Sid Sackson is one of the best known names in board gaming. His hallmark of easily learned but strategically rich games has had immense impact on modern designs. But amongst his oeuvre there is one game which is uncharacteristically zany, random and light; one which is, therefore, a great candidate for an iOS conversion. That game is Can’t Stop.
Can’t Stop is one of those fickle games that can be absorbed directly by watching play but which is hard to explain in words. It’s a race across a board based on the probability curve of two dice. Each number pair from two to twelve has a lane, and the more common the combination, the longer the lane. The player rolls four dice, chooses two of the number combinations and puts pawns in those lanes. Then they repeat the process and place a third pawn. After that, they can keep rolling as long as they like and advance any pawns that match a rolled combination. But there’s a catch: if they don’t roll one of the combinations, the turn is over and they lose any progress made that round. At any point they can stop, pass the dice, and keep the gains they made. Getting to the end of a lane seals it from use by other players, and – deep breath – the first to the end of three lanes wins.
If you found that hard to follow, don’t panic. So did the people who wrote the rules included in the app, which I found impossible to follow even though I’d played the game before. And there’s no tutorial either! But what would normally be unacceptable oversights don’t matter here because all you have to do is start a game against one of the two AI players, watch them make their first turn, and you’ll pick it up. Luckily for the clunky transition to mobile, it’s really that instinctive.
With that said, be warned. Once you’ve taken the basic step required to learn how the game works, it’ll be too late. The hooks will be in. You’ll be scattering those devastating cubes of cosmic entropy across the screen again and again, muttering imprecations to the Random Number God that your combinations will come up. You’ll hesitate, wonder whether to pick up the bones or press stop. And whatever you choose, you’ll immediately regret it, as you either lose your progress or watch your timid pawns overtaken by another player… all the while vowing to be less/more bold next time.
And maybe, after a couple of games where you push your luck like it’s a Yahtzee clone, you’ll start to see that there’s actually a bit of strategy under the hood. Nothing difficult or demanding. There’s no hidden depths lurking under Can’t Stop’s cheerfully bright red hood. But there’s enough to make each throw of the dice something to consider, just briefly, before the next toss. And that combination suits the quick gaming iOS format exceptionally well.
It also means that the designers should have been able to make a capable AI player within the time and technical constraints imposed by the medium. And the harder of the two AI levels will sometimes play a decent game but also seem to make utterly bizarre mistakes such as ending the turn before they’ve even placed three cones, or failing to pick a combination that would win the game and instead rolling on until they flunk out. It’s disappointing, but not as serious as it could have been due to the luck-driven nature of the game. Same goes for the lack of asynchronous play mode, which doesn’t feel like too serious an omission in a quickfire, exciting game that only costs a dollar. Truly, it’s worth a dollar just to play hotseat against other humans or to try to beat your previous time and stop count records in a new solo mode specific to the digital release.
The original was an ugly, plastic thing but the app looks pretty good. The board is similar, if digital, but the cones are animated as they advance across it, cavhorting with glee when they reach the top of a lane or wilting in disappointment if you blow your turn. The whole audio visual effect has been designed to feel like a 70’s game show which, while oddly appropriate, also means the background music is horrifically twee.
The game continues with PlayDek’s fine tradition of excellent usability. Everything is right where you expect it to be and the touchscreen controls feel intuitive. I wish there were an option to speed up animations though, as turns seem to take too long for such a fast, light game. These small complaints aside, Can’t Stop has that ephemeral quality that’ll keep you hunched over your black mirror until the small hours, and you can’t ask for much more than that.