Gateway Family Game: Yahtzee Still Wins at Home

The dice-rolling game of Yahtzee has been entertaining families for over a century since it’s invention. We stumbled onto this delightful game by accident and it became a quick favorite that led to other roll and write games over the years. In this article we explore the history and influence of the game Yahtzee.

An Unexpected Gateway Game

Sometime around my son’s eighth birthday I realized we had a problem. Like most in his generation, he grew up with technology everywhere and very quickly decided that video games were the thing he wanted to do most of the time. I bought dozens of board games to lure him away from the screen but they were rare moments. He loved Nintendo the most. I dug deeper and concluded that he was a math-minded human, he liked buttons, and he liked quick games. On a whim I bought him the $12 Yahtzee Handheld Electronic Game. It was, as they say, a game changer.

My son spent hours playing Yahtzee on that small electronic device. The game tickled his brain and he’d come running out to show me (fairly impressive) high scores. But the bigger win, of course, was that now he would play the actual dice game. And from there he got into Qwixx, On Tour, and Welcome To with me. We now own multiple version of Yahtzee and collect variations for fun. We still play often due to the fast and direct nature of the game. He still wins most of the time.

The History of Yahtzee

The origins of Yahtzee can be traced back to the early 1940s when a Canadian man named Edwin S. Lowe was working as a toy and game salesman. One day, he stumbled upon a game being played in a small store in Georgia, United States. The game, called “Yacht”, was a simple game where players rolled five dice and attempted to score points by rolling certain combinations. Lowe was immediately intrigued by the game and decided to purchase a few sets. He took the game back to New York City, and began to work on refining the game.

Refining Yahtzee

When Lowe brought the game back to New York, it was not as popular as he had hoped. He made a few changes to the game in order to make it more appealing to a wider audience. The updates included changing the name of the game to Yahtzee, tweaking the scoring system, and printing a set of rules on the back of the box. These changes proved to be successful, and Yahtzee gained popularity.

In the 1950s, Lowe hired a man named Robert Cadwell to help him with the manufacturing and distribution of Yahtzee. Together, they worked on improving the game and making it more accessible to a wider audience. They also created a scoring pad, which made it easier for players to keep track of their scores. These improvements helped to make Yahtzee even more popular.

Mass Distribution with Milton Bradley

In the 1960s, Yahtzee reached new heights of popularity, thanks in large part to the efforts of Cadwell. He secured a deal with the Milton Bradley Company, which began mass-producing and distributing the game across the United States. This helped to make Yahtzee one of the most popular games in the country, and it soon became a household name.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Yahtzee continued to gain popularity. The game was sold in stores all over the world, and  played by people of all ages. New versions of the game were also released, such as Yahtzee Deluxe and Yahtzee Poker. These versions added new elements to the game, such as new dice and new ways to score points.

Electronic Yahtzee

In the 1990s and 2000s, Yahtzee’s popularity continued to grow. Electronic versions of the game were created, including a computer version and a version for the Nintendo Game Boy. Featured in the image above is my son’s electronic version of the game, still running strong years later. This one is the Yahtzee Handheld Electronic Game which is still available in stores and online.

Yahtzee With Buddies Dice

This latest online version iteration of the Yahtzee game is available on iOS and Android devices. You can also play through a web portal in a browser window. This version of Yahtzee allows you to link and play with friends over the internet.

How to Play Yahtzee

All you need are 5 dice, a scoring pad, and a set of rules to play Yahtzee. Here are the rules for playing:

  • Each player takes turns rolling five dice.
  • After the first roll, the player can choose to keep any number of the dice, and re-roll the rest.
  • The player can roll the dice a total of three times per turn.
  • After the third roll, the player must fill in one of the boxes on the scorecard with the roll’s results.
  • The game is played over 13 rounds, and at the end of each round, the player’s score is recorded in one of the boxes on the scorecard.
  • The boxes on the upper section of the scorecard are worth different points, depending on the combination rolled. For example, getting three of a kind is worth 3 points, while getting a full house is worth 25 points.
  • The boxes on the lower section of the scorecard are worth a set number of points, depending on the number rolled. For example, getting four sixes is worth 24 points.
  • At the end of the game, the player with the highest total score wins.

Yahtzee Scoring

In a standard game of Yahtzee, there are 13 different categories on the scorecard where a player can earn points. Here are the different categories and their corresponding scores:

  1. Aces: Sum of all dice showing the number 1.
  2. Twos: Sum of all dice showing the number 2.
  3. Threes: Sum of all dice showing the number 3.
  4. Fours: Sum of all dice showing the number 4.
  5. Fives: Sum of all dice showing the number 5.
  6. Sixes: Sum of all dice showing the number 6.
  7. Three of a kind: Sum of all dice if at least three are the same, otherwise, 0.
  8. Four of a kind: Sum of all dice if at least four are the same, otherwise, 0.
  9. Full House: 25 points if three of one number and two of another number, otherwise 0.
  10. Small Straight: 30 points if four consecutive numbers are rolled, otherwise 0.
  11. Large Straight: 40 points if five consecutive numbers are rolled, otherwise 0.
  12. Chance: Sum of all dice.
  13. Yahtzee: 50 points if five of a kind are rolled, otherwise 0.

In some versions of Yahtzee the bonus Yahtzee rule may be different.
The Yahtzee box may be a free choice box, allowing the player to score the Yahtzee in any category they want.

Basic Strategies For Winning Yahtzee

  • Prioritize high-scoring combinations: Focus on getting a Yahtzee or a large straight before aiming for lower-scoring combinations.
  • Keep track of your rolls: Keep an eye on the numbers you have rolled and the combinations you have used, to plan your next move effectively.
  • Take advantage of bonus Yahtzees: Try to score as many bonus Yahtzees as possible to boost your score.
  • Be flexible: Consider settling for a lower-scoring combination if it increases the chances of getting a high-scoring combination later.
  • Play it safe: When you are close to winning and in the lead, avoid taking unnecessary risks.
  • Be strategic with your wild cards: On the upper section, when you have filled up a category, you can use your wild card to put it in another category.
  • Take note of the other players: Observe the other players and anticipate their next move. This will give you an idea of where to put your wild card.


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