I would guess that most gamers have at least heard of Can’t Stop. The Sid Sackson classic from 1980 is pretty much the quintessential push-your-luck game. I would venture (Sid Sackson pun intended) another guess that substantially fewer BGG’ers have heard of Excape (also called Exxtra). Excape (1998) is considered to be Reiner Knizia’s response to Can’t Stop.
Despite having the prolific Knizia’s name on the box, Excape is a somewhat obscure, OOP title. After many years of unsuccessfully chasing the elusive game, I finally managed to track down a copy.
In this comparison, I will not be explaining how the games work. If you don’t know how one or both games play, check out BGG reviews. There is an awesome iOS app of Can’t Stop for 99¢. If you haven’t played Excape, I’d recommend watching Tom Vasel’s review of it. Both titles are very simple, and you should be able to get a pretty good sense of the gameplay from a quick video review. I’m more interested in comparing the experiences of play here.
Can’t Stop is amazing with two players, but it can get bogged down with more. In a four-player game, the turns can take a while, and players can easily get bored waiting for their turn to come around. Additionally, the more people you have, the more likely it is for later players to be at a disadvantage. (How many times have you seen a column get claimed before someone has taken a turn?)
Excape is the opposite. It thrives with more players. The turns are lightning-quick, and more players means a tighter game. It’s difficult to get bored in this game, because you are engaged even during other players’ turns, and it will be your turn again before you know it.
Whereas Can’t Stop tends to be better with fewer people, Excape is better with more.
Can’t Stop doesn’t have much in-game interaction. I’m not talking about the cheering and jeering that happens from opponents trying to convince you to roll just one more time, I’m talking about specifically, within the confines of the game itself, how one player’s actions influence another player. There can be a bit of indirect interaction, but it’s often limited to “Do I try to steal this column from my opponent who is close to the top, or do I take a different column altogether?”(Pro Tip: Steal your opponent’s column.)
Excape has direct interaction, coupled with some interesting decision-making. If I roll a 76, should I put it on the 5-rung and be pretty confident it won’t get knocked off, or should I put it on the 3-rung to knock your 73 off the 4-rung? Is it worth it to deny myself points in order to deny you more points? It often comes down to how much of a jerk do you want to be? (Pro Tip: Always be a jerk.)
Can’t Stop is less interactive, while Excape has more potential for opponent-screwage.
Can’t Stop provides lots of opportunities for meaningful strategy. How do you want to use your die roll? Are you going to play the odds and go for the 6-7-8 columns? Or are you going to try for the shorter-but-harder columns? On your roll of 6-6-1-1, are you going to do double 7’s, or are you going to go for 2-12? (Pro Tip: 2-12.) Is it worth it to keep one of your runner pieces in reserve so you have a fallback in case of a bad die roll, or should you put it on a column you don’t want, but that gives you good odds? And ultimately, when should you stop?! (Pro Tip: Never stop.)
Excape feels much more luck-heavy. It can be unsatisfying when you get an X on the second roll. If someone just keeps rolling doubles, they can run away with the game. While players do have some control, it is limited.
Can’t Stop is much more strategic than Excape. It present players with many more interesting decisions.
FUN / OVERALL EXPERIENCE:
There’s a reason people still play Can’t Stop almost 40 years later. It’s timeless. I would call this an essential game, one that should be in every gamer’s collection. Can’t Stop is just fun. It’s so enjoyable to goad your opponents into just ONE more roll, and revel in their agony as they fail. I find the aforementioned cheering and jeering happens much more in this game than it does in Excape.
In Can’t Stop, every roll increases the stakes. Thus, the longer you go, the more grueling the decisions get. I haven’t found this to be the case in Excape, at least not to the same degree. In Excape, whether you roll two times or ten times, your stakes don’t change much. Sure, the longer you go, the more chances you have of failing, but you don’t get penalized any more for rolling an X on the tenth roll than for rolling an X on the second. This means there isn’t nearly as much egging on your opponents. Every roll I make after the first involves the same relative risk.
However, there is a great deal more opportunity for nastiness in Excape, something I very much enjoy about it. You can play conservatively, but you can also be really aggressive. This won’t appeal to everyone, but my group loves it.
Looking at the games side-by-side, I would say that, from a design standpoint, Can’t Stop is the better game. It is less chaotic, more strategic, and it has (I perceive) a greater ratio of risk to reward. From a fun standpoint, I’d say it depends. For all their similarities, the games scratch two different itches. I think there is room in a collection for both. Want a stress-inducing game full of coaxing your opponent into risking it all? Try Can’t Stop. Want a sillier, more interactive game that can accommodate higher numbers of players? Try Excape. The games are fun in different ways, and both have their strengths and weaknesses.
Thanks for reading this review! I’d love to hear your thoughts about these games!