks you’ve made on the left, using your pairs. You have to get to the fifth mark to even avoid negatives with any number you’ve begun, although there’s no penalty for columns you never began. After that, each check gives points—fewer for those in the center, more for the unlikely numbers at the edges. I haven’t had a negative score yet, but I definitely see how beginners might have trouble. 
extraI find that I have a couple of problems with the scoresheet, though. The main problem is that it doesn’t feel balanced, and it turns out I’m somewhat right: the “fringe” numbers (2, 3, 11, 12) don’t have the same expected payoff as numbers in the center, and you can see that math here. Although that poster suggested changing scores, the 2011 edition, Extra!, instead made the game more like Can’t Stop by having variable sizes for the penalty side, as seen on the right. (All scores are also changed by a factor of 10, but that’s irrelevant.) There are two other changes: the far right of the positive side increases its bonus in the last two columns, and the fifth die spaces are also variable in length. These each add a touch more strategy. Eagle/Gryphon are publishing Sackson’s original design, but I’m surprised to see these differences. However, it’s an easy fix: simply add/remove a few marks on the current scoresheet until you have what you see at the right. I’ve played both ways now, and while I prefer the methodology in Extra!, it might be that some players prefer the original rules which are presented here in Can’t Stop Express. You be the judge. 
I’ve told you a lot about the game, but not much of my opinion about it yet. First, let me say I can’t comment much on components, as I was sent a prototype. The scoresheet makes sense as it was given to me, and the rules eventually made sense—although I found them a bit wordy and dense for a simple game—but I was also thankful for having several pictorial examples in the rulebook. However, given the MSRP is a completely appropriate $11.99, I don’t really care too much what the components are like (as long as there are enough scoresheets). 
And in the end, that’s a fair low price for a game that’s extremely addictive. While this edition is billed as a multiplayer game and that’s certainly possible, the game is multiplayer solitaire in its purest form, even to the point where the game ends at different times for different players. Once I realized the game was originally meant as a solitaire game, I got started with it right away; and I didn’t stop for quite a while. It has a lot of the same “number crunching fun” (yes, that exists!) as Can’t Stop, although the push-your-luck element feels different (and it can really suck to hit a new column late, since the game’s max length is predetermined).  I’m excited to try and maximize my score, and it’s a great travel game. For those who like multiplayer solitaire dice games like Yahtzee or Rolling America, or games with light interaction like Qwixx or Can’t Stop, this is a natural addition to that set. For me, these are great games to play with the wife, and I can verify this one is also spouse approved. While Can’t Stop Express is not as genre-defining brilliant as Can’t Stop, it’s a great solitaire game that’s just as addicting as its counterparts, if not more.  
 
Thank you to Eagle/Gryphon Games for providing a review copy of Can’t Stop Express.