Landmark Games Part 7: Can’t Stop

CantStopPress-your-luck is a venerable category among games with many distinguished entries. King among these is the 1980 Can’t Stop by the also venerated Sid Sackson. It is a must-play for those with an interest in dice rollers like Yahtzee, Pickomino, or Plucky Pilots and those with a similar interest in other luck-pressing games like Duck, Duck, Bruce.

Can’t Stop’s roots lie in intriguing mathematical concepts that have engaged many minds. Sugar Pill Studios posted an extensive analysis of Can’t Stop probabilities while giving gamer and Boardgamegeek member Rob Igo created a handy reference sheet, and Michael Keller’s analysis advises us to invoke his Rule of 28.

Can’t stop is educational without being “edumacational;” It can teach basic arithmetic and basic combinations, It can teach nonuniform distributions and conditional probability.

For all these mathematical implications, its key concepts are still easily accessible.  Its key rules are elegant and easily parsed by non-gamers:

  1. Roll all four dice.
  2. Divide them into two pairs and add the numbers.
  3. Place/advance markers on these numbers if you can. If you can’t, remove your progress and pass the dice.
  4. Would you like to roll again?

The essential constraints come from rules 2 and 3.

Rule 2 dictates that the four dice must be summed into two pairs and no other configuration. For the casual player, this keeps the number of configurations small and manageable–3 at most. For the gamer, this gives us the kinds of limited options we simultaneously dread and adore.

Rule 3 transforms rule 4 from a trivial decision to an agonizing one. Look how far I’ve gone! Surely I can go to the top! Or can I? One failed roll could cost me everything I’ve accomplished! The gambler in us says to keep rolling while our inner pessimist screams to stop!

One other element makes Can’t Stop stand out from many of its luck pressing peers–it can be won on a single turn.  This element should be mandatory to any game designed in the genre.  No matter how remote the odds may be at any moment, no matter how bad your placement, it is always possible to hit a hot streak and pull a win.  This is the key–that knowledge that you could win on your next turn if your luck is with you–that will keep you in the game right to the last moment. How some luck pressers choose to omit this element is quite honestly beyond me.


Closing Thoughts

Can’t Stop is the avatar of press-your-luck games.  It is accessible and yet deep.  It is clear and yet confounding.  It gives us the thrills and the agonizing decisions to keep us bringing it back to the table for years, long after many of its contemporaries have been consigned away in garage sales and second-hand stores.  It is excellent.


What are the landmark games?  Which titles should every game enthusiast play at least once?  Can’t Stop is my suggestion.

Have you played Can’t Stop?  What do you think of it as a landmark game?  What other games do you see as notable ancestors to newer games?  Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create and account with WordPress and follow this blog.  If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.



4 thoughts on “Landmark Games Part 7: Can’t Stop

  1. Can’t Stop is a fascinating game, and I love the push-your-luck mechanism. But I tried playing this game with my family and they didn’t care for it. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was too abstract to be engaging, maybe calling the probabilities required skill they didn’t feel like developing.

    If you’ve ever played Chronology (, adding a push-your-luck rule adds a new dimension to a great game. The rule is this: if you successfully add a card to your timeline, you can request another and try again on the same turn. You can keep doing this as long as you like, but if you miss any of the cards, you lose ALL the cards you gained this turn. This speeds the start of the game up, and also means that no matter now close you are to winning, another player who is desperate enough can try to pass you for the win.

    As for other landmark games, I taught Dominion to my wife this morning, not just because it’s a great game, but because it pioneered the deckbuilding element that so many other games have used since. She beat me AND she wants to play again sometime, so I call it a successful experiment. 🙂

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