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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The Story Behind Yahtzee

When I made the decision to swap out the ‘Across The Pond And Beyond Wednesdays’ for a feature on toys, games, and books, I was excited about it because there were endless possibilities for discussion topics.  And throughout the month of January, I ended up talking about three of my favourite books, as well as one of my favourite authors.  I had a lot of fun discussing some of the books that helped inspire me to want a career in writing myself, and I hope that I brought up some great memories for everyone.

Now that we’re in the month of February, I thought that I would use this space (at least for this week) to talk about some of the toys and games that I enjoyed playing with, and maybe share some funny memories with you along the way.  Believe me, every board game and toy that I ever played with, I have some sort of memory associated with.  While many of these memories were pleasant enough, some weren’t quite so.
In the case of today’s blog topic, my first memory of it started off with me getting in trouble for causing a bit of mischief. 

Allow me to explain.  I know that Christmas was a little over a month ago, but this story takes place at Christmas.  I can’t remember the exact year, but I was likely only five or six at the time.

I’d say that this was probably about five days before Christmas when this story takes place, and naturally, I was extremely excited about it.  I couldn’t wait for school vacation to begin, and I was especially excited about Christmas Day itself.  At the time, there were quite a few presents underneath the tree, and it was expected that there would be more brought from Santa Claus.  But having to wait five whole days for Santa to come, and having to wait five whole days to open Christmas presents (because let’s face it, the Christmas Eve gift was ALWAYS pajamas and slippers), was torture.  I was a very impatient child, and I didn’t quite grasp the concept of having to wait.  Granted, at times in adulthood, I still have trouble with the virtue known as patience, but when I was a kid, I was especially obnoxious about it.

I had to know what I was getting for Christmas, and I had to know as soon as possible.  And, I thought I had come up with the perfect plan for it too, without anyone being the wiser.

There were times in which my parents and two elder siblings were in different parts of the house than I was.  And, at the time, my sisters were either at work, or on dates with their then-boyfriends, so when they went out, and my parents were busy with other chores, I made my move.

I snuck towards the tree which had gifts underneath them.  Because I learned how to read at an early age, I could easily separate my gifts from everyone else’s.  I also was fortunate enough to still have most of my teeth (my baby teeth started falling out two months before I turned seven), which made the plan a bit easier.

My plan was to bite the corners off of the wrapped presents, just so I could get a hint as to what I could possibly be getting.  If I could recognize a specific coloured box, or a design that I saw on items in Woolco’s toy department, then I could find out what it was that I was getting without having to unwrap the whole present.  While I didn’t know how to wrap presents, all I needed to do to hide the evidence was take the bows off the presents and restick them to the area where the corners were chewed off.  It was a foolproof plan (or at least I thought it to be when I was five or six).

And it would’ve worked too...had my father not come into the room while I was midway through chewing the corner through the one and only box that I had found.
Oh, I remember my dad being furious!  Mom was disappointed, but you could tell that she wasn’t happy with me either.  Until Christmas Eve, I was banned from being in that room with the gifts, and I was left wondering if Santa would even come to my house after that.  And, beginning the year after that Christmas, every single one of my gifts were had been wrapped in such a way that I wouldn’t be able to tell what they were.  Even now at the age of 30, my parents STILL do this.  You’d think that by now, they’d be able to trust me. J

That whole plan I had amounted to nothing.  I didn’t even know what the gift was that I tried to open, because all I could see was a bright red colour.  The only clue I had was that it was in a red box.  And, what was worse, my parents took away that gift, re-wrapped it, and didn’t put it back under the tree until after I had gone to bed on Christmas Eve night.

Man, you think they had trust issues or something?  J

When Christmas Day finally came around, I made it a mission to open that present first (my parents had to help me find it again, as they had wrapped it in different paper), and when I tore open the paper, this was waiting for me.

Today’s blog topic is on a game that I loved, despite causing so much aggravation and trouble for me that Christmas season. 

Yahtzee was a game that more or less was a childhood tradition for me since I received it that Christmas.  I can’t remember a time in which I didn’t play the game.  In fact, I’m going to post a link to an online version of the game RIGHT HERE, so that if you like, you can play a game of Yahtzee as you read this.
Yahtzee is probably one of the easiest games that one can play.  The way I can best describe Yahtzee is like poker with dice.

You’re given a score card, with various combinations and point values for each combo.  Each value is different.  The goal of the game is to try and get the highest score possible after every person has taken all the possible turns.  To get a combo, all a person has to do is take five dice, roll them at the same time, and decide which ones to keep, and which ones to roll again.  But be careful, as you only get three rolls per turn.

I’ve included a picture of the score card up above (which you can buy in refill packs at most toy stores if you run low), but in case you can’t see it, I’ll go over some of the combos with you.  The top part of the card deals with the number of 1’s, 2’s, 3’s, 4’s, 5’s, or 6’s you throw after a series of three rolls.  The higher the number, the more points scored.  For instance, if you roll three 6’s, that’s 18 points, whereas four will get you 24 points.  If you can manage to score 63 points or more on the top part, you can earn a 35 point bonus.
(TIP:  To ensure a score of at least 63 points, the best course of action is to try and get THREE of each number, but there are other combos that work.  If you can get four 5’s and four 6’s, all you would need is 19 more points!)

Other sections include the Chance section, which is a section where all the dots are tallied.  A Full House means that you have three of one number, and two of another (25 points).  3 and 4 Of A Kind means that if you have three or four of a kind in a roll, you can add that to the other remaining dice (Four 6’s plus a two would equal a roll of 26 points).  A Small Straight (30 points) means you have four numbers in sequence (1, 2, 3, 4, for example).  A Large Straight (40 points) means you have all five numbers in sequence (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
And then there’s the elusive Yahtzee.

A Yahtzee is scored when you roll FIVE of the same number.  The odds of getting a Yahtzee are not great (the probability is slightly below 25% of getting one), but when you do get one, it’s a massive fifty points!  Even more exciting is if you manage to score another Yahtzee on top of that, for each additional Yahtzee is worth a bonus 100 points!
If luck is on your side, you can rack up a huge score.  I think my highest score playing Yahtzee was something like four hundred points.  But, I’ve played with people who have gotten scores that were much higher.  Let’s just say that the Gods of Yahtzee must have been smiling down on them that day.

But, do any of you know how Yahtzee was created, or why it got the name, Yahtzee?
While the game of Yahtzee is now distributed by Hasbro Toys and Games, the game was initially made by the E.S. Lowe Company.  In 1956, a game entrepreneur named Edwin S. Lowe first started marketing Yahtzee, but the game’s origins date back years earlier.  Yahtzee was inspired by a Puerto Rican game known as Generala, as well as English games ‘Cheerio’ and ‘Poker Dice’.

The Puerto Rican game of Generala was adapted into an English language game known as ‘Yacht’, and Yacht was almost similar in gameplay to the game that would eventually be called Yahtzee.  There were some minor differences between the two games though.  Yacht didn’t have a spot to score Three of a Kind, whereas Yahtzee does.  The Straights in Yacht used all five dice (a small straight was 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 while a large was 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).  And in the upper section of Yacht, the 35 point bonus section did not exist.
It is widely believed that the name ‘Yacht’ was the basis towards naming the game ‘Yahtzee’.

The modern day Yahtzee was reportedly invented in 1954, according to Hasbro.  Hasbro claimed that the game was invented by a Canadian couple who used to play the game.  At the time, they called the game ‘The Yacht Game’ because they reportedly played the game on their yacht to entertain their friends.  In 1956, the couple got in contact with Lowe to make up a few sets of the game that they could give to their friends as gifts.  Lowe was intrigued by the marketing possibilities of the game, and sought out acquiring the rights to the game.  He eventually managed to get the rights to distribute the game, on the condition that the couple would get 1,000 gift sets in exchange.  If you want a more detailed version of this story, Lowe discusses it in the 1973 book “A Toy Is Born” by author Marvin Kaye.

TRIVIA:  The earliest versions of Yahtzee had a caricature of Edwin S. Lowe next to the logo.
So, in April 1956, ‘Yahtzee’ was trademarked, the game was manufactured, and was sold in stores later that year.  However, the game didn’t initially sell a lot of copies, as it wasn’t heavily advertised, nor were the rules of the game translated well through the ads that were made.  So, Lowe came up with the idea of hosting Yahtzee parties, where people could gather together and see how the game was played.  The parties were successful, and the word of mouth from the partygoers helped boost sales of the game, making it an instant hit.

The game was manufactured by the E.S. Lowe from 1956-1973.  In 1973, E.S. Lowe was purchased by Milton Bradley (which was purchased by Hasbro in 1984), and assumed the rights to keep producing and selling Yahtzee.  As of 2012, Hasbro has reported that fifty million Yahtzee games are sold each year worldwide.
In 1988, there was a short-lived game show based on the game itself!  There’s even a Price Is Right pricing game called ‘Let ‘Em Roll’ that is somewhat based on Yahtzee.  You can watch a clip of this game in action below.

Since Yahtzee was created in 1956, several versions of the game have been manufactured over the years. 

Yahtzee was turned into a word game, known as ‘Word Yahtzee’, where players have to take seven dice, try to form the longest word possible, and score as many points as they could.

There’s also versions that are marketed specifically for children, including Yahtzee Jr, and Mickey Mouse Yahtzee.  A travel version of Yahtzee was introduced shortly after Milton Bradley purchased the rights to the game, and it has come in various forms over the years. 
Some of the travel versions of the game have a specific theme to them, and are based on pop culture references.  There’s a Super Mario Yahtzee game, a Hello Kitty Yahtzee game, and even Yahtzee games that have sports logos on them, such as the one for the Boston Red Sox below.

Other versions of the game that have been produced include ‘Triple Yahtzee’, ‘Challenge Yahtzee’, ‘Casino Yahtzee’, ‘Yahtzee Texas Hold ‘Em’, and ‘Yahtzee Turbo’, amongst others.
And that isn’t counting the number of computer games and online versions of the game that have popped up over the years.  I posted one link at the beginning of this post, but there are hundreds of versions out there to play. 

Most recently, a game show has found a new way to play the game of Yahtzee.  On the American cable channel, ‘The Hub’, a game show airs called ‘Family Game Night’, which has families playing life-sized versions of popular Hasbro board games.  One such game was Yahtzee Bowling, where teams would roll a giant bowling ball towards a stack of hexagon shaped pins (each side resembling the side of a die), and when the pins were knocked down, they would show a combo.  The team with the best combo would win the round.

I wish I had a clip to show you of this game in action, because you really have to see it to believe it, but I came up empty.  But, it’s really one of the most ingenious ways that I’ve seen of playing a classic game.  So ingenious that I kind of wish that they would make a board game version of Yahtzee Bowling so I could play it.
And, if they ever did make one, I would want it for Christmas.  And, I promise that I won’t bite the corners off of the gifts this time.  J

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